Greece and Saudi Arabia usher in new era of relations

22 February 2017
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The visit of Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and 11 Greek ministers and top businessmen to Saudi Arabia, during which he will meet with King Salman and cabinet ministers, ushers in a new era of bilateral relations.

Reigniting the joint ministerial committee is of crucial importance, having met last in 1999. Diplomatic relations between Greece and Saudi Arabia started as early as 1926. The first Greek Embassy in the Kingdom was established in Jeddah in 1943, but in 1963 the Greek Embassy was moved to Riyadh, where it became operational in 1985.

Greece has a longstanding relationship with the Arab world and Saudi Arabia in particular. It has been a holiday destination for Saudis since the arrival of King Saud in the coastal Athens suburb of Kavouri in the late 1960s. Many Saudis have fond memories of honeymooning in Greece in the 1970s and 80s. And the new generation, of which 70 percent are below the age of 30, are now flocking to the islands of Myconos, Santorini, Crete and Corfu.

Greece has traditionally maintained strong ties with the Arabs. It was, for example, the only European state to vote against the partition of Palestine in the United Nations General Assembly in 1947, and since then it has consistently backed the Palestinian cause. Even the leaders of the pro-American military dictatorship (1967-74) refused to grant the US overflight or ground facilities to supply Israel with arms during the 1973 war, while allowing Soviet planes to pass through Greek air space to airlift military supplies to Egypt. As a result, Greece was excluded from the Arab oil boycott.

Yet there were also economic factors behind the Greek-Arab relationship. By the 1970s some Greek companies had achieved a prominent role in the Arab world where they were executing significant construction projects. Furthermore, the Arab markets were important for the export of Greece’s agricultural products. The Arab world continued to be the second largest export market for Greece (after the European Community) throughout the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s.

Saudi Arabia has for a very long time been one of the top markets for Greek products in the Middle East region, and food products have always been one of the top exports of Greece to the Kingdom.

Tourism offers plenty of investment opportunities in Greece. The country combines a stunning landscape, hospitality as well as excellent climatic conditions for tourism throughout the year. For this reason, more than 22 million tourists annually opt to travel to Greece for holidays. Saudi investors have been one of the largest equity participants in tourism over the last three years. The Athens Hilton Hotel (2016), Costa Navarino resort (2014), as well as Astir Palace (2016) in Vouliagmeni, are recent notable investments by Saudi investors.

Many Saudis have invested over the years in real estate, benefiting from the right to receive a residence permit should they own a 250,000-euro real estate asset or have signed a 10-year timeshare contract.

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