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Cyprus’ ambassador says farewell to Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: Cyprus’ ambassador to Saudi Arabia has said goodbye to the Kingdom while reflecting on relations between the two countries during his time in the country.

Stavros Avgoustides told Arab News: “I don’t like the word farewell or goodbye. My goal is to return to this country, maybe as an official again, you never know.”

Avgoustides arrived with his family in August 2019 at the start of his mission.

He said: “I had never previously served in the Gulf region. For us it was a great opportunity.”

Noting the similarities between the two countries, including the “way of life,” “mindset,” and “mentality and culture and traditions,” he quickly began to feel at home.

He aimed at strengthening bilateral relations in the energy, tourism, and digital economy sectors.

“Our diplomatic relations had grown over the last five years so my mission was to enhance the bilateral relations between the two countries,” he said

“And of course, we focused on the exchange of the visits of officials.”

The ambassador said that these relations had grown exponentially, despite the impact of COVID-19, which he added was “harsh for everyone; it was difficult for everyone.”

He said: “I have to congratulate and take this opportunity to congratulate the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the way you handled this crisis. 

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“It was tremendous the way you treated the locals and foreigners living here and the way you managed to control the spread.”

It is now time to look to the future, and the ambassador said: “We have to be pragmatic in our relations. We have to see the industries which Cyprus and Saudi Arabia could bring to the table and, in an equal manner, offer to this relationship.

“Us diplomats and government should not work for the present, we should build now for the next generations. For many, many years people will see the achievements in the coming years.”

The ambassador highlighted the need for continuous efforts to retain the strength between the nations, and reflected on strategic partnerships, startups and cooperation in digital infrastructure that have helped build mutual expertise to create a better digital world.

He praised the work of Deemah Al-Yahya, the secretary-general of the Digital Cooperation Organization, for her efforts and support in the sector.

Avgoustides added that he believed digital cooperation was one of his personal achievements during his time as ambassador, and that he will continue to support the organization.

He said the bond between Saudi Arabia and Cyprus was one based on “trust,” adding that it was a “relationship of trust.”

He said: “I have been trying to show the true face of Cyprus. We don’t have any hidden agenda in Cyprus, and we don’t have any means of gaining something special from Saudi Arabia other than your trust and friendship, and these are two important elements that made my duty here an easier task for me.”

Highlighting Cyprus’ support for the Kingdom’s bid to host Expo 2030, the ambassador said that “Cyprus was among the first countries around the world to offer their strong support for the candidacy for the Saudi Arabia Riyadh Expo.”

He added: “We are confident that you will win this huge event (Expo 2030) and we want to use Expo as an opportunity to promote the region and promote regional prosperity and peace, and to show all of the achievements of Saudi Arabia to the world.”

Avgoustides said that people-to-people relations were more important in the long term than trade or investment, adding that his mission had been to bring people closer together to understand each other’s culture and country.

Cooperation in education and direct flights connecting the countries helped toward achieving this end, he said.

Looking back at his fondest memories in the country, he cited the moment he presented his credentials to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman.

He said: “I will never forget the honor … It was a special moment for me because I have a particular respect for the leader.”

The ambassador felt meeting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was a highlight.

He also enjoyed working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan.

Avgoustides is to be posted to Athens as the new ambassador to Greece at the end of his mission.

He said: “I’m greatly honored, but during my stay in Greece I will not stop looking to the East towards Saudi Arabia because I believe I can still offer a lot to this relationship.

“We have made friends here; we have made close associates. I never say goodbye; I just say ‘see you soon’ and inshallah this will be very soon.

“For us diplomats, when we visit foreign countries and stay there, we make it our home. When you leave, there is a piece in your heart. You always treasure the country you are in.”

The ambassador admitted he would “miss the next period towards 2030, which is a period of advancement, a period of prosperity, a period of peace, and I only wish the best to the leadership, government, and Saudi people.”

He said his message to the next envoy of Cyprus to Saudi Arabia would be: “Carry on the same momentum, become close to the people of Saudi, show the true face of Saudi, cooperate with the business and government community, and be creative.

“Be creative (as) diplomacy has to have some creativity to not be boring and to bring results.”

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