American Bedu’s blog is to provide a diverse perspective of all the differing contrasts and contradictions which make up Saudi Arabia’s customs, culture and traditions. As a result, the primary followers of this blog are those who have an interest in Saudi Arabia or perhaps Saudi Arabia and US Relations. Therefore, American Bedu is proud to have the opportunity to interview Pat Ryan, editor, of the Saudi-US Relations Information Service (SUSRIS). SUSRIS is an outstanding information service for anyone wishing to keep apprised and receive well-balanced data on all aspects of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Additionally, while I was able to interview Pat Ryan with a bevy of questions, he in turn asked for an interview from me. We also decided to simultaneously launch each other’s interviews at the same time!
What exactly is the Saudi – US Relations Information Service (SUSRIS)?
SUSRIS is a source of news, articles, interviews, special reports and reference material chronicling current developments and documenting the history of the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. It is an Internet-based – web site and free e-newsletter service – resource that was created in 2003 to share information with specialists who had an interest in the subject and the general public which may occasionally seek an authoritative reference on U.S.-Saudi connections.
When was SUSRIS established? How was it established and by whom?
The SUSRIS project began in 2003. It was launched through the involvement of private citizens and private sector groups, some expatriates who had lived and worked in the Kingdom over the years – and knew of Saudi Arabia firsthand, and others who were concerned about the need for accurate reporting on events concerning Saudi Arabia. At the time much of the public discussion about Saudi Arabia and America’s relationship with it was being driven by misinformation and disinformation. Many so-called experts and pundits dominating the mainstream media were guided by ideological agendas with little direct knowledge of Saudi Arabia and little concern for the facts. I had been working as editor on an electronic newsletter called GulfWire and its host website, ArabiaLink.com, and was asked to take on the SUSRIS project. It was initially supported under the aegis of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, a nonprofit educational organization in Washington, D.C. SUSRIS is now sponsored by the Saudi-US Trade Group, or SUSTG, in Washington.
Is there any particular reason SUSRIS is based from Tennessee? Are there many Saudis in Tennessee?
Tennessee is a great place to live and work but there’s no special reason it is the home of SUSRIS. I retired from a Navy career to live in Washington for a few years until I launched my own editorial consulting business, Ryan&Associates. Thanks to the Internet, SUSRIS and our other projects are very portable. I return to Washington frequently for meetings, conferences and other face-to-face opportunities to keep up with business but we’re very happy to produce SUSRIS from Cookeville, Tennessee. It is usually a surprise to SUSRIS readers who contact us, who may perceive we’re in a corporate environment in Washington or in the Kingdom, to find out we’re virtually out in the woods.
As to the second part, there are Saudis in Tennessee. Cookeville, where I live, is home to Tennessee Technological University which hosts about 100 Saudi students as a result of King Abdullah’s scholarship program and the emphasis in the Kingdom to build bridges and develop young people through international student support. SUSRIS, working with the Tennessee World Affairs Council, has worked with the students to increase their understanding of American society and culture, and has helped brining a better understanding to Americans through outreach programs for the students in the community. Saudi students can also be found in significant numbers in other Tennessee schools like Vanderbilt and Belmont universities in Nashville.
What is the purpose of SUSRIS?
SUSRIS seeks to find, present and archive a broad scope of information on the complex relationship between these two important countries. The connections between Saudis and Americans have spanned over 70 years and the partnership that has evolved in that time is a valuable strategic relationship, for both sides, that people should understand and appreciate. There are too few quality sources of information to foster such an understanding. We try to fill the information vacuum.
Do you feel that SUSRIS has met or exceeded it goals? Why or why not?
SUSRIS has definitely filled the information vacuum. It enjoys a very high readership through the free email newsletter and website visitors. Search engine rankings also suggest SUSRIS owns the niche. We have seen direct results of SUSRIS as a resource making a difference policymakers decisions. So by the numbers we’re very pleased with the results. However, the job of building bridges and fostering understanding between people remains a work in progress.
Who is the typical audience of SUSRIS?
For us, probably just like your publishing experience, it is sometimes a mystery who is reading the material and where it is going. But I would say that for the most part our readers are specialists in the field of U.S. foreign affairs, obviously those focused on the Middle East. Our web stats tell us it reaches readers in over a hundred countries and we know we are strong with business people, analysts and scholars who follow US-Arab developments. We also notice that during times of crisis we see a surge of interest among average people who are looking for more information to help understand unfolding developments. It’s always fun to go to conferences and meetings and have people stop and say something kind about SUSRIS with a comment like, “Oh, you’re that SUSRIS guy!” It’s a reminder that when you finish a web posting or hit the send button for an e-newsletter that there’s really someone out there waiting to read what you have to say. So it helps us remember to double spell-check.
How many individuals and entities subscribe to SUSRIS?
Numbers are always a tough part of the business. For example our email list includes about 13,000 addresses. But we know that there are some individual addresses that represent hundreds or thousands of second and third level redistribution. There are companies and government organizations that have told me they spread SUSRIS around on their internal networks. Very large companies and very large agencies. So those numbers we never see in our web stats but we know they are out there. In terms of readers who don’t subscribe to the e-newsletter but come to the website we’re pleased with those stats as well. We get about one and a half million hits a month. Of course, we’re always happy to have an opportunity like this to let prospective readers know they can get on the email list by visiting SUSRIS.com and signing up. The e-newsletter is free and if it’s not their cup of tea they can simply hit the unsubscribe button. Unfortunately, the email newsletter business all too often suffers from the instantaneous reaction of readers. If someone doesn’t like news in any one edition of an e-newsletter or if they’re having a bad day they may react by hitting the unsubscribe button, not thinking that the next hundred editions might contain useful information that they will miss.
How do you obtain the information circulated by SUSRIS about the US/Saudi Relations?
The daily routine includes our small research staff, headed up since SUSRIS began by Connie Ryan, spending a lot of time scouring the usual and some unusual web sources. We also monitor cable-news broadcasts and occasionally catch some breaking news there that deserves a special report. The interview series is usually via phone calls, sometimes email exchanges, but occasionally in person conversations at conferences and seminars or through special arrangements. We keep a very busy travel schedule, mostly to Washington for events like the annual Arab-US Policymakers Conference. Then there are special events like the recent US-Arab Business Opportunities Forum in Chicago or the Pittsburgh G-20 Summit last September. I enjoyed getting a close up seat for President Obama’s closing press conference. We also rely on a regular exchange of background information with many of the specialists in the field who are generous with their time on the phone. I’d also add in recent years we’ve been very happy to see the expansion of the dialogue on these issues through the proliferation of very good blogs, like yours, that have been terrific sources of hard to get information. So, there are many sources out there and we try to provide value added, to be more than news aggregators in the process of providing useful, balanced information on U.S.-Saudi relations.
How can SUSRIS be beneficial to an expatriate planning to relocate to Saudi Arabia? What about an American business which wants to enter the Saudi market? Or a Saudi business which wants to enter the American market?
There’s an incredible body of information contained in the SUSRIS project archives. We’re in the middle of a major upgrade to the websites, adding news reporting, articles and so forth that we produced from 1999 through the inauguration of SUSRIS in 2003. So when those items are added SUSRIS will provide a library of information about Saudi Arabia over the last 11 years that would be hard to retrieve elsewhere. This collection can help familiarize those traveling to the Kingdom about the history, culture, issues, developments and many other details, including expat stories, that are not found in very many places.
Businesses can find a wealth of information bearing on the economy, finance and other aspects of business opportunities that are nowhere else. We like to provide full details of conference panels, complete transcripts, not just pull quotes that you’ll find in most news reports. We work hard to keep up with the business climate and developments, and a number of specialists in the Kingdom, including Brad Bourland at Jadwa Investments and John Sfakianakis of Banque Saudi Fransi have generously shared their insightful financial reports with SUSRIS readers.
Which does SUSRIS most benefit – perceptions of the United States or perceptions of Saudi Arabia?
SUSRIS reporting probably is oriented more on developments in the Kingdom than in the States, in an effort to help Americans learn about and understand Saudi Arabia. The service evolved from the initial intention of shining a light on reality and not demagoguery that plagued reporting of U.S.-Saudi relations. By focusing on the Kingdom we may have helped correct some misperceptions about Saudi Arabia. There are so many media outlets affecting perceptions of the United States that I think we’ll leave that work to others.
The SUSRIS project is an information resource that consists of the SUSRIS.com website – articles, interviews, special reports, reference materials and more – along with the new blog at SUSRISblog.com and a new video gallery at SUSRIStube.com. These, along with a free e-newsletter, provide a host of materials to illuminate the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
The Saudi-US Trade Group, or SUSTG, which has a website at http://www.SUSTG.org, is a business association established last year in Washington, D.C. SUSTG, provides a range of informational and educational programs to enhance an understanding of economic, trade and cultural issues. As you will note from its site, it features excellent daily news reviews and business updates on topics that impact the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. As with the SUSRIS newsletter, you can subscribe to the SUSTG updates on the site. Between the two, you will have all you will ever need to know about Saudi Arabia at your fingertips.
In addition to its website, SUSTG partners with U.S. and Saudi institutions to implement forums and delegations that enhance the U.S.-Saudi dialogue across cultural, social, commercial and economic sectors. As part of its commitment to increasing understanding of the U.S.-Saudi partnership it is a sponsor of the SUSRIS project. SUSTG, is a private sector effort, that welcomes corporate and other business community members.
What services and information do SUSRIS and SUSTG offer?
SUSRIS, in its seventh year is working through a major upgrade to the project that has already seen the debut of a blog and a video gallery, SUSRISblog.com and SUSRIStube.com. So in addition to our reporting on news, exclusive interviews, articles and special reports we will have an archive extending back to 1999 of U.S.-Saudi related reports and an updated reference library. We offer both email newsletter subscriptions and an RSS feed for all of the SUSRIS project materials. We occasionally field requests from other media outlets, in the U.S. and overseas, for interviews and for referrals to other specialists. As mentioned, one can also subscribe to the SUSTG email newsletter by visiting the website.
How has SUSRIS impacted on the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia?
In at least a small way I hope we have made a difference by providing balanced, insightful reporting and interviews that give a realistic picture of the relationship. Many insiders I’ve talked to, especially since 2001, say the U.S.-Saudi relationship suffered so much from 9/11 because it had been a relationship conducted between government officials and business people. I hope we’ve opened the door a little bit more beyond those communities and helped build bridges between people in America and the Kingdom.
How can one subscribe to SUSRIS services? What services are available? Are all of the SUSRIS/SUSTG information services free?
New readers can subscribe to the free email newsletter through the web site sign-up box, on SUSRIS.com, SUSRISblog.com and SUSRIStube.com. That will get them the on the list for SUSRIS articles, interviews, and special reports we produce for email. The RSS feed subscription on each of the sites will get you every post for the site you join. So if you want to get the blog postings and the additions to the video gallery, just sign up for the RSS feed for the SUSRISblog.com and the SUSRIStube.com sites. Thanks to the support of SUSTG and their private sector partners the SUSRIS project materials are free.
Can business or individual request special customized reports on a fee-for-task basis through SUSRIS or SUSTG?
The SUSRIS staff receives many phone calls and emails requesting information and assistance and have always been willing to help our readers. We will be very happy to entertain requests for more detailed support. Just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Are there any additional comments you’d like to add?
I’d like to thank you for this opportunity to share a glimpse of the SUSRIS story with your readers. I’d also like to applaud your efforts and your fellow bloggers. Saudi Arabia and its relationship with the United States is a complex topic and an academic pursuit that can never end. You are among a small group dedicated to helping others understand that the Kingdom and the relationship, a terrifically important partnership for Americans, and for that I salute you.
Lastly, I’d like to note the hard work of thousands of Americans and Saudis, many in government, business, academia and elsewhere, who recognize the mutual interests that are served by this relationship and work hard to sustain them. They continue to support the bridges generations of Americans and Saudis built before them, bridges which endure.
Thank you for allowing American Bedu to interview you, Pat, and share with followers of the blog the many valuable services and information provided by SUSRIS.
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