Riyadh forum aims to promote culture of peace and coexistence

Saudi Arabia seeks to foster a culture of dialogue among people of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds to bridge animosities, reduce fear and instill mutual respect. (Shutterstock)
Updated 07 January 2019
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Riyadh forum aims to promote culture of peace and coexistence

  • Saudi Arabia aims to promote the use of dialogue to prevent and resolve global conflicts to enhance understanding and cooperation

JEDDAH: People from countries as diverse as Brazil, Japan and the US are among those taking part in a forum promoting coexistence, peace and tolerance.
The “Saudi Salam (peace) Forum” in Riyadh is aimed at forging stronger ties between the Kingdom and the global community.
One of the participants in the two-day event is Brazilian footballer Elton Jose Xavier Gomes, who plays for Saudi club Al-Qadsiah. He has lived in the Kingdom for 10 years and set up a football academy in Brazil called “Al-Saudiya.”
He has previously posted videos of his children singing the Saudi national anthem on Instagram, as well as saying that his son and daughter sing it regularly.
The 32-year-old midfielder will be joined by others who will engage in an honest and public conversation about their time in the Kingdom and living alongside Saudi nationals.
Faisal bin Abdulrahman bin Muaamar, secretary-general of the King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), said the forum focused on the important values of coexistence, harmony, compassion and respect for the diversity of Saudi culture.
These were the basis of ties between Saudis and people from different races and religions, including those who contributed to the country’s development and progress, he added.

Moderate society
The forum was part of a wider effort to represent a moderate society in Saudi Arabia, he said, and there will be short films highlighting personal success stories or community-based initiatives for coexistence, as well as town hall-style meetings where nationals and foreigners can share their experiences.
Fahad Al-Sultan, the project’s executive director, was reported by the Saudi Press Agency as saying that the forum would highlight the progress, achievements and efforts the Kingdom has made for the benefit of mankind and world peace.
Saudi Arabia aims to promote the use of dialogue to prevent and resolve global conflicts to enhance understanding and cooperation.
The Kingdom seeks to foster dialogue among people of different faiths and cultures that bridges animosities, reduces fear and instills mutual respect.
Intercultural and interreligious dialogue helps build communities’ resistance against prejudice, strengthens social cohesion, supports conflict prevention and transformation and can serve to preserve peace.
The Kingdom has always supported the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The country is keen to combat all forms of discrimination based on culture, religion or belief by organizing events to overcome stereotypes in a long-term process that leads to a culture of dialogue that enables greater understanding of people of other cultures and followers of other religions.


How ‘Absher’ app liberates Saudis from government bureaucracy

The Absher website also provides information on how to report wanted persons, or administrative or financial corruption. (Supplied)
Updated 17 February 2019
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How ‘Absher’ app liberates Saudis from government bureaucracy

  • Western media mistaken in portraying app as a tool of repression, leading female journalist says

JEDDAH: Absher, the “one-click” e-services app launched by the Interior Ministry in 2015, is now regarded as the leading government platform for Saudi citizens, freeing them from bureaucratic inefficiency and endless queuing for everyday services.
However, in a recent New York Times article, the app was criticized as a “tool of repression” following claims by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and women’s rights groups.
Apple and Google were urged to remove the application from their devices over claims that it “enables abhorrent surveillance and control of women.”
In an official statement, the ministry rejected the allegations and said the Absher platform centralized more than 160 different services for all members of society, including women, the elderly and people with special needs.
The app makes electronic government services available for beneficiaries to access directly at any time and from any place in the Kingdom, the ministry said.
Absher allows residents of the Kingdom to make appointments, renew IDs, passports, driver’s licenses, car registration and other services with one click.
Many Saudis still recall having to queue at government agencies, such as passport control offices and civil affairs departments, for a variety of official procedures. Appointments could take weeks to arrange, with people relying on their green files, or “malaf allagi” — the 1980s and 1990s paper form of Absher that was known as the citizen’s “lifeline,” both figuratively and literally.
Hours would be spent as government departments ferried files back and forth, and if a form was lost, the whole transaction process would have to start again. As complicated as it was for men, women suffered more.
Muna Abu Sulayman, an award-winning strategy adviser and media personality, told Arab News the introduction of Absher had helped strengthen women’s rights.
Sulayman said she was disappointed at comments on the e-services platform being made abroad. “There are consequences that people don’t understand. It’s a very idealistic and naive way of understanding what is going on,” she said.
“The discussion on the guardianship law is internal and ongoing — it is something that has to be decided by our society and not as a result of outside pressure. We’re making strides toward equality and Absher is a step in the right direction,” she said.
“In a Twitter survey, I asked how many women have access to their guardian’s Absher. Most answered that they control their own fate. Men who don’t believe in controlling women gave them access to their Absher and that shows an increase in the participation of women in their own decision-making.”
Absher also provides services such as e-forms, dealing with Hajj eligibility, passport control, civil affairs, public services, traffic control, and medical appointments at government hospitals.
The platform is available to all men and women, and removes much of the bureaucracy and time wasting associated with nonautomated administrative systems.
On the issue of granting women travel permits, the law requires a male guardian to grant it through the portal, as well as for men under the age of 21.
Retired King Abdullah University professor Dr. Zainab M. Zain told Arab News: “I always had issues with my passport renewal as well as my children’s as they are both non-Saudi. For years it was risky not to follow up properly at passport control — you never knew what could happen, but now I can renew their permits by paying their fees online through Absher from the comfort of my home in Abu Dhabi.”
Ehsanul Haque, a Pakistani engineer who has lived in the Kingdom for more than 30 years, said: “Absher has helped tremendously with requests, such as exit and entry visas for my family and myself. I can receive approval within an hour whereas once it would’ve taken me days,” he said.
“The platform has eased many of my troubles.”
The Absher website also provides information on how to report wanted persons, or administrative or financial corruption.
In April, 2018, the ministry launched “Absher Business,” a technical initiative to transfer its business services to an interactive digital system.
With an annual fee of SR2,000 ($533), business owners such as Marwan Bukhary, owner of Gold Sushi Club Restaurant in Jeddah, used the portal to help manage his workers’ needs in his expanding business.
“There are many features in Absher that helps both individual and establishment owners,” he said. “I took advantage of the great features it provided, and it saved me a lot of time and trouble and also my restaurant workers. It’s a dramatic change. When Absher Business was launched last year, it organized how I needed to manage my workers’ work permits.
“Through the system, I could see the status of all my employees, renew their permits, grant their exit and entry visas, and have their permits delivered to my house or my business through the post after paying the fees. It saved business owners a lot of time and energy.
“I used to have to do everything manually myself or have my courier help. I believe it’s the government’s most advanced system yet with more features being added every now and then,” Bukhary said.
“Absher has eased our burden, unlike the old days when we needed to visit government offices and it would take four weeks just to get an appointment. One click is all it takes now.”