From Elbrus to Everest, a Saudi explorer climbs for a cause

Updated 24 May 2019

From Elbrus to Everest, a Saudi explorer climbs for a cause

  • Mona Shahab raises awareness and funds while aiming to complete the prestigious Explorers Grand Slam challenge
  • Shahab says Saudi women can, and will, reach "whatever heights they set their mind and heart to"

From cancer patients to war refugees, the list of beneficiaries of the causes for which Saudi explorer Mona Shahab climbs the world’s highest summits is lengthy. Currently, she is tackling the world’s tallest mountain, Everest. If she succeeds in scaling it, it would see Shahab tick five boxes out of the classic adverturer’s to-do list of Seven Summits — the highest point on each of the seven continents.

Raising awareness and funds — more than $350,000 (SR1.3 million) to date — for charitable causes is what chiefly motivates Shahab to win the Explorers Grand Slam title — that is, to reach the North Pole and the South Pole in addition to the Seven Summits. But beyond that, she wants to send a message to Saudi women — and to the world at large.

“One of my goals is for us to gently shake the world, to change misperceptions, and maybe even shatter some stereotypes. Many raise an eyebrow when they hear a Saudi woman has achieved something,” Shahab told Arab News from the Everest base camp part way through her expedition. “Saudi women can, Saudi women will, reach whatever heights they set their mind and heart to.”


2012 — Completed Kilimanjaro4 Cancer and helped raise funds to build the first detection cancer center in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. Also completed “A Woman’s Journey: Everest Base Camp” with nine other Saudi women to raise breast cancer awareness in the Kingdom.

2013 — Elbrus4Cancer, scaling Europe’s Elbrus mountain, to raise funds for Umniyaty, Saudi version of “Make a Wish Foundation.”

2014 — MtBlanc4Humanity by scaling Mont Blanc — the highest mountain in the Alps and the highest in Europe west of Russia’s Caucasus peaks — to reinforce the importance of tolerance among citizens of the world.

2015 — Vinson4Mohammed — a mission completed by Shahab standing on the roof of Antarctica for Mohammed, a Syrian boy diagnosed with osteosarcoma. Also completed Toubkal4Smiles, which saw Shahab stand on the roof of the Arab world.

2016 — Kilimanjaro4Mawaddah — to raise funds to help build a safe haven where children of divorcees can meet parents. Also completed LeninPeak4Tomorrow to raise funds to give 100 refugee children in Lebanon tan education.

2017 Aconcagua4Cancer — in Latin America in support of a child with cancer and in memory of her friend Marwa Fayed.

2019 Aims to climb Mount Everest as part of Shahab’s goal to win the Explorers Grand Slam title — to reach the North Pole, the South Pole and all of the Seven Summits.

Together with Joyce Azzam and Nelly Attar, from Lebanon, and Nadhirah Alharthy from Oman, Shahab is part of an all-Arab women’s team aiming to scale Mount Everest, 8,848 metres above sea level, this month.

Next Shahab has her eye on two of the world’s highest seven summits — Australia’s tallest mountain, Mount Kosciuszko, and Denali, the highest point in North America. Once those peaks have been scaled, she intends to make her way to the North and South Pole on skis and become the first Saudi to complete the Explorers Grand Slam challenge.

“Saudi Arabia is not in the Explorer Grand Slam’s books yet and there are dear Saudi friends (HH Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al-Saud and Raha Moharrak) who are closer to it than I am. They have already completed the Seven Summits,” said Shahab, who is a clinical child psychologist by profession. “Less than 50 names are on the current list, so it will be a pretty big achievement when a Saudi’s name is finally included.”

Shahab, who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, said that she loved the outdoors from a young age and was bitten by the hiking bug early on.

“Growing up, my parents would punish me by not allowing me to go outside,” she told Arab News. “I never wanted to be between four walls, boxed up in a room. I have always loved the outdoors.

“Whether playing tennis or softball, I would have bruised knees because I was always outside playing with my friends in a compound once I had completed my homework.”

Shahab said it was when she moved to the US to continue her education that she considered her first altitude hike. “I was working at the Children’s Hospital Boston, and one of my close friends emailed me asking if I would like to join him and his wife who were going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in 2007.”

Due to visa issues, that trip did not work out. But the idea never left Shahab’s mind. 

“Fast forward to 2010, my friends and I are sitting by the sea in India and out of the blue I ask, ‘Kilimanjaro early 2012. Who’s in?’”

By 2011, the trip had been planned. “It just so happened that all of us were members of the Saudi Cancer Foundation in the Eastern Province, and we ended up helping to raise funds for the first early detection centre for cancer in the Eastern province.”

After that first trip, Shahab has never looked back. “So Kilimanjaro was my first high-altitude hike, and I basically exchanged vows with the mountains ever since.”

In 2012 Shahab was part of the first team of Saudi women, headed by HRH Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, to reach the Everest Base Camp. It was during the expedition that she met a woman who has inspired Shahab.

Shahab forged a friendship with Marwa Fayed, the late wife of Omar Samra, who was the first Egyptian to climb Mount Everest, the Seven Summits and ski to both the South and the North Poles.

“Right after trekking to the Everest Base Camp together, we decided to climb Aconcagua the following year,” Shahab recalled.

However, Fayed, could not fulfill her ambition: three days after the birth of her daughter in 2013, she passed away.

Fayed’s death came as a shock,  Shahab said. “So I aimed to climb that mountain in her memory.”

After failing in 2014, Shahab achieved their shared Aconcagua dream in 2017.

Now, during her mission to the top of Everest, it is Fayed’s memory that Shahab holds dear. She is also raising funds for a charity that Fayed founded.

“Marwa had founded a charity called Marwa Fayed’s Toy Run. It had humble beginnings — to collect toys and distribute them to orphans in Egypt. It then expanded to refugee camps worldwide and today the charity is educating children in all areas — from theatre and analytical thinking to space.

“It only takes $500 a year to educate a child on the skills they need to become change agents in their communities. I have joined forces in the hope that we can reach 300 children in underprivileged areas in Egypt.”

Shahab has teamed up with Gento, an anti-bacterial company in the Middle East, which believed in her mission and offered her full sponsorship for her Everest ascent.

Together they are raising awareness on obesity and diabetes, two conditions plaguing both the Kingdom and the wider region, as part of Gento’s commitment to highlight the importance of hygiene and community physical activities.

“We want to motivate people and encourage them to move
and become more physically
active. Research shows that women who are more physically active are at less risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer,” Shahab told Arab News.

“The focus now in the Kingdom is on Vision 2030. In order to move our nation to higher heights, we need to start with ourselves. Let’s get moving, Saudi!

“We want men, women, and youth to toss all those excuses — “I can’t,” “I don’t want to,” “No one’s going to support me” — out the window.”

Shahab, who along with her team-mates hopes to reach the summit of Everest in late May, continued: “We are here. We are standing on our own peaks whatever they may be, one hand, one heart. If we can do it, anyone can.

“Change doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye. It takes time and that is OK.”




‘From the East to the East’ art exhibition in Riyadh bridges Arab and Chinese cultures

Updated 09 December 2022

‘From the East to the East’ art exhibition in Riyadh bridges Arab and Chinese cultures

  • Palace of Culture event features 40 works by Arab artists sharing their impressions of China
  • Arab-Chinese music and dance fusion and a live art show dubbed a “symbol of our unity”

RIYADH: While bolstering trade ties and strategic cooperation during President Xi Jinping’s three-day visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and China have also prioritized cross-cultural exchange to help cement the diplomatic relationship.

On the sidelines of Xi’s visit, an event titled “From the East to the East and the Selected Exhibition of Famous Arab Artists Visiting China” was held in the Palace of Culture to showcase the work of Arab and Chinese artists and musicians. 

Sponsored by the Saudi Ministry of Culture, the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and the Arab League, in cooperation with the Saudi Ministry of Information, the event featured a traditional Ardah performance and a Chinese dance routine. 

With the faint sounds of the Chinese musical strings of the zheng, the Arabic version of the string instrument, the qanun, and the oud, a trio of Saudi and Chinese performers created a unique fusion of sounds. 

Since 2009, more than 170 well-known artists from 21 Arab countries have been invited to visit the People’s Republic by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of China. The artists turned what they saw, felt and thought into more than 500 paintings, sculptures and ceramic works.

The exhibition features 40 of these works by an assortment of Saudi, Libyan, Algerian, Palestinian, Egypian, Bahraini, Iraqi and Jordanian artists alongside works by Chinese artist who visited Arab countries. 

It features Chinese paintings of Manama and Amman, and one of an Egyptian man with a camel, decorated with colorful strings and bells, against the iconic backdrop of the Pyramids of Giza.

Influences of the ancient Silk Road were also evident in several of the artworks and large screens covering the walls showing Chinese and Arabic calligraphy and heritage objects. 

The exhibition was organized by Bauhinia Culture Holdings Limited, executed by China Arts and Entertainment Group Ltd., supported by the China Artists Association.

A live art show also took place, highlighting the distinctive architecture of the Great Wall of China and Diriya’s Salwa Palace. 

“I found similarities in the way rock and stone was used here and in my country,” Chinese painter Wang Haikun told Arab News. 

“These similarities prompted me to apply it to my side of the mural as a symbol of our unity.”

Why China is a natural partner for Saudi Arabia in its quest to become a tech innovation leader

Updated 08 December 2022

Why China is a natural partner for Saudi Arabia in its quest to become a tech innovation leader

  • Xi Jinping’s Saudi visit is expected to result in new strategic partnerships worth $29 billion
  • Plans are underway to harmonize Saudi Vision 2030 with China’s Belt and Road Initiative

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and China have both embraced technological innovation and digital transformation as a means of broadening their economies, creating new ways of doing business, and competing globally in what has been termed the fourth industrial revolution.

As an emerging tech giant, China has made immense strides in robotics, artificial intelligence, and space science, as well as internet and 5G connectivity, construction and engineering, and green renewable technologies, particularly solar.

Although several developed and emerging economies have made similar bounds in science, engineering, computing, and technology, few have matched the pace and the extent of change seen in China over the past decade alone.

China today has the world’s largest internet infrastructure, with the number of users increasing from 564 million to 1.032 billion over the past decade, and a robust digital economy, which has increased in value from 11 trillion yuan ($1.6 trillion) to 45.5 trillion yuan.

China today has the world’s largest internet infrastructure, with the number of users increasing from 564 million to 1.032 billion over the past decade. (AFP)

China’s success is a reflection of its clearly set societal goals, which include attaining and sustaining economic growth, implementing a mass campaign of domestic poverty alleviation, and promoting technological innovation.

Utilizing technology and embracing digital transformation are widely viewed as effective means with which to accelerate economic and social development in an inclusive, dynamic, and cybersecure fashion.

Saudi Arabia has adopted this model, shifting several government and private-sector functions online with a view to providing seamless service delivery, improve end-user experiences, and to foster innovation.

Similarly, after four decades of technological and digital advancement, Chinese consumers have become a hyper-adaptive and hyper-adoptive community, making China one of the world’s most competitive markets on the digital frontier.

In Saudi Arabia, the government has developed a series of five-year plans to replace traditional processes with secure, efficient, and accountable digital platforms to provide high-quality public services, from licensing and permits to welfare and charitable donations.

Saudi Arabia’s projected spending on technology is valued at around $24.7 billion by 2025, the highest in the world, accounting for 21.7 percent of national spending, according to the Digital Government Authority.

This year, China spent 2.44 percent of its gross domestic product, approximately $441 billion, on research and development, and is aiming for 10 percent of its GDP to come from the digital economy by 2025 — up from 7.8 percent in 2020.

Saudi Arabia’s projected spending on technology is valued at around $24.7 billion by 2025. (AFP)

In its own race to become a regional tech hub and global leader in innovation, Saudi Arabia was also set to add nearly $16 billion to its GDP by 2040 through its research and development program.

In September, speaking at the G20 Digital Economy Ministers’ Meeting in Bali, Indonesia, Abdullah Al-Swaha, the Saudi minister of communications and information technology, said investment in these areas was crucial to sustainable economic development.

One of the Kingdom’s goals, outlined in its social reform and economic diversification agenda, Vision 2030, was to become one of the world’s top 10 countries in the Global Competitive Index by the end of the decade, rising from its current position of 24th.

Although China was already Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner, this week’s visit by President Xi Jinping was expected to see a flurry of new deals and strategic partnerships worth $29 billion and a plan to harmonize Vision 2030 with China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The Digital Silk Road is the technological arm of the Belt and Road Initiative, which has been forecast to add $255 billion to regional GDP and create 600,000 technology-related jobs across the Gulf Cooperation Council area.

Earlier this year, China issued its 14th five-year plan for the development of the digital economy, setting out proposals to actively engage with the EU, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, African countries, and Belt and Road countries on digital economy policy.

Analysts consider the Middle East and North Africa region a critical commercial link to European and African markets, making Saudi Arabia and its GCC neighbors vital strategic partners for China’s digital expansion.

As Xi arrives in Riyadh, Pakistani experts hope for more investment in CPEC project

Updated 08 December 2022

As Xi arrives in Riyadh, Pakistani experts hope for more investment in CPEC project

  • In 2018, Pakistan’s then ruling party announced Riyadh’s willingness to be part of CPEC as “strategic partner”
  • Experts say CPEC could be a “great convergence point” between Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia

ISLAMABAD: Former ambassadors to Beijing and international experts said on Wednesday Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Saudi Arabia this week was likely to bring in more investment into the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.

Xi arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday for a three-day visit that China has hailed as its largest ever diplomatic foray into the Arab world. The visit comes at a time when Riyadh is seeking to expand global alliances beyond its longstanding partnership with the West.

During the visit, Xi is scheduled to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other heads of states from Gulf Arab states. Saudi Arabia and China are expected to sign over 20 agreements worth more than $29.3 billion and will discuss a plan to harmonize the implementation of Saudi’s Vision 2030 and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Xi’s signature infrastructure investment initiative that includes CPEC.

Under the CPEC project, China has pledged over $60 billion in energy, infrastructure, agriculture, IT and various other schemes in Pakistan. At the heart of the project is a Chinese-funded deep-water port in Pakistan’s southwestern town of Gwadar in Balochistan province.

The CPEC project, Pakistani experts hope, would figure in Xi’s meetings with the Saudi crown prince. In 2018, after then Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Riyadh and meetings with the crown prince, the premier’s ruling party had announced Riyadh’s willingness to be a part of CPEC as a “third strategic partner.”

“Saudi Arabia is interested in becoming part of CPEC by investing heavily in it and is also interested in BRI,” Pakistan’s former ambassador to China, Naghmana Hashmi, told Arab News.

“This visit will improve things in this regard as China is the main initiator of both mega projects.”

“The growing friendship between China and Saudi Arabia will benefit Pakistan as the country has very good relations with both, and both are pillars of strength for us,” Hashmi added.

International relations expert Zafar Jaspal told Arab News the visit would have a “constructive and positive impact” on CPEC.

“[The visit] will open the way for Saudi investment in Gwadar and other parts of the [CPEC] project, especially in the petro industry as the kingdom’s leadership has expressed in the past,” Jaspal said.

International affairs expert Dr. Huma Baqai said an improved relationship between China and Saudi Arabia would help Pakistan “sustain Western pressure.”

“If inroads are made by China into Saudi Arabia, this will help Pakistan in every aspect as the country is squeezed by Western powers and their institutions and this squeeze will ease if there is a better relationship between two friends of Pakistan,” she told Arab News.

CPEC, Baqai said, could be a “great convergence point” between the three countries and “give the requisite push and momentum to intended Saudi investment in the flagship project of the BRI.”

Former ambassador Javed Hafeez, experienced in Middle East affairs, said Saudi Arabia was diversifying its international relations and trying to improve relations with all powers, including China, Russia, the US and other Western countries.

“This policy is exactly the same as Pakistan is following,” he said, “so it is good for us as well and the prospects of expansion of CPEC will also increase.”

President Xi’s 3-day visit aims to boost Saudi-Chinese diplomatic, trade ties

Updated 07 December 2022

President Xi’s 3-day visit aims to boost Saudi-Chinese diplomatic, trade ties

  • Saudi-Chinese Summit, Riyadh Gulf-China Summit and Riyadh Arab-China Summit to take place during visit
  • More than 20 initial agreements between the two countries worth over $29.3 billion to be signed during visit

RIYADH: Chinese President Xi Jinping is due to arrive in the Kingdom on Wednesday for a three-day visit during which he will meet Saudi and Arab leaders.

Three summits will take place during his trip: the Saudi-Chinese Summit, the Riyadh Gulf-China Summit for Cooperation and Development, and the Riyadh Arab-China Summit for Cooperation and Development. The participants will include more than 30 leaders and officials from the two countries and international organizations, highlighting the importance of the gatherings and their high regional and international profile, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Xi’s visit reflects the desire of the leaderships of Saudi Arabia and China to strengthen the bilateral relationship, enhance their strategic partnership and realize the political and economic potential it offers to serve their common interests, the SPA added.

More than 20 initial agreements between the two countries, worth more than SR110 billion ($29.3 billion), will be signed during the presidential visit, along with a strategic partnership deal, and a plan to harmonize the implementation of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 development and diversification project with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the agency said.

Saudi Arabia aims to build a strong strategic partnership with China to support trade and investment. The Kingdom was the biggest recipient of Chinese investment in the Arab World between 2005 and 2020, accounting for more than 20.3 percent of the total regional investment, worth $196.9 billion.

The two countries are preparing to launch the SABIC-Fujian Petrochemical Industrial Group, a joint venture worth an estimated SR22.5 billion, in which SABIC has a 51 percent stake, that includes a high-capacity plant for the production of petrochemical products.

Beyond trade and investment, relations between the two countries have also continued to expand and develop more broadly in recent years, particularly in terms of cultural exchanges.

In 2019, for example, the Saudi Ministry of Culture announced the establishment of the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Award for Cultural Cooperation between Saudi Arabia and China, which will be officially launched during President Xi’s visit. It aims to promote the Arabic language, along with Arab arts, mutual understanding and cultural exchanges, reflecting the Kingdom’s desire to further enhance the cultural aspects of relations.

A number of Saudi universities and schools offer classes in the Chinese language, while Arabic is taught in 44 Chinese universities.

Factbox: Saudi-China energy, trade and investment ties

Updated 07 December 2022

Factbox: Saudi-China energy, trade and investment ties

  • Chinese delegation is expected to sign dozens of agreements with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states
  • China is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade worth $87.3 billion in 2021

Saudi Arabia will host a China-Arab summit on Dec. 9 attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, with the leaders of the two countries expected to discuss trade ties and regional security.

Xi’s visit comes at a time when US-Saudi ties are at a nadir, uncertainty weighs on global energy markets with the West imposing a price cap on Russian oil and as Washington warily eyes China’s growing influence in the Middle East.

The Chinese delegation is expected to sign dozens of agreements with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states covering energy, security and investments, diplomats have told Reuters.

Below are some details about oil, trade and security relations between China and Saudi Arabia.


China is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade worth $87.3 billion in 2021. Chinese exports to Saudi Arabia reached $30.3 billion, while China’s imports from the kingdom totalled $57 billion.

Saudi Arabia is China’s top oil supplier, making up 18 percent of China’s total crude oil purchases, with imports totalling 73.54 million tons (1.77 million barrels a day) in the first 10 months of 2022, worth $55.5 billion, Chinese customs data shows.

Oil imports last year amounted to 87.56 million tons, worth $43.9 billion, making up 77 percent of China’s total merchandise imports from Saudi Arabia.

State-run Saudi Aramco has annual supply deals with half a dozen Chinese refiners including Sinopec, CNPC, CNOOC, Sinochem, Norinco as well as private refiner Zhejiang Petrochemical Corp.


Aramco in early 2022 made a final investment decision to build a $10 billion refinery, petrochemical complex in northeast China, marking its single largest investment in China.

Named Huajin Aramco Petrochemical Company, the joint venture groups Aramco, Huajin Chemical Industries Group Corporation (000059.SZ) — a unit of defense conglomerate Norinco-- and Panjin Xincheng Industrial Group.

The project, expected to be operational in 2024, combines a 300,000-bpd refinery and 1.5 million tons per year ethylene plant, with Aramco set to supply up to 210,000 bpd crude oil.

Aramco’s only other similar investment in China is a 25 percent stake in Refining and Petrochemical Company Ltd. in Fujian province controlled by state refining giant Sinopec Corp. , which began in 2008 operating a 280,000 bpd refinery and a 1.1 million ton per year (tpy) ethylene complex.

Aramco in October of 2018 signed a memorandum of understanding with Zhejiang provincial government to invest 9 percent in Zhejiang Petrochemical Corp. that operates China’s single-largest refinery of 800,000 bpd. No further progress has been announced since.

Similarly, Sinopec owns 37.5 percent in Yanbu Aramco Sinopec Refining Co. (YASREF), a JV with Aramco that operates a 400,000-bpd refinery in Yanbu on the Red Sea coast.


China’s state-owned Silk Road Fund is part of a consortium led by US-based EIG Global Energy Partners that in mid-2021 closed a deal to buy 49 percent of Saudi Aramco’s oil pipelines business for $12.4 billion.

Silk Road is also part of a consortium led by BlackRock Real Assets and Hassana Investment Company that announced in February completion of a 49 percent stake acquisition in Aramco Gas Pipelines Company for $15.5 billion.


Saudi utility developer ACWA Power, partly owned by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, said in September that it agreed with Silk Road Fund to jointly invest in a 1.5 gigawatt (GW) gas-fueled power plant in Uzbekistan for $1 billion, part of Beijing’s One Belt One Road initiative.

State-run China Energy Engineering Corp. (CEEC) is building a 2.6-GW solar power station in Al Shuaiba in Saudi Arabia, also owned by ACWA Power, the Middle East’s largest solar project.


Saudi Advanced Communications and Electronics Systems Co. (ACES) signed a deal with China Electronics Technology Group to manufacture unmanned aerial vehicle payload systems in the kingdom, Saudi English-language newspapers Arab News and Saudi Gazette reported in March.

The UAE in February said it plans to order 12 L-15 light attack planes from China with the option of purchasing 36 more.