Singapore has longstanding ties with the Middle East going as far back as the 9th Century and the Abbasid Caliphate, when Arabian traders in dhows frequently plied the Maritime Silk Road to trade with China. At that time, Singapore was a major port and trading post of the Sumatran Srivijaya Empire, and these traders often stopped at Singapore en-route back to Arabia.
The 19th Century witnessed a significant expansion in links between Singapore and the Middle East. In particular, numerous Hadhrami flocked to Singapore and played influential roles in its formative years. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 also helped boost maritime trade between Europe, the Middle East and Singapore. Today, Arab influence remains a treasured part of our national landscape, manifesting unmistakably in places and names such as Muscat Street, Arab Street, Aljunied Road, and also in local Malay culture and the arts.
In the context of historical and cultural ties, Singapore has enjoyed warm ties with the Middle East since independence. This engagement saw a revitalisation in 2004, when then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong initiated a series of official visits to the Middle East that galvanised our relationship, and our relations with the Middle East have since grown in both scope and depth. As an indication of these meaningful ties, there has been a steady flow of high-level visits between both sides through the years. Our relationship with the Middle East today is warm and substantive, spanning many different areas of cooperation.
Diplomatic Presence Singapore's diplomatic presence in the Middle East is substantial and expanding. Singapore currently has embassies in Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Riyadh and Doha, as well as a Consulate-General in Dubai, Jeddah and Muscat. In addition, we have accredited Non-Resident Ambassadors to Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, and Yemen. Singapore’s Ambassadors to Saudi Arabia and Egypt are concurrently accredited to Bahrain and Libya respectively. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Qatar and Israel have resident embassies in Singapore, while Oman has a Consulate-General in Singapore.
UAE - Visit by Minister for Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan to attend the 3rd International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) General Assembly; World Future Energy Summit; and the International Water Summit in January 2013
Saudi Arabia - Visit to Jeddah by Minister for Communications and Information and Minister in charge of Muslim Affairs Dr Yaacob Ibrahim in February 2013
Kuwait - Visit by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong to attend the International Advisory Board meeting of the National Bank of Kuwait in April 2013
Oman - Visit by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K Shanmugam to officiate the opening of the Wilayat Mirbat Independent Water and Power Plant in May 2013
UAE - Introductory visit by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K Shanmugam in May 2013
Bahrain - Visit by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K Shanmugam in November 2013
UAE - Visit by Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean in conjunction with his participation in the Total Advisory Committee Meeting in January 2014
Israel – Visit by Minister, Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Foreign Affairs and Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu to attend the State Funeral of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in January 2014
Qatar – Visit by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K Shanmugam in February 2014
Iran – Visit by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K Shanmugam in February 2014
Saudi Arabia - Visit by Vice Minister of Labour Dr Mofrej Bin Saad Al Haqbani in January 2013
Qatar - Visit by Chairman of Qatar National Food Security Programme (QNFSP) Fahad Al Attiyah under the Middle East Eminent Persons Programme (MEEPP) in March 2013
Oman - Study visit by Minister of Information Dr Abdulmunim Bin Mansour Al Hasani in April 2013
Qatar - Visit by Minister for Energy and Industry Dr Mohamed Al Sada in April 2013
Oman - Study visit by Secretary-General of the Council of Ministers Sheikh Alfadhel Mohamed Al Harthy in April 2013
Saudi Arabia - Visit by Minister of Transport Dr Jubara Al Suraisry to attend the Singapore Maritime Week in April 2013
Iran – Visit by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs (Asia, Oceania & CIS) Dr Seyed Abbas Araghchi for the inaugural Iran-Singapore Bilateral Consultations
Saudi Arabia - Visit by Chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies (KFCRIS) Prince Turki Al Faisal to attend the Middle East Institute Conference on " Converging Regions: Global Perspectives on Asia and the Middle East" in May 2013
UAE - Visit by Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Abdulla Bin Zayed Al Nahyan to attend the 2013 Shangri-La Dialogue in May 2013
Palestinian Territories - Study visit by Palestinian National Authority Minister of Education Lamis Al-Alami in June 2013
UAE - Visit by Minister of State and Masdar Chief Executive Officer Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber as the inaugural S R Nathan Fellow in August 2013
UAE - Visit by Minister of Education Humaid Al Qutami in September 2013
Oman - Visit by Chairman of the Duqm Special Economic Zone Authority Yahya Al Jabri in September 2013
Egypt – Study visit by Minister of Justice Adel Abdel Hamid in September 2013
UAE - Visit by Minister of Energy Suhail Al Mazrouei for the Singapore International Energy Week in October 2013
Qatar - Official Visit of Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al Thani, in conjunction with the 6th Qatar-Singapore High Level Joint Committee, in November 2013
Jordan – State Visit by King Abdullah II in February 2014
Singapore engages the Middle East in diverse areas ranging from economic cooperation to exchanges in healthcare, civil service practices, culture and the environment.
Economic Links and Cooperation Our intensified political exchanges have helped to promote Singapore's economic ties with the Middle East. Singapore companies, including SembCorp, Keppel and Hyflux, have been active in a broad spectrum of sectors, including infrastructure, oil and gas, environmental technologies, logistics, tourism and retail. Trade between Singapore and the Middle East has also grown substantially in recent years, with total trade volume in 2013 reaching S$73.2 billion.
The signing of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (GSFTA) on 15 December 2008 was an important milestone as Singapore is the first country outside of the Middle East to conclude an FTA with the GCC. The GSFTA will grant tariff-free access for about 99% of Singapore's domestic exports to the region, while all GCC goods entering into Singapore will be granted tariff-free access. The GSFTA will also encourage a greater recognition of Singapore MUIS Halal standards in the six GCC countries. The GSFTA came into force on 1 September 2013.
Elsewhere in the region, in recognition of Israel's strength in the high-tech sector, the Singapore Israel Industrial Research & Development Foundation has been facilitating and supporting joint industrial R&D projects between companies from both countries.
Technical Cooperation Through the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP) and the work of Singapore Cooperation Enterprise (SCE), Singapore has shared our own development experience with the Middle Eastern countries. Singapore's various ministries, statutory boards and private organisations also cooperate with our Middle East counterparts over a wide range of issues. Joint initiatives include our cooperation with Saudi Arabia on dengue control measures in Jeddah in 2006, DBS' joint venture with a Bahrain-led GCC consortium to establish the Islamic Bank of Asia (IBA) in 2007, as well as the Strategic Leadership Programme that our Civil Service College (CSC) organised for Kuwaiti public sector leaders in 2010 and 2011. Singapore launched an enhanced technical assistance package for the Palestinian National Authority in February 2013. Valued at S$5 million over five years, the package includes priority placements in SCP courses, post-graduate scholarships, as well as study visits and courses customised to meet the specific needs of the Palestinian National Authority.
Academic Engagement and Cooperation Singapore's schools and tertiary institutions are actively engaged with the Middle East, with an increasing variety of programmes and opportunities available for students to obtain a better appreciation and understanding of the region. Study trips to the Middle East are organised as part of the National University of Singapore (NUS)'s STEER programme (Study Trips for Engagement and Enrichment) and Singapore Management University's SMU Business Study Mission. NUS has a successful internship programme in Israel under its NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) initiative which provides postgraduates and undergraduates the opportunity to experience Israel’s unique entrepreneurship culture and dynamic environment of business start-ups. Our universities also take in students from Saudi Arabia under the King Abdullah Scholarship Programme. Meanwhile, A*STAR, NUS and NTU have been taking in graduate students from Iran under the Singapore International Graduate Award (SINGA) since 2007. Programmes at the secondary school level such as the Raffles Institution Middle East Programme (RMEP) also help to generate greater awareness of the Middle East. In addition, MFA provides our students opportunities to interact with incoming Middle East delegations and attend cultural events such as the Oman Culture Week and the arrival of the Jewel of Muscat.
In recognition of the significant role that the Middle East plays, not only in Singapore but in the rest of the world, NUS set up the Middle East Institute (MEI) in 2007 to promote a deeper understanding of the Middle East in Singapore. MFA collaborates with MEI to run the Middle East Eminent Persons Programme (MEEPP), which invites distinguished personalities from the Middle East to Singapore in order to promote understanding and cooperation.
Special Projects Jewel of Muscat – In 1998, a sunken ship containing valuable artifacts of both Arab and Chinese origin was discovered in Southeast Asian waters. Marine archaeologists identified the find as an Arabian sailing vessel (dhow) from the 9th Century and hailed it as proof of the ancient trading links between China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. This 9th century Arab dhow became the inspiration behind The Jewel of Muscat project. Using 9th century shipbuilding methods, the Sultanate of Oman constructed a modern-day replica of the dhow and sailed it halfway across the world to present it as a gift to the people of Singapore. The dhow was received on 3 July 2010 by then-President S R Nathan and witnessed by His Highness Sayyid Harib bin Thuwainy Al Said, a first cousin of Sultan Qaboos and His Majesty's Representative. The Jewel's final home was unveiled on 15 October 2011 at the official opening of the Maritime Experiential Museum and Aquarium by His Excellency Sayyid Badr bin Hamad Al Busaidi, Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Oman, as well as ESM Goh Chok Tong. The Jewel of Muscat display stands as testament to the historical and modern ties that Singapore and Oman share, and is expected to draw up to a million visitors a year. Muscat Street Project - The idea of rejuvenating the architecture of Muscat Street along Omani lines was first mooted by the former Head of Muscat Municipality, Abdulla Abbas, in April 2007. Both Singapore and Oman recognised the opportunity to commemorate the historical links between both countries and initiated the project in March 2009, when then-President S R Nathan signed a Memorandum of Intent (MOI) during his state visit to Oman. URA and Muscat Municipality have since collaborated on the revamped design in consultation with the relevant stakeholders, agencies and the public. Besides the unique landscaping and paving, as well as the addition of Omani-style archways at both ends of Muscat Street, Oman's contributions will also be featured in the form of street furniture and stone murals with mosaic artwork along the length of the Street. The iconic project highlights the close links shared between Oman and Singapore. The rejuvenated Muscat Street was re-opened in a ceremony on 8 November 2012. Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K Shanmugam and Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Sayyid Badr Bin Hamad Al Busaidi presided over the ceremony, which entailed cultural shows highlighting the heritage of Oman and the historic status of the Kampong Glam area.
Asia-Middle East Dialogue (AMED) - Singapore mooted the idea of establishing an Asia-Middle East Dialogue (AMED) in 2004 as part of our efforts to foster political, economic and cultural engagement between Asia and the Middle East. Singapore hosted the inaugural AMED Ministerial Meeting in 2005, which was attended by leaders from Asia and Middle East. Since then, AMED has produced a number of initiatives including the Regional Training Centres (RTCs) in Jordan and Qatar, as well as organised workshops and meetings on issues of interest to member countries. At the Second AMED Ministerial Meeting (AMED II), which was hosted by Egypt in Sharm El Sheikh in April 2008, Minister George Yeo announced that Singapore would establish and host the AMED Virtual Secretariat. Singapore hosted the AMED Media Roundtable in August 2009, which was well-attended by Middle Eastern and Asian journalists. The Third AMED Ministerial Meeting was held in Thailand in 2010.