Saudis hope Joe Biden's visit to Jeddah will show changing face of country

Red Sea port city a microcosm of continuity and change in Saudi society

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As US President Joe Biden's tour of the Middle East continues in Saudi Arabia, locals are hopeful that the visit will lead to great things in the relationship between the two countries.

Mr Biden is expected to touch down in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia's second largest city, on Friday.

The Red Sea port city is a microcosm of the continuity and change in Saudi society: Unesco-recognised historic Jeddah sits comfortably alongside new construction projects designed to attract tourism and business.

But the city has begun to look a bit different in the days leading up to the US leader's visit, during which he is expected to meet King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as well as attend a major GCC+3 conference.

“The whole of corniche has been blocked off, with police patrolling the area,” said Maymish Amoudi, a Jeddah resident.

Despite the annoyance of increased security, some see the visit is an opportunity to show the strengths of the kingdom to the world.

“The world cannot ignore the kingdom and its outstanding achievements in energy, finance, tech, sustainability or any other field,” said Sultan Al Harbi, a Saudi entrepreneur.

“I am looking forward to the meeting between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and President Biden after all these years and am very interested to see what the new president has to say now versus all that he's said in the past.”

Ahmed Alayoub, a Saudi multimedia studio owner, said: “This is a great time for President Biden to visit — to see the new kingdom with its great achievements, changes and inspired youth under the leadership of King Salman and our Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”

Officials are also looking forward to the visit, with Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Education Hamad bin Mohammed saying he hopes for further co-operation with the US in education and scientific research, with increased student exchange and scholarships.

“The Ministry of Education seeks to enhance the benefit of Saudi students by signing memoranda of understanding for scientific and research co-operation between Saudi universities and their American counterparts,” the Saudi Press Agency reported him as saying.

There are currently 20,639 Saudi students and trainees studying in the US and more than 167,729 Saudi students have graduated from US universities since 2005.

The ministry offers 318 scholarships to American students and is currently hosting more than 167 in the country.

“The people are excited, the youth and elders alike,” said Asma Ahmed, a Saudi artist.

“My father, brother and sister all studied in the US. We want the best for our country and working peacefully together is the only way forward. We hope great things come out of Biden's visit.”

Saudi Arabia on Friday opened its airspace to all airlines, which includes Israeli flights flying over its territory, before Mr Biden's visit. The move was welcomed by the White House.

“President Biden welcomes and commends the historic decision by the leadership of Saudi Arabia to open Saudi airspace to all civilian carriers without discrimination, a decision that includes flights to and from Israel,” said US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

Princess Reema bint Bandar, the kingdom’s ambassador to Washington, said the visit is “pivotal to deliver peace and prosperity for both of our peoples and the wider world”.

“We must redefine the contours of the next eight decades of this critical alliance,” she said.

Updated: July 15, 2022, 2:51 PM