Saudi Arabia is seeking Greek expertise in archaeological excavation for its nascent cultural sector as it tries to diversify economy beyond oil and enhance quality of life in the Gulf Arab state.
The Saudi culture ministry, established three years ago under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s modernization plan, aims to contribute 3% or more to the kingdom’s gross domestic product by 2030 and create 100,000 jobs for young Saudis.
Saudi Arabia is due to sign a cultural partnership agreement with Greece later this year that would include joint cultural weeks and focus on archaeological development of the historic Al Fao region, in the southern part of the kingdom.
Rakan al Touq, General Supervisor of Cultural Affairs and International Relations, told Reuters on Thursday as the Saudi culture minister paid a two-day visit to Greece:
“We had very good discussions around building a programme of cultural exchange that will focus on exchange of cultural goods, services and personnel between the two countries.”
“Our international program, which is part of our strategic aspiration for cultural growth, was delayed because of the pandemic, but we are excited to start to engage in person with partners around the world.”
Under Prince Mohammed’s reform drive, the conservative kingdom has opened up, allowing live concerts and sporting events, as well as cinemas in a bid to attract foreign talent and business.
Improving quality of life is also important in the country of some 20 million citizens who have no vote, and where state oil revenues remain the main driver of the economy.
The West widely criticises Riyadh’s human rights record. International human rights groups have repeatedly urged the kingdom to improve its treatment of human rights advocates, stop executions and end the war in Yemen.
Washington has also said Prince Mohammed approved a 2018 operation to capture or kill murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident who criticised the de facto Saudi ruler.