What Saudi Arabia’s improving digital quality of life signifies

Governments and business leaders have been eager to find ways to improve the digital quality of life among their service users. (AFP)
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Updated 03 November 2021
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What Saudi Arabia’s improving digital quality of life signifies

  • Report by cybersecurity firm Surfshark reveals Kingdom’s IT strengths as well as potential areas for improvement
  • Ranked 50th overall, Saudi Arabia has come first in the category of most improved mobile speed

DUBAI: Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the trend toward digitalization has been accelerating, with more people choosing to shop, work, bank, and communicate online.

At the same time, a host of state and private institutions have moved their products and services into cyberspace, taking advantage of growing internet access, better infrastructure, and technological advances.

As a result of this rapid transition, governments and business leaders have been eager to find ways to improve the digital quality of life among their service users. To help them, cybersecurity firm Surfshark has created the Digital Quality of Life Index.

Drawing on a sample of public opinion from 110 countries, the 2021 index has focused on the fundamental pillars of internet affordability and quality, e-infrastructure, e-security, and e-government.




Saudi Arabia ranked 50th overall but came first in the category of most improved mobile speed. (AFP)

The study, first launched in 2019, is based on open-source information provided by the UN, the World Bank, Freedom House, the International Telecommunication Union, and other sources.

Saudi Arabia ranked 50th overall but came first in the category of most improved mobile speed. It was fifth for overall mobile speed at 97 megabytes per second and fifth for mobile internet stability.

Although the Kingdom had dropped five places over the previous year, its overall performance had improved as many more countries had been included in the new index.

Povilas Junas, a research project manager at Surfshark, told Arab News: “Clearly and undoubtedly, Saudi Arabia’s strength lies in mobile internet. Not only does the country rank first in that category, but the index shows how much the speed has increased over the past year.

“It also ranks fifth in mobile speed and mobile internet stability, which we take from analyzing how mobile internet varies from month to month.”




Saudi Arabia has made digital transition a key component of its Vision 2030 strategy to build a high-technology knowledge economy. (AFP)

Worldwide, digital tools have become an integral part of daily life, with the number of internet users jumping from 4.3 billion in 2019 to 4.7 billion today — constituting almost 60 percent of the global population.

Improving digital quality of life is therefore considered an urgent requirement for future prosperity and well-being as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Junas said: “We have to talk about the elephant in the room, which today is defined by the pandemic. Even prior to it, many people spent lots of time online, from TV to movies online, but due to the COVID-19 crisis, we do more things online — we work, study, and meet our friends and relatives because we couldn’t do that outside.

“It’s not only a social aspect but economics as well. Because a good digital quality of life means you can improve your economic status, offer services, and start your own business, as you can interact with partners and customers on the other side of the world.




Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the trend toward digitalization has been accelerating. (AFP)

“Digital quality of life strongly affects both the social and economic development of our lives in general,” he added.

Saudi Arabia has made digital transition a key component of its Vision 2030 strategy to build a high-technology knowledge economy that was not reliant on income from oil exports.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Kingdom ranks among the top 10 developed countries in the world for its robust digital framework, with the pace of digitalization having accelerated prior to 2020.

Since 2017, PwC said, state and private-sector investment of around $15 billion in information and communications technology infrastructure has allowed Saudi Arabia to further leverage its digital infrastructure with a solid base.




The Digital Quality of Life 2021 Index has focused on the fundamental pillars of internet affordability and quality, e-infrastructure, e-security, and e-government. (Supplied)

“The country’s digital backbone has enabled essential services, including learning, shopping, and even medical consultations, to carry on and protect the economy from the challenges of the pandemic,” PwC Middle East said in an April blog titled, “Vision 2030 in a Post-Pandemic World.”

It highlighted the example of one local online retailer, BinDawood Holding, which reported a 200 percent increase in average sales over a 10-day period in late March 2020, while its average order value rose by 50 percent and app installations by 400 percent.

The findings of the 2021 Digital Quality of Life Index study broadly confirmed the PwC blog’s assessment. Saudi Arabia was found to excel in internet quality, ranking 10th surpassing Singapore, France, and Israel, and in e-infrastructure coming 35th — about 20 percent better than the global average.

However, Saudi Arabia’s broadband internet speed showed room for improvement. Ranked at 41st, with 76 megabytes per second, it lagged far behind first-place contender Singapore, which enjoyed a speed of 230 megabytes per second.

FASTFACTS

• Digital Quality of Life Index was created by Surfshark to help govts. and business leaders.

• 2021 index measures internet affordability and quality, e-infrastructure, e-security and e-government.

“This is definitely an improvement that would allow Saudi Arabia to rank higher in the index,” Junas said.

Despite its high-quality internet connections, Saudi Arabia also has room for improvement in the affordability index too, scoring 70 percent below the global average.

Surfshark’s study suggested that residents had to work an average of almost nine hours in order to afford the cheapest broadband internet package — three hours and 13 minutes more compared with 2020.




In order to boost its overall ranking in future indexes, Povilas Junas, a research project manager at Surfshark, noted that Saudi Arabia should prioritize improvements in its cybersecurity and privacy laws.

Then again, with a land area of 2.15 million square kilometers, the challenge Saudi Arabia faced in building and maintaining the infrastructure required for providing fast and stable broadband connections was something that Singapore, a small city state, did not have to contend with.

Meanwhile, PwC’s latest “Hopes and Fears” survey found that 79 percent of respondents in Saudi Arabia believed that advances in technology would improve their future job prospects, and close to 90 percent were confident of being able to adapt to using new technologies coming into their workplaces.

“This is a strong endorsement of the success of the digital transformation initiatives already underway,” the study report said. “According to our latest Middle East CEO survey, 59 percent of Middle East CEO respondents, compared with 49 percent globally, aim to increase their investments in digital transformation by 10 percent or more over the next three years, as a direct response to the impact of COVID-19.”




The number of internet users globally has jumped from 4.3 billion in 2019 to 4.7 billion today. (AFP)

The 2021 Digital Quality of Life Index study revealed Saudi Arabia’s e-security — at around 20 percent lower than the global average — to be one of the potential areas for improvement despite the palpable progress made in recent years.

Surfshark’s chief executive officer, Vytautas Kaziukonis, told Arab News: “Digital opportunities have proved to be more important than ever during the COVID-19 crisis, stressing the importance for every country to ensure fully remote operational capacities for their economies.

“That is why, for the third year in a row, we continue the digital quality of life research, which provides a robust global outlook into how countries excel digitally. The index sets the basis for meaningful discussions about how digital advancement impacts a country’s prosperity and where improvements can be made.”

In order to boost its overall ranking in future indexes, Junas noted that Saudi Arabia should prioritize improvements in its cybersecurity and privacy laws.

“If countries grant more privacy against different data brokers or any sort of services which can access users’ data, the score improves, as it’s quite an important pillar,” he said.

“Another point worth mentioning is that a broader online presence for the country’s government agencies would also improve the Kingdom’s score, which means some services offered by the government that are available offline for citizens could also be enabled online.

“Online services are crucial: If citizens can do their taxes, register for healthcare, or do many other services provided by the state online, then that can help improve the index score,” Junas added.

Twitter: @CalineMalek


Islamic Arts Biennale announces participants for Al-Musalla Award

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Islamic Arts Biennale announces participants for Al-Musalla Award

  • The competition invites international architects to compete in creating the design of the space, to be built on the biennale site

RIYADH: The Diriyah Biennale Foundation on Sunday announced the names of this year’s Al-Musalla Award participants, an international architectural design competition under the Islamic Arts Biennale.

The second edition of the Islamic Arts Biennale will take place in Jeddah from January-May 2025 and is dedicated to the arts of Islamic civilization, connecting its past to its present. 

The 2025 edition of the Islamic Arts Biennale will take place in the Western Pilgrims Hall at King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah but will have an expanded focus on Islamic cultural architecture. In its second edition, the Islamic Arts Binneale aims to launch this new award for creating a “musalla” — a small prayer space or mosque.

The competition invites international architects to compete in creating the design of the space, to be built on the biennale site. 

The teams selected to partipate include AAU Anastas Engineering Office from Palestine, Sahel Al-Hiyari from Jordan, East Architectural Studio from Lebanon and the UAE, the Saudi company Dabbagh Architectural Engineering, and Asif Khan from the UK. 

They were each chosen to participate in the competition based on their past work and proven experience and knowledge in the fields of Islamic art and architecture.

The teams are each required to submit a proposal design for the prayer and gathering space that is versatile, sustainable, and meets all requirements. 

There are a few guidelines the participants must follow in the process, including building the space using no less than 50 square meters.

The winner of the award will be announced later this year by the Diriyah Biennale Foundation judging committee which includes Prince Nawaf bin Ayyaf who serves as the chairman of the committee.

He said the award encourages teams to find new ways to integrate the latest building techniques in representing and examining innovative models for architecture while utilizing traditional crafts and time and place.  

He added he hopes that the competition will produce an unforgettable landmark, which will be a source of inspiration for others to participate in future editions of the award, celebrating sustainability, creativity, comprehensiveness, and ingenuity in design.

The CEO of the Diriyah Biennale Foundation, Aya Al-Bakri, confirmed that creating a space through the competition calls for innovation that is closely linked to the goal of the foundation, which seeks to implement creative ideas in various fields.

She explained that Al-Musalla Award comes in cooperation with the Abdul Latif Al-Fozan Award for Mosque Architecture, which addresses new ideas for designing mosques around the world and encourages innovative planning, design, and technical ideas that can shape the identity of mosque architecture in the 2st century.

The chosen design will be witnessed by visitors from around the world to the second edition of the Islamic Arts Biennale for four months in the Western Pilgrims Hall in Jeddah.


Sources deny Saudi Arabia’s participation in intercepting Iranian attacks on Israel

Updated 23 min 51 sec ago
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Sources deny Saudi Arabia’s participation in intercepting Iranian attacks on Israel

RIYADH: Informed sources denied to Al Arabiya on Monday Saudi Arabia’s participation in intercepting Iranian attacks on Israel on Saturday.

Israeli news websites had published statements attributed to an official Saudi website stating that the Kingdom participated in the recent defense coalition that confronted the Iranian attacks.

The sources told Al Arabiya, however, that no official statement had been released about Saudi Arabia’s participation.

Iran launched drones and missiles toward Israel on Saturday evening into Sunday morning and described the attack as a response to several crimes, including the strike on its consulate in Damascus on April 1.

Tehran indicated that the attack targeted military targets, while the Israeli army announced that it intercepted 99 percent of the Iranian missiles.

More to follow...


ROSHN Group, Dar Al Arkan sign $57m deal

Updated 15 April 2024
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ROSHN Group, Dar Al Arkan sign $57m deal

  • Dar Al Arkan to acquire and develop residential villas in SEDRA 1A

RIYADH: ROSHN Group, Saudi Arabia’s leading national real estate developer, signed a SR215 million ($57.3 million) sale and purchase agreement with partner developer Dar Al Arkan, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Under the agreement, Dar Al Arkan will acquire and develop residential villas in SEDRA 1A, which is in northern Riyadh.

ROSHN’s latest collaboration with a Saudi developer is part of the company’s overall strategy to team up with best-in-class entities in a variety of domain-specific services.
 


Saudi FM receives phone call from Chinese counterpart

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and his Chinese counterpart spoke over the phone on Monday. (File/AFP)
Updated 15 April 2024
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Saudi FM receives phone call from Chinese counterpart

  • During the call, Prince Faisal and Wang Yi discussed developments in the Gaza Strip and the recent escalation in the region

RIYADH: Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan received a phone call from his Chinese counterpart on Monday, Saudi Press Agency reported.

During the call, Prince Faisal and Wang Yi discussed developments in the Gaza Strip and its surroundings, the recent escalation in the region, the importance of joint coordination, and efforts to prevent the aggravation of the situation.

Also on Monday, the Kingdom’s foreign minister arrived in Pakistan for a two-day official visit.


Foundation stone laid for Prophet’s Biography Museum in Islamabad

Updated 15 April 2024
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Foundation stone laid for Prophet’s Biography Museum in Islamabad

  • Pakistani PM praises Muslim World League’s role in advancing Qur’anic education
  • Shehbaz Sharif: This museum will serve as a pilgrimage destination not just for Pakistanis, but for people worldwide

RIYADH: Muslim World League Secretary-General Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa recently attended the closing ceremony in Islamabad to honor, under the patronage and in the presence of Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, the winners of a Qur’anic competition for young memorizers under the age of 10.

Sharif and Al-Issa then laid the foundation stone for a branch of the International Fair and Museum of the Prophet’s Biography and Islamic Civilization, an extension of its main headquarters in Madinah.

The ceremony, attended by Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Pakistan Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki, opened with a recitation from the Qur’an by Irshadullah bin Muti’e, the competition winner.

Sharif praised the pivotal role played by the MWL in advancing Qur’anic education, highlighting the stature of the Kingdom and its leadership in the global Islamic sphere.

He underscored Pakistan’s embrace of the forthcoming Museum of the Prophet’s Biography, recognizing its potential to advance Islamic principles worldwide and deepen understanding of Prophet Muhammad’s life.

“This museum will serve as a pilgrimage destination not just for Pakistanis, but for people worldwide,” Sharif said, affirming that the Pakistani people would deeply appreciate the museum, a gift from Saudi Arabia.

In his address, Al-Issa celebrated the young Qur’an memorizers, emphasizing Pakistan’s deep-rooted commitment to Qur’anic education and the religious dedication of its population.

He said that Qur’anic schools and institutions throughout the Islamic world should not focus merely on memorization but also on imparting understanding and insight into its meanings.

The ceremony culminated in the distribution of prizes to outstanding participants throughout Pakistan, followed by a visual presentation about the International Fair and Museum of the Prophet’s Biography and Islamic Civilization.