Saudi Arabia’s new desert megacity

Time:20 March 2015

With a flourish of his hand, the uniformed security guard waves us down the private road that leads to the newest city in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The King Abdullah Economic City, (KAEC, pronounced “cake”) is one of four new cities upon which the late monarch pinned his hopes for the future of his realm once the oil runs out.

Peppered with cranes, the city – or building site to be more accurate – lies one-and-a-half hour’s drive north of Jeddah between the Red Sea and scrubby desert.

Its future depends on balancing the complex and evolving transport, health, education, housing and employment requirements of the city’s projected two million residents.

According to Fahd Al-Rasheed, the managing director of Emaar Economic City, the publicly traded Saudi company that runs the entire KAEC project, the new generation of Saudis expect a city that matches the modern lifestyle they have grown used to while studying abroad.

“We’re building with the 65% of the population who are under 30 in mind,” he explains. “And we have almost 200,000 Saudis studying abroad. Inevitably they are going to change things when they come back.”

These statistics are compounded by the fact that more women than men graduate from university. These changing demographics are bringing with them new social demands that will likely revolutionise how the country develops.


At 70 sq miles KAEC will eventually be a metropolis slightly larger than Washington DC and at a cost of $100bn (£67bn), mostly from private funding, the King Abdullah Economic City is second to none in the grandeur of its vision.

“We aim to create one of the world’s largest ports,” says Rayan Bukhari, a young manager at the King Abdullah port.

“We’re not competing with Jeddah’s Islamic port – but we are going to take business away from Jebel Ali in Dubai. That’s because of our quicker, more automated offloading and customs procedure.”

According to Mr Bukhari, King Abdullah was determined to involve the private sector in the economic development of the country; casting aside tribal and regional rivalries in the interests of creating a modern business economy.

“Freight arriving at the port will be taken directly to the capital via the new land bridge,” he explains, “At the moment lots of products destined for Riyadh are shipped to Dubai, but that will change. They’ll be shipped here as it is cheaper – and can be delivered more quickly within the Kingdom.”

View of the Haramain railway station being built
Image captionBritish architect Norman Foster has designed the Haramain railway station

Speed is integral to KAEC’s vision for future. With Mecca and Medina on the high speed train network that links KAEC with the two holy cities, well-heeled Umrah (pilgrimage to Mecca) pilgrims are expected to visit the city as they travel from the place where the Prophet was born to the place where he is buried.

“The Haramain station is due to open by the end of the year,” says Fahd Al-Rasheed, “That train service will alter a lot of things for us.”

The station is designed by British architect Norman Foster, famed for London’s “Gherkin” skyscraper and the Reichstag Dome in Berlin.

It is expected to reduce the journey time from Jeddah to 30 minutes and bring religious tourists to the city on extended pilgrim visas.

And as Jeddah becomes ever more clogged with cars, KAEC claim’s it will limit fuel emissions by providing electric cars for use within the city free of charge.

Repeated rethinks

It has, however, not been entirely plain sailing for the country’s newest city.

Even though KAEC is developed and managed by the private sector and is listed on the Saudi stock exchange (Tadawul), economic realities in the Gulf have hit home and necessitated a government loan amid the current fall in oil prices and the more widespread economic downturn.

The speed of social change in the kingdom is also making itself felt for what has become a fluid master plan.

“We’ve altered our plan four times already,” confirms Head of Strategic Planning Tareq Salaita, “We may well need to have another rethink.”

Creating a massive new city that is able to encourage enterprise in a practical way has up-ended the usual rigmarole of applying for permissions.

The government has set up an Economic Cities Authority overseeing all four megacities and dealing with every licence, construction permit and approval needed from different ministries. This time-saving move should help the hundred companies that are setting up in KAEC avoid costly delays.

So far only 15% of the city has been developed – industrial estates, residential districts and public facilities are currently under construction.

Ninety kilometres of roads are already in use but what about the thorny question of women driving? In 20 years when KAEC is due to be completed, will females be behind the wheel?

According to Dania Beidas, who lives and works in the city during the week, in two decades the question may well be irrelevant.

“I hope that we will be allowed to drive here eventually,” she says. “But with driverless cars in the pipeline, it may not matter any more.”

This article was first published in BBC

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Saudi Princess Reema launches breast cancer awareness

SOURCE: Campaign

Time: March 16, 2015


AUSTIN — Saudi Arabia’s Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al-Saud launched a breast cancer awareness campaign at SXSW Interactive on Saturday.

Princess Reema’s goal is to bring together 10,000 Saudi women in Riyadh this October to educate them about breast cancer and other health issues.  If successful, the event would be the largest-ever gathering of women in Saudi Arabia.

Speaking in a keynote at the festival, Princess Reema asked SXSW attendees to take their photo in front of a set of neon pink wings in the Austin Convention Center, and then share it on social media with the hashtag #10KSA.  She said she hopes the social media activity will raise awareness of her cause and bring more visibility to the event.

By gathering together Saudi women, 10KSA will aim to form the world’s largest pink humanitarian ribbon on record. That would beat the record that the Zahra Breast Cancer Association previously set in 2010 at a similar event with nearly 4,000 women.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for Saudi women ages 20 to 59, but the topic is taboo in Saudi Arabian culture, Princess Reema explained.

“I want to kick [breast cancer] up to be a mainstream conversation,” she said.

The event in October will feature genetic testing, health education, fitness classes such as spinning and Zumba, and food and retail entrepreneurs.

Princess Reema is a founding member of Zahra Breast Cancer Association and CEO of luxury retailer Alfa International, which operates the Harvey Nichols department store in Riyadh. She is known for leading a movement to bring more Saudi women into the workforce. Last year, Fast Company ranked her No. 1 on its Most Creative People list for her efforts, which included ousting several dozen Harvey Nichols salesmen to hire female clerks.

Badreya al-Bishr

SOURCE:Arab Women Writers

28 February 2015


Badreya al-Bishr
 (بدرية البشر)  is a Saudi writer and novelist born in Riyadh. Has a Master of Arts in Sociology from King Saud University and a Ph.D. degree from the American University in Beirut. She currently is a lecturer at King Saud University, Department of Social Studies and obtained.

From 1991 to 1993, she had a weekly column under the title (Half Noise) in AlYoum news paper in Dammam. Later she wrote for al Riyadh newspaper and then for the Middle East newspaper. Currently, she writes for the daily Al Hayat..

She is married to renowned Saudi artist Nasser al-Kassabi. She has two sons.

A first for conservative Saudi Arabia: a female newspaper editor


Time: February 18, 2014

Like other Saudi women, she’s not allowed to drive or move around freely. But Somayya Jabarti will soon be setting the news agenda for thousands of readers in the Middle Eastern kingdom.
In what appears to be a first for male-dominated Saudi Arabia, Jabarti has been appointed editor of a major newspaper, the English-language Saudi Gazette.
She will take over as editor-in-chief from her longtime mentor, Khaled Al Maeena, the outgoing editor said in an article published Sunday on the newspaper’s website.
“I’ve had the goal almost as long of wanting to see a Saudi woman enter the male-dominated bastion of editors-in chief,” Al Maeena wrote. “It was not a question of gender but of merit that decided and earned her this opportunity.”
Jabarti’s appointment has generated praise on social media. But it remains to be seen how it will be received by the larger public in the conservative kingdom, where religious interpretations impose a de facto ban on females driving, among other restrictions involving women.
Women detained for defying ban on driving

“This is a totally new step for Saudi Arabia,” Saudi journalist Essam Al Ghalib told CNN. “She is very qualified and it’s about time. But how will people react, we’ll have to wait and see.”
“The biggest challenge she may face is being accepted by the male-dominated circle of journalists,” he said.
Jabarti told CNN that she is unfazed.
“It is a male-dominated field, like many media in the world,” she said. “There will be challenges, but there is ground to be broken. This is just the starting point.”
Jabarti began her career in journalism in 2003 as a reporter and translator for the Arab News, then headed by Al Maeena. She eventually rose to deputy editor-in-chief at the newspaper in 2011 before joining the Saudi Gazette with Al Maeena.
The Saudi Gazette has a circulation of about 47,000, Al Maeena told Al Arabiya News in September.
Jabarti will take over the newspaper amid significant challenges to press freedom in Saudi Arabia.
Reporters Without Borders recently said Saudi Arabia ranks near the bottom of countries around the world in press freedom.
The organization cited the arrests and punishment of journalists who wrote about sensitive issues in Saudi Arabia, including religion and the ban on women driving.
On Sunday, the Saudi Gazette also carried a story citing a spokesman for the Ministry of Culture and Information threatening to shut down online news sites that “publish offensive material about Islam, the country, or traditions.

Kingdom officials invited to attend Malaysian entrepreneurship summit

SOURCE: Arab News

August 30, 2013

Malaysian Ambassador Syed Omar Al-Saggaf Thursday extended invitations to Saudi officials to attend the 4th Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) to be held at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center in Malaysia on Oct. 11- 12.
“Malaysia will play host to more than 3,000 leaders, entrepreneurs, business leaders, civil society and policy-makers from 50 countries,” Al Saggaf said during a meeting at the Al Faisaliah Hotel on Thursday to promote the entrepreneurship summit. The Malaysian envoy thanked all those present including officials from the Saudi Ministry of Commerce, Council of Saudi Chambers and the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak will preside over the summit aimed at empowering entrepreneurs with skills and resources necessary to compete and thrive in the 21st century.
Al Saggaf said the summit will bring some of the best names to Kuala Lumpur to address four core issues including building an entrepreneural system, creating tomorrow’s game-changers, emerging trends and connecting for growth.
Al Saggaf said: “In what promises to be the hive of everything related to entrepreneurship, the Malaysian government will bring more than 100 practitioners and intellectuals as speakers who will share their views with the entrepreneural community.”
The topics to be discussed include innovative business models, disruptive innovation, digital entrepreneurship, innovative funding models, talent development, taking start-ups global and learning from success and failure.
Emerging trends in the start-up scene with special focus on Asia will also be discussed including fostering a green economy, products from emerging Asian middle class, low-cost scalabe solutions for the “bottom billion” and co-Islamic finance and financial inclusion.
“In creating tomorrow’s game-changers, there will be topics such as business not as usual, learning from risk takers, building great companies, investing in technology start-ups and social entrepreneurship and transformation,” he said.
Participants will delve into consumer products and services for the emerging middle class, the Entrepreneural University, the Malaysian start-up landscape, start-ups going global and job creation through small and medium enterprises.
“Ways to develop an entrepreneural team, crowd funding as a source of capital for SMEs, strengthening the investment climate in the community and market access will also be discussed at the summit,” Al Saggaf said, adding that there will also be discussions on “Beyond Silicon Valley: Start-up Ecosystems around the World,” where governments, investors, corporations, foundations and entrepreneurs themselves play an all-important role.
Moreover, the summit will also feature additional activities such as start-up academy workshops, founder/mentor matchmaking sessions, insider’s roundtable on Malaysia and ASEAN, young entrepreneurs including finalists from the Global Innovation through Science and Technology’s Tech-I competition.

Saudi Arabia changes its working week to Sunday-Thursday


Jan 23, 2013

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has announced it is switching its official weekend to Fridays and Saturdays, bringing the kingdom’s working week closer in line with other countries in a move long desired by many of the country’s businesses.

Brokers monitor a screen displaying stock market index at an investment bank in Riyadh, June 9, 2013. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

Saudi Arabia, the biggest Arab economy, had been the only member of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council to have a Thursday-Friday weekend after Oman shifted to a Friday-Saturday weekend last month.

The surprise move, which will be applied from this week, was immediately welcomed by Saudi economists and businessmen as giving the private sector an extra day of alignment with international businesses.

“It will increase interface with the rest of the world, now things will move faster,” said Ali al-Ajmi, a former vice president at state oil company Saudi Aramco who now runs a project management business.

Abdulrahman al-Ubaid, a former vice president at Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) (2010.SE), the world’s biggest petrochemcial company, and now managing director of Saudi Development and Innovation Group, also welcomed the change.

“We expect the impact to be positive on the Saudi economy, we think our business will be easier,” he said.

Saudi Arabia is considering opening its stock market to more direct foreign investment in the future. At present, stocks move considerably on shifts in global equities and commodities markets.

Although the world’s top oil exporter had discussed looking at the change in its weekend in the future, few people had expected it to make the switch so soon.

However, some Saudi companies, including food producer Savola 2050.SE had already announced they would change their own weekend to Friday and Saturday to improve their coordination with regional partners.

The fact the change is happening in June, after schools have closed and while many Saudis are on holiday before the Ramadan fast which starts on July 9, means it will be less jarring, economists said.

“Instead of having just three working days aligned with the rest of the world, now you will have a full team for most of the working week that the rest of the world applies. One extra day does play a considerable role in increasing output,” said John Sfakianakis of chief investment officer at Masic investment in Riyadh.

Traditionally Saudis had a six-day working week, taking off Fridays when Muslims are enjoined to attend mosque for communal prayers, but the government added Thursday to the official weekend.

Some religious conservatives had argued against moving to a Friday-Saturday weekend because they feared it smacked of westernisation. However, that argument did not enjoy serious support, said Saudi sociologist Khalid al-Dakhil.

  • 2010.SE

“In terms of religious opposition, yes there might be some, but there’s absolutely no unanimity in opposing this course among religious people,” he said.

A statement on Sunday on national Saudi news agency SPA said the change, decreed by King Abdullah, will take effect as of this weekend, “for the sake of putting an end to the negative effects and the lost economic opportunities consistently associated with variation based on work days between local departments, ministries and institutions and the regional and international counterparts.”

King Abdullah issued the decree following a recommendation in April by the Kingdom’s Shura Council, which advises the government on new laws, to investigate changing the country’s official weekend from the current Thursday and Friday. (Reporting By Mirna Sleiman and Angus McDowall; Additional reporting by Martin Dokoupil and Reem Shamseddine; Editing by William Maclean and Greg Mahlich)

Saudi Arabian female researcher Hayat Sindi to be appointed UNESCO advocate


1 October 2012

The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, today nominated Saudi Arabian researcher Hayat Sindi as a Goodwill Ambassador to support science education, especially among girls.

Ms. Sindi’s nomination comes “in recognition of her work to create an ecosystem of entrepreneurship and social innovation for scientists, technologists and engineers in the Middle East and beyond, her efforts to bring the youth closer to innovators and her dedication to the ideals and aims of the organization,” the Paris-based UNESCO said in a news release.

Born in 1967 in Mecca, Ms. Sindi has made major contributions to point-of-care diagnostics, medical testing at or near the site of patient care, specifically designed for the vast number of people who do not have access to hospitals and medical facilities.

She made this contribution through the invention of a biochemical sensor with thermo-elastic probes and her development of the Magnetic Acoustic Resonance Sensor (MARS), UNESCO said.

In her capacity as a Goodwill Ambassador, Ms. Sindi will support science education, especially inspiring more girls to enrol in science subjects, and the visibility of UNESCO’s natural sciences programmes, particularly those pertaining to life science education.

As a member of UNESCO’s impressive roster of renowned personalities who spread its messages and ideals, Ms. Sindi will also help mobilize funds through her professional network to support the agency’s priority activities.

Among UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassadors are Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela of South Africa, United States jazz musician Herbie Hancock, Cuban ballerina and choreographer Alicia Alonso, and Dubai-based philanthropist, educator and entrepreneur Sunny Varkey.