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Saudi Arabia invests in startups to achieve Vision 2030 objective

Time: October 19, 2018   

A new age is dawning in the Kingdom as KSA startups work on developing AI solutions. (AFP)
  • Young entrepreneurs are expected to play a key role as the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) tries to boost foreign direct investment
  • Saudi Arabia is aiming to be in the top 20 countries measured by ease of doing business by 2020

DUBAI: The Kingdom has been investing heavily in startups as Saudi Arabia focuses on growing its economy to achieve its Vision 2030 objective of moving away from dependency on oil.
Young entrepreneurs are expected to play a key role as the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) tries to boost foreign direct investment.
“Value impact is very important,” said Dr. Mazin Al-Zaidi, head of innovation and entrepreneurship at SAGIA. “These startups, being able to establish themselves in the Kingdom will have a value impact.”
The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is hatching different technologies. Its flagship program, the TAQADAM Startup Accelerator — a partnership with the Saudi British Bank, is a six-month intensive program to help scientists create valuable technologies quickly.
“We’ve seen really good outcomes in terms of specific technologies, such as in energy or artificial intelligence in the last two cohorts,” said Hattan Ahmed, entrepreneurship collaboration manager in Innovation and Economic Development at KAUST.
“They are resolving some key challenges, not just for Saudi Arabia but the world.” Another startup developed laser lights to help crops grow indoors, he added.
Last year, Sadeem Wireless Sensing Systems — a KAUST IP-based startup — won the Global Startup Award at Gitex Future Stars. It describes itself as an “urban real-time flood monitoring system to save lives.”
“It addressed the key challenges in deploying smart city solutions to provide informative analytics to allow decision-makers to control floods in cities,” Ahmed said.
“The key challenge is for entrepreneurs to take a technology and explore creative ways of deploying it in non-obvious ways.”
The government is making it easier for startups in the Kingdom. “When it comes to entrepreneurship, startups and technologies being developed, it’s difficult if you don’t have the connections,” said Mohammed Almajed, adviser to the chairman of the board at the Saudi Technology Development and Investment Company (Taqnia). “With mega-projects, you need credibility, and there are lots of overheads that are impossible for startups to overcome unless there is a government-based company that can minimize the overheads.”


Disclosed funding for KSA-founded startups rose from $18.8 million in 2016 to $39.8 million in 2017.

Taqnia builds a supportive community for startups. “We’re capable of bringing partners together to solve one problem,” Almajed said. “If you’re alone, you’ll be swept away so we’re the network. We have our own ideas and market, and connections with research and development centers, product development centers, that will be accessible to those working with us.”
Saudi Arabia is aiming to be in the top 20 countries measured by “ease of doing business” by 2020. “This year, Saudi Arabia had the largest number of reforms in the region,” Al-Zaidi said. “For the environment to become healthy, a lot has to be done and we’re working on it. We’re heading in the right direction.”
Cura is one startup that promises to transform medical consultation in the Kingdom. It is the first platform in the Middle East planning to give people consultations with one of its 1,600 doctors using real-time chat and live video calls. It is also the tele-medicine provider for the Kingdom’s Ministry of Health, serving more than 300,000 citizens with 10 contact centers across the country and 400 doctors with around 3,000 virtual visits a day.
Wael Kabli, CEO of Cura, said: “Saudi Arabia wants to increase private sector contribution to the GDP. So they have to bring more companies into the economy and the best way to do that is through entrepreneurship.
“There has been a big movement happening since last year and we have a huge number of startups today,” he said. “A very good example is the increasing number of startups at Gitex this year in comparison with last year.”
Another example is Morni, an interactive mobile application to provide roadside assistance in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, a startup founded by Salman Al-Suhaibaney in 2015. “In Saudi Arabia, the number of SMEs is relatively higher than corporates — more than 90 percent of companies are SMEs,” said Al-Suhaibaney, Morni CEO. “But they’re not contributing more than 2 to 3 percent of GDP, so supporting these SMEs will contribute more to GDP.”
He said that supporting KSA tech businesses would be a great opportunity to further contribute to the Kingdom’s GDP and help achieve its Vision 2030 objectives. “There are a few entrepreneurs coming to Saudi Arabia now but we’re looking for high-impact entrepreneurs and we’re capitalizing on companies that could expand globally from the Kingdom,” he said.
According to MAGNiTT, a database for startup information across Middle East and North Africa, the region has seen continued growth in startups. Disclosed funding for KSA-founded startups rose from $18.8 million in 2016 to $39.8 million in 2017.
“There is a clear focus at all levels of governments and corporates on the promotion of entrepreneurship and innovation in the Kingdom,” said Philip Bahoshy, founder of MAGNiTT.
“Innovation is a key driver of an economy’s diversification while also helping support employment. As one of the largest populations and economies in the region, the Kingdom is prime for the adoption of innovation to support the creation of efficiency for users and companies alike.”
So far this year $32.8 million has been invested, with 97.9 percent of annual growth of disclosed startup funding from 2014 to 2017 in Saudi Arabia. The trend is expected to continue, with more than 15 registered venture capitalists on the platform and more than 10 incubators and co-working spaces across the Kingdom.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia urged to revise laws further to achieve Vision 2030

Time: October 16, 2018     

Saudi Arabia urged to revise laws further to achieve Vision 2030
Under its Vision 2030, the kingdom is looking to attract foreign investors who could share their expertise in developing and growing local companies.
By Sam Bridge

Achieving Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030 requires consolidation of regulations to attract foreign investment, create new jobs and transfer private sector skills to the public sector, senior executives have said.

This was the consensus during accountancy and finance body ICAEW’s Corporate Finance Faculty roundtable held in Riyadh.

Panellists included Ahmar Azam, chief operating officer of Leejam, Anand Rohatgi, chief operating officer of Synergy Consulting, Daniel Royle, corporate partner at Abuhimed Alsheikh Alhagbani Law Firm and Imad Matar, ME deals partner at PwC.

Speakers agreed that the regulatory laws used in the kingdom are currently below international standard, especially when compared to more developed markets.

They emphasised the importance of revised laws and the adoption of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) to attain a thriving economy.

Under its Vision 2030, the kingdom is looking to attract foreign investors who could share their expertise in developing and growing local companies.

But panellist said that in order to achieve this, Saudi businesses must make themselves more marketable by showing an equal level of competency, transparency and disclosure. They must have the right team and structure in place, and they should strive to not only compete locally but also globally.

Speakers advised that the Saudi Companies’ Law should be amended to allow a higher ownership percentage for foreign investors, especially in the priority sectors such as the healthcare.

Panellists also agreed that cost-cutting is essential to improve the overall performance of Saudi businesses. A major strategy to achieve this is by providing economies of scale which can be achieved in the short term through mergers and acquisitions.

Michael Armstrong, ICAEW regional director for the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA), said: “Vision 2030 sets out a blueprint for the future of Saudi Arabia. Pleasing progress has already been made as a result of sweeping social and economic reforms in the kingdom.

“However, there is always room for improvement. By amending laws supporting private companies, we will see an increase in foreign direct investment which will lead to greater economic sustainability and long-term benefits for the economy.”

This article was first published in Arabian Business

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What do you know about the biggest Saudi dream?

Time: October 14, 2018  


ON Aug. 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, America’s inspiring black activist, said his famous words “I have a dream,” which turned into a global slogan for anyone who wanted to make any positive change in the world. Saudis say the same words today while they work hard and fast to achieve the objectives of their Vision 2030, masterminded by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman and launched with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman’s blessing by the end of April 2016.

It is a big Saudi dream, which can be summed up in the following themes: prosperous economy, vibrant society, and ambitious nation. Vision 2030’s programs are: National Transformation Program, Quality of Life Program, Fiscal Balance Program, Public Investment Fund, Privatization Program and Financial Sector Development Program.

The Kingdom has finally decided to tap into its treasures, which remained untouched since its founding, and to invest in these treasures to build a bright future for itself on its own terms, not on the terms or conditions imposed by the global market conditions and international politics.

By prosperous economy, Vision 2030 aims to reduce the country’s dependency on oil and focus on untapped renewable energy resources as well as resources such as gold, phosphate and uranium. The Kingdom enjoys a strategic geographical location and has not tapped into its cultural heritage and tourist attractions. One of the Vision 2030’s objectives is to increase non-oil exports from 16 percent to 50 percent of the total non-oil GDP, raise its global ranking in the Logistics Performance Index from 49 to 25 and ensure the Kingdom is a regional leader, to increase foreign direct investment from 3.8 percent of the GDP to the international level of 5.7 percent, to rise from our current position of 25 to the top 10 countries on the Global Competitiveness Index, to increase the Public Investment Fund’s assets from SR600 billion to over SR7 trillion, to increase the localization of oil and gas sectors from 40 percent to 75 percent, to move from our current position as the 19th largest economy in the world into the top 15.

Regarding vibrant society, Saudis celebrated a few months ago the launch of Quality of Life Program in Riyadh amid the presence of senior government officials, the media and a number of young men and women who graduated from the most prestigious universities in the US and Europe. The Quality of Life Program represents the Saudi dream from a social perspective as it focuses on promoting and tapping into the resources of tourism, entertainment and culture and improving health, educational and living services in order to create a vibrant and attractive social environment. The program grants equal and full rights and privileges to all members of society and contributes to the success of other aspects of the Vision, especially the ones related to economy and politics. It adopts a scientific approach for measuring the quality of life and compares it with global indexes to get more reliable results.

The indexes are: Global Livability Index, which is issued annually by the Economist Intelligence Unit, and which classifies cities in 140 countries based on the quality of urban life; Mercer Survey for Quality of Living Standards, which classifies 213 cities based on the quality of transportation, political, social and cultural environment, public services, health, economy, education, housing, entertainment, sports, consumables, restaurants and recreation; Moncole List of Most Livable Cities, which includes 25 most livable cities; World Happiness Index, which classifies 155 countries based on happiness; OECD Better Life Index; and AARP Livability Index.

The third theme of Vision 2030 , “Ambitious Nation”, aims to raise the non-profit sector’s contribution to GDP from less than 1 percent to 5 percent; increase household savings from 6 percent to 10 percent of total household income; raise our ranking on the E-Government Survey Index from our current position of 36 to be among the top five nations; raise our ranking in the Government Effectiveness Index, from 80 to 20; increase non-oil government revenue from SR163 billion to SR1 trillion.

Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman is the one who developed Vision 2030 to create a new state led by its great and unstoppable ambition. In November 2017, American columnist Thomas Friedman asked Prince Muhammad about the reason that makes him work constantly as if running out of time, to which the crown prince answered, “I fear that the day I die I am going to die without accomplishing what I have in my mind. Life is too short and a lot of things can happen, and I am really keen to see it with my own eyes — and that is why I am in a hurry.

Few months later, CBS 60 Minutes Show host asked Prince Muhammad, “Can anything stop you?” to which he answered “Only death.”

This article was first published in Saudi Gazette

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KSA making significant economic progress toward Vision 2030

Time: October 04, 2018   

Every year, Saudi citizens recall with great appreciation and honor the achievements of the Kingdom in various aspects of life, including health, education, politics, social affairs, economics and finance. By virtue of specialization, I will discuss in this article the most important economic and financial achievements that have taken place in the Kingdom in the past year.

The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, in its 54th annual report, indicated that the Saudi economy began in 2017 to undergo a string of economic reforms and programs that were detailed in Saudi Vision 2030. Such reforms have revolved around the diversification of income sources in order to reduce the Kingdom’s reliance on oil revenues.

One of the most prominent reforms was the formation of an anti-corruption committee, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This committee, aside from its successful efforts to recover billions of riyals of stolen public money, has managed to boost confidence in the Saudi investment environment. Other reforms include a “sin tax,” which is an excise tax specifically levied on certain goods that are deemed harmful to society, such as tobacco and sugar-filled soft drinks.

There is also the application of transparency and good governance to all government transactions, contracts and procurements. For example, the Ministry of Finance is now preparing the government’s budget reports and accounts in accordance with the Government Financial Statistics Manual, which is published by the International Monetary Fund.

And the Council of Economic Affairs and Development has announced 10 programs of strategic importance for the government to achieve Saudi Vision 2030. They are: The Housing Program, Serving Pilgrims Program, Improving Lifestyle Program, Strengthening National Identity Program, Supporting National Leadership of Companies Program, Developing National Industry and Logistical Services Program, Public Investment Fund, Strategic Partnerships Program, Developing the Financial Sector Program, and the Privatization Program.

The government’s commitment to economic reforms has resulted in excellent economic and financial results, as indicated in a report recently released by the Council of Saudi Chambers. For example, last year 10 development and investment projects worth SR685 billion ($182 billion) were launched and the private sector’s contribution to GDP at constant prices doubled to about SR1.2 billion.

It is also worth noting the government’s efforts in connection with supporting the private sector, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), by allocating financial incentives worth SR72 billion, of which SR14 billion was allocated to SMEs.

These projects and other economic achievements have translated the goals and objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 into facts and figures that will not only benefit the Saudi economy, but will also benefit the people of Saudi Arabia too.


This article was first published in Arab News

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Departing British envoy ‘hugely optimistic’ about Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030

Time: September 20, 2018 

British envoy Barrie Peach with Saudi students. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
  • Outgoing British Consul General Barrie Peach will remember the beaches, the historic sites … and the delicious seafood
  • Peach offers valid reasons for optimism that Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030 project will be a success

JEDDAH: British Consul General Barrie Peach has reached the end of his third posting in Saudi Arabia. His two years as Consul General in Jeddah — preceded by three years in Riyadh — ends in September.

As he prepares to continue his diplomatic career elsewhere, Peach sat down for an interview with Arab News to reflect on his time in the Kingdom and the optimism he feels for its future in light of Vision 2030. It was, he pointed out, an apt final interview.

“When I first arrived in Saudi Arabia, my first job was in charge of communications, so I was the press officer,” Peach said. “So, I’ve had a very long relationship with Arab News. In fact, the very first time I was interviewed by a newspaper was by Arab News in 2003.”

As Peach explained, it was no surprise that he came to work in the Middle East as a diplomat.

“I studied Arabic in Scotland and in Lebanon, so I guess the foreign office was a logical choice,” he said. “I’ve been with the Foreign Ministry since the year 2000. Since then, I have worked in a number of Arab countries. I suppose as a diplomat I’m slightly unusual in that I’m coming to the end of my third posting in Saudi Arabia. Most commonly, diplomats will go to a country once in their career, maybe twice at most. In addition to that, I’ve also served in Qatar, Iraq, Algeria, and Libya.”

Peach was already well versed in both the language and customs of Saudi Arabia when he became consul general in Jeddah, having worked in the Kingdom for many years. “I have spent more of my adult life in Saudi Arabia than I have in the UK. So, I guess I really do consider myself in many ways to be part of the fabric of Saudi society,” he said. “I’ve lived here through many changes, many experiences, and I’ve always found Saudi Arabia to be a very warm and welcoming place that I’ve very much enjoyed living in.”

Arab News


Consul General says goodbye as his tour of duty in ends

Peach cited the consulate’s coordination with Saudi authorities to provide British pilgrims with security and hospitality during their travels to Makkah as one of the highlights of his time in Jeddah.

“I would say one of the most important functions that our consulate has carried out has been our care toward British pilgrims. When I speak to my Saudi friends and colleagues, they are often surprised at just how many British Muslims visit Saudi Arabia each year. This past year, we’ve had around 130,000 pilgrims visit, including, most recently, 26,000 pilgrims for Hajj. As you know, for many people, this is one of the most important journeys of their lives, and we are ready to help them if — God forbid — they get into any trouble. We are very grateful to the Saudi authorities for the huge efforts that they make in facilitating the pilgrims with safety, security, and tranquility. Thankfully, the vast majority of visits have been trouble free.”

As consul general, Peach has witnessed first-hand the progressive reforms that the Kingdom is going through, and offers valid reason for optimism that the ambitious Vision 2030 project will be a success.

“An important role of the consul general is to promote trade between our two nations, and I’m delighted to say that over the past year we have increased mutual trade between businesses in Saudi Arabia and the UK. We’re expanding into new areas, so we’re mapping our work onto Vision 2030, following the creation of a Strategic Partnership Council as a result of the Crown Prince’s visit to the UK earlier this year,” he said.

“So, we’re looking for opportunities in new areas such as the creative sector, which we see Saudi Arabia is opening up to, not forgetting the more traditional areas where we have longstanding relationships — commerce and manufacturing.

“I’m hugely optimistic about the future of Saudi Arabia. It’s a country that has been blessed with many resources. The oil has been a blessing, the pilgrimage has been hosted here for centuries, and I know under Vision 2030 there are plans to significantly increase the number of pilgrims — which I’m sure will be very successful.” Peach also believes that the Kingdom’s tourism drive has great potential, describing it as “one of the most exciting things” about Vision 2030.

“I’ve lived in Saudi Arabia for over nine years, and I’ve been very fortunate to visit most of the country. It’s an amazing country from the mountains in the North, to the greener lusher mountains of the South, and world-class beaches along the Red Sea. I’m hugely optimistic that, in the future, tourists from around the world will get to experience the Kingdom that I’ve seen. Saudi Arabia has a very young population, and that means a very creative, dynamic population who want to change things and who want to work hard.”

While he may be leaving his official post in the Kingdom, Peach said the country’s natural beauty will certainly lure him back for frequent visits in the future.

“Jeddah will always be a special place for me,” he said. “It’s the first place where I’ve held the head post, and there are certainly unique responsibilities that go along with that. It’s been a very important place for my professional development, but also a place that I’ve been very much made to feel at home. I’ve found the people to be very open, friendly, warm and welcoming. I’ve built up many new friendships and partnerships and I’m sure those relationships will endure. In the years to come, I’m sure I’ll be a regular visitor to the Kingdom.

British envoy Barrie Peach with Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

“Jeddah is perhaps the most familiar environment to me as I enjoy spending time at the beach, the Red Sea, and eating some great fish. Some of my more memorable experiences though, are from my time in Riyadh, from camping in the desert to eating some of the more interesting foods that we might not be so familiar with in the West. I will always miss my jareesh (a Saudi dish).

“Al-Ula in Mada’in Saleh is, without a doubt, one of the most spectacular places that I’ve ever visited — a mixture of beautiful natural landscape, desert mountains, and ancient civilization. When I’ve been there in the past, there were so few tourists, unlike — for example — the Nabatean ruins in Jordan, where you’re there with thousands of people. It was actually a really special experience to be at Al-Ula and almost completely alone. I also had the pleasure of organizing the visit of the Prince of Wales to Mada’in Saleh a few years ago, which was quite a unique experience.”

“A career in foreign service is a uniquely rewarding experience. It has given me the opportunity to travel to places I might not have otherwise visited,” he said.

“To have been able to travel and experience new cultures and languages, for me, has been the most rewarding part of my career in the foreign office. My advice to anybody who might enjoy that kind of lifestyle would be that a career in diplomacy is an excellent way forward.”

As Saudi Arabia and Great Britain usher in a new chapter of diplomacy, the departing consul general made sure to welcome his successor.

“I would like to wish him the very best of luck during his time as consul general. For me, he has one of the best jobs in foreign service. I hope that he will very much enjoy it. He’s arriving here at a very interesting time of change, and a change that the UK is very happy to be part of to help and support,” he said.

And finally, what’s next for the outgoing consul general? Peach kept it short and sweet. “A very long holiday,” he said with a laugh.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia’s new female bosses: Our goal is to keep pace with Vision 2030

August 29, 2018

They said their focus will be on developing municipal services so as to achieve the goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. (Shutterstock)

The recently appointed women municipality heads of Sharafiya, Dhahban and the women’s municipality branch in Jeddah started their first day of work with inspection tours of districts in their jurisdictions on Tuesday.

They said their focus will be on developing municipal services so as to achieve the goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

Women’s municipality branch head Maryam Abu Al-Ainain said this is an extension of the work of the general administration for women’s services. It will provide services to businesswomen in Jeddah like issuing commercial licenses, conducting field inspections of women’s commercial facilities.

Supervisory teams monitor the health cards of female workers, who have to wear their uniforms. There are now 5,000 female commercial firms.

Head of Dhahban municipality Shadah Al-Mohanna is thankful for the trust reposed in her.

“We are striving to improve performance and meet the demands of the residents of the area,” said Sharafiya municipality head Hiba Al-Bluwi.

This article was first published in  Alarabiya

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Vision 2030 introduced ‘unprecedented developments’ to pilgrimage

August 24, 2018

Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif, interior minister congratulated King Salman on the success of this year’s Hajj. (SPA)

  • More than 18,000 buses had been in service during the Hajj season

JEDDAH- Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Hajj and Umrah Mohammed Salih Bentin said that his sector has witnessed “unprecedented developments” recently through the adoption of “advanced technology to improve performance, transparency and quality.”
He credited Vision 2030 as the driving force behind these developments, which include — he said — a shift in work culture so that providing Hajj- and Umrah-related services is now seen as a task that needs year-round, rather than seasonal, attention.
Bentin added that the continued support and guidance of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had led the way as they worked tirelessly to serve pilgrims.
He said that the government of King Salman has carried out the largest expansion in the history of the two holy cities, thus increasing the number of pilgrims able to come from around the world to perform their rituals in safety and comfort.
He went on to urge all ministry employees to double their efforts in the service of pilgrims and fulfill the desires of the Kingdom’s wise leadership.

Interior Ministry
Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif, interior minister and chairman of the Supreme Hajj Committee, congratulated King Salman on the success of this year’s Hajj season.
He congratulated the king on behalf of committee members, regional governors, and personnel of the Interior Ministry and all relevant sectors in this Hajj season.
The success is due to projects implemented at the holy sites to serve pilgrims and facilitate their performance of Hajj rituals, the prince said.
The number of pilgrims this year reached 2,371,675, with no incidence of disease epidemics or quarantine cases recorded, he added.

Environmental Ministry
Environment, Water and Agriculture Minister Abdul Rahman bin Abdul Mohsen Al-Fadhli announced the success of the operational plan for this year’s Hajj season in Makkah and the holy sites.
The ministry’s operational plan included the agricultural and livestock sectors, the Saudi Grains Organization (SAGO), the water production and distribution sectors represented by the Saline Water Conversion Corp. (SWCC) and the National Water Co. (NWC), and the environmental sector represented by the General Authority of Meteorology and Environmental Protection (PME).
The water production and distribution sectors increased supplies to Makkah and the holy sites during peak times compared to last year, Al-Fadhli said.
Some 40 million cubic meters of water have been pumped to the holy sites and Makkah since July 14, and more than 3,500 employees worked to distribute water, he added.
The ministry’s veterinarians examined more than 2 million cattle that entered Makkah and the holy sites during this year’s Hajj season and were free of infectious diseases, he said.
The PME “has mustered all its resources during the Hajj season to monitor the weather and provide forecasts through satellites and direct radar, supervised by seven inspection teams,” Al-Fadhli said.

Transport Ministry
Minister of Transport Dr. Nabil bin Mohammed Al-Amoudi also praised the efforts of all employees of the transportation system’s various sectors who managed to ensure that the more than 2.3 million pilgrims were provided with excellent services.
He noted that the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA), in coordination with the government and private bodies working at the airports, had overseen the successful management of the arrival of more than 3,800 pilgrims per hour at the Halls of Hajj and Umrah at King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah, and the departure of around 3,500 per hour.
Al-Amoudi claimed that it had taken a maximum of 25 minutes to process each pilgrim through immigration at the Jeddah and Madinah airports.
More than 18,000 buses had been in service during the Hajj season, he said, transporting pilgrims in comfort and safety between the holy sites. He added that the Al-Mashaaer Al-Mugaddassah Metro — overseen by the Public Transport Authority (PTA) along with the Makkah Region Development Authority — was a great success.
Al-Amoudi said the 450-kilometer Haramain rail service linking Makkah and Madinah with a top speed of more than 300 kmph will be operational by next year’s Hajj season.

This article was first published in  ARAB NEWS

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The path to Vision 2030: Saudi tourism sector going strong

August 19, 2018

The Saudi tourism sector is witnessing significant growth, new data has revealed. Is the country closer to its Vision 2030 goal of a diversified economy?

READ: Tourism in UAE booms, Dubai sector worth $29.6 bn

Tourism sector secures major revenue

Saudi Arabia is expected to generate $5.9 billion in revenue from inbound and outbound tourism, excluding travel expenses for religious purposes such as Hajj during the summer of 2018, the Tourism Information and Research Centre (MAS) told local Saudi newspaper Al Eqtisadiah. The current value of the tourism sector is $26 billion, according to the Center’s data.

The Center also forecast that inbound tourism would grow 15.9% to $2.37 billion during the same period, with the average tourist spending $998 per trip.

MAS noted that the Eastern Province attracted the largest number of incoming tourists with 45.9%, followed by Riyadh with 27.2%.

READ: Domestic staycations top UAE residents’ travel lists

Family visits top reason for travel

As for the purpose of the visit, tourists that answered “visiting family and relatives” topped at 39%, with “business” following right after at 31.1% and “shopping” at 12.4%.

GCC citizens represented the majority of visitors of the Kingdom, tallied at 50.8%. South Asian tourists came second at 15.2%, and Middle Eastern visitors third at 12.8%.

MAS forecasts inbound and outbound tourist trips will reach 13.5 million by the end of the summer holiday.

The Center notes that outward tourism spending has reached $8 billion, showing a 4.6% year-on-year decrease.

General statistics on the Center’s website reveal that Saudization in the Tourism sector has reached 28.5%, with 993,900 jobs in the sector. This puts Saudi-held jobs in the sector at 283,262.

The number of inbound trips currently sums up to 18 million, with tourism contributing 4.9% to the non-oil sector, at 3.6% GDP.

READ: Air Arabia reports net profit of $62.7 million in first half of 2018 

This article was first published in  AMEinfo

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Stark findings from the Global Innovation Index

Time: July 19, 2018

Image result for Stark findings from the Global Innovation Index


Until recently, upon arrival at Riyadh airport, while the border officers checked their visas, visitors had the chance to rate the quality of the service in a way that is reminiscent of the sci-fi Netflix series “Black Mirror.” Placed in front of the passport control counters, travellers were faced with three emoji buttons — from angry to happy, coloured red, yellow and green.

This seemingly insignificant detail is one of endless instances that attest to the openness that exists in the Gulf, including among Gulf citizens, to embrace the transformative but also disruptive power of technology and innovation, in business and daily life. Saudi Arabia, which has an internet penetration of 91 percent, leads the region when it comes to users of the major social media networks, such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, with more than 75 percent of the population active social media users. According to data released earlier this year, Saudi Arabia ranked fourth worldwide — after the US, Japan and the UK — in the overall number of Twitter users, with 13.8 million, ahead of far more populous nations such as India, Brazil and Turkey. The past few years have witnessed Saudi government officials take to their personal Facebook and Twitter accounts to make official announcements and promote new government programs.

An important study released a few days ago, however, is a reminder that there is a lot to be done by Arab governments and institutions to foster technological innovation and capitalize on that receptiveness. This year’s edition of the Global Innovation Index, an annual study published by Cornell University, INSEAD Business School and the World Intellectual Property Organization, shows that Arab states, including the richer Gulf Cooperation Council members, lag far behind on technological innovation compared to other states with similar GDPs.

In terms of the overall ranking of the GCC states in the index, the UAE comes in 38th between Bulgaria and Poland; Qatar, the world’s richest country per capita, stands at 51st; Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are 60th and 61st respectively; Oman 69th; and Bahrain 72nd. All GCC states, including the UAE, the top performer within the bloc, fare below expectations considering their level of development.

Among all Arab states featured in the study, Yemen comes last, in 126th, while other Arab countries such as Algeria, Egypt and Lebanon stand at 110th, 95th and 90th respectively. Others such as Libya, Iraq and Syria were not included in the study, but it is not difficult to foresee what their results would otherwise be like. There are no Arab representatives among the world’s top 100 clusters of scientific and technological activity, by patent and publishing performance.

The 2018 Global Innovation Index is a reminder there is a lot to be done by Arab states to foster technological innovation.

Dr. Manuel Almeida

On the more positive side in the perspective of Arab states, Tunisia was ranked the second most innovative country in Africa, 66th in the world, and was one of eight economies that joined the group of “innovation achievers.” There has been plenty of talk about a new wave of innovation coming from Tunisia, which has witnessed the rise of a very dynamic startup scene. But, without the right environmental and institutional support, which will be difficult to guarantee considering the perennial political instability and constant government reshuffles, much of this potential could go to waste.

This year’s edition of the index, which is titled “Energizing the World with Innovation,” focuses on the importance of technological innovation to meet the unprecedented levels of energy demand, and the related matters of energy efficiency and the transition to alternative sources of energy. The topics addressed by this year’s report also touch on the issue of economic diversification, which is important across the region but particularly salient in the energy-rich GCC states.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals summarize the important ties between technological innovation, resource efficiency and development as: “Technological progress is the foundation of efforts to achieve environmental objectives, such as increased resource and energy-efficiency. Without technology and innovation, industrialization will not happen, and without industrialization, development will not happen.”

The main index is composed of two sub-indexes — the innovation input and innovation output. The first includes five pillars: Institutional capacity, human capital and research, infrastructure, market sophistication, and business sophistication. The second includes two: Knowledge and technology outputs, and creative outputs. The overall index is determined by the simple average of the two.

A few Arab states have identified technological innovation as a fundamental strategic objective. Both the UAE’s Vision 2021 and Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 place a lot of emphasis on innovation, defined as key for the success of their respective socio-economic reform programs and for achieving the required diversification goals toward a knowledge-based economy.

In some cases, the issue is not a lack of investment on technological innovation. Neom, Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion industrial and business complex on the Red Sea, envisioned as a futuristic hub and ideal ecosystem for technological innovation and entrepreneurship to thrive, is a case in point.

As the Global Innovation Index concludes, it is essential to understand how investment in innovation can generate a corresponding output. In this process, it is also advisable to keep in mind that perseverance matters. Creating the appropriate environment and prevailing mentality, with a significant number of productive and highly qualified specialists, will always be a slow and gradual process until it translates into consistent results.


• Dr. Manuel Almeida is a political analyst and consultant focusing on the Middle East. He is the former editor of the English online edition of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper and holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Twitter: @_ManuelAlmeida

This article was first published in Arab News

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Riyadh seeks partners for local defence manufacturing

Time: July 11, 2018

Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Programme 2020 present unprecedented opportunities for defence contractors to invest in Saudi Arabia, explains Middle East defence contract specialist John M B Balouziyeh

Recent years have seen Saudi Arabia surrounded by conflict and unrest.

To the north, Iraq and Syria have descended into armed conflict, giving birth to insurgent-administered enclaves; to the south, civil war in Yemen has triggered the greatest humanitarian crisis on the Arabian Peninsula; to the west, piracy has disrupted Saudi trade and armed conflict has divided the Sudan; and, to the east, lies Iran.

In this context, Riyadh has sought to build its military as a key deterrent against the growing threats to its national security, and allocated more than $55bn to defence spending in 2018 alone.

Under the stated goals of Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Programme 2020, the Saudi government has also begun partnering with the world’s leading defence contractors with the aim of incubating an indigenous defence manufacturing sector.

This strategy has been led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has pledged to make Saudi Arabia – a top-four military spender globally and the world’s second-largest importer of military supplies – a global leader in the industry.

Indigenous infrastructure

Traditionally, opportunities for defence contractors in Saudi Arabia have been limited to the sale of armaments and other military equipment to the government and ancillary services, such as maintenance, repair and overhaul.

The sphere for defence firms has been further restricted by regulations prohibiting defence contractors from engaging agents on a commission basis and a ban on foreign investment in the manufacture of military equipment, devices and uniforms.

Vision 2030 could modify these restrictions under its stated goal of developing manufacturing to meet the kingdom’s military needs, create job opportunities and retain resources within the country.

Citing how only 2 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s military spending is conducted within the kingdom, the Vision 2030 plan is to localise more than 50 per cent of military equipment spending by 2030, beginning with “less complex industries such as those providing spare parts, armoured vehicles and basic ammunition” and to “expand this initiative to higher value and more complex equipment such as military aircraft”.

This would see Saudi Arabia build “national expertise in the fields of manufacturing, maintenance, repair, research and development”, before working to become an international exporter of military equipment.

Conflicting interests

While Vision 2030 promises foreign defence firms opportunities in establishing Saudi Arabia’s local military and defence capabilities, it is not yet clear whether there will be a formal lift of restrictions on foreign ownership in local defence manufacturing by the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority.

The Supreme Economic Council, with a view to protecting Saudi national security, has traditionally restricted foreign investment in the military manufacturing sector.

At the same time, exporting nations routinely impose their own restrictions over security concerns. In the US, for example, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations restrict exporting certain forms of sensitive intellectual property.

Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Programme 2020 could nonetheless bring fresh opportunities for partnerships between the Saudi Arabian government and leading defence contractors.

Fresh opportunities

Moving forward, military exporters such as the US could grant waivers and exceptions to permit the transfer of sensitive intellectual property to potential buyers.

This could encourage Saudi Arabian Military Industries and other potential partners to proceed with joint-venture agreements on the basis of the transfer of intellectual property.

Vision 2030 will grant foreign defence firms opportunities to procure contracts not only with the Ministry of Defence and its branches (the Royal Saudi Arabian Land Forces, the Royal Saudi Navy and the Royal Saudi Air Force), but also with the Ministry of the National Guard, the Ministry of Interior, and state-owned enterprises such as the Military Industries Corporation, which will oversee major facets of the development of the Vision 2030 local defence industry.

Opportunities will abound for foreign companies willing to become involved through joint ventures aimed at technology transfer, job creation and training opportunities.

Implementing the vision

Following the announcement of Vision 2030 in 2016, the Saudi government launched the General Department for Local Manufacturing Support to help forge public-private partnerships between the Saudi armed forces and private sector actors.

In one sign of progress, the 2018 Armed Forces Exhibition for Diversity of Requirements and Capabilities exhibition in Riyadh showcased some of the first “Made in KSA” armoured vehicles.

Steps to localise defence manufacturing can also be seen in the supply contracts between the Ministry of Defence and defence contractors. Today, the ministry is requiring defence contractors to provide for the local manufacture of certain elements of supply contracts.

Finally, we are seeing an increase in joint ventures between foreign defence contractors and their Saudi counterparts.

The joint venture between Lockheed Martin and TAQNIA Aeronautics, named Rotary Aircraft Manufacturing Saudi Arabia, for example, recently signed a letter of intent to build Black Hawk helicopters in Saudi Arabia.

In April 2018, Sami also signed a joint venture agreement with and US-based Boeing to localise more than 55 per cent of the maintenance and repair of fighter jets and helicopters in the country.

Looking forward, given the unprecedented opportunities presented by Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Programme 2020, the frequency of such deals looks set only to grow.

John M B Balouziyeh is a senior legal consultant at Dentons. He advises defence companies investing in the Middle East on government contracts with the Saudi Ministry of Defence, the Royal Saudi Land Forces, the National Guard, the Ministry of Interior, and other public bodies.About the author

This article is a redacted version of a longer report on defence contracting in Saudi Arabia, the full-length version of which can be downloaded here

The region’s military spending, 2016-17

This article was first published in step MEED

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