How a Saudi initiative is making a difference to Yemeni lives

The Saudi Development and Reconstruction Program for Yemen was etablished to work alongside the Yemeni government to devise and implement development projects for the Yemen people. (Supplied photo)
Updated 04 October 2019

How a Saudi initiative is making a difference to Yemeni lives

  • SDRPY provides aid to spur development in addition to educational training and resources
  • SDRPY is rebuilding roads, bridges, farms, wells, schools, health centers and power stations

NEW YORK: Saudi Arabia gives billions of dollars in humanitarian aid to Yemen, but equally impactful is the effort the Kingdom is spearheading to rebuild roads, schools, hospitals and the private business sector in the Arabian Peninsula country.

The Saudi Development and Reconstruction Program for Yemen (SDRPY), supervised by Mohammed bin Saeed Al-Jaber, the Saudi ambassador to Yemen, not only gives financial aid for development in Yemen but also provides educational training and resources.

The SDRPY was established almost a year ago to work alongside the Yemeni government to devise and implement development projects in all areas affecting the daily lives of the Yemeni people, to facilitate recovery, create job opportunities, provide basic services and support the economy.

Last week, as heads of state, presidents, premiers and thousands of staff converged on the 74th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, officials of Saudi humanitarian aid and development projects were on hand to explain exhibits in the lobby of the UN headquarters.

Randah Al-Hothali

Randah Al-Hothali said that hundreds of delegates and staff from many organizations were given a hands-on look into SDRPY’s operations. The exhibition showcased the reconstruction of damaged hospitals, schools and farms using printed materials, video and virtual reality technology in a way that took each delegate on a personal tour of the projects.

“We cover seven different sectors: health, education, agriculture,  fisheries, water and damns, transportation,” Al-Hothali said of the development programs launched about one year ago.

“All these different sectors target the needs of Yemeni citizens.”


$500m - Pledge to 2019 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan by Saudi Arabia.

SDRPY has delivered $180 million in oil derivatives to 64 power plants in all 10 government-controlled provinces of Yemen.

More than 68 projects are underway, offering support in seven vital sectors including health care, education, agriculture and fisheries, water, electricity, transport, and security and residential building construction.

“We also cover the energy sector, providing the oil derivatives that help pay the salaries of the teachers, the doctors and medical staff in Yemen,” Al-Hothali said.

She said until the program started, Yemenis only had access to electricity for about two hours day.

“Thanks to the support they now have electricity 24 hours each day.”

Al-Hothali said that the program provides greenhouses and tractors for agriculture and fisheries. “About 70 percent of the income of a Yemeni family is based on agriculture and fisheries,” she said.

The program provides greenhouses and tractors for agriculture and fisheries. (Supplied photo)

“So, by helping them and providing them with these tools, they are being enabled to provide for their families.”

A big effort is also underway to provide education for the younger generation. “We printed out more than half a million textbooks and provided them with desks and tables. We want them to have access to education,” she said.

Al-Hothali pointed to a photograph of a Yemeni child who held a textbook as if he were holding a weapon. She said that many children at a young age are forced by militias to take up weapons against the people of Yemen.

“The program is replacing those weapons with books and opportunities so that they have a future,” Al-Hothali said. “The ambassador (Al-Jaber) said we are putting school textbooks in the hands of children in the place of weapons.”

In addition to helping the youth return to schools and education, and families to strengthen their economic well-being, the program also targets Yemeni women, providing them with support and educational opportunities.

“We are providing them with school buses. In the culture of the Yemeni people, it is hard for them to allow their daughters to travel several miles to school,” Al-Hothali said. “I met one girl who was 12 years old, who for the first time was able to begin her education by taking the buses to the schools,” she said. “The buses provide safety and comfort for the families. Sometimes the simplest things have made the greatest impact.”

The program provides school buses to Yemeni daughters who go to school. (Supplied photo)

Al-Hothali said that the SDRPY programs are being conducted across Yemen.

“One of the hospitals in Al-Jouf used to get 18,000 patients every month. But that hospital had been shut down and was not operating. The program provided them with modern medical equipment, thanks to which the hospital is operating again,” Al-Hothali said.

“We are building new schools. You can see the fishermen in their boats. You can see the sellers in the markets. You can see all of these advances taking place today.”

People interested in learning more about the SDRPY’s projects in Yemen can go online at

The exhibition included virtual reality technology presentations highlighting SDRPY projects, operations and a gallery of Yemeni beneficiaries. (Supplied photo)

The exhibition included virtual reality (VR) technology presentations highlighting SDRPY projects, videos of SDRPY operations, and an image gallery of Yemenis of all age groups who are benefiting from the program’s development projects.

These projects have strengthened the Yemeni economy and created employment opportunities for the local workforce.

“The response from the delegates to the information that was provided here has been enthusiastic,” Al-Hothali said. “They have been able to see firsthand what is being done by Saudi Arabia to help the people of Yemen.”

SDRPY projects have created employment opportunities for the local workforce. (Supplied photo)

Al-Jaber, the Saudi ambassador, reiterated Saudi Foreign Minister Dr. Ibrahim bin Abdulaziz Al-Assaf’s announcement on the completion of its pledge of $500 million to the 2019 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan (YHRP) at the UN donors’ conference for Yemen, which took place on the sidelines of the UNGA meeting.

Al-Jaber said this was motivated by Saudi Arabia’s commitment to do all it can to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people. This included, but was not limited to, improving the humanitarian situation in Yemen by supporting the UN in rendering assistance through its relief workers.

Ambassador Al-Jaber said that the money will supplement the joint Saudi-Emirati “Imdad” initiative to strengthen food security and nutrition in Yemen in the form of $500 million for the UN, announced in early 2019, as well as the $70 million provided jointly by the Kingdom and the UAE to cover teachers’ salaries in Yemen in cooperation with UNICEF.

The Kingdom’s contributions, the ambassador said, represented an extension of its efforts to support the Yemeni people and improve living standards through SDRPY projects and initiatives.

SDRPY projects improve essential services and economic opportunities in sectors including education, health, agriculture and fisheries, electricity, water, transportation, and residential and government building construction, Al-Jaber said.

The Kingdom had provided $2.2 billion to the Central Bank of Yemen (CBY) since the beginning of 2018, reinforcing the exchange rate of the Yemeni rial. Financial assistance — exceeding $1.3 billion so far — covered letters of credit for Yemeni traders and sustained imports of six basic foodstuff commodities, he said.


Remembering the siege of Makkah

Updated 19 November 2019

Remembering the siege of Makkah

  • Forty years ago, a group of armed fanatics led by Juhayman Al-Otaibi were primed for an assault that would cast a long, regressive shadow over Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH:  In November 1979, the Middle East was already on a knife edge. In Iran, a liberal monarchy that had ruled for almost four decades had just been overthrown by a fundamentalist theocracy preaching a return to medieval religious values that many feared would pollute and destabilize the entire region.

For the citizens of Saudi Arabia, however, the greatest shock was yet to come. The sacrilegious storming of the Grand Mosque in Makkah by armed fanatics that month sent shockwaves through the entire Islamic world.

Murder and mayhem erupted in the very heart of Islam, perpetrated by a reactionary sect determined to overthrow the Saudi government and convinced that one among their number was the Mahdi, the redeemer of Islam whose appearance, according to the hadith, heralds the Day of Judgment. 

Ahead lay two weeks of bitter, bloody fighting as Saudi forces fought to reclaim the Holy Haram for the true faith, but that battle was merely the overture to a war for the very soul of Islam in the Kingdom.

Open, progressive and religiously tolerant, Saudi Arabia was about to travel back in time. Only now, as the Kingdom pushes forward into a new era of transparency and modernization, can the full story of the siege of Makkah and the regressive shadow it would cast over the country for the next 40 years finally be told.

As the citizens of Makkah and those pilgrims who had remained behind after Hajj saw out the final hours of Dhu Al-Hijjah, the 12th and final month of the Islamic calendar, and prepared to greet the year 1400 in prayer within the precincts of the Grand Mosque, a few inconspicuous pickup trucks slipped unchallenged into it through an entrance used by construction workers under the Fatah Gate, on the north side of the mosque.

The trucks and the men who drove them were there at the bidding of Juhayman Al-Otaibi, a disaffected former corporal in the Saudi National Guard.

As a firebrand at the head of a small group of religious students based in a small village outside Madinah, Juhayman had been on the radar of the authorities for some time. According to Prince Turki Al-Faisal, who in 1979 was the head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate, the group consisted of students from various religious seminaries who had put their faith in the eschatological figure of the Mahdi, the supposed redeemer of Islam. 

“Their aim, according to their beliefs, was to liberate the Grand Mosque from the apostate rulers of the Kingdom and to liberate all Muslims by the coming of the so-called Mahdi,” Prince Turki said in an interview with Arab News.

Juhayman and his group were set on a path that would lead to tragedy, reaching out to potential recruits both inside and outside the Kingdom. “Through their correspondence and preaching, they managed to recruit a few individuals,” Prince Turki said. 

Juhayman Al-Otaibi after his capture following the end of the seige. (AFP)

One temporary recruit was the Saudi writer Abdo Khal, who in 2010 won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for his novel “Throwing Sparks.” In an interview in 2017 with MBC television, he said that when he was 17 he was one of Juhayman’s men and had even helped to spread the group’s ideology by distributing leaflets.

“It’s true, I was going to be part of one of the groups that was going to enter the Haram,” he said and, were it not for the intervention of his elder sister, he might have found himself among those who were to seize the Grand Mosque. 

“I was supposed to move out to (a mosque) where our group was gathering. We were supposed to be in seclusion at the mosque for three days, and we were supposed to leave with Juhayman on the fourth day.”

But his sister stopped him going to the rendezvous point, on the ground that he was too young to be sleeping away from home for three nights. Almost certainly, she saved his life. “And then, on the fourth day, the horrendous incident happened.” 

Writer Mansour Alnogaidan was only 11 years old when the siege happened, but like many Saudis of his generation, he felt the tug of various Salafi groups in his youth.

Now general manager of Harf and Fasela Media, which operates counter-terrorism websites, he has done extensive research on the Makkah siege.

Alnogaidan says there were a number of possible reasons behind the 1979 incident, including an existing idea in the mind of Juhayman and his group that they were the successors of a Bedouin movement by the name of “Ikhwan-men-taa-Allah.”

“Some believed they had a vendetta against the Saudi government,” he said in an interview with Arab News. “Another issue was essentially the personal desires of certain people (such as Juhayman) who sought power and control. He wanted to satisfy something inside him.”

Alnogaidan added: “Also, we must not forget that this incident came after the Khomeini revolution in Iran, which had an influence even though not a direct one.”

Juhayman and his group were on the radar of the security services. Over time, recalled Prince Turki, “there were many attempts by authorized religious scholars in the Kingdom to rectify the group’s beliefs by discussion, argument and persuasion.” 

Occasionally individuals were taken in for questioning by the authorities “because they were considered to be potentially disruptive to society. Once they were taken in, however, they always gave affidavits and signed assurances that they would not continue with the preaching and so on.”

But “once they were released, of course, they returned to their previous ways.”

At some point in the closing months of the 13th Islamic century, Juhayman’s group identified one of their number, Juhayman’s brother-in-law Mohammed Al-Qahtani, as the Mahdi.

In the early hours of Tuesday, Nov. 20, 1979, as the inhabitants of Makkah and the pilgrims who had lingered after Hajj gravitated toward the Grand Mosque for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the dawning of a new century in Islam’s holiest place, the stage was set for the most unholy of outrages.

Carrying firearms within the Grand Mosque was strictly forbidden; even the guards were armed only with sticks. An armed assault on the precincts of the mosque — on the sacred values it enshrined for the world’s two billion Muslims — was unthinkable.

But on the first day of the Islamic new year of 1400, the unthinkable happened.


Juhayman: 40 years on
On the anniversary of the 1979 attack on Makkah's Grand Mosque, Arab News tells the full story of an unthinkable event that shocked the Islamic world and cast a shadow over Saudi society for decades