Sneakers gain footing with women in the Arab world

13/08/20

Tamila Kochkarova’s dress code for her wedding invitation last year was “Formal + strictly sneakers.” (Supplied)

  • Comfort and style bring once-niche footwear into Middle East mainstreamComfort and style bring once-niche footwear into Middle East mainstream

DUBAI: “Formal + strictly sneakers” — that was the dress code on Tamila Kochkarova’s wedding invitation last year. “I wore a pair of Nike Air Max 98 that were completely white,” the Uzbek photographer and sneaker collector, who has lied in Dubai for the past 16 years, tells Arab News. “My number one priority on my wedding day was my comfort.”

Once considered niche and alternative in the region, sneaker style has now entered the mainstream, and is increasingly popular among women in the Middle East — a demographic that stereotypically splurges on fancy clothing with ornate embellishments, paired with shoes a little more “ladylike” than sneakers.

But while glamour has traditionally been the driving force behind fashion, comfort is now heavily influencing style movements, particularly two of the most popular in this region: modest fashion and sneaker culture. Both have helped shape Kochkarova’s personal style.

Halima Aden is a US-Somali model. (Getty)

“I got into sneaker culture when I was young, around 12 or 13,” she says. “I just started hanging out weekly in Dubai Festival City at the skate park out there, and my friends were all skateboarders who were really into sneakers.”

Today, skaters aren’t the only ones buying into the trend of clunky, colorful sneakers. Female ‘sneakerheads’ have become influencers on social media, and a number of them happen to dress in skin-covering attire, too. Instagram is now abuzz with modest fashion bloggers — early images of these women were on the more traditionally feminine side — elegant gowns and flowy maxi dresses and skirts, with fabrics fluttering over sling-back heels, strappy stilettos and, occasionally, ballerina flats. But a new wave of sneakerhead hijabis is shedding light on an alternative type of modest fashion.

Su’aad Hassan was born and raised in Dubai and now lives in Canada. (Supplied)

Striking architectural backgrounds, edgy angles, avant-garde poses, and a clear focus on bold — and often rare — sneakers, including limited-edition Nike Air Max, Jordan and Air Force One styles, are features of trending images in the modest-fashion blogosphere. Su’aad Hassan, who was born and raised in Dubai and now lives in Canada, has over 18,000 followers on Instagram. Her outfits include bright tracksuits, plaid blazers, denim vests, bucket hats, silk scarves, retro sunglasses, and a range of sporty footwear. “I think modest fashion and sneaker culture go hand in hand, because, as a whole, modest fashion is a push against the societal standard,” she explains.

Modesty is dominating runways right now, and sneakers are also in vogue, being produced by brands like Gucci, Balenciaga and even Christian Dior, the quintessential “ladylike” French fashion house that recently collaborated with Nike on an exclusive pair of Dior logo-stamped Air Jordans. But both subcultures had been ostracized from mainstream fashion for years. Even in the Middle East, where modest fashion is more prevalent, covering up was not always seen as trendy for young women, Hassan explains.

Sole DXB is the Middle East’s largest sneaker, streetwear and lifestyle fair. (Supplied)

“Whether observing the hijab or not, dressing modestly in the Middle East, especially over the last few years, isn’t the cultural norm everyone thinks it is,” she says. “Being able to dress as you wish and to express yourself at your most authentic  — choosing yourself and your comfort over anyone’s expectations of you — requires a level of comfort with your identity, and this ties into general comfort in clothing and appearance. Sneakers make this so easy.”

Femininity has long been synonymous with high-heeled shoes. Louboutin — rather than Reebok or Adidas — has been the brand of choice for glamour-loving women, especially in the Middle East. But Athleisure and sports-luxe trends in mainstream fashion have helped popularize streetwear and sporty shoes, and today, women in the region are pairing clunky sneakers with their abayas, floaty maxi dresses and stylish tracksuits — an eclectic mix of sartorial standards, with room for an array of personal styles that may not necessarily conform to tradition.

“Women, especially nowadays in the Arab world, have completely renovated the term ‘femininity’. It’s by our own rules – we can wear a dress with a pair of sneakers and feel very, very feminine. We don’t have to wear six-inch heels to feel like a woman,” says Kochkarova, who is working on launching a website — noboysallowed.ae — dedicated to female sneakerheads from the Arab World. The site, she says, will highlight muses living in the Middle East, or from the Middle East and living abroad, through creative photoshoots and insightful interviews, forming an online community celebrating women and their coveted sneakers.

Joshua Cox is the co-founder of Sole DXB. (Supplied)

Joshua Cox, co-founder of Sole DXB — the Middle East’s largest sneaker, streetwear and lifestyle fair — says that sneaker culture would be “incomplete” without women, and that labels are now paying extra attention to this demographic.

“Our attendance has always been pretty consistent, with women making up half of our audience, but it’s only in the last three years that we’ve seen the brands in the region increase and improve their offering for women,” he says.

Brands are now also working with creatives who identify with both modest fashion and sneaker culture. Reebok, for instance, ahead of Sole DXB 2019, recruited Sharjah-based Sudanese graphic designer Rihab Nubi for its digital campaign promoting pieces from the Reebok by Pyer Moss Collection 3. Nubi wore a top-and-trousers set with a dramatic, pleated, silhouette paired with chunky black, yellow and salmon-toned shoes from the collection, and an off-white headscarf.

Hassan’s outfits include bright tracksuits, plaid blazers, denim vests, bucket hats, silk scarves, retro sunglasses, and a range of sporty footwear. (Supplied)

While religion is certainly a motivator for women who dress modestly in the region, it isn’t the sole reason why women are gravitating towards conservative cuts. Many, inspired by the appeal of covering your body, rather than being pressured to flaunt it, have begun dressing more modestly without even realizing that their attire could be labeled as “modest fashion.”

“It wasn’t that I was dressing to try and be modest, they’re just the type of clothes I happen to be comfortable in. I never really liked to reveal too much,” says Kochkarova of her trademark loose skirts and oversized shirts. She adds that her favorite element of modest fashion is creative and experimental layering: “I’m heavily influenced by fashion in Japan, especially after visiting twice last year, and that’s something that they do on a regular basis.” She also finds inspiration in the up-and-coming sneaker culture in Saudi Arabia. “These kids in Saudi are insanely creative — they’re so underrated,” she says, citing Jawaher of @fashionizmything and Riyadh-based photographer Hayat Osamah as examples.

The ambitions and aesthetics driving the personal styles of these women are unique and diverse, but it’s clear that comfort and practicality are reigning in the modest fashion and sneaker style subcultures, painting a new picture of what an enlightened and empowered woman can look like.

“What we can see as observers…are that women choose to use sneaker culture for self-expression. They aren’t playing to stereotypes on femininity,” says Cox. “By bringing modest fashion and sneaker culture together, they’re making it their own, and are contributing to the culture as much as they’re taking from it.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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UNESCO extends Saudi scientist’s goodwill ambassador role for another 2 years

Time: 05 August 2020

Dr. Hayat Sindi
  • Sindi was selected as one of Newsweek’s 150 Women Who Shake the World, was ranked second by Forbes on a list of the most powerful Arab women in Saudi Arabia and was again selected by Newsweek, and The Daily Beast, as one of 150 fearless women

JEDDAH: Saudi medical scientist Dr. Hayat Sindi’s prestige role as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador has been extended for another two years by the organization’s director general, Audrey Azoulay.
Makkah-born Sindi was given the title in recognition of her work to create an ecosystem of entrepreneurship and social innovation for scientists, technologists, and engineers in the Middle East and around the world.
Sindi was the first woman from the Gulf to obtain a Ph.D. in biotechnology from the University of Cambridge and was one of the first female members of the Saudi Shoura Council.
In addition, she co-founded and co-invented Diagnostics for All — a program to create affordable diagnostic devices for millions of people in impoverished regions — alongside a team from Harvard University.
In 2008, Sindi led the Diagnostics for All team to first place in Harvard Business School’s business plan contest, the social enterprise track, and also won MIT’s $100K Entrepreneurship Competition in the same year — becoming the only team to take top spot in both competitions in the same year.
She founded the i2 Institute that aims to empower and inspire the next generation of innovators to realize their dreams and contribute to the world. She also invented a low-cost diagnostic tool for early detection of breast cancer by converting light into sound, and holds nine patents.

HIGHLIGHT

It was an acknowledgement of the 52-year-old biotechnology research expert’s efforts to bring youth closer to innovators, promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education, and for her dedication to the ideals and aims of UNESCO.

In 2017, Sindi was appointed chief scientific adviser to the president of the Islamic Development Bank and has since put science, technology, and innovation at the heart of bank’s work in driving economic growth and sustainable development.
Sindi was selected as one of Newsweek’s 150 Women Who Shake the World, was ranked second by Forbes on a list of the most powerful Arab women in Saudi Arabia and was again selected by Newsweek, and The Daily Beast, as one of 150 fearless women. In 2018, she was named by the BBC among the 100 most inspiring and influential women in the world.
In 2015, she was appointed as an honorary adviser to the UN Environment Program for the Eye on Earth Summit and the following year joined a 10-member group supporting the technological facilitation mechanism for sustainable development goals.
Recently, Sindi was appointed by the G20 as global ambassador for the health and development partnership of the group.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Dr. Yusra bint Hussain Al-Jazairy, Saudi Arabia’s acting cultural attache in Morocco

Time: 05 August, 2020

Dr. Yusra bint Hussain Al-Jazairy
  • Two other women were also appointed as cultural attache of Saudi Arabia in the UK and Ireland

Dr. Yusra bint Hussain Al-Jazairy was recently appointed Saudi Arabia’s acting cultural attache in Morocco.

Saudi Education Minister Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh issued a decision to appoint the Kingdom’s first female cultural attaches on Sunday.

Other appointments include Dr. Amal bint Jameel Fatani as cultural attache in the UK, and Fahda bint Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh as cultural attache in Ireland.

The three women are all educators, and their appointments are part of a move to promote the Kingdom’s educational and cultural presence internationally.

Al-Jazairy received her master’s degree in dental materials in 1996 from the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg.

She also attained her fellowship certificate in esthetic dentistry in 1996 from the Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston.

Al-Jazairy is a lecturer and researcher in the field of  dentistry. She strives to boost the quality of dental patient care at Sanaya Dental Clinic, Riyadh, and she envisions promoting the Kingdom’s dental and oral health.

Through her seminars and continuing education, she has served as a mentor and role model for many leading dentists.

Al-Jazairy praised the support of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Saudi women after her new appointment.

She said: “This assignment reflects the level of confidence that Saudi women have reached, and it translates the aspirations of our leadership in empowering women, and to enhance the successes achieved by Saudi women in many sectors in the service of the homeland.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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The future of the entertainment sector in Saudi Arabia

02/08/20

Many analysts expect that most countries, including Saudi Arabia, will reopen their skies during this quarter. However it is widely anticipated that traveling for tourism, hospitality and entertainment will not be as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic, as precautionary measures and restrictions remain in place in various destinations.
With that in mind, local tourism and entertainment will be an obvious destination for millions of nationals and residents these days and probably until the end of the year. Obviously, until giga and other projects are fully developed and completed, as most of us are in the country this summer celebrating the Eid Al-Adha break and with such hot weather too, there are a limited number of places we can escape to such as the beaches on the Red Sea or Arabian Gulf, and the breathtaking mountainous landscape of Asir.
In addition to the new entertainment centers announced by the Public Investment Fund including Qiddiya Entertainment City, the Red Sea Project, Amaala, AlUla, King Salman Park, Diriyah Gate Development and Riyadh Sport Boulevard, the Saudi Entertainment Ventures Company (SEVEN) was created.
SEVEN, which is headed by Bill Ernest, has a mandate to develop theme parks and entertainment centers around the country. Plans include 20 entertainment destinations, 50 cinemas and two large theme parks in prime locations across the Kingdom.
Each complex will feature entertainment and leisure choices including waterparks, cinemas, play areas, rides, other attractions and more. The complexes will position the Kingdom in the post COVID-19 era as an entertainment, culture and tourism hub for the region.
As part of its strategic business development activities to support key government initiatives and plans to boost economic drivers such as SEVEN and the $20 billion Tourism Development Fund headed by Qusai Al-Fakhri, BMG Financial Group is undertaking a comprehensive study for the capital structure to create world-class water parks in key cities across the country. The plan is to create water parks which meet the social demands of different family members. The branded product could be franchised by different public or private entities.
Furthermore, this initiative will be structured as a public-private partnership vehicle in association with local contractors and international operators coupled with an exit strategy via public listing. In my opinion, even though COVID-19 has had an unprecedented negative impact on many sectors, including hospitality and entertainment, over the next few years these sectors are expected to regain their market share and will benefit from local demand as well as an international one. I still believe that Saudi Arabia remains one of the game changers in the entertainment and tourism sectors.

Basil M.K. Al-Ghalayini is the chairman and CEO of BMG Financial Group.

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

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Language initiative connects Saudi youth with world cultures

25/07/20

The Saudi Heritage Initiative includes videos and infographics on the history of different regions of Saudi Arabia, and the most prominent historic monuments and intellectuals. (Supplied)

JEDDAH: Languages play a crucial role in bridging gaps between different cultures. The internet revolution has helped transform the world into a global village in its true sense. Social media and other modes of communication have removed barriers and physical boundaries helping people connect with one another all over the world.

Such a connection also helps people understand each other and promotes harmony and tolerance. With the same purpose in mind, an initiative has been launched to connect Saudi youth with other cultures by helping them learn new languages.
As part of a series of new initiatives launched by the Saudi Elite Group Organization (SEGO), the Elite Languages Initiative was announced in cooperation with young Saudis who speak various languages, such as English, French, Spanish, and German, by publishing short videos and reports about Saudi achievements through the Elite platforms.

The SEGO is also working on several other initiatives such as the Saudi Heritage Initiative, which includes videos and infographics on the history of different regions of Saudi Arabia, and the most prominent historic monuments and intellectuals.
The Elite Cultural Council is another initiative, which hosts distinguished personalities to talk about issues related to youth empowerment and technology and how to link creative Saudi youth with global technology institutions.

FASTFACT
The Elite Cultural Council hosts distinguished personalities to talk about issues related to youth empowerment and technology and how to link creative Saudi youth with global technology institutions.

Mohammed Al-Hamed, the founder and president of Saudi Elite Group, told Arab News that it is a public relations organization whose first goal is to empower and train Saudi youth through the group’s partnerships with several government agencies. It helps Saudi youth find full and part-time job opportunities in government agencies.
Al-Hamed said that he established SEGO in 2018, and it is one of the Experiences PR Foundation’s initiatives for Saudi youth empowerment.
“SEGO has a larger number of social network connections that can help us access numerous high professionals in the industry, and that has helped them gain the attention of capable speakers,” he said.
Commenting on whether they offer various levels of courses in order to obtain higher language certification, Al-Hamed said that they had signed agreements with different universities and educational institutions around the world to send students to learn English, Chinese, French and Spanish, as well as some academic majors such as engineering, computer science, tourism, heritage, and hospitality.

Saudi Elite Group Organization has a larger number of social network connections that can help us access numerous high professionals in the industry, and that has helped them gain the attention of capable speakers.

Mohammed Al-Hamed, Founder and president of Saudi Elite Group

To ensure continuity, the group is keen on collaborating with government agencies to provide rehabilitation and training opportunities for Saudi youth through the group’s relations with specialized Saudi and American companies.
“Our sustainability plan depends on all the agreements we made with these agencies,” he said.
Al-Batool Al-Fayez, executive director of the group, said that the group’s goals are in line with Saudi Vision 2030 as it is creating a new concept in the field of public relations and empowering young Saudis.
Al-Hamed said: “One of the benefits of learning different languages for youth is to connect with other cultures, the thing which makes them more open-minded and tolerant of diversity. Therefore, at Elite, we stress on facilitating learning languages in different ways. With our international agreements, we can guarantee a wonderful broad scholarship journey for students.”
The Elite Group signed an agreement in May with California State University (CSU), represented by Fresno State University, to cooperate in the fields of cybersecurity, hotel management, heritage, and tourism.
The agreement includes designing and implementing advanced academic programs and special training courses for the group’s initiatives, as well as providing academic consultations and facilitating admission procedures.
The agreement also includes providing training opportunities for Saudi youth in various American companies.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Sports for All Federation leads surge in local women’s sports

Time: 24 July, 2020

Football is the most popular sport in the Arab world in general and Saudi Arabia in particular, and the WFL — the nation’s first women’s football league to meet the need for grassroots football — is open to women aged 17 and above. (Supplied)
  • Fitness initiatives ‘will build a stronger, healthier Kingdom’

JEDDAH: Women’s sport in Saudi Arabia is flourishing, with Ministry of Sports estimates showing that female participation has increased by nearly 150 percent in the past five years.

From beginners to fitness fans, women are discovering and benefiting from the perks of an active and healthy lifestyle.

This surge in interest can be attributed to many factors, including better knowledge of healthy lifestyles, increased opportunities to take part in activities, and a growing number of inspirational role models.

Under Vision 2030, and specifically the Quality of Life program, the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) is working to increase weekly sports participation to 40 percent by 2030, by introducing a more inclusive sports environment, and encouraging girls and women to take up a sport.

SFA President Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal said: “Championing a healthy and active community means that we help to provide all members of Saudi society with access to high-quality opportunities to discover their love of fitness.”

He added: “The SFA is mandated with increasing participation in physical activity, and with women leading this national drive we are well positioned to meet the goals outlined by Vision 2030, closely supported by the Quality of Life program, the Ministry of Sports and the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee.”

In February, the SFA inaugurated the Kingdom’s first Women’s Football League (WFL) to meet the need for community-level football.

“Having a women’s football league is a huge boost for female football. We have been playing football, forming leagues and training since 2007, without any tangible support,” said Rawh Abdullah Alarfaj, the SFA’s special projects manager.

“This is an opportunity for players of every level who are looking for an organized league under an official umbrella, and for coaches and referees who need to be recognized. The league also offers a great structure for clubs who have been established for a long time but have struggled to run effectively due to limited access to equipment, a field or a proper system where they can compete fairly. This league will open doors for any woman who has an interest in football.”

Football is the most popular sport in the Arab world in general and Saudi Arabia in particular, and the WFL — the nation’s first women’s football league to meet the need for grassroots football — is open to women aged 17 and above. (Supplied)

Football is the most popular sport across the Kingdom, and the WFL — the nation’s first community women’s football league to meet the need for grassroots football — is open to women aged 17 and above.

The launch of the WFL followed the success of the Saudi Greens women’s football team, another initiative overseen by the SFA. Formed in 2018, the Saudi Greens competed in the UN Global Goals World Cup 2019 (GGWCP), where they claimed second place. It was the first time a Saudi women’s community sports team had taken part in an international event.

On representing her country overseas, coach Maram Adel Albutairi said: “It was an awesome experience in terms of learning how to connect our passion for sport with goals that affect our society, country and the world. Being part of the first team to compete internationally was an honor and a dream come true.”

Fellow coach Lujain Kashgari described her pride at Saudi Arabia’s achievements, starting at the community sports level. “The SFA makes huge efforts to use sports as a power to encourage society to develop a healthy and fit lifestyle,” she said.

Roaa Qattan, Albutairi and Kashgari are the only three female Saudi football coaches certified by the AFC and have attended specialized training courses in football coaching. They have been selected to lead the Arabic training sessions as part of the international GGWCP Virtual Clubhouse, which ran online until July 9.

Qattan said the Virtual Clubhouse offers an excellent opportunity to join the Green Team in its current Arabic training sessions.

BACKGROUND

Under Vision 2030, and specifically, the Quality of Life program, the Saudi Sports for All Federation is working to increase weekly sports participation to 40 percent by 2030.

“Albutairi, Kashgari and I were selected and tasked with preparing content for the training sessions in a way that was easy to set up and using simple Arabic. I wouldn’t be able to succeed without the support of the Green Team members and the SFA management, which is committed to achieving the General Sports Authority goals under Vision 2030.”

Saudi women are starting to show what they can achieve in sports.

Osamah Saleh, SFA director of marketing and communications, said: “With investment at a local level, positive role models and continued support from the SFA in the form of innovative campaigns and events, the rise of female Saudi sports stars will be unstoppable.

“We know the sport is about much more than excelling. Everyone has their personal goal — from increasing their step count to committing to exercising three times a week — and the SFA is there to help women at the critical community and grassroots level.”

To maintain momentum in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the SFA promoted a “Your Home, Your Gym” campaign, aimed at encouraging people to get active while they stayed at home. Leading sports personalities were recruited as ambassadors, including leading female trainers to engage more women and offer home workout options.

The SFA also held the first Saudi Women’s Fitness Festival (WFF) in June — a three-day virtual event with sessions on nutrition, fitness, virtual workouts and thought leadership discussions.

Yasmine Hassan from Jeddah, one of the new wave of Saudi fitness coaches building online followings, said that an invitation to become an SFA ambassador meant a lot.

“Collaborating with entities such as the SFA means I can continue to grow and improve myself, both personally and professionally. I enjoy challenges and look forward to opportunities where I can
share my experience. Sport is a lifestyle and I want to encourage everyone, especially women, to get active.”

Hatoon Kadi, a WFF panel moderator, blogger, scriptwriter and presenter of YouTube’s “Noon Al-Niswa,” said the festival provided a great opportunity for women and girls to hear directly from female sporting role models.

“Being active and playing sports is beneficial for both mental and physical well-being, but now it can also become a career. The Women’s Fitness Festival provided the opportunity to hear first-hand how women who are already successful in their chosen sport combine fitness with motherhood, how they have overcome certain barriers, and how they got started on their fitness journey.”

Najia Al-Fadl, head trainer at Jeddah’s SheFit gym, also took part in a WFF panel discussion


Football is the most popular sport in the Arab world in general and Saudi Arabia in particular, and the WFL — the nation’s first women’s football league to meet the need for grassroots football — is open to women aged 17 and above. (Supplied)

“There are more clubs for girls these days and more are on the way, which is good progress,” she said. “We have to support women who want to take up a sport, whether it is a hobby, a lifestyle or a career. There have been so many changes in recent years and now there are a lot more opportunities, thanks to the SFA.”

In March, the SFA launched Girls’ National Sports Days (GNSD) in the Kingdom, which ran over a six-week period with 24,000 students from 499 schools taking part.

The program’s lead coach has more 25 years’ experience in delivering and developing the program globally, as well as the pilot project in Saudi Arabia in 2018.

Designed to achieve the Vision 2030 Quality of Life goals of enhancing girls’ sports participation within schools and promoting female inclusion in sport, the program is designed to encourage students to improve their health, fitness and sports participation, while giving participants the chance to experience different sports.

“From the girls’ smiles, laughter and chanting as they cheered on their teammates, it was clear that they all thoroughly enjoyed the Girls’ National Sports Days,” said Kirsten Butler, the project director.

By encouraging sports from a young age for girls, Saudi Arabia will become a healthier, stronger country, she said.

From these SFA-led initiatives, it is clear that women are eager to become more involved in sport. Whether providing opportunities at the community and grassroots level, establishing leagues, or working with female role models, the SFA is laying a solid foundation that encourages women from all walks of life to take up sport.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Modest fashion app launched for Saudi shoppers

21/07/20

The label, launched in 2018 in the Kingdom, will introduce its application to other GCC countries by the end of 2020. (Instagram)

DUBAI: Fashion label Leem has started a new mobile application for shoppers in Saudi Arabia this week.

The label, launched in 2018 in the Kingdom, will introduce its application to other GCC countries by the end of 2020.

Leem, which has stores across the Middle East, offers modern yet conservative designs that include wide-leg trousers, large sweaters, elegant dresses, oversized tops and more.

The brand promises that all the orders placed will be delivered within three to five business days, with free delivery offered on standard orders.

Leem will soon add premium services such as same-day and next-day delivery to their platform, which is currently available on Apple and Android devices via the App Store and Google Play Store.

A number of fashion brands have either gone digital or closed down during the pandemic.

In April, luxury modest wear e-tailor The Modist announced it will stop operating, and in June, UAE-based Al Tayer Group announced that e-tailer Nisnass will close down from July 16.

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Belgian envoy to Kingdom praises ‘openness, curiosity’ of Saudi people

21/07/20

Belgium’s Ambassador Dominique Mineur

Photo/Shutterstock

Ambassador Dominique Mineur shares her ‘fascinating’ experiences in Saudi Arabia with Arab News
RIYADH: Belgium celebrates its foundation on July 21. While festivities are usually filled with guests, good music and delicious foods, this year the multilingual country, to the northwest of France, is taking a different and unique approach. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) might have changed the course of action, but digital celebrations have become the new norm, with Belgium continuing its celebrations online.
“The year 2020 has been extremely challenging for all of us and of course the July 21 will not be a usual one,” Belgium’s Ambassador Dominique Mineur told Arab News. “In Belgium, the military (display) will be replaced by other events such as a live-streamed concert.”

“At 6 p.m., a quiz will be launched, focusing on the relations between Belgium, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen,” added the ambassador.

Mineur was the first female resident ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, taking up her role in September 2018. “I was struck by the warm welcome I received. I am lucky to have been chosen and accepted here as the first woman ambassador,” she said.

On living in Saudi Arabia, Mineur observed: “It was also a fascinating time to be here and witness the pace of changes the country is going through. I also admire the openness, as well as the curiosity of the Saudi people. Everywhere I go, I meet so many people who are just curious to know more and to learn about other ones, about the world.”

During her time in Saudi Arabia, Mineur teamed up with Shoura Council member Lina Al-Maeena to start a unique soft power initiative on the basketball court.

Riyadh United players have been holding regular games with the capital’s diplomatic community in a bid to promote the message of peace and understanding between nations through sport.

In 1954, a Belgian legation was inaugurated in Jeddah, with the first Belgian ambassador appointed in 1964, while the Kingdom’s first ambassador to Belgium was appointed in 1963. Belgium’s embassy was moved to Riyadh in January 1985.

The relations between Saudi Arabia and Belgium go back in time to December 1919, when a young Prince Faisal bin Abdul Aziz visited the UK on behalf of his father after the First World War. “He passed by Belgium and stopped there to visit the devastated areas of Ypres,” Mineur said.

In 1935, King Saud was received by Belgium’s King Leopold III. This visit was followed by an exploration mission of three Belgian specialists in 1951, who published a book titled “Expedition in the Heart of the Arabian Peninsula.” The mission was sponsored by King Abdul Aziz.

In May 1967, King Baudouin received King Faisal for an official visit to Belgium. In 1975, King Baudouin was invited by King Khaled for an official visit to Saudi Arabia.

In January 2015, King Philippe visited the Kingdom to present his condolences to King Salman for the deceased King Abdullah.

“Besides these official visits between our kings, not less than eight high-level economic missions have taken place in Saudi Arabia, since the late sixties,” Mineur added.

Not only that, but Belgium enjoys an international reputation in the medical sector. “It goes from training in some of our best universities to providing medical treatments. We are always so happy to meet Saudi doctors trained in Belgium.”

Belgium is also known for its intellectual legacy, comic creations such as Tin Tin and the Smurfs, and other cultural delights. “In general, the Belgians enjoy life, good food, drinks in nice company. Belgium is home to a lot of very charming medieval towns and cities. Many of them have been established at riversides.”

A small country with a vast history and kind people, the ambassador explains the nature of Belgians and their appeal. “The Belgians in general are known to be friendly and modest; they don’t brag about themselves but are found at key positions in a multitude of sectors.

She added, “Besides the usual cliches of chocolate and waffles, delicacies we all enjoy, Belgium is also known for many other things: Everyone is always welcome to watch a live match of our national football team, for example.

“During winter times, we have also have many Christmas markets. In summer, we have a lot of music festivals of all kinds taking place in many villages and cities. The most well-known is Tomorrowland (a very important music festival which) attracts every year a large number of youths from all over the world including from Saudi Arabia.”

Entertainment such as music is one of the joys Belgians take pride in. “Our know-how including in the fields of music and entertainment is highly appreciated and several Belgian companies have been invited to organize during the Riyadh Season.”

Mineur has visited various parts of Saudi Arabia, including Tabuk and the Empty Quarter. “The country has such a large variety of resources, natural, cultural as well as archeological treasures, that there are choices for different tastes among the tourists.”

“However, what I can already see since the opening of the country to the foreign visitors is the fascination for the desert experience. So many tourists wanted to discover more about the mystery of the desert, its silence, its emptiness, combined with this constant change of colors, of shapes, the vastness of the desert.”

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Muslims in the West ‘must integrate’ into their societies, urges OIC chief

Time: 17 July, 2020

Dr. Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen. (SPA)

JEDDAH: The secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Dr. Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen, has called on Muslims groups and communities living in non-Muslim countries to improve their integration into their societies, abide by their countries’ laws and stick to the peaceful ways and official and legal channels to solve any problems.
At the virtual media forum of the Union of OIC News Agencies (UNA), Al-Othaimeen urged Muslims to take part in the advancement of science and development of culture, be good citizens and avoid the tendency to isolate themselves from wider society or impose their opinions and beliefs on others.

This article was first published in Arab News

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For the love of the game: Saudi women’s football teams ready to return

13/07/20

‘The Kingdom has transformed massively in every way when it comes to female sports in general’
JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s female football players are gearing up for a return to the pitch after months of lockdown.

The coronavirus curfew had a massive impact on the sports industry, from gym closures to teams stopped from group training. But the growth project in the Kingdom’s sports sector, women’s football clubs, have found generous support from the Saudi Football Federation that enabled teams to gain more knowledge until they were ready to return to action.
A financial analyst by day and coach and manager by afternoon, Maram Al-Butairi said that football had always been a special sport for women in the Kingdom. The Eastern Flames’ manager helped establish one of the Eastern Province’s top teams and found great interest from many women around her.
“I was surprised to hear my friend’s mother telling a story of how she and her friends and cousins used to play football in one of the fields and having a league,” she told Arab News. “I am not sure when exactly women’s football was established in the Kingdom, but definitely before the 1980s. Not knowing about it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
Women’s football clubs began emerging around 2012 and 2013, gaining momentum over time as well as the support of senior members in leadership and society.
“We started inviting teams to our league and tournaments. Before that, we used to only invite footballers from Bahrain because it’s closer to the Eastern Province. In 2012-2013, we decided to invite people from all over the country and we had two teams coming from Riyadh and staying in the province for three days.
“It was the first time seeing that football was becoming something you would travel for, because a normal team would usually have at least 12 players (including the coach), and we had eight teams. It was a huge event. All those women asked their families to go and be part of this tournament. I would say that was the emergence of women’s football for us.”
A growing number of female players have honed their skills, allowing them to not just get better at the game but being able to share their knowledge and more.
2020 was going to be the year for female football players to shine but the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) hit the Kingdom and, as a precautionary measure, everything was put on hold. But the lockdown did not bring the sport to a standstill.
“The Kingdom has transformed massively in every way when it comes to female sports in general,” Al-Butairi said. “In football, during the lockdown, they realized that it was an opportunity to take advantage of since everyone was at home. They were eager to know more about football and they introduced many courses.”
One of the most highly anticipated virtual courses set to go live this week will be with former German player and Germany’s women’s national team assistant coach, Britta Carlson, who will be giving a lecture on the German methodology of physical fitness and technical preparation for women’s football.
“I’m very excited about Britta Carlson’s course. The US women’s football team is the best — they won the World Cup for years in a row — and Germany, Holland and France come pretty close. It is good to learn from the top teams and apply the knowledge to become like them or even better. Why not?”

FASTFACTS
• Established in 2006, the Eastern Province’s Eastern Flames was the first Saudi women’s football team and introduced a youth program in 2018.

• 2020 was going to be the year for female football players to shine but the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) hit the Kingdom and, as a precautionary measure, everything was put on hold.

Another course that was given during the lockdown was by UAE Women’s national team head coach Houriya Taheri.
“She taught us the introduction of coaching. It was a five-day intensive course during Ramadan. We learned all the basics and strategies, and for me, that was amazing because we need to grow the seeds. These are the people that will help women’s football evolve.”
Jeddah Eagle center forward Johara Al-Sudairi viewed the online courses given during lockdown as a “great step forward” as they helped to develop women’s football in the Kingdom.


“There is now more awareness and competition on a higher level,” she told Arab News. “The Jeddah Women’s League has changed things here in Jeddah, and the Women’s Football League will soon change things in the country. Overall things are moving forward in the right direction and the future for female football is bright. I think football was a secret passion for a lot of girls growing up in the past, and those girls paved the way for the next generation to be able to practice the sport we all love. We owe it all to them.”
Jeddah Eagles have resumed physical practice since the lifting of the lockdown and applied all the necessary health precautions, such as checking people’s temperature before they enter the training facility.
Saudi sports journalist Riyan Al-Jidani said the Saudi Football Federation was trying to set a strong foundation for women’s football, just like other Arab countries had done.
“Many people thought that because of the pandemic, everything would stop,” he said. “It was evident that this is wrong because the federation is working hard to develop women’s football despite the difficult circumstances such as COVID-19. These coaching courses are fundamental to develop coaches in the Kingdom. Britta Carlson to teach coaching skills is a wonderful step to establish a strong Saudi women’s teams in the future.
“We want to have uniquely skilled Saudi coaches that even make it abroad. Just like how we use the help of coaches from abroad, we hope to hear that European or American teams, for example, use the help of Saudi coaches in the future. This is
not impossible.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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