Who knows that King Fahad's Fountain, a gift by King Fahad bin Abdul Aziz to the city of Jeddah in 1985 and the tallest of its kind in the world (312 meters high,) was executed by a Greek company?
Both Saudi Arabia and Greece had relatively warm relations for 90 years. The first Greek diplomatic representation was sent to the Kingdom in 1926. The embassy was opened in 1943. In 2026, the two countries will have completed 100 years of diplomatic recognition. However, since the ascendance of HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to power in the past 7 years, Saudi-Greek relations have thrived and prospered to reach the point of a potential alliance.
“For Saudis, Greece is the southern gate of Europe on the Mediterranean Sea. For the Greeks, the new Saudi Arabia is the beating heart of the Middle East. Each partner wants a grant of more access to the markets of the other partner. In other words, Saudis see an opportunity in Greece. The strategic location, common history, and mutual interests, all play a role in understanding and welcoming Saudis as major economic, and cultural players in Europe from the Continent’s southern gate," said Samer Ezzat, an observer of Arab-Greek relations.
"On the other hand, Greece's economic and political relations with the Kingdom are governed by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and EU agreements. However, the ruling elite in Athens believes that their nation should free itself up from the EU membership's restrictions and commitments, and build direct relations with different countries independently for bigger margins. The Greeks want more access to the GCC markets, starting with the center of the Arabian Peninsula," Ezzat added.
What else is common between the two countries?
VITAL SPACE AND SOFT POWERS
Each of the two countries needs a footstep in each others' vital spaces so they can have more influence.
“We produce the best white tuna in the world. We have the white-fin and blue-fin kinds of tuna. Saudis have a big purchasing power. Saudis look for the best in the world of foods, and we can add more luxury options for the Saudis, our target audience,” said Georgios, a Greek food producer whom Majalla met on the margin of a Saudi international exhibition held a while ago.
Both Saudi Arabia and Greece have a lot of things in common. However, “soft power” is the most common thing between them, albeit in each one’s modality.
“Saudi Arabia is the largest Middle East economy and the world’s biggest oil producer with huge growth prospects this year, especially with high prices of the vital substance. The country has a special religious status in the Islamic World as it hosts the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Medina,” explained Ezzat regarding the concept of Saudi soft power.
“On the other hand, Greece controls around 20 percent of the world’s cargo ships and a considerable number of yachts, both private and touristic. 15 million tourists visited Greece in 2021. It is still lower than the 34 million tourists who visited the European country in 2019. The strategic location of Greece, in addition to the fertile land, rich natural resources and the abundance of investment opportunity, all together make Greece a country with great soft power,” added Ezzat.
The two countries are joining forces in different fields, including the military. In September 2021, the Hellenic National Defense General Staff of Greece announced it had delivered a Patriot anti-aircraft missile system together with 120 soldiers to operate the system. This came after the US delayed the delivery of the same defense weapon despite the continuous drone raids that were being sent to the Kingdom by the Houthi rebels of Yemen last year and this year before the truce was agreed upon by the Saudi-led Arab Alliance and the Yemeni rebels.
Chief of Greek General Staff General Konstantinos Foloros said the Greek forces’ mission is to maintain peace and stability in the Middle East.
“Saudis appreciated the Greek prompt response to the Saudi request of the Patriot system, and Greece will get a favorable status in Saudi politics,” commented observer Ezzat.
GREECE VS TURKEY
Some say that the Saudis have strengthened their relations with Greece to tease and to spite Turkey. This theory needs to be double-checked.
“Saudi Arabia has strategic plans and major interests that go beyond the old differences with Turkey over the intervention in GCC and Arab political and military issues. Saudi and Turkey had normalized relations after Turkish President Erdogan visited Saudi last April and the Saudi Crown visited Istanbul less than a couple of months ago. Neither the deterioration nor the improvement of relations with Turkey has stopped or speeded up Saudi Arabia’s strengthening of relations with Greece. They are on two different tracks,” commented Samer Ezzat.
The Saudi administration has new blood and more creative ideas to make Saudi a country that is friendly to the world and most importantly, a peacemaker.
TRADE, BUSINESS AND EXPATS
The trade exchange between Saudi Arabia and Greece had reached USD 1.4 bn in 2021. It grew by 40% compared to the previous year when the total value was USD 1 bn.
This shows that Saudi Arabia and Greece are speeding up the development of trade relations. Saudi imports foods, mineral and pharmaceutical products, and exports organic chemicals, petrochemicals, and mineral products, especially copper and aluminum, according to the Saudi General Authority of Statistics.
With each and every visit of the leaders of both countries to each other, several agreements have been signed to consolidate trade, cultural, economic, academic, scientific, and military bilateral relations.
A few tens of thousands of Greek citizens (according to multiple resources) live in Saudi Arabia. They work mainly in the fields of water desalination, food industry, construction, and industry.
“It is a long way to go. There is always room for improvement and growth,” concluded Ezzat.