Saudi Arabia unveils SR120bn business support war chest to fight virus pandemic

Saudi Arabia has suspended domestic flights, trains, buses and taxis for 14 days in a heightened effort to stop the spread of the COVID-19. (AFP)
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Updated 21 March 2020
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Saudi Arabia unveils SR120bn business support war chest to fight virus pandemic

  • Immediate steps to ensure the safety of its citizens and residents
  • The Kingdom would do whatever required to tackle the crisis, say health minister

JEDDAH: Saudi government ministers on Friday announced a war chest of more than SR120 billion ($32 billion) to fight the “unprecedented” health and economic challenges facing the country as a result of the killer coronavirus pandemic.

During a press conference in Riyadh, finance minister and acting minister of economy and planning, Mohammed Al-Jadaan, unveiled a SR70 billion stimulus package to support the private sector, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and businesses worst-hit by the virus outbreak.

And the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) has also sidelined SR50 billion to help the Kingdom’s banking sector, financial institutions and SMEs.

Al-Jadaan said the government had introduced tough measures to protect the country’s citizens while immediately putting in place a financial safety net. He added that the Kingdom was moving decisively to address the global COVID-19 disease crisis and cushion the financial and economic impact of the outbreak on the country.

The SR70 billion package of initiatives revealed by the minister will include exemptions and postponement of some government dues to help provide liquidity for private-sector companies.

Minister of Health Dr. Tawfig Al-Rabiah noted the raft of precautionary measures that had been introduced by the Kingdom in cooperation with the private sector and government agencies to combat the spread of the coronavirus, highlighting the important contribution of the data communication services sector.

He reassured the Saudi public that the Kingdom would continue to do whatever was required to tackle the crisis.

“This pandemic has a lot of challenges. It’s difficult to make presumptions at this moment as we’ve seen; many developed countries did not expect the rate of transmission of this virus.

“We see that the reality of the situation is different from what many expected. The virus is still being studied and though we know the means of transmission, it is transmitted at a very fast rate, having spread to many countries faster than expected.

“We see that many countries have not taken the strong precautionary measures from the beginning of the crisis which led to the vast spread of the virus in these countries,” Al-Rabiah said.

He pointed out that social distancing would help slow the spread.

Al-Jadaan said the Saudi government had the financial and economic capacity to deal with the situation. “We have large reserves and large investments, but we do not want to withdraw from the reserves more than what was already announced in the budget. We do not want to liquidate any of the government’s investments so we will borrow.

“We have approval from the government after the finance committee raised its recommendations to increase the proportion of the domestic product borrowing from 30 percent to 50 percent. We do not expect to exceed 50 percent from now until the end of 2022,” he added.

The government would use all the tools available to it to finance the private sector, especially SMEs, and ensure its ongoing stability.

The finance minister said that at this stage it was difficult to predict the economic impact of the pandemic on the private sector, but he emphasized that international coordination, most notably through G20 countries and health organizations, was ongoing.

On recorded cases of the COVID-19 disease in the Kingdom, Al-Rabiah said: “Many of the confirmed cases are without symptoms, this is due to the precautionary measures being considered.

“As soon as a case is confirmed, we contact and examine anyone who was in direct contact with the patient. This epidemiological investigation, is conducted on a large scale to investigate any case that was in contact with the patient.”

Al-Jadaan also announced the formation of a committee made up of the ministers of finance, economy and planning, commerce, and industry and mineral resources, along with the vice chairman of the board of the Saudi National Development Fund, and its governor.

The committee will be responsible for identifying and reviewing incentives, facilities, and other initiatives led by the fund.

Committees had also been established, said Al-Jadaan, to study the impact and repercussions of the coronavirus crisis on all sectors and regions, and look at ways of overcoming them through subsidies or stimulus packages.

 
 


Heritage celebrations in Diriyah and Baha draw crowds

Updated 16 sec ago
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Heritage celebrations in Diriyah and Baha draw crowds

RIYADH: The Diriyah Gate Development Authority, in collaboration with the Saudi National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites and the Heritage Foundation, marked World Heritage Day on April 18.

The celebration included a variety of activities held over three days at several sites, notably the historic At-Turaif district in Diriyah, listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 2010.

Heritage experts embarked on a field tour to Diriyah’s sites undergoing rehabilitation, including Wadi Hanifa, Al-Bahli Farm, Ghassiba, and the historic At-Turaif district.

A multi-session seminar was also held to help understand challenges of rainfall and floods in Diriyah. Experts also discussed integrating traditional knowledge and modern engineering in preservation operations, aiming to counteract the impact of natural disasters.

The event highlighted the ongoing journey of the DGDA in rehabilitating, preserving, and raising awareness about the historical and cultural value of heritage sites in the Kingdom.

Meanwhile in Baha, the Saudi Heritage Commission and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Al-Makhwah Governorate of the Baha region organized a celebration for World Heritage Day at Thee Ain historic village.

The festivities included captivating sound and light shows projected onto the facades of 58 heritage houses in the village, a folk performance, a heritage council, and the traditional preparation of Saudi coffee.

Thee Ain village is renowned for its authentic heritage, rich history, and breathtaking beauty, leaving a lasting impression on visitors. According to the UNESCO website, the village dates back to the end of the 16th century, making it over 400 years old.


Saudi Arabia takes part in 3rd annual international Camel Parade in Paris

Updated 20 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia takes part in 3rd annual international Camel Parade in Paris

  • This year’s event celebrates decision by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to designate 2024 as International Year of Camelids
  • Saudi representatives will highlight role of the Kingdom in promoting the value of camels as a cultural symbol associated with Saudi society since ancient times

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is taking part in a special Camel Parade in France on Saturday, in celebration of the UN’s designation of 2024 as International Year of Camelids.

The event in Paris has been organized by the French Federation for the Development of Camelids in France and Europe, under the umbrella of the International Camel Organization, and is sponsored by the Saudi Ministry of Culture and the Kingdom’s Camel Club.

This is the third year in which the event has taken place.  The event was first held in January 2019 and repeated in 2022.  

The participants in the parade of camels, llamas, alpacas and other members of the camelid family of creatures are expected to include more than 50 representatives of camel-related organizations from more than 30 countries, along with camel breeders, government officials, others with an interest in the animals, and entertainers from various branches of the performing arts.

The camelids family. (Shutterstock image)

In addition to Saudi Arabia, the countries that will be represented include the US, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Canada, India, Morocco, Tanzania, Peru, Algeria, the Czech Republic, Pakistan, Tunisia, Austria, Spain, Burundi, Senegal, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mauritania, France, Sudan, Chad, Angola, the UK and Uganda.

Saudi representatives will highlight the role of the Kingdom in promoting the value of camels as a cultural symbol that has been associated with Saudi society since ancient times and “still enjoys great prestige,” the Saudi Press Agency reported.

On Friday, the eve of the parade, public discussions took place at the Chateau de Janvry’s historical center about cultural heritage associated with camels around the world and the specific contributions by participating countries to the annual event in Paris.

The parade will be followed by a reception for invited guests, including representatives of the participating countries, international organizations, academia, research centers and the private sector, the SPA reported.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization named 2024 as International Year of Camelids to honor and promote the sector and highlight the important role it plays in efforts to achieve food security and economic growth in many countries.

 

 


Saudi assistant defense minister holds talks with Pakistan’s top military officials in Islamabad

Updated 20 April 2024
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Saudi assistant defense minister holds talks with Pakistan’s top military officials in Islamabad

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s assistant minister of defense, Talal Al-Otaibi, on Friday held talks with top officials from the Pakistan Army during an official visit to Islamabad.

He reviewed relations between the two countries during meetings with the commander of the army, Gen. Syed Asim Munir, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Sahir Shamshad Mirza, and the chief of the general staff, Gen. Muhammad Avais Dastgir.

The Saudi-Pakistani Committee also met during Al-Otaibi’s visit. Its members discussed cooperation between the nations in the field of defense, including research and development, and the transfer and localization of technology, in line with the goals of Kingdom’s Vision 2030 development and diversification plan.


How the adoption of electric vehicles is driving Saudi Arabia’s green agenda

Updated 20 April 2024
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How the adoption of electric vehicles is driving Saudi Arabia’s green agenda

  • Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund wants to produce half a million electric vehicles by 2030
  • The Kingdom has installed charging outlets in public areas in Diriyah to encourage EV ownership

RIYADH: Around the world, electric vehicles are already revolutionizing leisure, public transportation and logistics, shrinking the carbon footprint of travel, improving air quality and reducing pollution in the air, on land and in the sea.

As Saudi Arabia embarks on a range of environmental initiatives designed to address the challenges posed by climate change and foster sustainable economic development, EVs have become an important focus area.

The shift from traditional combustion engine vehicles to new electric models has accelerated worldwide as companies and consumers opt for greener modes of transport. Saudi Arabia is no exception.

Saudia, the Kingdom's national flag carrier, has signed an arrangement to acquire 100 electric-powered jets from Lilium, developer of the first all-electric vertical take-off and landing (“eVTOL”) jet. (Supplied)

The transition from regular cars to electric vehicles in the Kingdom is flourishing. The EV trend has gone beyond personal vehicle ownership, with the proliferation of everything from e-scooters to electric buses.

There are even discussions around whether EV technology will soon be applied to aircraft and perhaps space travel.

Stephen Crolius, former climate adviser at the Clinton Foundation and current president of Carbon-Neutral Consulting, supports the idea of EV ownership due to its environmental benefits.

Although it might still be a challenge to educate the public in some societies about the benefits of transitioning to EVs, Crolius says the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

“For mass transition to occur on any front, there has to be a set of circumstances that cause it to happen,” he told Arab News.

“Through government encouragement, we can continue to build volume (and) cause industries to mature, like, for example, the battery industry, which has done a lot of maturing over the last 15 years … the cost of batteries and the prices of batteries have come down to an extraordinary degree.

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“We are developing renewable generation for electricity. Are we developing fast enough to head off the climate crisis? I don’t know. But compared to new generations of technology getting rolled out, we are deploying a lot of renewable electricity generation, in historical terms, really fast.”

Companies such as CEER and Lucid, which are heavily funded by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, are at the forefront of driving growth in Saudi Arabia’s electric vehicle industry.

US electric car manufacturer Lucid signed a contract with the PIF two years ago to build a factory in the King Abdullah Economic City on the Red Sea. Today, PIF shares a little over half of the ownership of the group in the Kingdom, and aims to produce almost half a million EVs by 2030.

Since last year, the use of electric vehicles in the Kingdom has expanded to include electric buses as a sustainable alternative to traditional fossil fuel-powered vehicles.

Electric buses have zero emissions and therefore significantly reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases in urban areas, especially during the Hajj season, when pilgrims flock to the Kingdom and make use of its mass transit network.

An electric bus service connecting the airport to the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah was launched by the region’s governor Prince Faisal bin Salman bin Abdulaziz during the last Hajj season.

DID YOUKNOW

• The Kingdom has invested at least $10 billion in US electric car manufacturer Lucid Motors.

• With 61% of shares, Saudi Arabia is the majority owner of Lucid Group through its Public Investment Fund.

• PIF aims to produce 500,000 EVs annually by 2030.

• In Riyadh, the EV share is targeted to increase by 30% in 2030.

The route connecting the two locations enabled high operational efficiency, with a bus able to travel 250 km on just a single charge.

Electric buses offer a variety of benefits, including reduced noise, improved energy efficiency and lower maintenance costs. In addition, they have a smaller carbon footprint, which is a crucial step toward sustainability.

Saudis committed to protecting the environment have also included EVs in their daily commute, with e-scooters now found in Riyadh and other cities. E-scooters provide an eco-friendly solution to local transport by cutting toxic emissions and lowering noise pollution.

Offering e-scooter services in various locations in Riyadh is a clear sign of the Kingdom’s eagerness to not only set regulations and promote electric vehicles, but also lead society in adopting a positive attitude toward sustainable living.

Gazal's e-scooter services have become a popular option for those traveling specially in crowded places in Riyadh. (Photo courtesy of Gazal)

Furthermore, with advancements in battery technology and the development of charging infrastructure, electric vehicles are becoming a viable option for companies aiming to decarbonize their operations.

For example, in public areas in Diriyah such as Albujairi and At-Turaif, standard wall outlets are available for EV owners to charge their vehicles while enjoying a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site.

As the aviation industry is one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions, the concept of electric aircraft may offer a promising solution to global decarbonization.

Three years ago, British automobile maker Rolls-Royce broke records when its “Spirit of Innovation” aircraft reached 628 km per hour, making it the world’s fastest all-electric vehicle.

At the time, Warren East, the company’s then-CEO, said that electric aircraft could make “jet zero” a reality and help decarbonize all forms of transport.

Compared to existing commercial aircraft, which rely on petroleum and synthetic fuel blends, electric planes produce less noise, have lower operating costs and emit significantly fewer greenhouse gases.

However, there are still several obstacles to the widespread adoption of electric aircraft — in particular the sheer expense of adapting the existing infrastructure needed to support their use.

Though governments and private companies worldwide could collaborate and build a comprehensive network of charging stations to meet growing demand, this may burden the economies of some countries.

Nevertheless, the growing importance of electric vehicles beyond cars, such as buses, electric scooters and airplanes, holds great promise for a decarbonized future.

The growing importance of electric vehicles beyond cars, such as buses, electric scooters and airplanes, holds great promise for a decarbonized future. (Shutterstock photo)

Utilizing alternative sources of energy in these areas can change the carbon emissions game for the better, fight air pollution, and pave the way for sustainable transport systems in the Kingdom and around the world.

To realize the full potential of electric vehicles, however, governments and businesses will first have to address challenges such as the provision of sufficient charging infrastructure as well as range limitations in battery technology.

Through continued innovation and investment, electric vehicles will play a key role in creating a greener and more sustainable future.
 

 


Art is ‘translating feelings,’ says 16-year-old Saudi artist

Updated 19 April 2024
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Art is ‘translating feelings,’ says 16-year-old Saudi artist

  • Jawad Al-Omair has established himself as a painter, drawing inspiration from the beauty and pain surrounding him

RIYADH: While his classmates took part in sports activities, Saudi teenage artist Jawad Al-Omair daydreamed about the next time he would pick up a paintbrush or pencil to draw again.

At only 16 years of age, Al-Omair has established himself as an artist, drawing inspiration from the beauty and pain surrounding him.

Jawad Al-Omair said he noticed a dramatic change in his artistic abilities after being introduced to a group of local artists who taught him painting techniques to implement in his artworks. (Supplied)

He told Arab News that his breakthrough moment came when he discovered his artistic abilities in the third grade.

“All the kids used to go to play. I always found myself opening my notebook and just drawing. I remember one day, I drew something at school, and when I got home, I showed it to everyone. I told myself, ‘I should do this more often.’”

HIGHLIGHT

Jawad Al-Omair views color as an arsenal to communicate emotion in his artworks.

He uses acrylic paint to portray his vivid ideas on canvas.

Jawad Al-Omair said he noticed a dramatic change in his artistic abilities after being introduced to a group of local artists who taught him painting techniques to implement in his artworks. (Supplied)

“With every painting I do, I usually have a vision of what the color palette is going to be and the composition, and most importantly what message and feeling I am trying to deliver through the painting.”

The young artist views color as an arsenal to communicate emotion in his artworks. “If I wanted to paint something that conveys the feeling of being lost, I would usually use cool toned colors like greys and blues.”

Jawad Al-Omair said he noticed a dramatic change in his artistic abilities after being introduced to a group of local artists who taught him painting techniques to implement in his artworks. (Supplied)

Al-Omair said that he noticed a dramatic change in his artistic abilities after being introduced to a group of local artists who taught him painting techniques to implement in his artworks.

“Dana Almasoud is one of my best friends who has helped me so much. Three years ago, I used to be a completely different artist. I used to be unable to draw small portraits, but she taught me how to. I can’t picture how my life would be if I had not met them,” he said.

Jawad Al-Omair said he noticed a dramatic change in his artistic abilities after being introduced to a group of local artists who taught him painting techniques to implement in his artworks. (Supplied)

In a recent artwork, Al-Omair painted a large-scale self-portrait inspired by the style of John Singer Sargent, an American artist renowned for his portrait paintings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

He described Sargent as one of his favorite artists. “If you see his self-portrait, It is similar to mine. I was looking at his artwork while I was painting so I could capture that same vibe.”

It took Al-Omair about 12 hours to complete the self-portrait, which emphasizes his prominent features.

“I get commented on my nose a lot, so I painted it in the center. I wanted to immortalize my 16-year-old self, because who knows what I will look like five years from now?”

The young artist aims to turn all sorts of experiences — even those of friends or family members — into art.

“How would life be if we did not have music or anything beautiful to look at? When you think of an artist, people usually imagine someone with a brush, but it is much bigger than that.

“Art is translating feelings with a certain skill. Movies taught humanity so much because you get to learn about people. Writing, songs and music are emotional things that we share. Art is one of the most important parts of life. Everyone has an artistic side to them that they may have not found yet,” he said.