Saudi Arabia ‘safest among G20 countries,’ indicators say

Time: 01 December 2020

Saudi Arabia’s progress has led to the Kingdom ranking first among G20 nations for safety, outperforming the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC), international safety indicators have shown. (Shutterstock/File Photo)

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has topped the list as the most secure country according to international indicators related to security, outperforming the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The results were revealed through five security indicators included in the Global Competitiveness Report 2019,and the Sustainable Development Goals Index 2020.

The Kingdom ranked first among the G20 countries, ahead of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, surpassing China and Canada among the G20, and surpassing China and the US in the “Feeling safe while walking alone at night” index for this year.

Saudi Arabia also came first in the citizens’ confidence in police services index, which measures confidence in security and effectiveness in enforcing law and order.

Saudi Arabia also ranked first in the reliability of police services index, an indicator which measures public confidence in law enforcement and its success in achieving order and safety. The Kingdom topped the G20, and surpassed the five permanent UN Security Council members in this index, too.

Saudi Arabia ranked third among the G20 countries, after Australia and Japan and ahead of Canada, South Korea, France and Germany in the Security Index for 2019 issued by the Global Competitiveness Report. The Kingdom also surpassed, in the same index, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The Global Competitiveness Report, issued by the World Economic Forum, showed that the Kingdom advanced three places to rank 36th internationally in terms of international competitiveness. The report indicated that the Kingdom is making rapid steps to diversify its economy, with expectations of growth in the non-oil sector, and that more investments outside the mining sector will appear in succession in the public and private sectors in the coming years.

The report commended Saudi Arabia’s clear insistence on carrying out structural reforms and its widespread adoption of communication technology, with the high potential for innovation, especially in the field of patent registration.

The Global Competitiveness Report, published annually, is designed to support and help policymakers, business leaders and stakeholders identify policies and practices best suited for long-term measures to assess their progress.

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Saudi minimum wage will apply to all existing, new workers: ministry

30/11/20

Men walk inside a terminal building at Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah on December 12, 2019. (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP)
The employee, earning less than SAR 4,000, will be accounted as “half worker” in (Nitaqat). (File/AFP)
  • Minimum wage will be raised from from SAR 3,000 ($800) to SAR 4,000

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development said that the decision to raise the minimum wage calculation for Saudis from SAR 3,000 ($800) to SAR 4,000 ($1,066) applies to all existing and new workers in the Saudi labor market.

The employee, earning less than SAR 4,000, will be accounted as “half worker” in (Nitaqat), Makkah newspaper quoted the ministry’s spokesperson, Nasser Al-Hazani, as saying.

He also added that this will be applied to the existing private sector employees as well as the new entrants.

The groups benefiting from the decision are all the private sector employees with wages subject to social insurance and salaries less than SAR 4,000, and not within specific groups, the official said.

Al-Hazani added that the ministry currently does not possess any statistics regarding the number of beneficiaries, with wages ranging between SAR 3,000 to SAR 4,000 per month. However, it is working in cooperation with the General Organization for Social Insurance (GOSI) to create statistics for such beneficiaries.

According to the data available on Argaam, the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, Ahmad bin Sulaiman Al-Rajhi, recently issued a decision to raise the minimum wage calculation for Saudis in Nitaqat from SAR 3,000 to SAR 4,000.

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‘Remote learning is one of the greatest opportunities’: Saudi expert

Time: 26 November 2020

Raising awareness about remote learning is important, says Abeer Hassan, an educationist

MAKKAH: Saudi society has been torn between the pros and cons of remote learning, which has laid the foundations of a new technological era.
“Remote learning is one of the greatest opportunities,” noted education expert, Abeer Hassan, the director of the innovation club at King Saud University.
“Analysis of the educational developments currently taking place around the Arab world … within the scope of remote working are the most significant evidence of (its) success, through the adoption of its models and the exchange of skills,” she added.
“Although we have been greatly successful, there are still some shortcomings such as the high financial costs, some communities not accepting this type of education, and some people refusing to replace teachers with television,” Hassan added.
“Awareness raising and highlighting the pioneering role of remote learning are of great importance. The first signs of its success are found in the continuous dynamic developments we are witnessing in the remote learning system,” she pointed out.
Nasser Bukhari, a parent, said that “remote learning burdened the families that now have to monitor their children throughout the year. Many families are now suffering due to the negative repercussions of students using tablets and mobile phones for long hours.
“This issue has affected their ability to focus,” he added, noting that “what characterized remote learning is that it helped families learn about technology and applications, shortened distances and vanquished the pandemic that took over the world.
“Remote learning helped preserve the health of Saudi Arabia’s citizens and residents. It was a courageous decision … that was lauded by all the beneficiaries, who clearly contributed to the harnessing of this technology, which might still be used even after the pandemic ends,” Bukhari added.
Waleed Shanaq, a student at Makkah’s Ali bin Abi Taleb High School, stressed that “remote learning was a wonderful idea, through which students were able to interact and complete their assignments since day one. This is a great platform that has diversified the means of learning.
“Remote learning is not a good decision when it come to all the subjects, as mathematics, physics and chemistry require an attendance in person. As for the other subjects, it would be a good idea to keep providing them remotely even after the pandemic ends,” he added.
“One of the problems facing remote learning is the indifferent students that are hard to monitor. This technology requires a quality of students who are aware of this technological and educational change, which demands an educational and moral commitment,” Shanaq said.

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Diplomats praise new labor reforms in Saudi Arabia

Time: 05 November 2020

An Asian laborer climbs a ladder as he works at the construction site of a building in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Reuters/File)
  • The initiative will make the Saudi labor market more efficient, protect the interests of both the workers and the employers

RIYADH: Heads of diplomatic missions in Riyadh welcomed the announcement of Saudi Arabia’s Labor Reform Initiative (LRI) on Wednesday, which will improve the contractual relationship between workers and employers.

Launched by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (MHRSD), the initiative also aims to make the Saudi job market more attractive.

Speaking to Arab News, Pakistani Ambassador to the Kingdom Raja Ali Ejaz said: “We congratulate MHRSD for launching LRI for private sector workers, to be implemented with effect from March 14, 2021.”

He said that the reforms are expected to benefit Pakistani workers. “The LRI is introducing the best international practices in the developed countries vis-a-vis the Saudi Labor Law, benefitting workers and employers. It activates the contractual agreement between employer and employee through digital documentation which will reduce disparity.”

He said they would alleviate the problems of those workers who sign work agreements in Pakistan and then are asked to sign another agreement in the Kingdom.

The reforms will also allow expatriate workers to transfer between employers after their contract expires, without the need for the employer’s consent.

“It will greatly help Pakistani workers to search for new jobs while living in the Kingdom,” he added. “All such facilities will be made available to all the expat workers through the Absher and Qiwa mobile apps on the ministry’s portal. The ministry will launch an online portal named Wedy for the settlement of labor disputes, which are welcome reforms.”

Indian Ambassador Ausaf Sayeed said that his embassy welcomed the ministry’s reforms, which are “well appreciated and a step in the right direction.”

“The initiative will make the Saudi labor market more efficient, protect the interests of both the workers and the employers, and go a long way in making the work environment in the Kingdom more attractive to expatriate workers,” he said.

Indonesian Ambassador Agus Maftuh Abegebriel said that the initiative will improve the legal protection for expats working in Saudi Arabia “through a better contractual relationship between workers and employers.”

He said: “Indonesia, as one of the states sending the most migrant workers to the Kingdom, regards the initiative as an improvement for expatriates’ working environment.”

It will also contribute to the competitiveness of the Kingdom’s job market in attracting global talent to join the labour force in the Kingdom, said the envoy.

The embassy expressed its readiness to cooperate with the Kingdom’s agencies before the regulations come into force in March next year, Abegebriel said.

Bangladesh Ambassador Dr. Mohammad Javed Patwary said that his government is looking forward to sending more skilled workers in the near future after the new reforms, which in line with the realization of the Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan.

“The Embassy of Bangladesh hopes that more than 2 million Bangladeshi expatriates living in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will benefit through these initiatives,”he said.

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Waking the sleeping giants above Saudi Arabia’s deserts

Time: 26 October 2020  

Photo credit: Anas Almajed
  • Saudi stargazers are fusing ancient traditions with cutting-edge technology

JEDDAH: Saudis have for years wandered off to explore the country’s varied landscapes, with excursions that focus on stargazing and meteor watching.

The Kingdom’s vast, open lands provide one of the most optimal views of space in the region, a hidden secret has not been fully discovered yet, and which feeds curious minds and wakes the sleeping giants above.

For thousands of years, Arabs traveling across the region’s lands used stars to navigate through rough terrain and vast deserts. Indigenous tribes inherited their navigation skills on land and sea from those who traveled from one end of Arabia to the other.

Today, satellites and navigation apps do the job instead, but people’s curiosity has remained, and many still look up at blue or red dots of glowing planets, star systems, and constellations in a bid to understand their historical significance and beauty.

Photographers in the Kingdom have advanced the field of nature photography, with some branching out to become astrophotographers, documenting celestial events such as eclipses and meteor showers. The keenest have gone even further and captured nebulas and star clusters.

Many medieval Muslim scholars made huge contributions to astronomy — from Ibn Yunus’ successful attempts in correcting historic Greek calculations of planetary movements to Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sufi, who was the first astronomer to observe the Andromeda Galaxy and Large Magellanic Cloud.

Anas Al-Majed, an avid astrophotographer based in Riyadh, bought his first telescope seven years ago and was able to view the moon’s mountains and craters as well as neighboring gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn, in fine detail.

“I was awestruck with how detailed everything was, like Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s gaseous bands. With time, I upgraded from a simple telescope to a Dobsonian 8-inch, where I delved into discovering deep-sky objects, starting with the Andromeda Galaxy and Orion’s Nebula,” Al-Majed told Arab News. “As a photographer, I wanted to know more and continue discovering, and again, upgraded to a refractor with an equatorial mount for my camera, which brought simple results.”

But the photographer still needed more, as he wanted to capture images of the sleeping giants in bright detail, and he soon bought a camera with features that suited deep astrophotography. The result was surprising and magnificent.

“The refractor’s lens is the closest to a camera lens, my first love. Maintaining the refractor telescope doesn’t take much effort and it can handle the tough terrain unlike other telescopes,” he said.

Although an expensive hobby, turning to international sites means cheaper prices for proper equipment and telescopes, which many say are expensive in the Kingdom.

Al-Majed said the field is still young and there is more room for exploration, but warned that it takes time, practice, and patience to achieve optimal results.

With seven years of experience, he is still keen to find more deep space objects to photograph. “It’s the challenge that’s exciting. The Bubble Nebula is very difficult to photograph due to its distance and the Veil Nebula is a strange and beautiful object. There are still many deep space objects to find and I can head out of Riyadh and search.”

FASTFACTS

• Some of the constellations that can be viewed with the naked eye during autumn above the Saudi deserts include Cassiopeia, Ursa Major, and Minor, Crux, and Draco.

• Planets such as Venus, Saturn, Jupiter also shine bright, but it is Mars in opposition that steals the show this time of year.

The Kingdom is ideal for stargazers and astrophotographers, but few know where or how to watch one of nature’s most striking sights in all its glory — the Milky Way Galaxy.

With proper research and by selecting the right time and place, the Milky Way’s core can be seen rising during the country’s summer months and disappearing toward the Southern Equatorial Belt.

Huda Alerwy, a Jeddah-based photographer, went on a hiking trip in April 2019 and camped off the edge of the Wahba Crater, a volcanic crater located 250 km from Taif. There she witnessed the Milky Way galaxy’s rise above the horizon for the first time in her life.

Fortunately, there are apps that people can use to reach areas with relatively clean and stable air to make the viewing of stars sharp and clear.

Mohammed Jan

“The scene was mesmerizing. We started to see the glow of the belt at 2 a.m. and I had the chance to capture the moment,” Alerwy told Arab News. “We spent more than an hour photographing its rise and if I get the chance to relive that experience again, I’ll do it with no hesitation.”

With her tripod in tow, she was able to ensure that her camera was stable enough to withstand any wind gusts and stabilize it for a clear shot.

Some of the constellations that can be viewed with the naked eye during autumn above the Saudi deserts include Cassiopeia, Ursa Major, and Minor, Crux, and Draco. Planets such as Venus, Saturn, Jupiter also shine bright, but it is Mars in opposition that steals the show this time of year.

For casual stargazers in many parts of the Kingdom, the stars have been further away, photographer Mohammed Jan told Arab News. “Many Saudis can’t see the Milky Way where they live, or many stars for that matter, due to light pollution. They’d have to drive for hundreds of miles outside city limits to get away from it.

“Fortunately, there are apps that people can use to reach areas with relatively clean and stable air to make the viewing of stars sharp and clear for both stargazers or photography enthusiasts alike,” he added.

Obsessed with astrophysics and space for years, Jan captured his first glimpse of the Milky Way in 2014 and soon became more knowledgeable in the field. He often drives for hours just to make sure he is away from any light pollution.

“There are different apps that you can use to make sure that you’re in the right area. Large cities such as Makkah and Jeddah are within Zone 9 and barely feature any stars. For optimal viewing and astrophotography, you’ll need to be in an area less than a Zone 4,” he added.

With time, Jan grew used to capturing celestial objects, but soon ventured into new territory — nebulas and deep-sky objects.

“The Helix Nebula has always captured my interest. The planetary nebula was and has always been my favorite object to photograph in the dark skies,” said Jan, repeating Al-Majed’s warning that it is through time, practice, and effort that he was able to reach his level of expertise. Jan is looking forward to doing better but has called for greater community support for astrophotography.

“Not many understand what we do and why we do it. It’s educational, it’s knowledge and its understanding,” he said.

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Saudi Arabia, Google partner in plan to ‘level-up’ Mideast

18/10/20

Lino Cattaruzzi, managing director for Google in MENA. (Supplied)

  • The program includes cloud training for local businesses, as well as workshops on advanced digital skills, such as a machine learning platform that will teach about 140,000 developers with a focus on women

DUBAI: Several Saudi ministries have teamed up with tech giant Google to launch a set of projects aimed at helping the Kingdom’s economic strategy and digital transformation.

Google said the initiatives will focus on Saudi Arabia and the MENA region and will boost economic recovery amid the coronavirus pandemic. The program, named “Grow stronger with Google,” will include a comprehensive list of digital tools, grants and training opportunities to support local businesses and job seekers across the region. In the Kingdom, Google will target the retail, tourism and technology sectors, including Saudi Post, which will list 100,000 local entities on the company’s digital platform and train employees in online marketing.
“We are proud to partner with Google in this initiative to bring value to Saudi nationals, residents and local businesses, especially SMEs through bringing them together using the Google ‘My Business’ platform,” said President of the Saudi Post Anef Abanomi.
“Through this partnership we aim to list up to 100,000 businesses in the first phase in line with Saudi Post’s strategic transformation objectives to improve quality of life and help SMEs achieve their e-commerce and digitization goals,” he added.
Lino Cattaruzzi, managing director for Google in MENA, said in a press release: “During the pandemic, online tools have been a lifeline for many in Saudi Arabia. Making the most of the online opportunity can help Saudi people, businesses and communities and in the wider region bounce back stronger.” He said the program will equip businesses and individuals in the Kingdom with digital skills, especially in sectors that have been most affected by the pandemic, such as retail and tourism.

HIGHLIGHT

In the Kingdom, Google will target the retail, tourism and technology sectors, including Saudi Post, which will list 100,000 local entities on the company’s digital platform and train employees in online marketing.

The tech giant has also partnered with several Saudi bodies — including the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and the Ministry of Tourism — to implement the programs. One project is set to train 50,000 students and businesses in digital marketing.
“We remain fundamentally optimistic about the future of this region, and we’re confident that by working together with local partners, we can boost recovery and build on the rapid acceleration of tech adoption we’ve seen during the crisis,” Cattaruzzi said.
The program also includes cloud training for local businesses, as well as workshops on advanced digital skills, such as a machine learning platform that will teach about 140,000 developers with a focus on women.
Google said it wants to help 1 million people and businesses throughout the MENA region learn digital skills and grow businesses by the end of 2021.

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Saudi Arabia launches ‘make it green’ campaign to plant 10 million trees

11/10/20

Saudi Arabia loses 120,000 hectares of trees every year through destruction and the logging industry. (Supplied)

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture launched the “Let’s make it green” campaign on Saturday – an initiative aimed at planting 10 million trees across the Kingdom.

Over the next six months, trees will be planted in approximately165 sites to tackle deforestation.

The campaign was launched with several Saudi ministries tweeting tree emojis in a push to promote the planting of trees in the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia loses 120,000 hectares of trees every year through destruction and the logging industry.

 

The environment ministry explained that the campaign comes as part of its efforts to work on developing natural vegetation cover and restoring biological diversity in natural environments, as well as rehabilitating degraded vegetation sites.

The campaign also aims to promote positive behavior to preserve and protect the environment.

Trees and shrubs that are threatened with extinction due to overgrazing, logging and uprooting, as well as the urban expansion will also be planted,

The Ministry of Environment reported that the campaign also aims to create a number of national parks, to spread seeds in a number of areas, and to plant forests in the Najran and Al-Baha regions.

 

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UNESCO praises Saudi Arabia for keeping education going during COVID-19 lockdown

Time: 08 October 2020  

UNESCO said lessons were available online within 10 hours of Saudi schools closing due to COVID-19 March. (SPA/File)
  • Report says Saudi Arabia’s transition to distance learning had been a “success story”.
  • Online lessons were available within 10 hours of schools closing

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s education ministry had been praised by UNESCO for measures it took to handle the coronavirus pandemic.

The report by the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said Saudi Arabia had “ensured the continuation of the remote educational process and maintained the safety for more than six million students in public schools and universities.”

The report focussed on the second semester of the last school year, as lock down measures went in to full force to stop the spread of COVID-19.

It detailed how Saudi Arabia successfully implemented emergency plans from February, which were continuously updated.

Specialized committees and work teams were formed “to ensure the readiness of the education and training system to produce results that guarantee the safety of education personnel,” UNESCO said.

The report said Saudi Arabia’s transition to distance learning had been a “success story”.

Online classes were set up within 10 hours of the decision to close schools in late March and lessons were broadcast via satellite on 20 TV channels.

They were also available on YouTube where views reached more than 61 million.

In higher education, 27 public universities hosted two million virtual classes and more than six million panel discussions.

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Helicopter Company hauls largest airborne Saudi flag across the Kingdom’s skies

Time: 29 September 2020

(Supplied)
  • Impressive spectacle marked the start of a first-of-its-kind airshow, as part of the Kingdom’s 90th National Day celebrations

RIYADH: The Helicopter Company (THC) helped Saudi Arabia’s 90th National Day Airshow get off to a flying start by displaying the largest airborne Saudi flag in the skies above the Kingdom.

The impressive spectacle marked the start of the first-of-its-kind event, which combined military and civil aviation displays in a single show. The week-long airshow, organized by the General Entertainment Authority, began in Jeddah on Sept. 21, before moving on to Riyadh and concluding in Al-Khobar.

It began with a THC AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter towing the 2,000-square-meter flag across the sky. At the end of each day’s airborne entertainment, THC took the skies again to display a banner decorated with the slogan of the 90th National Day, “mettle to the top.”

THC, which is wholly owned by the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund, recently launched its banner-towing service. It offers clients the chance to display messages and advertise products on huge customized banners towed across the sky by a helicopter. The company’s participation in the National Day Airshow was the first official use of the service. THC has also introduced aerial photography, in addition to other recently announced aerial business services.

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A national day on an international stage

Time: 23 September 2020

Last year’s Saudi National Day came just 10 days after the attacks on the Kingdom’s oil production in Abqaiq and Khurais. In that time, oil production had been restored and the attempt to cripple the world’s largest oil processing facility instead became a symbol of the country’s resilience in the face of adversity.

Fast forward a year and the Kingdom’s national day again coincides with a period of adversity, though this time shared by the world at large.

Once again the Kingdom is demonstrating its resilience amid an unprecedented downturn in global oil demand caused by the coronavirus.

During this 90th national day celebration, Saudi Arabia is chairing the G20 in what is a critical crossroads for the global economy.

While the pandemic prevented physical gatherings from taking place, the Kingdom continued to steward the virtual meetings of world leaders and helped to galvanize action to curb the impact of the virus and rebalance an energy market that had been badly hurt by falling demand at a time of copious supply.

The speed with which a deal was reached was, in part, an acknowledgment of confidence among other countries in the Saudi vision for restoring order to the energy market.

That entailed orchestrating the largest oil output cuts in history, with 20 producers from inside and outside OPEC, in order to contain the largest oil demand shock the world has ever seen. This unique pact between OPEC and other producers outside the group — now in its fourth year — has kept oil markets on an even keel despite the most ferocious of headwinds.

Saudi Arabia’s national oil company, Saudi Aramco, remains the most profitable among its peers, while many other companies in the sector have had a much tougher time in adjusting to what has become known as “the new normal.”

For the wider oil industry, the second quarter was unsurprisingly much worse than the first, and the steep losses incurred by oil companies does not bode well for future investment in key energy infrastructure as they slash expenditure across operations and exploration.

Weaker oil prices that fell to historic lows in April and similarly weak refining margins have resulted in losses for many industry titans, but not, it is worth noting, for Saudi Aramco which managed to achieve a net income that exceeded the profit of the five major international oil companies combined. It will also make good on its dividend commitment to shareholders despite the extraordinary events of recent months.

Beyond the oil sector, the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) has also prospered and seized on new opportunities across a number of sectors and industries helping it to increase its global profile.

During the pandemic, its assets jumped to some $390 billion compared with about $360 billion last August. This takes it a step closer to fulfilling its Saudi Vision 2030 target of $400 billion by the end of 2020.

• Faisal Faeq is an energy and oil marketing adviser. He was formerly with OPEC and Saudi Aramco. Twitter:@faisalfaeq.

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