Saudi Cabinet receives update on pandemic, urges adherence to health measures 

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Updated 05 May 2021

Saudi Cabinet receives update on pandemic, urges adherence to health measures 

RIYADH: Saudi ministers met on Tuesday to hear an update on the COVID-19 pandemic and urged the public to continue adhering to the preventive measures.

The government was meeting virtually as a result of the pandemic. 

The ministers also condemned the car bomb attack in the Afghanistan province of Logar, which left 21 dead. The Kingdom said it stands with Afghanistan against all forms of terrorism, whatever its motives and justifications. 

The Cabinet authorized the commerce minister, who is also Chairman of the Board of Directors of the General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises to discuss a draft MoU between KSA’s General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises and the Small Industries Development Bank of India.

The Cabinet also licensed the National Bank of Iraq to open a branch in Saudi Arabia.

The Cabinet also authorized the interior minister to discuss a draft memorandum of understanding between the Directorate General of Border Guard at the ministry and Arab Academy for Science Technology and Maritime Transport, an affiliate of the Arab League.

The General Authority of Zakat and Tax and the General Authority of Customs will be merged into a single entity named Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority, it was announced during the meeting.

Other decisions taken by the Cabinet include the accession of the Kingdom to the International Coral Reef Initiative, the approval of a regulation on job-seeking subsidy and approval of a MoU signed between the food and drug authorities of the Kingdom and Indonesia.

The session was chaired by King Salman who prayed for the nation and Muslims around the world during the remaining few days of the holy month of Ramadan. 


Two Holy Mosques chief receives Sudanese culture minister

Updated 06 May 2021

Two Holy Mosques chief receives Sudanese culture minister

MAKKAH: Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Sudais, the president of the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, on Wednesday received the Sudanese minister of culture and information, Hamzah Balloul, in Makkah.

During the meeting, Al-Sudais highlighted the determination of the Saudi leadership to provide a safe environment and well-organized service system for worshippers and visitors to the Two Holy Mosques, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

He also noted the strength of relations between Saudi Arabia and Sudan based on common religious and cultural values, as well as similar stances on regional and international issues.

As part of his trip, Balloul went to the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah where he performed prayers, and on Tuesday toured the King Abdul Aziz Complex for Holy Kaaba Kiswa in Makkah to witness the various stages of manufacturing the kiswa. He also visited an exhibition on the architecture of the Two Holy Mosques.

Saudi team competes in world’s largest pre-college science fair

Updated 06 May 2021

Saudi team competes in world’s largest pre-college science fair

JEDDAH: Some of Saudi Arabia’s most talented students are taking part in one of the world’s biggest scientific competitions, the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF 2021).
Backed in the remotely held US-based competition by the King Abdul Aziz and his Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity (Mawhiba), 30 Saudi students are competing alongside 1,800 others from more than 75 countries.
To prepare and hone their skills ahead of the competition, the Saudi students took part in a training camp in Riyadh, where they are now competing in the event, which ends on Thursday.
The team is taking part in research projects in the fields of energy, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, viruses, environmental security, aquaculture and desert farming.
Several students previously took part in the 11th National Olympics for Scientific Creativity, one of 19 different programs provided by Mawhiba each year to talented students across the Kingdom.
Training was delivered by a selection of Saudi and US experts from various disciplines.
The six-day camp included a training workshop on delivery skills in partnership with the Al-Elqa Training Center in Riyadh, to prepare members of the Saudi team for ISEF 2021 and hone their presentation abilities.
During ISEF 2021, the Saudi students are presenting their scientific projects to members of a jury committee for judging.
Members of the scientific committee and jury hold a series of individual interviews with students to review and provide scientific support to projects.
Within the Saudi student group, 21 male and nine female students went through training before reaching the competition.
They were selected as part of a larger group from 51,000 students across the Kingdom after their work was reviewed. About 150 of the students then took part in the Ibdaa 2021 fair. The 35 winners were honored by Makkah Gov. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal last March, after which the top 30 projects were selected to represent the Kingdom at ISEF.
Saudi Arabia, represented by Mawhiba, is taking part in ISEF 2021 as a major sponsor and will also present a special award for the best projects involved in the field of energy. It is the 15th year in a row that outstanding Saudi students are taking part in the international science fair.
Saudi students have so far won a total of 48 grand prizes and 27 special prizes in the competition. These included eight awards in 2020, including five grand prizes and three special prizes. Mawhiba also provides special international awards in the competition. So far, 79 prizes have been awarded by Mawhiba to 97 students from 20 countries. ISEF is the world’s largest pre-college science fair, first taking place in 1950.

Saudi mosque restoration project’s success highlighted during Ramadan

Updated 06 May 2021

Saudi mosque restoration project’s success highlighted during Ramadan

  • Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s project aims to preserve the element of ancient construction and its components

JEDDAH: The Arabian Peninsula is home to rich architecture and religious history that includes a great number of ancient mosques from the beginning of the Islamic era.
Saudi Arabia has the privilege of taking care of the Two Holy Mosques, an honor that has been carried and inherited for decades starting with the founding king, the late King Abdul Aziz.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a project in 2018 that aims to revive more than 130 historic mosques around the Kingdom as mosques are being renovated in several regions.
The project aims to restore and rehabilitate these mosques, taking into consideration preserving the element of ancient construction and its components.
These mosques have formed different historic architectural patterns that vary according to cultural, geographical, and topographical conditions. This includes the Jomaa’ and the Qiblatain mosques, built by the Prophet Muhammad, and others that were built by his companions and followers such as the Salman Al-Farsi Mosque and the Mosque of Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq.
The then-Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) counted nearly 1,300 historic mosques in various regions of the Kingdom.
“Historical mosques of Saudi Arabia date back to different periods of time, including the early period of Prophet Muhammad more than 1,400 years ago, the early Islamic era, and the various Islamic states, including the Umayyad, Abbasid and Mamluk states, until the era of the Saudi state,” Sultan Al-Saleh, cultural heritage consultant and director of the Saudi Heritage Preservation Society, told Arab News.
“In the Hijaz region, historical mosques are distinguished with their white limestone construction, especially in Jeddah city. On the other hand, the rest of western region cities’ historic mosques are built from stone and mud.”
Mosques on the western coast are characterized by the Roshan pattern as a coastal architectural style, which features elaborate wooden bay windows that front many of the surviving houses. Mosques in the Tihama area, from Taif down to Jizan city, are influenced by the Tuhami style that features stone, straw, and tree branches. In the Sarawat Mountains, building materials were based on stones due to their mountainous nature, he noted.
In Asir, mosques were made of mud protected by stones of horizontal cut. Riyadh, Qassim, and Hail regions focused on clay as a basic building material, while the coastal area of the Eastern Province relied on mud and limestone.
The Jawatha Mosque in Al-Hofuf is 1,435 years old and was established during the 7th Hijri year by the Abd Qais tribe. That is where the second Friday prayer in Islam was performed after it was first performed at Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in Madinah.


In Asir, mosques were made of mud protected by stones of horizontal cut. Riyadh, Qassim, and Hail regions focused on clay as a basic building material, while the coastal area of the Eastern Province relied on mud and limestone.

It is also known that a number of prophet companions have been buried in the same area.
Nahid Al-Surani, former maintenance director-general of King Fahd University for Petroleum and Minerals, said that what is known to be the “Old mosque” or “Saudi camp mosque” dates back to the year 1939 and is located at the university’s campus long before the university was established.
“The mosque was built when the late King of Saudi Arabia Abdul Aziz visited Dhahran to inaugurate the first oil shipment,” he said. “The old mosque was built by Yemeni labor who brought shale stones from the Alkhobar sea to use in constructing the walls and the two minarets.”
The original building is still in the same form it was built, but the expansion was done using today’s building materials, he added.
“The mosque is well taken care of and was renovated many times, and has lost some part of its original design in the first renovation,” Al-Surani noted. “Its tall wooden windows were replaced with smaller ones to be air-conditioned, and are still used today for Taraweeh prayer, Fridays, and also for Eid.” Some of the old mosques accommodate 5,000 worshippers, such as King Saud Mosque in Jeddah, while others are smaller such as the Al-Mald Mosque in Al-Baha that accommodates nearly 30 worshippers.
According to Al-Saleh, restoration of some historic mosques included expansion to increase capacity. Such was the case for the Mansaf Mosque in the Zulfi governorate, which used to be limited to only 87 worshippers but now accommodates more than 150 people.
“The Crown Prince Project to Develop Historical Mosques was based on restoring historical mosques and reviving all forms of life, including practicing prayers, as well as the social roles that used to take part in the building,” Al-Saleh said. 
“It is important to mention that the restoration process differs from one mosque to another according to its geographical location and the building materials used in its construction.”
When carrying out the restoration process, the materials of the mosque must be taken into consideration, he said. The authenticity of the mosque and its historical style must be preserved accordingly while adding new materials that do not correspond to the nature of the mosque should not be used.
According to the developments of the project, the restoration process of 30 historical mosques in various regions of the Kingdom has been completed. The Al-Duwaihra Mosque in Diriyah and the historic Al-Hanafi Mosque in Al-Balad, Jeddah are among some of the completed mosques.
Although mosques are the meeting point for worshippers throughout the year, many feel a greater sense of care during Ramadan due to the sanctity and spirituality of the holy month. Ramadan is a time when mosques host extra social functions, such as holding iftar tables, memorizing the Qur’an, attending Islamic lectures, and so on.
“All the newly opened and revived historic mosques were significantly highlighted in the updated report of the crown prince project to spread the news about its availability to receive worshippers during the month of Ramadan,” Al-Saleh said.
“These mosques embody the attention and care paid by the Saudi government in preserving such national cultural heritage and monuments, especially the historic mosques, which are a fundamental pillar of our Islamic cultural heritage.”
Abdul Aziz Hanash, a researcher architect and urban designer, who is enthusiastic about historic buildings, told Arab News about the most ancient mosque in Riyadh city at Qasr Al-Hukm Palace.
The Imam Turki bin Abdullah Mosque is one of the largest mosques in the city and has undergone many expansions, he said. The mosque is directly connected from the first floor to Qasr Al-Hukm Palace via two bridges across Assafah Square.
“The importance of this mosque comes from its rich history and role within the surrounding environment,” Hanash said. “It was the venue where scholars and teachers meet for religious activities. It was rebuilt as part of the Qasr Al-Hukm Development Program, where the Royal Commission for Riyadh City rebuilt the mosque to accommodate around 17,000 worshippers.”
Other restored mosques that have been recently rehabilitated as part of crown prince’s project include the Al-Twaim Mosque in Al-Twaim city, Riyadh, the Jarir Al-Bajali Mosque in Taif governorate, the Abu Bakr Mosque in Al-Hofuf, Al-Ahsa governorate, and the Al-Atawlah Heritage Mosque, which is nearly 40 kilometers from Al-Baha governorate and one of the oldest mosques in the area.


What Saudi Arabia’s impressive rank in World Happiness Report 2021 signifies

Updated 06 May 2021

What Saudi Arabia’s impressive rank in World Happiness Report 2021 signifies

  • Societies with higher trust in public institutions and greater income equality appear more successful in fighting COVID-19
  • Increased attention to mental health, wellbeing and happiness may well be one positive consequence of the pandemic

DUBAI: It goes without saying that happiness is a subjective experience, unique to every individual.

As such, measuring an entire society’s emotional disposition and ranking it against another might be considered an imperfect science — though perhaps a fairer reflection of comparative social wellbeing than gross domestic product (GDP) figures alone.

Nevertheless, one thing is certain: The coronavirus pandemic and its myriad of social restrictions have done little to lift humanity’s collective spirits, leading to a palpable sense of loneliness, anxiety, and all-round existential dread.

Indeed, few people outside the world’s conflict zones and epidemic-prone regions can recall a more miserable year in recent memory.

What the experts are keen to know is whether a society’s handling (or mishandling) of the pandemic has had any discernible impact on just how fed up their citizens are, and which countries are outperforming others in fostering wellbeing.

Cue the World Happiness Report 2021, published by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network in March. In the past year, the annual report has sought to measure the effects of COVID-19 on global quality of life and ranked 95 countries in its happiness index.

Offering young people a sense of real optimism is one of the strongest things that the Kingdom has done. (Supplied)

Compiled by a team of independent experts, the report incorporated data from the ICL-YouGov Behavior Tracker as part of the COVID-19 data hub from the Institute of Global Health Innovation.

Jeffrey Sachs, one of the report’s co-authors, said: “This is definitely the strangest year in our lives for most of us and in producing the World Happiness Report, because we have been trying, in real time, to understand and monitor an incredibly complex set of challenges and changes that people around the world are facing.”

The 2021 report evaluates government responses to the pandemic’s toll on health, the economy, and psychology, identifying links between trust in state institutions, how COVID-19 was addressed, and the happiness of societies.

Parts of the report measured the impact of the pandemic on the work environment, the quality of social relations, individuals’ mental health, confidence in government procedures, and the country’s ability to overcome the repercussions of the virus outbreak. Other sections examined unemployment rates, inequality, and the prevalence of loneliness.

For the fourth year running, Finland topped the index for happiness, followed by Iceland, Denmark, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. The bottom five spots were occupied by Cambodia, India, Jordan, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.

Saudi Arabia ranked first among Arab countries and 21 globally. The UAE ranked 27, followed by Bahrain (35), Morocco (80), Iraq (81), Tunisia (82),and Egypt (87).

Trust was shown to be the key factor linking COVID-19 and reported happiness. Of all the six factors supporting happiness, trust was seen as playing the strongest role in helping countries find and implement successful COVID-19 strategies.

The report found that trust was even more important when COVID-19 required the whole structure of private and public lives to be refocused on fighting the pandemic.

“Societies with higher trust in public institutions and greater income equality were shown to be more successful in fighting COVID-19, as measured by 2020 rates of COVID-19 deaths,” the study said.

Offering young people a sense of real optimism is one of the strongest things that the Kingdom has done. (Supplied)

“The most successful strategy was shown to be to drive community transmission to zero, and to keep it there. Countries that did so saved lives and achieved more open societies and economies at the end of 2020. This is likely to help them to be happier societies in 2021 and beyond.”

During a webinar marking the launch of World Happiness Report 2021, Sachs said the world was today more focused on happiness and wellbeing than it was 10 years ago, offering hope that improved understanding would ultimately contribute to improved happiness.

John Clifton, global managing partner at Gallup, which powered the report’s data, said research into happiness had demonstrated the highly detrimental effects of loneliness.

“COVID-19 has only exacerbated loneliness. Today, over 300 million people in the world experience that kind of loneliness where they do not spend a single hour in a week with a single friend or family member, which is widening the gap. This is where we can start to make these people’s lives better,” he added.

Offering young people a sense of real optimism is one of the strongest things that the Kingdom has done. (Supplied)

Among Arab countries, the data on life satisfaction has shown improvement, especially in Saudi Arabia whose scores have risen steadily since 2017.

“Life satisfaction is very highly correlated with GDP — providing housing, education, healthcare, access to employment, roads, electricity, and people’s basic needs,” said Dr. Louise Lambert, editor of the Middle East Journal of Positive Psychology.

“Life satisfaction is easy to attain provided you have good governance and wealth, so it’s not surprising that Saudi Arabia ranks high because it has more means to be able to take care of people. It’s also certainly the case in the UAE. There are more social welfare programs, for instance.”

But wealth aside, Lambert highlighted some of the “tremendous changes” taking place in Saudi Arabia, which have undoubtedly generated a sense of optimism among the population. “It’s not just noise,” she told Arab News. “It’s being backed up by action.”

She noted that was especially the case for women, who were now able to drive, enter the workforce, and make their own income and choices, thanks to changes to guardianship laws. “You can even go to concerts now and these things really add to the quality of life,” Lambert added.

Offering young people a sense of real optimism is one of the strongest things that the Kingdom has done. (AN file photo)

“This is one of the strongest things that the Saudi government has been able to do: Offer young people a sense of real optimism, not just a bunch of smoke and mirrors, and these have been profound changes for men and women, but especially for women, and they really back that up by policy and economic changes, which translate into very real social changes.”

Other positive indicators for the Kingdom include GDP growth, social support, average life expectancy, freedom to make life decisions, and generosity. The country has recorded a significant statistical drop in its score for negative feelings, including stress, worry, and sadness.

Lambert pointed out that Saudi Arabia’s social structure and cohesiveness provided a built-in support system for the local population.

“Although people get mental health services in the Middle East in general, there is a benefit if you live with big families because you get to talk to someone,” she said.

Offering young people a sense of real optimism is one of the strongest things that the Kingdom has done. (Supplied)

Looking ahead, she said the Kingdom was on the right track with Vision 2030, the country’s economic diversification plan. For the wider region, she suggested improvements could be made in physical and mental health, rates of obesity, diabetes, and bringing down levels of early heart attacks.

She added that COVID-19 had the unexpected positive consequence of placing more emphasis on mental health, psychological wellbeing, and happiness.

“People are taking it seriously and it has put a spotlight on the fact that how people feel really matters," Lambert said.

“This is part of Saudi Arabia’s vision. I hope they will really back that up now with programs, services, initiatives, mental-health hotlines, and research in universities around mental health and not just around problems because these are a small part, so it’s more about opportunities for wellbeing. This is where positive psychology comes in.” 


• Twitter: @CalineMalek

Landmine clearance project Masam clears 4,184 more mines in Yemen

Updated 06 May 2021

Landmine clearance project Masam clears 4,184 more mines in Yemen

RIYADH: The Saudi Project for Landmine Clearance (Masam) dismantled 4,184 mines in Yemen during the fourth week of April, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
They comprised 314 anti-personnel mines, 2,995 anti-tank mines, 834 unexploded ordnances and 41 explosive devices.
Masam is one of several initiatives undertaken by Saudi Arabia on the directive of King Salman to help ease the suffering of the Yemeni people.
It is implemented by Saudi cadres and international experts to remove mines planted by Iran-backed Houthi militias in various Yemeni regions, especially Marib, Aden, Al-Jawf, Shabwa, Taiz, Hodeidah, Lahij, Sanaa, Al-Bayda, Al-Dhale, and Saada.
A total of 241,048 mines have been extracted since the start of the project. More than 1.1 million mines have been planted by the Houthis, claiming hundreds of civilian lives.
Masam has 32 demining teams, and aims to dismantle mines in Yemen to protect civilians and ensure that urgent humanitarian supplies are delivered safely.
It trains local demining engineers, gives them modern equipment and helps mine victims.
In 2020, Masam’s contract was extended for one year at a cost of $30 million.
Earlier, the director of Yemen’s National Mine Action Program thanked Saudi Arabia for clearing mines in Yemen.
Brig. Ameen Al-Aqeeli said mines and improvised explosive devices planted by the Iran-backed Houthi militia have so far killed more than 8,000 civilians in the country.
Al-Aqeeli called on the international community to pressure the Houthi militia to stop planting landmines, saying they have caused a humanitarian disaster in Yemen.