Famed Egyptian director optimistic about future of Saudi cinema

Renowned Egyptian director Khairy Beshara has been an important part of many Saudi lives, especially those who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Updated 23 December 2020

Famed Egyptian director optimistic about future of Saudi cinema

  • Saudi directors are creating exceptional and brave films on a high artistic level: Khairy Beshara

JEDDAH: Renowned Egyptian director Khairy Beshara has been an important part of many Saudi lives, especially those who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, and he could not be happier to see their love and support for him.

As part of its efforts to promote cinema in the Kingdom, the Red Sea Film Festival is screening restorations of the director’s favorite films in theaters across the Kingdom.

Beshara was touched by the gesture: “I’m very grateful to the talented director, Mahmoud Sabbagh, who came up with the idea to restore my films.”

He said that he was surprised by his films being sold out, especially with some screenings starting late into the night.

“Saudi Arabia and my audience here are very dear to me. In all honesty, I’m very grateful to see eight of my films restored and replayed for the public with five of them showing in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dhahran.”

The chosen feature films include “The Collar and the Bracelet,” “Bitter Day, Sweet Day,” “Ice Cream in Gleam,” “Abracadabra America,” and “Traffic Light.”

The famed director last visited the Kingdom 15 years ago, and he remarked upon the astonishing transformation that has taken place since. 

“I can’t recognize anything except for the Old Jeddah. It has remained in my memory as I went to film the area for fun,” Beshara said.

His visit included a seminar organized by the film festival titled “Renewing cinema through plots, stories, and performances,” where he talked about his career, its challenges and his aspiration to get Egyptian actress Sherihan to star in one of his works.

“The master class was amazing. I was in a great condition and the mood was good. It was spontaneous and the questions flowed from the audience. There were really interesting questions from the host, Antoine Khalifa, who was intelligent and had a great understanding of my career as a whole, making it one of my most successful events,” said Beshara.

He said that Saudi cinema has made a leap through the new generation of directors who are creating exceptional and brave films on a high artistic level.

“These films are being viewed at international festivals and are gaining recognition, if not awards. The film industry is on the move and it is very promising,” he said.

“We were not used to speaking about real things and struggles based on the social reality in our countries. As a result, due to the social and cultural changes in Saudi Arabia, the films showcased now are brave in addressing things that have never been discussed, which is very positive,” Beshara added.

The director believes that flexible censorship guidelines — but not eliminating censorship altogether — allows for content that criticizes and portrays societal issues.

“It’s a great effort to bring awareness and in turn help societies overcome ongoing struggle and move forward, which is what art is for. Art is there to enlighten and illuminate. As you expand the margins of creativity, you’re bound to see fruitful, astonishing results,” he said.

Beshara visited the Effat University in Jeddah to look over students’ work as part of his Red Sea Film Festival activities. He revealed that he saw some promising works from scripts, postproduction and completed films.

He added that he was strict and honest with works he thought were not up to his standards.

“Perhaps if I’m giving my opinion in this cruel manner, it might benefit the youth who are still finding their way. It isn’t the end of the world when someone tells you that you suck.”

To lessen the blow, Beshara told Effat’s novice filmmakers about some of the worst students he taught at university. Many are now major stars, including Marwan Hamed, Ahmed Alaa Al-Deeb and Hala Lotfy.

“If you fail or have an unsuccessful experience, you learn through them. I find it difficult to give open-ended advice, because each experience is different, but we all watch movies, and it would be foolish if you made a terrible movie and couldn’t tell it was, with live examples all around us in international or local productions.”

The director’s advice is to exercise self-reflection and to ask: “What is my shortcoming? What am I lacking? How can I improve? Where am I going with this story?”

He is working on a new novel and film inspired by an illiterate Chinese man who moved to Egypt in 1937 from a village in Shandong before dying there in 1994.

The man becomes one of the most revered antiquities and artifacts auction owners, while also opening the second Chinese restaurant franchise in Egypt.

“It’s a very touching story for me as I’ve met the man, and his son happens to be a dear friend of mine,” said Beshara, who has completed the scenario for film and is working on finishing the novel to be published next year.

Beshara was born in Tanta in 1947. He attended the Egyptian Higher Institute of Cinema in 1976, and went on a two-year fellowship at the Film Institute in Poland.

In the 1980s, he led the “Neo-Realist” movement in Egyptian films, and introduced folk fantasy films into Arabic cinema.

The Red Sea Film Festival was set to kick off earlier this in March, but was postponed due to the pandemic.

The festival is run by the Red Sea Film Festival Foundation is the first Saudi nonprofit organization with an official mandate to promote film culture and strengthen the industry.

Who’s Who: Malak Abed Althagafi, a senior researcher in the Saudi Human Genome Program

Updated 28 January 2022

Who’s Who: Malak Abed Althagafi, a senior researcher in the Saudi Human Genome Program

Malak Abed Althagafi is a professor of pathology and molecular genetics, consultant physician-scientist, RDI leader, and entrepreneur.

Althagafi is a senior researcher in the Saudi Human Genome Program. She helped establish the project’s laboratory in King Fahad Medical City, and now holds a number of key positions, including director of the satellite administration research center, chair of the genomics research department at Saudi Human Genome Program lab, consultant subspecialty molecular genetics/neuropathology, and director of national RDI coordination at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology.

Althagafi has held a number of different roles at the latter in the past, including assistant research professor, deputy director of general directorate for research and innovation, and associate research professor. From 2018 to 2019, she was the medical director of the Saudi Diagnostic Lab at King Faisal Specialist Hospital International Holding Co.

Althagafi received her bachelor’s degree in medicine from King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, in 2005. She specialized in clinical and anatomical pathology, neuropathology, and molecular genetics, and received four American board certifications in those specialties.

She has studied and worked in universities including Georgetown, the University of California San Francisco, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, and Harvard.

She has published more than 120 papers in prestigious peer-reviewed journals and conferences, and has contributed to a number of books on the subjects of pathology and oncology, including the World Health Organization’s Tumors Classification “blue book” on CNS and pediatric tumors. 

In 2019, she was awarded the KACST Distinguished Scientist award by the National Genomics Center.

Ethiopian finance minister meets Saudi aid officials in Riyadh

Updated 28 January 2022

Ethiopian finance minister meets Saudi aid officials in Riyadh

  • The Ethiopian minister also met with the head of the Saudi Fund for Development

RIYADH: Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, supervisor general of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, met Ethiopian Finance Minister Ahmed Shide Mohamed and his accompanying delegation in Riyadh on Thursday.

The two sides discussed issues of common interest relating to humanitarian and relief affairs. The Ethiopian minister praised Saudi humanitarian efforts worldwide.

Since its inception in May 2015, KSrelief has implemented 1,814 projects worth more than $5.5 billion in 77 countries, carried out in cooperation with 144 local, regional and international partners.

According to a recent KSrelief report, Yemen, Palestine, Syria and Somalia are the biggest beneficiaries of its projects.

Meanwhile, Mohamed also met with the CEO of the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) Sultan Al-Marshad, where they reviewed the Kingdom’s development projects and programs financed by the fund to support infrastructure and contribute to sustainable growth Ethiopia.
He praised Saudi Arabia and the SFD’s efforts in financing development projects and programs over the past years, adding that they have had a positive impact on social and economic growth and prosperity in different sectors.
SFD has provided eight soft loans to support and finance eight development projects and programs totaling more than $227 million.


Who’s Who: Aghareed Ehsan Abdul-Jawad, a senior manager at Eastern Province’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Updated 27 January 2022

Who’s Who: Aghareed Ehsan Abdul-Jawad, a senior manager at Eastern Province’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Aghareed Ehsan Abdul-Jawad has recently become the first woman to be elected to the senior management team of the Eastern Province’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Abdul-Jawad, who is fluent in both English and French, is an analytical professional with extensive exposure across multiple corporate sectors in finance. She is also proficient at logistics, shipping and investments. She has gained significant knowledge in designing short and long-term investment strategies and driving critical business decisions to meet desired objectives.

She is the daughter of the chairman of board at Abduljawad Holding Co., the investment arm of Globe Group, one of the region’s top logistics and transportation companies, founded in 1976 by Abdul-Jawad’s late grandfather.

She has been chair of the board of directors at Tamkean Arabia, a real estate development company, since September 2020, while also working as the finance director at Abduljawad Holding Co, a role she has held since 2015. In 2016, she became the company’s board director.

In 2018, she founded Valet-it, a valet parking service company. Since 2020, she has been the finance and budgeting director at Global Marine Services, where she is a board member. She also worked as the supply chain director for five years from 2015.

For over a year beginning in August 2014, she worked as a credit-risk analyst at Banque Saudi Fransi. Before that, she attended a summer intern program at KPMG.

Abdul-Jawad graduated from Dhahran Ahliyya Schools in 2010 before she joined the Alkhobar-based Prince Mohammad bin Fahd University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in finance in 2014.

She received a French language diploma in 2018. Currently, she is a level-3 Chartered Financial Analyst candidate and is expected to achieve certification this year.


Saudi Arabia extends residencies, exit-entry visas

Updated 25 January 2022

Saudi Arabia extends residencies, exit-entry visas

  • The extension, issued by the Minister of Finance, is part of the Kingdom’s efforts to address the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • It will be carried automatically in collaboration with the National Information Center, without the need to visit the passports directorate

The Saudi Passport authorities started automatically extending the validity of residency permits (Iqama) and exit and re-entry visas without charges until March 31, 2022, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Monday.

The extension, issued by the Minister of Finance, is part of the Kingdom’s efforts to address the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It will be carried automatically in collaboration with the National Information Center, without the need to visit the passports directorate or the Kingdom’s missions abroad.

The validity of residency and exit re-entry return visas will be extended for residents who are outside the Kingdom in countries from which travel was suspended due to a COVID-19 outbreak until March 31, except for those who have already received one dose of the vaccine inside the Kingdom before they departed.

The validity of visit visas will also be extended until March 31 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for visitors who are outside the Kingdom in countries from which entry has been suspended due to the virus.

Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia can be a leading oil exporter while also fighting climate change, says deputy minister for environment

Updated 24 January 2022

Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia can be a leading oil exporter while also fighting climate change, says deputy minister for environment

  • Appearing on the video interview series, Dr. Osama Faqeeha points out that the problem lies not in hydrocarbons but emissions
  • He says Saudi Green Initiative target will be achieved with due consideration for environmental sustainability

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia can retain its role as the leading exporter of oil in the world while pursuing an ambitious strategy to mitigate the effects of climate change, one of the Kingdom’s leading environmental policymakers has told Arab News.

Dr. Osama Faqeeha, deputy minister for environment, water and agriculture, said that the issue for the Kingdom and the world was to deal with polluting emissions from hydrocarbon production, while exploring other uses for oil products and renewable alternatives.

“I think we don’t see the problem in the hydrocarbons; we see the problem in the emissions,” he said, pointing out that “petrochemicals, plastic, medical supplies, clothing and other things are made from hydrocarbons; the emissions are the issue — namely, CO2 emissions.”

Faqeeha, who is closely involved in implementing the measures of the Saudi Green Initiative unveiled last year, was appearing on Frankly Speaking, the series of video interviews with leading policymakers and business people.

He also spoke of the ambitious plan to plant 10 billion trees in the Kingdom, the campaign to protect its environmental eco-system and biodiversity, and efforts to improve the air quality in the capital Riyadh and other big cities.

Faqeeha said that the environmental campaign launched in the SGI was part of a comprehensive strategy to tackle the challenges of climate change and global warming.

“In this situation, Saudi Arabia has launched the Circular Carbon Economy approach, which is really to treat CO2 like any other waste, by basically taking it and recycling it in various ways.

“We have to realize that there is no single approach that can single-handedly address the global climate change challenge.

“We need renewable energy, we need the Circular Carbon Economy, we need recycling, we need to stop this deforestation, preserve habitats, reduce marine plastics. We have to focus on all of this,” he said.

The plan to plant 10 billion trees in Saudi Arabia over the coming decades, a striking feature of the SGI, is acknowledged as a challenge given the Kingdom’s desert climate and relatively low level of rainfall.

“Definitely this is a very challenging, ambitious target. As His Royal Highness the Crown Prince (Mohammed bin Salman) announced, the time frame will be over the next few decades. Our focus really is on environmental sustainability. We intend to achieve this target with due consideration for environmental sustainability.

“To achieve this, first of all we will focus on using native plant species in the Kingdom. Believe it or not, there are more than 2,000 documented species of flora in the Kingdom that have adapted to the dry and arid climate in Saudi Arabia.

“So, really these plants thrived in this environment and (fully) adapted to it,” he said.

The tree planting program — already under way — would focus on four main areas: Restoring natural flora in mountains and valleys; an “urban greening” program for the big cities; plantation in agricultural areas to support food production and rural communities; and tree planting along major highways to counter sand encroachment and enhance the experience of travelers.

Renewable water sources would also be used in the tree-planting program, to avoid endangering precious groundwater. Treated wastewater and rain harvesting were among the techniques available to environmental policymakers, as well as greater use of maritime resources.

Dr. Osama Faqeeha appears on Frankly Speaking. (Arab News)

“Saudi Arabia has thousands of kilometers of coastline on the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea. There are two species of native mangrove trees that grow in sea water, so we intend to focus on those species as well,” he said.

One issue that has provoked debate in the Kingdom is the traditional practice of cutting natural wood to make campfires, held responsible for some of the desertification the SGI is pledged to eliminate.

“Local people enjoy picnics and the outdoors, they like to light wood fires for family gatherings, and these are local traditions that we really cherish. However, it came at a high expense of the local vegetation.”

The new environmental law has imposed severe penalties on such practices, but Faqeeha said that there were incentives for alternatives to wood fires so that these traditions would not be affected.

The World Health Organisation has criticized Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East for low standards of air quality, but Faqeeha took issue with some of the WHO findings.

“I’d like to highlight a distinction between air pollution and degraded air quality. Sometimes you have a degraded air quality not because it’s polluted by human activities. The WHO uses particulate matters as the main parameters to measure air quality,” he said.

“That’s a very good parameter for (places such as) Europe and the US, where you have extensive vegetation cover, and the main source of particulate matters are power plants, factories and other human activities. We call such particulate matters anthropogenic particulate matter or PM.

“Here in Saudi Arabia and in the region as a whole, particulate matters are dominated by natural causes, mainly coming from dust storms. Definitely air quality becomes degraded during dust storms — no one claims that it is healthy to go outdoors and inhale dusty weather.

So, that’s really what they (WHO) are referring to. It is degraded air quality because of the natural particulate matters emanating from dust storms.”

The ministry was working on comprehensive measure to reduce dust storms and improve air quality, Faqeeha said.

At the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow last year, some experts warned that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries would suffer more than other parts of the world from the health effects of global warming, including extreme heat, diseases and air pollution.

Faqeeha acknowledged this was an issue that policymakers were confronting. “Definitely, climate change and global warming is a major global challenge that we are taking very seriously.

“In terms of the outlook for temperature, there are very few studies. In the entire region we don’t have a climate center for climate studies and that’s why the Crown Prince announced the creation of the Regional Center for Climate Studies here, which will be championed by the National Center for Meteorology in Saudi Arabia. Its job is to do national and regional studies on the mid- and long-term outlook for climate change,” he said.

One big focus of Saudi environmental strategy, he added, is the push to reverse the trend to land degradation and desertification, a major contributor to the generation of polluting greenhouse gas emissions that costs around trillions of dollars globally.

“Land degradation is the second largest contributor of greenhouse gases. In fact, land degradation is the cause of about more than 50 percent of biodiversity loss, which is a large contribution. Also, it has a huge impact on agricultural lands and food security,” Faqeeha said.

Measures to reverse land degradation were a major achievement of the G20 summit under Saudi Arabia’s presidency in 2020.

Faqeeha also outlined the Kingdom’s new strategy toward waste management, which he views as an area ripe for private sector involvement and foreign investment.

“Private sector participation is an important enabler to achieve the objectives of the national environmental strategy,” he said.

“We have many international companies that are coming, who feel the regulatory environment now is highly conducive to their participation.”