Two young Saudi ‘Sheroes’ accelerate Dakar Rally preparations

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At a launch event celebrating the team held recently in Riyadh, Akeel and Alobaidan offered advice to young Saudi women who want to follow in their footsteps. (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)
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The young women are aiming to make history as the first Saudi female athletes to take part in the annual Dakar Rally. (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)
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The young women are aiming to make history as the first Saudi female athletes to take part in the annual Dakar Rally. (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)
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Co-Captain Dania Akeel. (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)
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Project Director Iole de Simone. (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)
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Co-Captain Mashael Alobaidan. (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)
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Updated 30 December 2020

Two young Saudi ‘Sheroes’ accelerate Dakar Rally preparations

  • Dania Akeel and Mashael Alobaidan hope to become a symbol of the country’s development

RIYADH: Two Saudi women are aiming to make history as the first female athletes from the Kingdom to participate in the annual Dakar Rally, as part of a team dubbed the “Sheroes.”

Co-captains Dania Akeel and Mashael Alobaidan hope to become a symbol of the country’s development and inspire women in Saudi Arabia to pursue their passions and follow their dreams, with a six-month project designed to train them up for the race in 2022.

Akeel, who is also one of Sheroes’ project managers, said that she has been passionate about driving for as long as she can remember. She rode her first quad bike aged 8, and her first 150cc dirt bike in the desert at 14.

“I believe it is only natural for me to partake in one of the most challenging desert championships around the world, which also happens to take place in our sandy backyard,” she said.

Akeel was also the recipient of the “Rookie of the Year” award during her first racing season, for the Ducati Cup in the UAE National Sportbike Super series 2019/2020 season.

Alobaidan, the second driver and project manager, said that she had also been involved in sports and outdoor activities from a young age. In addition to her experience with buggies, dirt bikes, and motorcycles, she is also a Professional Association of Diving Instructors certified advanced scuba and freediver. 

FAST FACTS

• The team will begin their training in February 2021 with a Polaris RZR 1000.

• They intend to compete in 6 SAMF Cross Country and Baja Championship rounds, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in November, before finally reaching their goal of the 2022 Dakar Rally.

“I am excited to be part of Dakar and discover the great outdoor treasures that Saudi Arabia embodies,” she said. “Dakar will be a dream come true.”

Alobaidan also holds a US motorcycle driver’s license and received navigation and safety training in California, US.

Iole de Simone, project director and rider, has trained and developed with various sport teams and disciplines across five countries. She has both competed in and organized local, regional, and international events.

De Simone was the first to contact both Akeel and Alobaidan, and is now looking to expand the team with two more members to meet the four-person requirement of the Dakar Rally.

Dakar will be a dream come true.

Mashael Alobaidan

“We have two potential Saudi ladies who might join us as co-pilots. We’re currently in negotiations with them. I’m also in contact with two Saudi male drivers who participated in last year’s rally,” she told Arab News.

She said that the team was also hoping to get the first female Saudi dirtbiker to join them as well.

“We are planning on launching an Instagram page where we will advertise what we are looking for. Everything was slowed down because of the coronavirus pandemic, but we are still moving forward,” she added.

Behind the team stand two coaches: Poles Marek Dabrowski and Jacek Czachor, who together achieved five CC FIM World Championship titles, and have collectively participated in the Dakar Rally 15 times.

These two legends of the sport will be teaching the team how to transfer their bike skills to the car they intend to drive during the 2022 Dakar Rally.

Find what you’re passionate about, and just go for it.

Dana Akeel

In addition to the coaches, the team also includes Filip Dabrowski, a professional team manager for the Dakar Rally and Cross Country World Championship events. He has been active in the sport since 2004, and has completed 13 rallies.

The team will begin their training in February 2021 with a Polaris RZR 1000. Following that, they intend to compete in 6 SAMF Cross Country and Baja Championship rounds, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in November, before finally reaching their goal of the 2022 Dakar Rally.

At a launch event celebrating the team held recently in Riyadh, Akeel and Alobaidan offered advice to young Saudi women who want to follow in their footsteps.

“The best advice that I’ve ever gotten was ‘if it’s good for you and it’s good for everyone else, you should follow it.’ For me, racing and competing and driving pushes me towards excellence. This is what I would advise others to do,” Akeel said.

“Find what you’re passionate about, and just go for it. Even if you see obstacles, just bear with them. Try to overcome them and achieve your dreams. It’s all about passion,” she concluded.


Saudi Arabia leads condemnations of Israel’s storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque

Updated 08 August 2022

Saudi Arabia leads condemnations of Israel’s storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque

  • Saudi Arabia calls on international community to end escalation, protect Palestinians
  • Israel's Gaza bombardment earlier this week killed over 40 Palestinians

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Sunday condemned Israeli settlers storming Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard, in what the Kingdom called a “serious violation of international law.”

In a statement, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on the international community to end the escalation and provide the necessary protection for Palestinian civilians.

The Kingdom said the attack violated the sanctity of the holy sites in Jerusalem, which contributes to exacerbating tensions and prolonging violence, amid escalations in Gaza that killed over 40 Palestinians and injured scores more this week.

Jordan, the custodian of the site, urged Israel to respect the sanctity of the compound and to “halt measures aimed at altering the historical and legal status quo.”

In a statement published on Petra news agency, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates’ spokesperson Haitham Abu Alfoul stressed that running the affairs of the holy site was exclusively under the jurisdiction of Jordanian-run Waqf (endowments) and al-Aqsa Affairs Administration in Jerusalem.

Abu Alfoul described Israel’s actions as a “violation of the historical and legal status quo and international law” and said it is a disrespect to the authority of the administration.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said it held the Israeli government fully and directly responsible for its ongoing aggression against Christian and Islamic holy sites, the foremost of which was Al-Aqsa, and for the danger posed to and repercussions for the entire region.

A statement issued by the Islamic Awqaf (affiliated with Jordan and in charge of the Al-Aqsa Mosque) and signed by other Islamic commissions in Jerusalem stated: “Barbarism, no matter how much, will not change the reality of the Islamic mosque.”

It said the Islamic bodies and authorities stress their adherence to and support for the guardianship of King Abdullah II over Al-Aqsa Mosque and all Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.

Qatar’s foreign ministry said the “provocative practices” are part of the attempts to alter the historical and legal status of Al-Aqsa Mosque, calling on the international community to halt Israel’s attempts to transform the ongoing conflict into a “religious war.”

The ministry said the provocative violations that coincide with the recent attacks on Gaza will lead to “a dangerous escalation of violence.”  

Kuwait condemned the Israeli actions as an attempt to change the historical and legal status of Al-Quds and its sanctities.

In a statement, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned that the attacks would increase violence and tension and threaten the stability of the region. 

Kuwait also called on the international community to assume its responsibilities to curb these attacks, put an end to them and provide protection for the Palestinian people and their sanctities.

The Muslim World League also condemned the storming of the mosque, saying it was a serious violation of international resolutions and laws.

The League and its international councils, bodies and councils denounced the “dangerous escalation” that impacts on the sanctity of Islamic sites.

The chairman of the African Union commission also condemned Israeli “airstrike attacks” in the Gaza Strip as violence escalates in the troubled region.

“Moussa Faki Mahamat strongly condemns the continued airstrike attacks by Israel on Gaza,” an AU statement said.

The “targeting of civilians and the continued illegal occupation by Israeli security forces of the Occupied Territories, are in stark violation of international law, and complicate the search for a just and lasting solution,” the statement said.


Saudi Arabia ‘condemns, denounces’ Israeli attacks in Gaza

Updated 07 August 2022

Saudi Arabia ‘condemns, denounces’ Israeli attacks in Gaza

  • Health authorities in the Palestinian enclave said a five-year-old girl was among 15 people killed
  • Kingdom called on the international community to assume its responsibilities to end the escalation

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Saturday condemned and denounced an attack carried out by the Israeli occupation forces on the Gaza Strip, Saudi Press Agency reported.

Israel’s military warned deadly air strikes against Palestinian militants in Gaza could last a week, as cross-border fire reverberated for a second day in the worst escalation since last year’s war.

The foreign ministry said that the Kingdom stands by the Palestinian people, and called on the international community to assume its responsibilities to end the escalation.

Health authorities in the Palestinian enclave, which is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, said a five-year-old girl was among 15 people killed since Friday, adding that more than 140 have been wounded.

Saudi Arabia also called on the international community to provide the necessary protection for civilians, and make all efforts to end the long-running conflict, the ministry added.


‘One of Not Many’ young female mentorship program launches in Saudi Arabia

Updated 08 August 2022

‘One of Not Many’ young female mentorship program launches in Saudi Arabia

  • Six leading Saudi women to advise students on business startups
  • Jeddah’s Dar Al-Hekma University to run 6-month course

JEDDAH: Luxury watch manufacturer Vacheron Constantin has launched its second “One of Not Many” business mentorship program in Saudi Arabia in partnership with Jeddah’s Dar Al-Hekma University.

The company had initially run its first project in the UAE in 2020.

Six Saudi women leaders have been selected to mentor undergraduate students over six months. The program is aligned with Saudi Vision 2030 and aims to encourage young people to become entrepreneurs.

Christophe Ramel, regional Brand Director Middle East at Vacheron Constantin, said: “The Kingdom represents huge promises and great potential, and the Maison values are aligned closely with Saudi Vision 2030.

“We, at Vacheron Constantin, realize the importance of passing down skills to the next generation to support the leaders of tomorrow. We wish all selected students a fruitful program ahead and look forward to witnessing them excel towards their career ambitions.”

Shahd Al-Shehail, entrepreneur and co-founder of Ethical Luxury Brand Abadia, said that the small choices people make every day matter and young people should continue to work hard and not be afraid of failure.

Aya Al-Bitar, Saudi product and furniture designer, and founder of AYA the Art of Living, said she would encourage students to explore their heritage and individuality if they choose to enter her field.

Emon Shakoor, founder and CEO of Blossom Accelerator, Saudi Arabia's first female-focused and inclusivity accelerator, said: “As an entrepreneur, it’s not about how much resources you have but about how resourceful you can be. Every individual has the power to create the life that they have dreamed of and to achieve it. This program will definitely allow the student to understand and execute the things that they actually want in life and never take no for an answer.”

Nora Aldabal, arts and creative industries executive director at The Royal Commission of AlUla, said: “Saudi Arabia is a gold mine of inspiration; inspiration attracts talent and talent gets ideas. This program will accelerate individuals to be the most creative version of themselves.”

Nouf Al-Moajil, strategic analyst and CEO of the Eastern Province Social Responsibility Council, said she would advise students to explore and follow their passion, even in a new area of business. They should try to be as authentic as possible, she said.

Basma El-Khereiji, chef and entrepreneur, and founder of the Social Kitchen, said students should be passionate about what they do and allow people to feel and appreciate it.

After successfully completing the program, students have the opportunity to embark on an internship program with Vacheron Constantin or any other Richemont Maison.

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Al-Ahsa steals the spotlight with creation of new authority

Updated 07 August 2022

Al-Ahsa steals the spotlight with creation of new authority

  • The world’s largest date palm oasis is generating a new era of prosperity

RIYADH: Al-Ahsa, the world’s largest date palm oasis, is generating a new era of prosperity following the launch of a new development authority.

On May 12, the Kingdom formed the board of directors for the Al-Ahsa Development Authority, headed by Prince Ahmed bin Fahd bin Salman, deputy governor of the Eastern Province.

The move aims to enhance the governorate’s potential while helping develop the tourism, heritage and cultural aspects of Al-Ahsa.

The authority will create a balanced and sustainable development environment that supports the governorate’s economy and promotes development, modernization and diversity, according to the state press agency.

“The decision reflects the leadership’s keenness to invest in the comparative advantage of Al-Ahsa and to utilize it in economic projects that will align with Vision 2030,” Ibraheem Alshekmubarak, secretary-general at Al-Ahsa Chamber of Commerce, said in an exclusive interview with Arab News.

Ibraheem Alshekmubarak

The city of 1.3 million people was included in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network in 2018.

UNESCO said: “The city has an ancient tradition of handicrafts, considered cultural and social practices passed on from generation to generation.

“Around 50 expressions of crafts and folk art have remained throughout the city’s history and bear witness to Al-Ahsa’s scenic wealth, including textiles from palm trees, pottery, weaving and joinery.”

Boosting tourism

The governorate hosts 36 weekly open markets and stages several festivals a year.

“When we talk about tourism in Al-Ahsa, we are talking about agricultural, heritage and natural tourism,” Alshekmubarak said.

In February 2022, the Ministry of Tourism launched a high-profile investment conference in the city called Destination Tomorrow.
The conference showcased Saudi destinations to local investors and international operators.

“Post pandemic, people are a little bit more conservative internationally regarding cross-border investment. But we are proving to be a destination attracting quite a decent amount of interest,” Mahmoud Abdulhadi, Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister for investment attraction, told Arab News.

The Kingdom seeks to generate 10 percent of the gross domestic product from the tourism sector and to attract over 100 million visitors by the end of this decade, creating an additional 1 million jobs in the sector.

“We want to make the sector stand on its own two feet. So we are keen on large private sector investment to come in, even as we are mindful that the whole sector is built on small and medium enterprises,” added Abdulhadi.

The city’s chamber of commerce led several initiatives to support SMEs, monitoring the sectors most affected by the pandemic to keep them formulating plans and drawing strategies that help them overcome the damage.

“Al-Ahsa Chamber organized a set of development initiatives and advisory services provided to entrepreneurs through the Prince Ahmed bin Fahd bin Salman Center for Business Development,” Alshekmubarak added.

Airport expansion

Al-Ahsa airport’s capacity will more than double the expectations of fast regional growth, Fahad Alharbi, the CEO of Dammam Airports Co., said in an earlier interview with Arab News.

The city’s airport has a capacity of around 400,000 passengers but aspires to reach 1 million, Alharbi added.

Saudi Aramco mainly uses the facility, but before the pandemic struck, there was commercial activity from two or three local destinations and another two or three international sites.

“With the economic and tourism boom expected in Al-Ahsa, the development of Al-Ahsa International Airport is the most in need of projects at present,” said Alshekmubarak.

Business destination

Essam Al-Mulla

The city is already growing in businesses as the Ministry of Municipal Rural Affairs and Housing announced in June that the investment opportunities in the city increased by 53 percent in 2021, with 362 available options on its online portal.

The total value of these investments exceeded SR275 million, Essam Al-Mulla, the mayor of Al-Ahsa, told Arab News.

The available opportunities in the portal in 2022 already reached 112 investments, said the Saudi Minister of Municipal Rural Affairs and Housing Majid Al-Hogail, according to the Saudi Press Agency.


Etidal chief, Dutch special envoy discuss stronger cooperation against extremism

Updated 05 August 2022

Etidal chief, Dutch special envoy discuss stronger cooperation against extremism

RIYADH: The secretary-general of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology (Etidal), Dr. Mansour Al-Shammari, on Wednesday met with the Dutch special envoy for religion and belief, Jos Douma, Netherlands ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Janet Alberda, and their accompanying delegation.

During the meeting in Riyadh, they discussed ways to further strengthen cooperation on fighting extremist ideology.

Members of the delegation were briefed on Etidal’s work strategies, and during a tour of the center’s command and control department were told about monitoring and analysis techniques, and other projects currently under development.