How Saudi Arabia kept COVID-19 at bay

Time: 23 September 2020

An aerial view shows deserted streets in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah on April 21, 2020, as the message “stay home” in Arabic is displayed on a tower during the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis. (Photo by Bandar al-DANDANI / AFP)
Saudi Arabia managed to keep the enemy from its soil for two months, buying precious time to build up its defenses. (AFP)
  • From its peak in June, Saudi Arabia’s daily new cases have dropped below 500

LONDON: At the height of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, June 17 passed unremarked on, as just another day in Saudi Arabia’s hard-fought battle against the worst public health crisis the country has ever seen.

In future, however, June 17 might be seen as an appropriate date for the people of Saudi Arabia to remember their nation’s epic battle against the microscopic enemy that brought the world to its knees — for that was the day the number of daily new cases in the Kingdom peaked.

At the time, the day’s tally of 4,919 cases seemed daunting. In fact, the tide of battle had turned in favor of the Kingdom. After that, slowly but steadily the number began to drop. From its first case on March 2, Saudi Arabia had broken the back of the pandemic in just 107 days.

COVID-19 emerged in China in early January, spreading rapidly around the world, but Saudi Arabia managed to keep the enemy from its soil for two months, buying precious time to build up its defences.

“We were luckier than many other countries because our cases started a little bit later,” said Dr. Hani Jokhdar, deputy minister for public health, speaking in August at the Riyadh Global Digital Health Summit. “This gave us a small opportunity to develop our systems, watching and observing what was happening in the rest of the world.”

Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries in the world to set up laboratories to test for the coronavirus, with tests available for anyone with symptoms from March 5 onward. Over the next five months more than five million would be carried out.

‘We witness the fruits of our labor today.’

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly

In February, travel to and from infected countries was quickly curtailed, culminating in a ban on all international flights by March 15. Restrictions on internal travel followed shortly after.

And on Feb. 27, Saudi Arabia took the unprecedented but necessary step of suspending Umrah visas for foreign pilgrims. The Kingdom would also take the lead in closing mosques.

Saudi Arabia’s defences were finally breached on March 2, thanks to two citizens who had returned home infected from Bahrain, neglecting to mention that their journeys had begun in Iran, a country already in the grip of the disease.

Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia, the last of the six Gulf Cooperation Council states to be hit by the virus, was better prepared than many countries for what was coming. A raft of apps — some established, others developed quickly in the face of the new disease — allowed citizens and residents to report symptoms, book virtual appointments and access testing.

Such technology would also play a vital role in the management of Hajj. As the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, from the outset Saudi Arabia was keenly aware of the consequences for itself, the region and the entire planet if it failed to manage the pilgrimage effectively.

This year the decision was taken to limit numbers to a symbolic 1,000, selected from nationals and foreigners already in the country. Careful screening, monitoring and meticulous management ensured that, in this remarkable year, Hajj passed off without a single case of COVID-19.

Throughout, Saudi Arabia’s battle against the virus has been led from the very top. On March 19, King Salman addressed the nation on television. The Kingdom, he said, “continues to take all precautionary measures to confront this pandemic and limit its effects. We depend on the aid of God Almighty, then on deploying our full capabilities, supported by your strong determination to face adversity with the steadfastness of believers at the forefront.”

Key Dates

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    Saudi Arabia launches a public information campaign on Jan. 28, holds the first meeting of the COVID-19 Follow-Up Committee on Feb. 1, and bans travel to China on Feb. 6.

    Timeline Image Jan. 28-Feb. 6

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    Timeline Image March 2

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    Timeline Image March 4

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    Timeline Image March 8

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    Timeline Image March 15

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    Timeline Image March 23

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    Timeline Image March 26

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    Timeline Image April 6

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    Timeline Image May 13

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    Timeline Image June 17

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    Timeline Image July 29-31

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    Timeline Image Aug. 9

Neither Saudi Arabia nor the world is out of the woods yet. But as the global daily tally of cases continues to rise, hitting a record high of over 316,000 on Sept. 11, for a total of 31.2 million cases and 965,372 deaths, so Saudi Arabia’s daily caseload continues to shrink, even as restrictions have been relaxed and life in the country has begun to return to normal.

On Sunday, the number of daily new cases dropped below 500 for the first time in five months. As Ministry of Health spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly said: “We witness the fruits of our labor today.” The “huge improvement,” he added, was thanks to “everyone’s efforts.”

Let there be no doubt that, with a total of 329,271 cases and 4,458 deaths recorded by Sunday, Saudi Arabia has suffered in 2020.

But one has only to look at how badly many other states have fared — including some of the most powerful and advanced countries in the world — to realize just how much worse this terrible year might have been for the Kingdom, were it not for its preparations and timely and decisive actions.

This article was first published in Arab News

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A national day on an international stage

Time: 23 September 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was first published in Arab News

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How Saudi doctors fight COVID-19 abroad

Time: 23 September 2020

A woman wearing a protective facemask walks past a paste-up by French street artist Ardif in Paris, depicting a Marianne and a member of the medical staff as a tribute to thank the caregivers, on May 15, 2020, as France eases the lockdown measures taken to curb the spread of the COVID-19, (the novel coronavirus). (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION – TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION
Many of the more than 6,000 Saudi doctors across 41 countries on medical fellowship programs abroad continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. (Supplied)
  • Many of the more than 6,000 Saudi doctors in medical fellowship programs abroad are fighting COVID-19 in 41 countries

MAKKAH: Many of the more than 6,000 Saudi doctors across 41 countries on medical fellowship programs abroad continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, doing their diligent duty to help people across the globe.

These doctors have shown dexterity in combating the coronavirus pandemic alongside colleagues from their host countries. A substantial number of those Saudi doctors refuse to leave despite the dangers, remaining in the countries where they are studying to help their fellow colleagues in the battle.

Dr. Abdullah Boqays, a fellow working as a dermatologist in cancer hospitals in Toulouse, France, told Arab News that 2020 has been a frightening year for many medical care workers.

“Doctors with various specialties have fought competently since the start of the pandemic, especially the ones dealing directly with infected patients, not only while working in hospitals, which make them more vulnerable than others in terms of infection, but also while dealing with patients who suffer from a weakened immune system,” he said.

Dr. Boqays told Arab News that the staff in his department of skin tumor and dermatology have had to deal with a number of follow-ups and consultations with visiting skin cancer patients, many of whom are at advanced stages of the disease or have weakened immune systems due to chemotherapy or immunosuppressants.

Tumor-removal surgeries have continued despite the pandemic, Dr. Baqis said. “The work environment, as well as behavioral and ethical practices, obliges us to continue the treatment, regardless of the reasons and methods used. Delaying chemotherapy drugs, administering  immunosuppressants or not performing curative surgeries might have disastrous consequences on the patients. We rely on God first, take the necessary precautionary measures to meet the demands of patients, support them and alleviate their pain,” he said.

“Even though we are far from our precious country, we are at peace because our wise government — under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — supports us and cares for Saudis abroad,” Dr. Boqays said

Abdullah Modhayan, a psychiatric resident at the Skane University Hospital in Malmo, has been in Sweden since 2015. “There are more than 50 Saudi doctors on a medical fellowship program in Sweden, working in various medical specialties in different cities, and most of them were on the frontline in the Swedish health system,” he said.

“Some of my colleagues on a medical fellowship program were infected with COVID-19, and quickly returned to their positions to help their colleagues in the Swedish health sector after they’d recovered. It is noteworthy to mention that the work achieved by Saudi doctors in Sweden was and still is appreciated here.”

The Kingdom vs. COVID-19

How Saudi Arabia acted swiftly and coordinated a global response to fight the coronavirus, preventing a far worse crisis at home and around the world.

Sweden made headlines for its soft strategy in combatting the pandemic: The government did not close down shops, restaurants or cafés, and did not impose a quarantine for its citizens and residents.

“This decision had major consequences at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Sweden,” Dr. Modhayan said. “The mortality rate was one of the highest in Europe, which was difficult on the health sector and its status amid a real challenge. Saudi doctors played an efficient role in the face of this challenge here.”

During the pandemic, Dr. Modhayan has been working in the psychiatric emergency department. He noted the psychological effect on individuals, most notably on those who lost loved ones to the coronavirus. “Providing psychological support and treatment for those who need it is very important, especially in such difficult circumstances,” he said.

Dr. Abdulghani Khogeer, a nephrologist surgeon (specializing in kidney and urinary tract diseases), has been living in France for the past seven years as part of a Saudi-French fellowship program and has seen firsthand the disastrous effect the pandemic had on France.

“Similar to other countries, France fought the coronavirus vigorously in the beginning, which required suspending non-urgent medical activities. This had a major effect on the workflow, as we followed remote procedures at clinics, canceled non-urgent operations, rescheduled surgeries, canceled clinics and followed other procedures. That required our constant presence and readiness to help in departments combating the virus such as the emergency department, performing many necessary surgeries during that time.”

Dr. Khogeer is grateful to the Kingdom’s embassy for its support and constant communication during this critical period. “I pray to God to protect us and help us return to our country safely, in order to serve it with all our learning and knowledge,” he said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Museum telling Jeddah’s historic story to open in 2022

21/09/20

The building, designed in typical Jeddah style, bears white walls made of a heady mix of coral stones extracted from the nearby reef along the Red Sea shores, and purified clay from nearby lakes. (Photo/Supplied)

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KSrelief Virtually Signs a Joint Cooperation Agreement with UNICEF for Yemen

Time: 21 September 2020

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSrelief) virtually signed today a joint cooperation agreement with the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) to implement seven various projects in Yemen, at a total cots of USD 46,000,000 – part of the United Nations Humanitarian Response Plan in Yemen 2020.

The three agreement was signed by the Advisor-Royal Court and Supervisor General of KSrelief, Dr. Abdullah Al Rabeeah, with the UNICEF Representative in the Gulf area, Mr. Eltayeb Adam.

The agreement aims to support the access of Yemeni children affected by the coronavirus pandemic “COVID-19” to educational opportunities through distance learning, and developing preparedness plans to safely return to schools. It also aims to support building the capacities of educational personnel and institutions by providing training programs and raising awareness to deal with the pandemic; in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and local channels in 20 governorates in Yemen. Another aim is to support the access of Yemeni children to quality education opportunities by equipping schools, providing educational supplies for students, and building the capacities of the educational staff in the governorates of Abyan, Aden, Al Bayda, Dhamar, Dhale, Al Jawf, Al Mahwit, Amant Al Asemah, Amran, Raymah, Sa’dah, Shabwah, Taiz, Al Mahrah, Ibb, Hadramawt, Ma’rib, Sana’a, Hajjah, Al Hudaydah, Lahij, and Socotra.

Moreover, the agreement includes enabling children and their families to access psychosocial support and mental health services in 19 Yemeni governorates, as part of the Child Protection Project in Yemen. In addition to an emergency response to “COVID-19” in targeted health facilities in 9 governorates by securing all equipment to receive patients in the ICU, including ventilators, patient monitors, and AED/Defibrillator. Also, establishing 60 respiratory triage points in hospitals and primary health care centers, providing personal protection equipment for medical staff, and training health staff on the measures taken to address the outbreak of the pandemic. As well as integrated emergency health response to ensure continuity and expansion of services, with the aim of supporting the resilience of the health sector during the pandemic. Achieving the resilience will be by building a new warehouse in accordance with standard procedures to storage health supplies in a suitable place supported with furniture and equipment needed. In addition to purchasing necessary medicines for health centers and hospitals for children’s diseases, including antibiotics, fever reducers and watery diarrhea medicines.

The agreement also includes the operational cost of a large group of hospitals and health centers, and securing personal protection items for medical staff in all Yemeni governorates. As well as reducing injuries and deaths due to malnutrition among children and pregnant and lactating women in 8 governorates, that have high levels of acute malnutrition, through maintaining the provision of life-saving interventions and preventive nutrition in conjunction with primary health, and WASH interventions.

After the signing, Dr. Al Rabeeah stated, “Under the directives of the Custodian of the Two Holy Macaques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and the Crown Prince, we sign today the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s agreement, represented by KSrelief, with UNICEF.” He pointed out that this important agreement is part of the Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen 2020, with a value of USD 46 million for 16,851,000 recipients in Yemen. He explained that this agreement includes seven projects. The first is a health project (USD 11,200,000) for 4,400,000 recipients, the second is a WASH project (USD 9,200,000) for nearly 2.5 million recipients, and the third project is to combat malnutrition for children and mothers (USD 7,600,000) for nearly 175,000 recipients. The fourth project is to fight COVID-19 (USD 4,000,000) for 9,000,000 recipients, and the fifth project is for health awareness and education about COVID-19 epidemic (USD 2,000,000) for nearly 230,000 recipients. The sixth project is to support education (USD 8,000,000) for nearly 252,000 recipients, and the seventh and last project is for protection and prevention (USD 4,000,000) for 241,000 recipients.

Dr. Al Rabeeah concluded by appreciating the strategic partnership between KSrelief and UNICEF that contributes to human suffering everywhere.

The UNICEF Representative in the Gulf area, Mr. Eltayeb Adam, thanked the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its generous and continuous support for the UNICEF’s programs in Yemen. He noted that the USD 46 million grant will assist UNICEF in providing support to children and their families in the areas of health, nutrition, WASH, education and protection. It also supported UNICEF to combat the COVID-19 epidemic in Yemen by training health personnel and providing medical and other supplies.

This article was first published in KSRelief official website

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Reem A. Alfrayan, executive director of G20 Saudi Secretariat

20/09/20

Reem A. Alfrayan
  • Alfrayan received a bachelor’s degree in technical education and training, workforce development and education at Ohio State University in 2001

Dr. Reem A. Alfrayan has been the executive director of G20 Saudi Secretariat since January 2019.
Commenting on women’s empowerment in the Kingdom, she recently said on a TV show: “We’ve passed the stage of dreaming; with the help of Vision 2030, they’ve become a reality, we need new dreams now.”
She was the first woman to be appointed as assistant secretary-general at the Council of Saudi Chambers in September 2014.
Alfrayan received a bachelor’s degree in technical education and training, workforce development and education at Ohio State University in 2001.
In 2002, she earned a master’s degree in instructional technologies and media policy, and leadership from the same university.
Alfrayan obtained another master’s degree in educational leadership and organization, policy and leadership at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2013.
She did a Ph.D. in educational leadership and organization from the same university in 2014.
After obtaining her first master’s degree, she joined the Arab Open University as instructional technology unit supervisor at its headquarters in Kuwait in 2003.
Between 2005 and 2006, Alfrayan served as a training specialist with a project launched by the General Authority for Tourism and Antiquities.
She then joined King Abdul Aziz Medical City as an administrative planning and processing development officer.
She also served as general manager of businesswomen’s affairs at the Council of Saudi Chambers from October 2007 to January 2010.
Alfrayan also actively participates in volunteer work.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia backs UN’s coronavirus response plan with $100 million

20/09/20

During a virtual meeting with UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, announced the Kingdom’s donation of US$100 million to support the International Response Plan to coronavirus pandemic. (Twitter/@ksamissionun)
  • Kingdom’s donation will support UN’s International Response Plan to coronavirus pandemic
  • Guterres thanked Saudi Arabia for its generous and continuous support to UN

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia said Friday it was donating $100 million to the World Health Organization (WHO) and toward a number of projects in support of a United Nations response plan to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement was made by the Kingdom’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, during a virtual event with UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Saudi Press Agency reported.
“The International Response Plan to coronavirus pandemic, the WHO and other UN agencies will benefit from this Saudi donation,” Al-Mouallimi tweeted following the meeting.

Earlier, Al-Mouallimi said that “this support comes within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s international efforts in support of the response to combating the coronavirus, and awareness of the importance of cooperation, solidarity and collective and international action to foster a transparent, robust, coordinated and wide-ranging global response.”
He said the Kingdom was carrying out “the role it has been entrusted with toward multilateralism, collective and international action in order to confront the COVID-19 pandemic,” adding that Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries “to extend a hand of aid and coordination” with countries affected by the spread of the virus.
Al-Mouallimi said that the Kingdom is working to enable the UN to lead international action to intensify global efforts to combat coronavirus, and to enhance support for developing countries and the most vulnerable regions in fighting this pandemic.
In particular, he mentioned assisting refugees, raising the standards of living among the world’s poorest groups, developing fragile economies, mediating an end to conflicts, and building more harmonious relationships between nations.
Guterres thanked King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the Kingdom’s generous and continuous support to the organization, saying that Saudi Arabia worked in partnership with the UN to support security, stability and prosperity in all parts of the world, especially in Yemen.

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Saudi aid agency opens dialysis center in Beirut

Time: 19 September 2020

Saudi Arabian humanitarian agency inaugurates dialysis center at Al-Makassed Hospital in Beirut. (SPA)
  • The center distributed 1,740 food baskets, weighing more than 128 tons for the Syrian and Palestinian refugees

The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) inaugurated the final stage of equipping the dialysis center at Al-Makassed Hospital in Beirut, in the presence of Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid bin Abdullah Bukhari.
The executive director of Al-Makassed Hospital, Dr. Mohammad Badr, received medical supplies, equipment and shelter materials from the director of KSRelief’s office in Lebanon, Fahad Al-Qannas.
The president of the Al-Makassed Islamic Charitable Society Hospital in Beirut, Dr. Faisal Sinno, thanked the Saudi government and people for their support of Lebanon, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Friday.
Meanwhile, the center distributed 1,740 food baskets, weighing more than 128 tons for the Syrian and Palestinian refugees as well as the poorest Lebanese families, in a number of Lebanese cities, benefiting 8,700 individuals.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Meet the Taylor Swift-loved Saudi VFX producer behind her hit videos

19/09/20

 

 

LOS ANGELES: Jumanah Shaheen is one of the first Saudi women to work in visual effects in Hollywood. Her most recent project was the music video to Taylor Swift’s new single “Cardigan.”

 

This marks Shaheen’s second time working with the artist, the first being the 2017 hit “Look What You Made Me Do.”

“What I thought was amazing about this project is that Taylor Swift actually directed this video,” Shaheen told Arab News. “It was great to see her in that role and see how she was able to take her knowledge and put that into the video.”

As a woman succeeding in the film industry, Shaheen is proud of her work and is looking to provide opportunities to other women facing the challenges she faced.

At the same time, she is proud and excited to be Saudi in a time when the Saudi film industry is taking off.

“Now we’re getting to hear a lot more stories that come from Saudi, that come from my culture, from our traditions,” she said. “It’s amazing to see all these amazingly talented people – writers, directors, producers (and) artists – all having this ability and opportunity to share their stories.”

Shaheen said she is glad to be a role model for Saudis and women that share her dream of working in the film industry. She encourages them not to simply imitate people like her, but to recognize the positive qualities of others and use them to be the best version of yourself.

“What I’m hoping with my experience here and be able to kind of provide those services for these new upcoming directors and artists to find that outlet with them,” the post production producer said. “So if you have an independent film I’m hoping that I can be your right hand in being able to make your vision come to life.”

 

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The Place: Murabba Palace in Riyadh where King Abdul Aziz used to receive kings and heads of state

19/09/20

  • The palace was built in the traditional Najdian style, characterized by the highest levels of workmanship and design
Murabba Palace at King Abdul Aziz Historical Center in Riyadh is one of the city’s prominent historical landmarks.
The palace was built by the founder of the Kingdom King Abdul Aziz in 1937 outside the walls of the old city of Riyadh. The palace complex was built on a plot called “Murabba Al-Sufyan,” which was used for farming during the rainy season, according to the documents at the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah).
King Abdul Aziz used to receive kings and visiting heads of state and make historical agreements at Murabba Palace.
The palace was built in the traditional Najdian style, characterized by the highest levels of workmanship and design. The huge walls and internal and external ceilings are built with tamarisk and palm tree fronds. Stones were used in the foundations and columns, and wood was used for doors and windows.
This photograph was taken by Mohammad Abdu as part of the Colors of Saudi collection.

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