Preparations for Souq Okaz almost finished as opening day approaches

Preparations for Souq Okaz almost finished as opening day approaches. (SPA)
Updated 14 June 2018
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Preparations for Souq Okaz almost finished as opening day approaches

JEDDAH/RIYADH: The intensive preparations for the 12th edition of Souq Okaz are almost over and the finishing touches are being put to the event, which takes place in Taif from June 27 to July 13 under the patronage of King Salman.
The site has been a hive of activity as workers build and prepare the Souq’s attractions, including a theater, Souq Okaz Avenue, Culture Avenue, venues for shows and events, and areas for support services.
The souq is organized by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) in cooperation with a number of governmental bodies in Taif, including the municipality, secretariat, the transport, health and civil defense ministries, and many others dealing with the Souq’s services and infrastructure.
There are more than 30 facilities equipped to host the shows and events, in addition to the Prince Khaled Al-Faisal Theater, the open stadium for popular art, auctions and souvenir shops. The souq will also feature shops for craftsmen, restaurants, a media center and a mini horse-racing track. The organizing committee has decorated the site with flags and a lighting in keeping with its nature.
Okaz Avenue for Culture, organized by SCTH, is one of the souq’s most important features, which this year will host more than 150 attractions, including heritage and cultural events, theater performances, and arts and crafts.
New events this year include presentations of stories from the life of poets such as Amr bin Kalthoum, Antra bin Shaddad, Zuhair bin Abi Salma, Emreo Al-Qais, Tarafa bin Al-Abd, Al-Asha and Qais Saeda, along with many other shows.
There will also be Arabian camel and horse convoys, an equestrian school for children, camel races, interactive children’s events, poetry and historical photography displays, craftsmen, cultural tents and much more.
Bari to promote local art and craft
The National Handicraft Development Program “Bari,” a flagship program of the SCTH to promote handicrafts in the Kingdom by supporting local artisans, will organize a crafts competition during the festival.
“The Saudi Crafts Program will participate in the activities of the 12th Souq Okaz with a number of male and female craftsmen,” Majed Alshadeed, a spokesman at the SCTH, told Arab News.
The program will oversee the crafts competition with the participation of 24 craftsmen competing for prizes of up to SR300,000 ($80,000), he said.
He said that the Saudi Crafts Program will be involved in the activities of the Souq Okaz market, with 116 tents and 70 craftsmen from throughout the Kingdom, in fields including weaving, handmade carpets, crochet, embroidery, traditional costumes, manufacture, carving and carpentering of wooden products, as well as handmade palm products, painting, sculpture or manual decoration on any natural material — and other craft products of an innovative nature.
The tent will feature the participation of National Handicraft Development Program partners including Herfah Organization, Princess Noura Social Center, Fatat — Al-Ihsa Charity Association, Art of Heritage Company, Sleysla Center, Herafia Society, Agaa Training Society, the Taiba Association, the Atta Al Khair Center, and the Creativity Handicrafts Centers — as well as the contribution of 15 male and female craftsmen, master craftsmen and a tent for a fashion show.
The National Handicrafts Program recently signed an agreement with Prince Charles of Britain’s Turquoise Mountain Foundation to expand handicraft production as well as improve artisans’ ability to manage local products.
Bari is working on the design of a feasibility study for a Saudi Academy for Crafts that will integrate Saudi heritage designs with technical training.
The main objectives of the program are to build a skilled professional group that can produce products at local and global economic level, expand product diversity and quality as well as economic and tourism diversification of a sustainable economic industry, in addition to the expansion of operating craft creativity centers in the Kingdom.


Saudi Arabia ‘will remain strongest ally of the US in Middle East’

Updated 13 December 2018
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Saudi Arabia ‘will remain strongest ally of the US in Middle East’

  • Kingdom lies at the core of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy, political and economic leaders told

Saudi Arabia will remain the strongest ally of the US in the Middle East and lies at the “heart and core” of President Trump’s foreign policy, some of the world’s leading politicians, economists and strategic analysts heard as they gathered to forecast the geopolitical state of the world in 2019.

At the 11th Arab Strategy Forum, an annual gathering to discuss worldwide political, economic, security and social scenarios and plan ways to help the region prepare for future challenges, speakers talked about a steadfast bond between the US and Saudi over the next 12 months. They said that Trump views the Kingdom as an unshakable ally with common regional interests including America’s fight against Iran, the peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a turbulent and fluctuating oil market.

“The Trump administration has been fighting very hard to move beyond Jamal Khashoggi,” said Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, who joined Ambassador Dennis Ross, former assistant to President Obama and National Security Council senior director for the Central Region, and Bernardino Leon, director general of the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, in a panel discussion titled the “State of the World Politics in 2019.” 

“They have made it very clear that they want to focus on other interests; the Israel-Palestine peace process, the question of Iran, the oil market … President Trump has made it very clear that Saudi Arabia really lies at the heart and the core of his foreign policy.”

He said that despite “tremendous pressures to take further steps” against the Kingdom, “the reality so far seems to be that the president will not listen to the critics.”

Dr. Ian Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia. 

He said that although the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia has come under strain, “as long as Donald Trump remains in power the relationships will continue to stay.”

In the panel discussion, moderated by CNN’s Becky Anderson, Leon also addressed Saudi and US relations.

“There are two dimensions; one is internal US politics, the other is in terms of foreign policy. Foreign policy has to be determined by the government and will continue to be determined by the government — this is the rule. So if you see these relations, in historical terms Saudi Arabia has always been the main ally in the region for the United States. 

“This is a region where another traditional very strong ally, Turkey, is now in a different position and even though we are at a time where this region is probably experiencing more difficulties than ever before, the United States will continue to act on that basis. I do not expect big changes. I am sure we there will be waves and I am sure the US Congress will call for more transparency and more information after what happened after Khashoggi, probably this is going to happen. But there will be no structural changes.”

Ross said that US policy — which states that if the president vetoes a decision, Congress may override the veto by a two-thirds supermajority of both houses — means it would be “very difficult” for Congress to overturn any decision on sanctions against the Kingdom that Trump, who has been vocal in his continuing support and relations with Saudi Arabia. He added that “most of the pressure” from federal government would be more likely to be dominated by the ongoing Trump-Russia investigations.

Faisal Abbas, editor in chief of Arab News, left, in conversation with Dr. Ian Bremmer. 

After being addressed by Faisal Abbas, editor in chief of Arab News, who posed a question about US-Middle East relations and asked if the US would distance itself from the Arab world, Ross said that the US would continue to have a vested interest in Middle Eastern activities.

“Las Vegas rules do not apply to the Middle East, what takes place in the Middle East doesn’t stay in the Middle East. That is ultimately why we have to stay involved in it.” 

Abbas began the first panel discussion of the day, “Discussing Megatrends in 2019,” by questioning speaker Dr. Ian Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia, about oil prices, Saudi Arabia’s international and regional relations and his predictions for the year ahead. 

Bremmer addressed the recent announcement by Qatar that it was withdrawing from the oil exporters’ group OPEC, saying the move would have little impact or fallout.

“Qatar in OPEC is a marginal player so I do not think their leaving is significant.”

Bremmer said that Qatar attended the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) annual summit in Riyadh this week and that Qataris and Saudis “directly engaged” was a move to be looked at in a “positive” way.

At the forum, attended by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Bremmer began his address by saying that 2019 should not see any real turbulent crisis, and highlighted the “good news” of “robust” predictions laid out by the International Monetary Fund that state the global economy will grow 3.7 percent this year. 

However, he said that 2020 is likely to witness another recession and warned — unlike the shows of unity after the 2008/09 financial crisis — of a fractious and “dysfunctional” geopolitical landscape that will mean the world will be unlikely to be able to bounce back easily.

“The good news is the 2019 economy will not be horrible. The bad news; the next economic downturn will be much worse. My worry is that whenever the next downturn comes we have a problem. The thing about the last major recession … which was a big one, is the response from all the world’s major economies. They all worked together in saying we have a problem, we need to get out of this together.

“Whenever the next downturn happens — which economists say is 2020 — when it comes the political reaction it is not going to be like 2008/9.”

Instead, the world is likely to witness a “blame-game” with countries pointing the finger at one another. Bremmer warned: “This is the most fraught geopolitical period in my lifetime … and the dysfunction is only going to grow.”

The geopolitical landscape has been heightened by a series of world events, including the “disastrous”  negations over Brexit, France’s “yellow vest” protests, the looming end to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s reign,  the state of US-China relations and the recent US sanctions on Iran.

Bremmer also raised concern over cybercrime and the shadow economy. He said that three of his biggest concerns from 2018 were North Korea-linked hackers stealing millions from ATMs across the world, Russian hackers using antivirus software to steal US cyber capabilities to attack Ukraine’s online network and the accounts of millions of Chinese web users being compromised in a series of hacks.

At the forum, speakers also discussed mega-trends and forecast the future of economics and government policies in the region.

The role of Iran as a leading state sponsor of terror and the impact of US sanctions was a factor among many of the key discussions. Ross said: “The interesting thing with Iran in 2019 is to see how they will tackle the internal pressure internally due to there economic decline,” while Bremmer said it was likely that Tehran would seek to wait out the Trump administration.

The growing role of China also dominated discussions. Leon said: “The US and China are two heavyweights that will keep their battle going on but it will not need to escalate much more, due to the nature of global economic markets,” while speakers highlighted the “winding down” of the war in Yemen as a positive trend in 2019.

In the “State of the Arab World Economy in 2019,” Dr. Nasser Saidi, former Lebanese minister of economy and trade, and Dr. Mahmoud Mohieldin, senior vice president of the World Bank Group, said that there was a general consensus that the economic recession would most likely start in 2019 and predicted an era of “turbulence” over the next 12 months, including a ripple effect across the GCC caused by oil price fluctuations. 

At the same panel discussion, H.E Nasser Judeh, former deputy prime minister of foreign affairs of Jordan, Dr. Ayad Allawi, former prime minister of Iraq and the leader of the National Accord, and H.E Nabil Fahmy, former foreign minister of Egypt, deliberated on the regional landscape over the next 12 months, with Allawi warning that the region is a “fertile ground” for terrorist groups should it not stabilize and not implement reforms that the Arab world is in “dire need of.” 

Fahmy addressed Qatar relations, saying that while a fragmented Arab world comes at the expense of every country, he was “not optimistic for radical change” in Qatar’s policies and said that the GCC could not back down to a country that refuses to “change its internal methodology.” 

“Qatar has to be a player — not an adversary.”

Ahead of the forum, Mohammed Al-Gergawi, minister of Cabinet Affairs and the Future, and chairman of the organizing committee, said the Arab Strategy Forum was launched as a platform for balanced analysis by decision-makers to offer a clearer understanding of the economic and political outlook for the Arab region and the world.