Dina Amin, CEO of the Saudi Visual Arts Commission

Time: 10 July, 2020

Dina Amin

Saudi Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan has appointed Dina Amin as CEO of the Visual Arts Commission.
She will take the lead in implementing the ministry’s vision and directions in promoting and developing visual arts in the Kingdom and empowering practitioners in the field.
Amin is a leading Saudi specialist in visual arts and the international contemporary art field. She gained a bachelor’s degree in art history and architecture from Wellesley College, in the US, and also attended a collaborative program in architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
During her career, spanning more than two decades, she has held senior positions in prominent international arts companies, including most recently Phillips, a global auction house for art, design, watches, jewels, and more.
She has also worked at Christie’s, one of the world’s most famous auction houses, employed in senior roles at the company’s international offices including New York, Dubai, and London.
The Visual Arts Commission is one of 11 new cultural bodies recently launched by the Ministry of Culture in line with the Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan to manage the empowerment and development of the Kingdom’s cultural sector. The commission will be responsible for managing and developing the visual arts sector to help achieve the ministry’s goals.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi anti-graft agency probes 105 corruption cases in different sectors

09/07/20

A Nazaha official said the Kingdom will continue to pursue cases of misappropriation of public money
The cases involved fraud, bribery, and financial and professional corruption
RIYADH: The Saudi Control and Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha) has initiated 105 corruption cases in the health, interior, power, and education sectors.
The cases involved fraud, bribery, and financial and professional corruption.
A Nazaha official said the Kingdom will continue to pursue cases of misappropriation of public money and harming state interests.
One of the cases involves the arrest of three employees working at the Saudi Electricity Co. for receiving a bribe amounting to €535,000 ($604,570) from a French company and opening bank accounts in another country (at the request of the company) for money laundering. Another case is the arrest of a university faculty member for asking for a bribe amounting to SR80,000 ($21,328) from a number of companies working on different projects at the university.
The authority also arrested a doctor at the Ministry of Health for violating the regulations at a quarantine facility.
A brigadier general was arrested for using his official vehicle to facilitate the passage of another private vehicle through security points during the curfew period.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia conducts 60k PCR tests daily in fight against COVID-19

08/07/20

So far, over 2 million PCR tests have been conducted in the Kingdom. (AFP)

  • The death toll in the Kingdom stands at 2,017, with 49 new fatalities

JEDDAH: Saudi health authorities are conducting 60,000 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests daily in a bid to check the spread of COVID-19, Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly said at a press briefing on Tuesday.
So far, over 2 million PCR tests have been conducted in the Kingdom, indicating the efficiency of its health-care system, he added.
Jalal Al-Owais, supervisor general of the ministry’s Emergency, Disasters and Ambulatory Transportation General Department, said: “One of the directives given by our leadership was to increase the number of hospital beds in critical care units. In only three months, capacity has risen by 30 percent. This shows the Kingdom’s great care and attention to its people’s health and safety.” Timely action helped health facilities cope with the number of patients effectively, he added.
On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia recorded 3,392 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections to 217,108. A total of 60,252 cases are active, of which 2,268 are in critical condition.
With 5,205 new recoveries, the total number of people having recovered from COVID-19 has reached 154, 839. The death toll in the Kingdom stands at 2,017, with 49 new fatalities.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia and UN’s fight against terrorism lauded at launch of ‘virtual expo’

08/07/20

Abdallah Al-Mouallim is chairman of the advisory board to the UNCCT. (UN Photo)

  • The UNCCT was set up in 2011 to promote international counter-terrorism cooperation

LONDON: Saudi Arabia has been a crucial partner alongside the United Nations in countering terrorism, the Kingdom’s UN ambassador said.

Abdallah Al-Mouallimi made the comments as the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT) launched on Tuesday a “virtual expo” into its work.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been a crucial partner alongside the United Nations in countering terrorism and extremism,” Al-Mouallimi, who is chairman of the center’s advisory board, said.

“It is my intention to underscore the continued Saudi support for the UNCCT as the Centre of Excellence in countering terrorism,” he added.

The UNCCT was set up in 2011 to promote international counter-terrorism cooperation and support member states implement the global counter-terrorism strategy. Saudi Arabia funded the project with $110 million.

Al-Mouallimi hosted the launch of the virtual expo on Tuesday.

The expo “showcases the Centre as a global leader in preventing and countering terrorism and violent extremism through capacity‑building efforts around the world,” the UNCCT said.

The virtual expo will run for four weeks online.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Young Saudis ‘have learned a great deal’ amid pandemic: Expert

08/07/20

Saudi youth make up 60 percent of the population. (AN photo by Essam Al Ghalib)

Modern internet infrastructure, accessibility in Kingdom ensured smooth running of online education.

LONDON: Despite its short-term challenges, the learning experience from the coronavirus pandemic may prove to be an advantage for young Saudis in the medium to long term, an expert has argued.

The pandemic, and the changes it has caused to education, employment and general wellbeing, have been major challenges for young people all over the world, including in Saudi Arabia.

But Mark Thompson, head of the Socioeconomic Unit at the King Faisal Center for Research & Islamic Studies, believes that there could be a silver lining to the disruption it has caused: A more strategically minded young population.
Speaking on Tuesday at an online seminar attended by Arab News, Thompson said Saudi youth, which make up 60 percent of the population, adapted quickly to the massive changes to their education that accompanied virus-control measures.
Saudi Arabia suspended all schools, universities and educational institutions on March 9 to contain the spread of coronavirus, delivering education entirely online.
Thanks to the Kingdom’s 90 percent internet penetration rate and the wide availability of internet-ready devices, Thompson said, the country successfully navigated “the switch to online learning” and managed to ensure “the continuation of learning through digital methods.”
One standout triumph from this period was the smooth delivery of university exams by the Ministry of Education, which conducted over 220,000 tests entirely online.
But more than just changing their method of learning, the disruptions have been a chance for many young people in the Kingdom to reflect on their own futures.
“This has also changed attitudes to specialization, toward programs such as business degrees, which are more suited to virtual classrooms,” Thompson said.
“The pandemic has altered young Saudis’ idea of education. It has compelled many young people to become more self-taught,” he added.
“They’ve learned a great deal from this experience. They can now develop clearer visions for their future careers, as well as the institutions they want to join.
“If the pandemic helps foster critical and strategic thinking in a lot of young Saudis, in the medium to long term we can consider this an indirect benefit.”
The pandemic has caused major disruption to children’s and young adults’ education worldwide.
UNESCO estimates that up to 60 percent of students globally have been impacted by school closures, amounting to over 1 billion affected learners.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia issues protocols to ensure the safety of pilgrims during Hajj

06/07/20

The Saudi Center for Disease Prevention and Control (Weqaya) has set safety protocols amid the ongoing coronavirus disease pandemic. The protocols affects all workers and pilgrims. (Photo/Supplied)

All rituals will be performed as per the rules set by the authorities to control the spread of coronavirus
JEDDAH: With coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases still surging throughout the world, Saudi Arabia has limited the number of pilgrims to performing this year’s Hajj and put several protocols in place.

The Saudi Center for Disease Prevention and Control (Weqaya) has set the protocols to decrease the infection rate and ensure pilgrims’ safety. Saudi Health Minister Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah announced earlier last month that the number of pilgrims would be limited this year.
Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Mohammed Saleh Benten said that the decision to limit numbers “aims to protect people above everything else, which has been the priority of the Kingdom since the start of the pandemic.”
The long list of protocols affects all workers and pilgrims this year. From July 19, authorities will prohibit all entry into Mina, Muzdalifa, and Arafat without permits.
Guides and awareness signs must be placed in all areas and written in various languages that include COVID-19 infection warnings, hand washing protocols, sneezing and coughing etiquette, and the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
Organizers must distribute pilgrims in the Tawaf area around the Kaaba to decrease overcrowding while adhering to a 1.5-meter distance between each person. Organizers at the Holy Mosque must ensure that pilgrims are distributed on all floors of the Saee (ritual walking between Safa and Marwa) and place track lines to maintain social distancing while ensuring that the grounds around the Kaaba and Saee are sanitized by cleaning crews before and after each group performing Tawaf.
Touching the Holy Kaaba and Black Stone will be prohibited, barriers will be set to prevent reaching the sites and the mosque’s carpets are to be removed to allow pilgrims to use their personal prayer rugs instead to decrease the chances of the spread of any infection.
Food will not be permitted in the mosque nor will it be allowed on the mosque’s grounds.
All personnel, guides, pilgrims and workers’ temperatures must be checked throughout the pilgrimage; protective face masks and gear must be worn at all times. Floor signs must be placed in locations such as baggage claim areas, restaurants and bus stops with a meter-and-a-half distance between each floor sign.
Concerning the protocols for Arafat and Muzdalifa, pilgrims must adhere to social distancing at all times, wear masks and organizers must ensure that no more than 10 pilgrims are located in a tent of 50 square meters, ensuring a 1.5-meter distance between each pilgrim. Pilgrims must adhere to designated tracks and organizers must be vigilant and ensure that all pilgrims stay in line while adhering to social distancing rules.
Organizers must assemble no more than 50 pilgrims heading to the Jamarat (stone pillars) per group and disinfected and packaged pebbles will be provided for pilgrims as well.

HIGHLIGHTS
• Organizers must distribute pilgrims in the Tawaf area around the Kaaba to decrease overcrowding.

• Food will not be permitted in the mosque nor will it be allowed on the mosque’s grounds.

• Touching the Holy Kaaba and Black Stone will be prohibited. Organizers must assemble no more than 50 pilgrims heading to the Jamarat (stone pillars) per group.

Those suspected of carrying the infection will be allowed to perform their pilgrimage only after being evaluated and cleared by a physician. They will be allocated into specific groups of suspected cases, placed in designated accommodation, and in buses with designated tracks to accommodate their condition.
Weqaya’s protocols also advised that no personnel are allowed to work if they contract flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, runny nose, a sore throat, or sudden loss of the sense of smell or taste) until symptoms disappear and are cleared by a physician.
Disinfecting and sanitization rounds must be scheduled and organized to ensure that surfaces such as door handles and tables in reception areas, public seating areas, and waiting areas are cleaned around the clock.
Sanitizers must be placed next to ATMs, touch-screen guides, and vending machines while all printed magazines and newspapers must be removed to decrease the possibility of transmission.
Workers at pilgrims’ accommodation must always wear face masks. Guests must wear masks when leaving their rooms and workers must disinfect and sanitize all luggage on arrival.
Weqaya also laid out protocols to decrease the rate of transmission at restaurants and rest stops. Water coolers must be discontinued in the Grand Mosque and holy sites and individual bottled Zamzam water will be available and distributed to pilgrims at all times.
Individual pre-packaged meals and food will be served to pilgrims. Workers distributing the meals must follow strict protocols that include washing hands for no less than 40 seconds using soap and water throughout their shifts and where they are not able to access these, alcohol-based sanitizers must be used instead for no less than 20 seconds.

This article was first published in Arab News

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$800bn plan to turn Riyadh into cultural hub for the Middle East

06/07/20

Fahd Al-Rasheed, president of the Royal Commission for the City of Riyadh. (Supplied)

  • Saudi capital’s planning chief unveils ambitious strategy ahead of G20 urban development summit

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is launching a SR3 trillion ($800 billion) plan to double the size of Riyadh in the next decade and transform it into an economic, social and cultural hub for the region.

The ambitious strategy for the capital city was unveiled by Fahd Al-Rasheed, president of the Royal Commission for the City of Riyadh, ahead of key meetings of the U20, the arm of the G20 leaders’ summit that deals with urban development and strategy.

“Riyadh is already a very important economic engine for the Kingdom, and although it’s already very successful, the plan now, under Vision 2030, is to actually take that way further, to double the population to 15 million people,” he told Arab News.

“We’ve already launched 18 megaprojects in the city, worth over SR1 trillion, over $250 billion, to both improve livability and deliver much higher economic growth so we can create jobs and double the population in 10 years. It’s a significant plan and the whole city is working to make sure this happens.”

About $250 billion in investment is expected from the private sector, with the same amount generated by increased economic activity from population growth, finance and banking, cultural and desert tourism, and leisure events.

“We must also ensure the growth is managed properly, so there will be a focus on transport and logistics, including the Riyadh metro which will open at the beginning of next year. The aim is to increase productivity,” Al-Rasheed said.

The plan involves the creation of a “mega industrial zone” focusing on advanced technology such as renewables and automation, and biotechnology and aquaponics. Another key feature is sustainability, with energy conservation, the circular carbon economy with its emphasis on reducing emissions, and water management, all priorities.

“You will see 7 million trees planted in Riyadh in the next few years, and King Salman Park will be bigger than Hyde Park in London,” Al-Rasheed said.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • 18 megaprojects have already been launched worth over $250 billion.
  • 7 million trees planted in Riyadh in the next few years.
  • King Salman Park will be bigger than Hyde Park in London.

The city also aims to be a Middle East artistic and cultural hub. An opera house is being considered, as well as public art shows with 1,000 works commissioned from around the world. “We have not seen anything like it since Renaissance Florence,” Al-Rasheed said.

The plans will be discussed this week during online meetings of the U20 linking Riyadh with Houston. The Texas oil capital is suffering a new spike in coronavirus cases and pandemics will be on the agenda. “We want to deal with this one, but also be ready for the next one,” Al-Rasheed said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Assafah Plaza in Riyadh

04/07/20

Assafah Plaza has been landscaped with date palms
Assafah Plaza is located between Riyadh’s Imam Turki bin Abdullah Mosque and Qasr Al-Hukm (known as the Justice Palace) and overlooks Al-Adl Plaza in the west. The royal entrance to Qasr Al-Hukm is at the southern end of the plaza and two pedestrian bridges cross eastward and westward connecting the palace to the capital’s grand mosque. Assafah Plaza has been landscaped with date palms.
This photograph was taken by Hisham Shamma as part of the Colors of Saudi competition.

This article was first published in Arab News

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‘In Saudi Arabia, one finds his soul in the desert’

04/07/20

Desert tourism will play a massive role in the growing tourism sector. (Supplied)

A group of adventurers and history enthusiasts is opening new horizons for tourists in Saudi Arabia
JEDDAH: In our hectic world, nature escapes have become a growing trend, attracting different types of people with a range of experiences and adventures, and creating new business opportunities and nature-based adventure tourism.

Now, after months of lockdown, residents of the Kingdom are seeking new ways of experiencing life’s adventures and there is no better place than our own backyard.
In Saudi Arabia, desert adventures are gaining increasing popularity among citizens and residents, as well as international tourists seeking the ultimate desert experience to discover the culture, customs and nomadic way of life.
Delta Adventures, a Saudi-based adventure excursion business that opened in 2018, offers unforgettable adventures to the beautiful unreachable destinations in the Arabian Peninsula, including the Empty Quarter, for a varied clientele.
Though it may suggest emptiness, loneliness and a lack of basic needs, deserts are diverse and they attract different types of tourists.
Some people look to the desert for a digital detox and to escape the bustle of demanding city life, while others, such as hikers, campers and nature lovers, seek fun adventures. Deserts also offer something for archaeology and history enthusiasts.
Muhammad and Eddie, sons of Sheikh Abdullah bin Khamis and founders of Delta Adventures, were inspired by their father, a Saudi intellectual and historian who influenced the geographical and historical documentation and research of the country’s deserts.
Bin Khamis has written over 50 works of literature, poetry, criticism, and history.
“We have a long accumulated experience and knowledge about desert trips for more than 40 years, as we used to accompany our father,” Muhammad bin Khamis told Arab News.

After their father died, the two brothers continued planning trips with friends and families, as well as diplomats, and by the end of 2018 had established their company in Riyadh to provide their services to travelers and break new ground in the area of desert tourism.
Delta Adventures designs trips in accordance with their clients’ requests, and is the first in the country to specialize in organizing trips to Rub’ Al-Khali (the Empty Quarter), also known as “The Abode of Emptiness.”

BACKGROUND
● Delta Adventures, a Saudi-based adventure excursion business that opened in 2018, offers unforgettable adventures to the beautiful unreachable destinations in the Arabian Peninsula.

● Muhammad and Eddie, sons of Sheikh Abdullah bin Khamis and founders of Delta Adventures, were inspired by their father, a Saudi intellectual and historian who influenced the geographical and historical documentation and research of the country’s deserts.

The vast area of desert located in the southern half of Saudi Arabia was not unexplored until the 1930s. Though the name suggests a barren, desolate place, many explorers consider it the ultimate resemblance of nature’s sheer beauty and power.
“Considering that desert tourism is an emerging market in the Kingdom, this gives us an opportunity to invest our experience in these type of projects to develop domestic tourism,” bin Khamis said.
“We aim to take advantage of the facilities provided by the Saudi government to contribute to the advancement of this sector in the country, in accordance with Vision 2030 that aspires to make tourism revenues contribute 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.”
Desert tourism is a perfect choice for visitors looking for tranquility, rest, and connection with nature.
It will also appeal to cultural visitors as well as gastronomic and nature lovers. Delta Adventures offers a wide range of long and short trips to different destinations with natural and historical value around the Kingdom, with a wide range of prices, too.
“By the end of our trips to unreachable places, we want to make our customers permanent ambassadors of Delta Adventures in their communities,” Bin Khamis said, adding: “We have been keen in choosing diverse sites for our trips to meet all tastes and aspirations. Until now, residents in Saudi Arabia have been our main customers, and we have previously taken five ambassadors and three of their wives on a 10-day trip to the Empty Quarter.”
He added: “There is also an increasing interest in such activities from overseas tourists and citizens. This season was our biggest so far, and it is encouraging us to offer our best.”
Bin Khamis said that desert tourism will play a massive role in the country’s growing tourism sector, especially with the Kingdom’s deserts’ enchanting and diverse beauty.

Tourists are coming to Saudi Arabia, bored with the cities’ huge buildings and manifestations of civilization in their countries. They usually come wanting to see a different nat ure and live a unique experience, and this is what our wonderful desert offers them.

Muhammad bin Khamis, Delta Adventures

“Tourists are coming to Saudi Arabia, bored with the cities’ huge buildings and manifestations of civilization in their countries. They usually come wanting to see a different nature and live a unique experience, and this is what our wonderful desert offers them.”
According to Bin Khamis, desert tourism is possible over three seasons of the year and varies from one region to another. For example, the Empty Quarter trips start from the beginning of November till the end of February, while trips to the northern regions such as Hail, Al-Jawf and Al-Ula begin from mid-September to mid-May.
Bin Khamis said the spirit of adventure and exploration is part of human nature, but has shrunk in modern life.
He said that people traveling in Saudi Arabia find their souls in the silent world, far away from any polluting sight, under the deserts’ night sky.
“People have the right to fear leaving their lives’ welfare, but as the Tunisian poet Abu Al-Qasim Al-Shabbi said: ‘He who doesn’t like to climb mountains will forever live among the hollows,’” said Bin Khamis.
He added that adventure tourism is different from any other type of travel, and is a fuller experience, as it relates to suspense, enjoyment, self-exploration, and discovering and learning new things.
Bin Khamis agreed that adventure tourism had become one of the most prominent tourist trends in recent years, and is more popular among young people.
Delta Adventures welcomes anyone who is in good health to join its trips.
“We provide participants with everything from a sleeping tent and bedding for each participant, in addition to meals, refreshments, as well as care and assistance.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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