Iran’s child soldiers and the world’s silent complicity


A newly recruited teenage Houthi fighter takes part in a gathering in the capital Sanaa to mobilize more fighters to battlefronts to fight pro-government forces in several Yemeni cities, on February 2, 2017. (Photo by MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)

After the victory of the so-called Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, the theocratic regime that seized power — usurping the rights of the Iranian people — adopted several sectarian strategies that reflected its extremist ideology.

The regime focused on brainwashing and adopted Orwellian indoctrination tactics to serve its new policies. These moved from theory to practice during the early post-revolutionary phase via educational curricula in schools and colleges, as well as revolutionary admonition assemblies, during which the Iranian people were castigated by regime clerics for any perceived deviation from the regime’s harsh ideological worldview. This totalitarian regime developed swiftly and the clerics soon felt the need to go beyond Iran to test the effectiveness of their policies regionally. The Iran-Iraq War provided an appropriate opportunity for this, and it also allowed the region to observe the reality of the new Iranian ideology and the regime’s policies.

One of the most prominent examples of how the regime used indoctrination during the Iran-Iraq War was its use of children as human shields or cannon fodder, with countless young boys from the ranks of the poor sent to the frontline to fight. Many were, infamously, used to run across minefields placed along the Iran-Iraq border so that Iranian troops would be able to cross safely after them. This was seen by the regime as a cost-effective way to minimize military casualties and damage to military equipment, while the children of the poor were viewed as expendable “collateral damage.” Before leaving for the battlefront, these children were each presented with a cheap key on a ribbon to hang around their necks, and were told it was the “key to paradise” that would allow them to enter heaven as glorious martyrs.

Despite the passing of decades, it is despicable that, even now, the regime in Tehran feels unashamed to admit perpetrating such horrific crimes against innocent children. It regularly and proudly airs footage on state TV and publishes photographs in its official newspapers showing child soldiers, who are lavished with praise for their “heroic” acts and “martyrdom” during the eight-year war with Iraq.

Apparently inspired by this criminal abuse of children, Hezbollah has followed in the Iranian regime’s footsteps, indoctrinating children with extremist ideology and training them from a young age to take up arms and fight in battles that serve the Iranian regime and its expansionist project across the Middle East. Anyone who has watched Hezbollah’s media propaganda will have observed children being indoctrinated and exploited.

This indoctrination has not been confined to Iran and Lebanon, but has also spilled over into other areas as the Iranian regime spreads its extremist ideology. This includes Yemen, where the Iranian-backed Houthis routinely use children — some of them shorter than the guns they carry — to fight in battles in Yemen itself and on the Saudi-Yemeni border. A UN report issued in 2015 suggested that more than 1,500 Yemeni children had been forcibly conscripted, while activists in the country assert that the real number is far higher.

With Iran’s regime we are dealing with an ideological project of infinite cruelty and depravity

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

As elsewhere, the horrific but undeniable reality of the Houthis’ use of child soldiers is well documented by video and TV footage and regular reports from the country. In a recent BBC Arabic documentary, a reporter approaches a massive military vehicle guarded by a child no older than 14 years of age (and possibly far younger), sitting in the back beside a mounted machine gun that dwarfs him. When the reporter asks the child why he is there, the boy replies: “I don’t know; they asked me to do so.” The reporter attempts to prompt the boy, asking him: “Are you here to defend your homeland?” The child hesitates, clearly not understanding the question, before mumbling, “Yes.” Children are also used to clean barracks and guard checkpoints, with the Houthis even attempting to defame the Arab coalition with the lie that it is responsible for these crimes.

Dozens of Houthi child soldiers have been captured by the forces of the legitimate Yemeni government during battles in Yemen or in fighting along the Saudi-Yemeni border. As in all cases of the use of child soldiers, this exploitation of children is purely the doing of those cruel enough to use them in such a cynical way.

As all these cases underline, with Iran’s regime we are dealing with an ideological project of infinite cruelty and depravity, which has no difficulty in sending children to die so long as this serves its objectives. All these factors show that the regime’s fate is a foregone conclusion. Anyone who can support such conscription and exploitation of children, whether through threats, rewards or punishments and usually a mixture of all three, does not fear punishment in this life or the next, and is wholly indifferent to all the international covenants and treaties that condemn such horrendous acts. Despite these facts, however, international bodies and human rights groups concerned with protecting children remain shamefully silent and passive on Iran’s criminal behavior.

The Iranian regime’s exploitation of children in Yemen and elsewhere needs to be exposed and this requires concerted action to bring such heinous practices to light. While international bodies remain silently complicit about this evil — contradicting their slogans about caring for and protecting children — it is essential to expose Iranian behavior before global public opinion in the admittedly slender hope that this might move the world’s conscience to reject complicity in such Iranian criminality and to bring those responsible to trial.

• Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is Head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view

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G20 Summit: Showing the world Saudi Arabia’s new face


As the only Gulf state to be a member of the G20, Saudi Arabia is in a unique position. With the 2020 G20 Summit to be held in Riyadh, the country and Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman will not only have the opportunity to showcase the Kingdom’s ambitious reform projects, but also to grow Saudi influence in the international community.

As Saudi Arabia embarks upon these ambitious reforms while navigating a difficult situation in the region, from Syria to Iran, the summit offers the Kingdom the opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to modernization, and its willingness to be an honest broker and leader. With Saudi Arabia also in the midst of a leadership transition, the summit will represent the crown prince’s true introduction to the world stage.

The G20 itself represents a structure which includes the world’s nineteen largest national economies and the EU. Originally designed as a forum to coordinate and promote international financial stability on the basis of free market ideals, the G20 has radically evolved over the decades. Indeed, it has come to resemble an alternative to the UN and other supranational organizations, through which the world’s most powerful and influential states can engage in collective action so as to solve global problems. Saudi Arabia is thus making its entry into the mainstream of the G20 at a time when this critical international forum is shifting away from mere economic considerations to more overarching ones pertaining to the global balance of power and the stability of the international system.

Saudi Arabia’s role in the G20 is critical for the Gulf, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and the Islamic world. With the Kingdom being not only the sole Gulf region member but also one of the most important energy leaders, it holds immense influence on global energy policy as well as the foreign policies of the Gulf. With the Kingdom having been a staunch ally of the West in their regional military interventions, Saudi Arabia’s membership in the G20 reflects its importance in relation to energy, geopolitics, and even to the representation of the Islamic world in this most important of global forums. With the crown prince also showing a willingness to reform Saudi Arabia’s domestic economic structures, a new day is emerging as Riyadh prepares to host the summit.

That said, it is important to note that G20 members have often viewed the Kingdom with skepticism, because of its dependence on fossil fuel exports, and relatively low levels of domestic diversification. Given that a neoliberal agenda has thoroughly permeated the G20, Saudi Arabia’s position in the organization has hitherto been somewhat marred by virtue of its lack of congruence with the economic policies of its fellow members. In this respect, its inclusion has sometimes been perceived as resulting from its geopolitical importance rather than its actual economic merit. The true motives underlying Saudi membership are likely to change over the years as Mohammed makes it clear that a new generation of leadership has taken the reins in Riyadh, and as Saudi Arabia makes fundamental changes to its economy and society.

With the opportunities offered by Vision 2030 not only benefiting the Saudi population but also the global community, the coming summit will let the Kingdom show the world its ambition, and the new face of its vibrant leadership. 

Dr. Hesham Alammar

Most importantly for Saudi Arabia’s future, the Riyadh summit will allow the crown prince and the Kingdom to showcase the Vision 2030 project, which promises to so dramatically alter the nation’s future, and bring its economy into line with those of the developed Western world.

With so many critiques of Saudi Arabia having historically focused on its undiversified economic structure, this cohesive plan to transform the Saudi economy into a knowledge-based one will allow the Kingdom to enter the mainstream of the developed world. With the opportunities offered by Vision 2030 not only benefiting the Saudi population but also the global community, the coming summit will let the Kingdom show the world its ambition, and the new face of its vibrant leadership.

From this, Saudi Arabia also has the opportunity to steer policy regarding Iran and Syria. Riyadh is a strong regional power with the potential to develop even greater status should it make necessary economic reforms and investments. Saudi influence will continue to grow, within the G20 and bilateral structures, because of its historic reliability in supporting Western interventions for stability in the region. From this, the summit will provide an opportunity for the leadership to renew this long-term commitment, and offer other leaders in the G20 Saudi support for ending the crisis currently brewing in  Iran, and the long-running Syrian civil war, and its associated refugee crisis.

Given the ambition the crown prince has shown in relation to remaking Saudi Arabia’s domestic economy, the coming G20 Summit in Riyadh also offers him the opportunity take on a larger leadership role in terms of coordinating with Western powers to manage the turbulence of the Gulf region. With the crises in Syria and Iran representing nothing more than microcosms of the broader instability of the area, the summit will offer him the opportunity to demonstrate his command of foreign policy, and his willingness to commit Saudi assets to necessary missions in the region.

This is likely to increase Saudi soft power in a period when Western governments are seeking reliable allies. Given that the Kingdom is in the midst of a power transition, this is a critical opportunity for the future Saudi leader.

While leadership in relation to issues pertaining to the Gulf region and the Islamic world represent some of Saudi Arabia’s natural prerogatives, the Kingdom will also be able to show the world that its modernization programs are well underway. Moreover, and with the transition of power to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman still ongoing, it will represent an immense opportunity for the him to present his vision of Saudi Arabia’s future. Vision 2030 will not only transform the Saudi economy but also the manner by which ordinary Saudi Arabians relate to their government, and the world. Inspired by the neoliberalism which predominates within the G20, its denouement will also provide Mohammed with the ability to demonstrate his commitment to G20 values.

The summit will provide the world community with the portrait of a modern nation, transcending its role as a mere oil exporter. Instead, this will show that Saudi Arabia is in the midst of becoming a modern market economy in which competition is the norm, and with whom Western powers will feel safe doing business.

• This article was published in The Diplomat Magazine, titled “SAUDI ARABIA TO HOST G20 SUMMIT IN 2020.”


• Dr. Hesham Alammar is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Supervisor of the American Studies Center at Prince Saud al-Faisal Institute for Diplomatic Studies. Email:

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view

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Hajj Minister: 1.1 million pilgrims have arrived in Kingdom since start of Umrah season


Muslim pilgrims walk around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, during the minor pilgrimage, known as Umrah, in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, May 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
  • Pakistan and Indonesia combined accounted for more than half of the pilgrims
  • Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has launched “inaya” (care) centers to provide comprehensive services pilgrims

JEDDAH: The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has announced that 1,339,376 Umrah visas have been issued so far for Hijri year 1441, which started on August 31, 2019 in the Gregorian calendar.

The number of pilgrims coming to Saudi Arabia has reached 1,133,365 with 297,491 pilgrims currently in the Kingdom and 835,874 pilgrims having left.

In its statistical report, the ministry noted that 1,088,608 pilgrims had arrived in the Kingdom by air, 44,750 by land and 7 by sea.

By country, 319,494 pilgrims arrived from Pakistan, 306,461 from Indonesia, 195,345 from India, 50,841 from Malaysia, 50,775 from Turkey, 36,021 from Bangladesh, 28,785 from Algeria, 18,146 from Morocco, 16,851 from Iraq and 16,223 from Jordan.

With the beginning of Umrah season, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah launched “inaya” (care) centers to provide comprehensive services for beneficiaries. The ministry also developed the central booking system MAQAM, that allows Umrah companies, hotel and transportation companies and pilgrims and visitors of the Prophet’s Mosque to contact each other directly, thus achieving the highest standards of control, efficiency and transparency.

MAQAM, in tandem with the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Information Center, also issues e-visas without the need for paperwork, as part of efforts exerted to achieve one of the most important goals of Vision 2030, improving the quality of services provided for pilgrims.

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‘Juhayman: 40 years on:’ Arab News takes a Deep Dive into Saudi history with a multimedia look at the siege of Makkah’s Grand Mosque


Picture dated December 1979 in Jeddah of Jihman bin Saif al-Otaiba, or Juhayman ibn-Muhammad ibn-Sayf al-Utaibi aka “Lieutenant Mahdi” (the Messiah), former captain in the Saudi White Guards (National Guard) who commanded the attack 20 November 1979 against Mecca’s Great Mosque. Several hundred (1,300 to 1,500) armed men hostile to the Saudi government barricaded themselves inside Mecca’s Mosque for two weeks, taking pilgrims hostage. In the end, two weeks ago, the rebellion was only subdued by a special detachment of French para-military special forces (GIGN) sent by Paris at Riyadh’s request who used stun grenades and chemical weapons. An official toll put the dead at 153 and 560 wounded. All arrested gunmen were later executed. AFP PHOTO (Photo by – / AFP)
  • Featuring interviews with key players such as Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s English-language newspaper tells the full story of the unthinkable event that cast a shadow over its society for decades
  • As part of its Deep Dive series online, featuring documentary-style multimedia stories, Arab News looks back at this event in a way no Saudi publication has done before

Forty years ago this week, on Nov. 20, 1979, a group of militants did the unthinkable: They seized the Grand Mosque in Makkah, taking people hostage inside in a two-week standoff with Saudi forces.

Until recently, the crisis remained too painful for Saudis to examine fully for almost four decades. Now Arab News, Saudi Arabia’s leading English-language daily, is looking back at the event in a way that no publication in the Kingdom has done before: with a multimedia Deep Dive story online at

“The 1979 attack on Makkah’s  Grand Mosque halted major social development in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, negatively affecting a progressing nation for generations to come,” said Rawan Radwan, the lead reporter on the project, who is based in Jeddah. “At Arab News, we delved deep into the matter to uncover the story of Juhayman, the terrorist who seized the holiest site and shook the Islamic world. It’s a story that for many years struck fear in the hearts of the Saudi people, yet has not been covered in such depth in local or international media — until now.”

Arab News launched its Deep Dive series earlier this year as an engaging new way to showcase its in-depth storytelling on key topics, enlivened by audio, video and animated graphics. Its first story was an in-depth account of the space mission by the first Arab astronaut, Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman; the siege of Makkah is another story from the Kingdom’s past that it chose to revisit.

Extensive research was conducted over two months in several cities, including Makkah itself, and involved teams in five of Arab News’ bureaus: Jeddah, Riyadh, Dubai, London and Beirut. The team interviewed key players such as Prince Turki Al-Faisal, then head of the General Intelligence Directorate, and re-created what happened in a series of interactive maps.

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Saudi pursuit of ‘green Kingdom’ goal gets a boost


One of the goals of the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) is to build sustainable networks and unleash the entrepreneurial potential of farming communities living in the marginal environments of Egypt. (ICBA photo)

  • Agreement between agriculture ministry and Dubai’s ICBA aimed at conserving natural resources.
  • Kingdom’s biosaline agriculture research and systems stands to benefit from ICBA’s expertise.
    DUBAI: Agricultural development and environmental sustainability in Saudi Arabia will receive a boost in the coming years, thanks to a new agreement between the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) in Dubai and the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture.

The agreement aims to enable Saudi Arabia to achieve its goal of preservation and sustainable management of its natural resources by raising the quality of biosaline agriculture research and systems.

The ministry says that the agreement will make use of the ICBA’s expertise in capacity development besides agricultural and environmental research, especially in the fields of vegetation development, combating desertification and climate change adaptation.

“It also includes training programs for Saudi technicians and farmers,” the ministry said. “In addition, it will localize, implement and develop biosaline agriculture research and production systems for both crops and forestation, which contributes to environmental and agricultural integration.”

Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, the ICBA’s director general, told Arab News: “The agreement had been in the making for about two years. That was when we were approached by the Saudi government.”

Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, ICBA Director General, at the center’s Quinoa fields in Dubai. (Supplied photo)

She said: “We put forward a proposal to demonstrate how the ICBA can help the Saudi government to implement its Green Kingdom Initiative, through which the ministry is trying to restore green coverage in the country and revive old conservation practices.”

Geographical features and climatic conditions very greatly from one part of the country to the other.

In the past, experimentation with such crops as potatoes, wheat and alfalfa proved detrimental to the Kingdom’s environment and natural resources due to faster rates of groundwater withdrawal.

“The ministry wanted to put a halt to over-abstraction of water, so they went through different policies,” Elouafi said.

“They made sure, for example, that farmers stopped producing wheat because about 2,400 liters of water is consumed to produce 1 kg of wheat. It was a huge amount,” she added.

“The new strategy is to find more appropriate crops for the farming community, which is quite large in the Kingdom.”

Saudi Arabia has been trying to grow its own food on a large scale since the 1980s.

The objective of the Green Kingdom Initiative is to reduce the agricultural sector’s water demand by finding alternatives to thirsty crops.

The agreement will require the ICBA, over the next five years, to build for Saudi Arabia a new biosaline agriculture sector.

As part of this shift, cultivation of a number of crops, notably quinoa, pearl millet and sorghum, will be piloted in high-salinity regions and then scaled up.

“The crops did very well in the UAE,” Elouafi said. “We’re looking at Sabkha regions, which have very high salinity and wetlands, and are on the ministry’s environmental agenda.”

Another objective is “smart” agriculture, which will involve raising water productivity, controlling irrigation water consumption and changing farming behavior.

Elouafi said that getting farmers in the Kingdom to stop cultivating wheat took some time as they had become accustomed to heavy government subsidies. In 2015, wheat production was phased out, followed by potatoes a year later and then alfalfa.

“Farmers were provided everything to the point where they got used to a very good income and a very easy system,” she said.

“Now farmers are being asked to start producing something else, but the income won’t be the same, so it’s very important at this stage that the ministry has a plan and it’s fully understood.”

The agreement envisages preparation of proposals for ministry projects that involve plant production, drought monitoring, development of promising local crop and forestation varieties, and conservation of plant genetic resources.

“We’re also discussing capacity building because the ministry is big and has many entities. Because Saudi Arabia is a large country and has the capacity to meet some of its food requirements internally, what’s required is a better understanding of the country’s natural capabilities in terms of production of the crops it needs, like certain cereals,” Elouafi said.

“The way the authorities are going about it right now is more organized and more holistic. They’re trying to plan it properly.”

Elouafi said that having a better understanding of Saudi Arabia’s water constraints and managing the precious resource is essential.

Although almost the entire country is arid, there is rainfall in the north and along the mountain range to the west, especially in the far southwest, which receives monsoon rains in summer.

Sporadic rain may also occur elsewhere. Sometimes it is very heavy, causing serious flooding, including in Riyadh.

“They (the government) are very interested in drought management systems. The Kingdom has a long history of agriculture,” Elouafi said.

“It has large quantities of water in terms of rainfall, and certain regions have mountainous conditions, which are conducive to agriculture.”

Clearly, preservation of water resources is a priority for the Saudi government. But no less urgent is the task of conversion of green waste to improve soil quality, increase soil productivity and water retention, and reduce demand for irrigation.

The Kingdom is one of at least three Gulf Cooperation Council countries that are taking steps to develop a regulatory framework for the recycling of waste into compost.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman are respectively aiming to recycle 85 percent, 75 percent and 60 percent of their municipal solid waste over the next decade, according to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) entitled “Global Food Trends to 2030.”

Saudi Arabia and the UAE rank in the bottom quartile of the 34 countries covered by the EIU’s Food Sustainability Index, with low scores for nutrition and food loss and waste.

The answer, according to many farmers, policymakers and food-industry experts, is a shift toward more sustainable management of each country’s natural resources.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Arab News appoints Somayya Jabarti as Assistant Editor-in-Chief

Time: October 31, 2019

Somayya Jabarti is an award-winning Saudi journalist.
  • * Among other tasks, Jabarti will oversee training and development program as well newspaper’s gender-balance project.

RIYADH: Arab News, the Middle East’s leading English-language daily, announces the appointment of Somayya Jabarti in the capacity of Assistant Editor-in-Chief. Jabarti will assume the role as of 3 November 2019, she will work alongside deputy editor Tarek Mishkhas out of the newspaper’s headquarters in Riyadh. Her role will encompass several local, regional and international responsibilities.

“We are delighted to announce the return of Somayya to the Arab News family. She brings invaluable editorial and managerial experience and we look forward to her contributions to our vision and expanding operations,” said Faisal J. Abbas, Editor-in-Chief of Arab News. “Somayya will also play a vital role in the training and development of our reporters and in helping Arab News achieve its goal of having the Middle East’s first gender-balanced newsroom by the end of next year,” he added.

An Arab News veteran, Jabarti recently headed the Saudi Government’s Center for International Communication (CIC). Prior to that, she became the kingdom’s first-ever female newspaper editor when she succeeded Khaled al-Maeena at the helm of Saudi Gazette in 2014. Jabarti has nearly two decades of media experience, she was selected as one of the BBC’s 100 Women List in 2015, she has also been listed as one of Arabian Business’ Top 100 Most powerful Arab Women and was among Al Arabiya English’s Top 10 Muslim Women that made headlines in 2014. Additionally among other awards, she was the recipient of the Arab Woman Award for media in 2015.

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Community initiative aims to link doctors, pilgrims


High-tech devices are being provided to needy patients inside their camps. (AN photo by Essam Al-Ghalib)

Drive to facilitate communication between health service providers and Hajjis
MINA: An initiative in Makkah has provided financial support to supply interpreting devices in 120 languages, in partnership with the Community Participation Department of the Makkah Health Department. It is also helping to employ interpreters working around the clock in operations rooms.

Dr. Waddah Abu Talib, director of Mina Al-Jisr Hospital in Mina, said that a number of community bodies and members, including businessmen, in Makkah have participated in this initiative to provide 73 devices that interpret 120 languages, as well as 14 interpreters/translators who are offering their services 24 hours a day through the Ministry of Health.
This initiative aims to facilitate communication between service providers and pilgrims in hospitals and primary care centers in the holy places and Makkah, he said.
The 14 interpreters/translators are working around the clock to provide their services through the Ministry of Health.

glucose monitoring devices are being provided for free to patients in need inside their camps.

The languages they cover include English, Persian, Turkish, French, Swahili, Russian and Urdu, which are the most commonly used languages by patients visiting hospitals in Makkah and the holy places.
The supervisor of the Community Participation Program, Mahassen Hassan Shuaib, said that these services are courtesy of the Saudi people, and specifically the people of Makkah, to support the pilgrims in partnership with the Siqaya and Rifada Committee of the Makkah Municipality.
She added: “In addition to that, 100 blood pressure monitoring devices and 100 glucose monitoring devices are being provided for free to patients in need inside their camps, alongside water, umbrellas and shoes.”

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Arab News launches Hajj special coverage with all-female team


The Arab News all-female team comprises Hala Tashkandi from our Riyadh bureau, Rua’a Al-Ameri from our Dubai bureau and photographer Huda Bashatah from our Jeddah bureau. (AN photo)

In tandem with comprehensive coverage in print and online, the Arab News Hajj app for mobile devices is again available as a free download from the Apple App Store and Google Play
JEDDAH: Arab News today launches its special coverage of Hajj 2019 — with, for the first time, an all-female team on the ground at the holy sites.

Today’s special edition of the newspaper, with a stunning cover-wrap image of the Kaaba, is being distributed to pilgrims at Mina as they begin their spiritual journey.

In tandem with comprehensive coverage in print and online, the Arab News Hajj app for mobile devices is again available as a free download from the Apple App Store and Google Play.

The app, developed with the support of the Muslim World League, features a digital Qibla compass, a real-time currency converter, Qur’an prayer audio files and live news updates.

This year the app also has an enhanced “pilgrim tracker” function, an optional feature that allows users who activate it to share their location and follow loved ones in real time, round the clock.

For Hajj 2019 our staff will also be distributing Arab News umbrellas; designed for sun protection, they were invaluable last year when Makkah and Madina were deluged with rain. This year, in association with the Makkah Health Affairs General Directorate, the umbrellas will also be distributed to outpatients attending hospital for treatment during Hajj.

The Arab News all-female team comprises Hala Tashkandi from our Riyadh bureau, Rua’a Al-Ameri from our Dubai bureau and photographer Huda Bashatah from our Jeddah bureau.

“It is both amazing and intimidating to know that I have the task of bringing news to the general public, who rely on us to deliver information accurately, quickly and in an entertaining way,” Tashkandi said.

“I hope we can supply new and exciting information to all our readers, from Hajj veterans looking to see how things have changed, to young Muslims soaking up information to prepare for their first Hajj experience, and even curious non-Muslims who just want to know what it is about.”

Al-Ameri, on her first visit to Saudi Arabia, will be focusing on stories with a human interest.

“I am keen to learn about pilgrims’ experiences and share their personal stories on their spiritual journey,” she said.

Bashatah, the photographer, said: “I’m touched and proud to be part of the team as this is my first Hajj journey. I’m even more excited to leave my fingerprint on people’s memories with the photos I take of the pilgrims.”

The initiative for a 50:50 gender-balanced newsroom by 2020 was launched by Arab News editor-in-chief Faisal J. Abbas in 2018, reflecting Saudi Arabia’s drive toward reform and female empowerment. Hajj coverage was a key area for implementing the initiative, Abbas said.

“As the voice of our changing region, and the English-language newspaper of record for Saudi Arabia, Arab News sets the benchmark for reporting on Hajj, and our female staff play a crucial role in that work,” he said.

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Arab News has the Hajj pilgrims covered


There are more than 2 million pilgrims attending Hajj. (Arab News/Huda Bashatah)

Pilgrims can be seen at all parts of the Hajj journey sheltering from the sun. (Arab News/Huda Bashatah)

It’s unlikely to rain during the pilgrimage – but at least they are prepared. (Arab News/Huda Bashatah)

Most of the pilgrimage is spent outdoors. (Arab News/Huda Bashatah)

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Arab News Hajj app explained


What it is

The Arab News Hajj app is a free smartphone application designed to help pilgrims visiting Saudi Arabia to perform the holy rituals. It offers essential information and contact details needed during their spiritual journey. 

This year’s version of the app, endorsed once more by the Muslim World League, comes with a new design that provides an improved user experience. Enhanced features include live news updates and the signature ‘Pilgrim Tracker,’ which enables worshippers to connect with their loved ones back home. The new features give pilgrims the option to listen to verses from the Qur’an, to use a digital Qibla compass and activate a real-time currency converter to help to process their payments.


What it does: Main features


Pilgrim tracker: If you get lost in the crowd of Hajj pilgrims, there is no need to panic. This feature allows you to track and check on friends and family while performing Hajj. Each user has a unique code that can be shared with their loved ones to let them know where they are.







Hajj information: All you need to know about Hajj rituals. Key information such as daily prayer times and weather updates can also be found under this feature. It also has important contact details of all embassies and other useful numbers such as hotels and restaurants. The feature also shows pilgrims the nearest hospitals, train stations and Grand Mosque gates.





Latest news: Pilgrims no longer need to worry about grabbing newspapers or checking online news outlets while performing Hajj. All the latest stories and developments from our team of journalists covering Hajj will be listed in detail under this feature.




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