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


Experts to discuss advances in Web3, AI, gaming ecosystem growth in Saudi Arabia

The summit aims to showcase advances in Web3 and gaming ecosystem development in Saudi Arabia. (@NFTLAlive)
Updated 7 sec ago
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Experts to discuss advances in Web3, AI, gaming ecosystem growth in Saudi Arabia

  • Big names set to assemble in Saudi capital

RIYADH: Outer Edge Riyadh, the Web3 innovation forum, is set to bring together some of the biggest names in the blockchain, artificial intelligence, and gaming ecosystems from around the world at The Garage in the Saudi capital on Tuesday.

The summit, in partnership with Animoca Brands and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, aims to showcase advances in Web3 and gaming ecosystem development in Saudi Arabia.

The Los Angeles-based company Outer Edge is renowned for hosting events that offer invaluable networking opportunities for founders, builders, and venture capitalists in emerging technologies.

Mohammad Hadhrawi, general manager at the Gaming and Immersive Technologies Institute at KACST, said: “We are dedicated to advancing the frontiers of R&D (research and development) in gaming and immersive technologies.

"Our efforts are aligned with the national vision and strategies, aiming to foster an innovative ecosystem that nurtures creativity, technological advancement, and economic diversification.

“By spearheading projects that leverage Web3, AI, and immersive experiences, we aim to impact the global technology landscape and equip our nation with the skills and opportunities to excel in these fields.

“Our commitment is to deliver tangible outcomes that contribute to the Kingdom’s position as a leader in the future economies — a key priority area for the Kingdom — ensuring a sustainable and prosperous future for all.”

Joshua Kriger, Outer Edge co-founder and co-host of the “Edge of NFT” and “Edge of AI” podcasts, said that when launching Outer Edge in Los Angeles, the intention was always to catalyze innovation globally.

He said: “We are thrilled to bring the concept of co-creation, connection, and community to Saudi Arabia and unite regional and global leaders in Web3, AI, and gaming. Our unique format fosters long-term collaboration opportunities at the intersection of culture, entertainment, and technology.”

Yat Siu, the co-founder and executive chairman of Animoca Brands, said: “Through our partnership with Outer Edge Riyadh, we are honored to help support the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region’s progress toward fully harnessing the power of Web3 and blockchain.

“Global leaders at Outer Edge Riyadh will gather to engage in spirited discussions, forge valuable partnerships, create new opportunities, and mobilize on various topics ranging from revolutionizing smart cities to redefining finance and entertainment.”

Topics at the summit will include smart cities, gaming, esports, art, culture, and more. For more information about the Outer Edge Innovation Summit in Riyadh, visit https://www.outeredge.live/riyadh.


Riyadh meeting focuses on modern Shariah issues

Updated 21 April 2024
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Riyadh meeting focuses on modern Shariah issues

  • Leaders from Islamic nations gather to discuss jurisprudence and challenges facing the Islamic world

Riyadh: The grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Asheikh, and senior scholars of the Islamic world are in Riyadh for the Islamic Fiqh Council’s 23rd session to discuss contemporary jurisprudence challenges.

Scholars and researchers from Islamic and Muslim-minority countries are attending the session, which runs from April 20 to 22.

The Islamic Fiqh Council sets out to clarify Shariah rulings for Muslims on a range of issues, show the adaptability of Islamic jurisprudence, and promote its heritage. The council also seeks to explain its terminology in contemporary language.

Al-Asheikh emphasized that Islamic jurisprudence, with its general principles, comprehensive rules, array of jurisprudential branches, fatwas, and diverse research on various topics provides flexibility and broad perspectives for contemporary scholars.

He also expressed appreciation to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their efforts in serving the Two Holy Mosques and their visitors, as well as for the support provided to scholars.

Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League, said in his speech that the session would review Shariah issues, based on in-depth academic research surveys conducted by distinguished scholars.

Hissein Brahim Taha, secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said that the session was taking place during a critical period for the Islamic world, filled with significant intellectual and political challenges.

Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa (C), secretary-general of the Muslim World League, said in his speech that the session would review Shariah issues, based on in-depth academic research surveys conducted by distinguished scholars. (SPA)

The president of the International Islamic Fiqh Academy, Dr. Saleh bin Abdullah bin Humaid, mentioned that the topics discussed by the academy’s committees and councils encompass Shariah, family, medical, economic, financial, and intellectual policies, all of which are of interest to the Islamic nation.

The secretary-general of the academy, Dr. Koutoub Moustapha Sano, said: “We are all required to work to unify rulings in Islamic countries in all matters of life, in accordance with the provisions of Islamic Shariah. That is the only way to accomplish Islamic unity among Islamic peoples.”

The session will have several scientific sessions devoted to contemporary jurisprudential issues and challenges.


Saudi Arabia’s Asir magpie faces conservation challenges

Updated 21 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s Asir magpie faces conservation challenges

RIYADH: Spring paints a vibrant picture across Saudi Arabia, creating ideal nesting conditions for its feathered residents. The abundant food, comfortable temperatures, and increased rainfall from March to July provide a breeding haven. Yet, amid this avian activity, one particular bird faces an uphill battle for survival: the Asir magpie.

This stunning bird, scientifically known as Pica asirensis, holds a precarious position on the global endangered species list. Restricted to a small pocket in the juniper forests of the Asir region, fewer than 100 breeding pairs remain.

Initially thought to be a subspecies of the Eurasian magpie, the Asir magpie was recognized as a distinct species in 2016. Its geographical isolation — over 1,200 km from its closest Eurasian relative — along with unique physical and genetic characteristics, confirmed its separate classification.

The Asir magpie has darker feathers, with a tail adorned in richer greens and purples. Compared to its Eurasian cousin, it has shorter wings and tail, larger feet, and a noticeably bigger beak. Its call is also distinct, with unique sounds used during foraging.

Ants, bees, and locusts are staples in the Asir magpie’s diet, along with plant seeds and fruits. It also consumes fallen berries and leftover rice found in picnic areas.

During the breeding season, females lay five to seven eggs, with an incubation period of 16 to 22 days. However, chick survival rates are generally low — typically, only two to four chicks survive — due to food scarcity, nest predation, and other hazards.

Recognizing the Asir magpie’s critical status, government agencies have increased conservation efforts. In 2018, Saudi Aramco conducted a vital study, deploying advanced tracking devices to understand the bird’s population density, habitat preferences, and movement patterns. This data is crucial for implementing effective protection measures.

Saudi Arabia boasts remarkable avian diversity, with the National Center for Wildlife documenting an impressive 499 bird species. Of these, 401 are resident or migratory, while 11 are rare species that regularly visit the country. Additionally, 87 vagrant species also grace Saudi skies.

The Asir magpie exemplifies Saudi Arabia’s rich biodiversity. Conservation efforts are essential to ensure the survival of this unique species and to protect the Kingdom’s natural heritage for future generations.


Saudi Masam project clears 857 Houthi mines in Yemen

Updated 21 April 2024
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Saudi Masam project clears 857 Houthi mines in Yemen

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Project Masam cleared 857 mines in Yemen — which had been planted by the Houthi militia — between April 13 to 19, according to a recent report.

Overseen by the Kingdom’s aid agency KSrelief, the project’s special teams destroyed 782 items of unexploded ordnance and 75 anti-tank mines.

The explosives, which were planted indiscriminately by the Houthis across Yemen, posed a threat to civilians, including children, women and the elderly.

Project Masam is one of several initiatives undertaken by Saudi Arabia at the request of King Salman, which has cleared routes for humanitarian aid to reach the country’s citizens.

The demining operations took place in Marib, Aden, Jouf, Shabwa, Taiz, Hodeidah, Lahij, Sanaa, Al-Bayda, Al-Dhale and Saada.

A total of 437,616 mines have been cleared since the start of the initiative in 2018, according to Ousama Al-Gosaibi, the project’s managing director.

These include 279,002 items of unexploded ordnance, 144,101 anti-tank mines, 8,018 improvised explosive devices, and 6,495 anti-personnel mines.

The initiative trains local demining engineers and provides them with modern equipment. It also offers support to Yemenis injured by the devices.

About 5 million people have been forced to flee their homes since the beginning of the conflict in Yemen, many of them displaced by the presence of land mines.

Masam teams are tasked with clearing villages, roads and schools to facilitate the safe movement of civilians and the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The project’s contract was extended for another year in June 2023 at a cost of $33.29 million.


Award winners crowned at close of Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh

Updated 21 April 2024
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Award winners crowned at close of Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh

RIYADH: Award winners were crowned on the final day of the fourth Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh on Saturday, at a ceremony attended by prominent artistic and cinematic names, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
The winners were nominated by a jury headed by Ibrahim Al-Hasawi from Saudi Arabia, who was joined by Bassam Al-Thawadi from Bahrain, Rawda Al-Thani from Qatar, Khaled Amin from Kuwait, Nujoom Al-Ghanem from the UAE and Ibrahim Al-Zadjali from Oman.
“Hajjan,” a coming-of-age drama set in Saudi Arabia about two brothers who battle to save their favorite camel starring Omar Al-Atawi and Abdulmohsen Alnemr, won the award for best feature film.
It also picked up the best photography award, with Jerry Fassbender recognized for his work on the film. Al-Atawi won the best actor award for his role.
The best actress award went to Bahraini Maryam Zeman for her part in the movie “My Word.”
The award for best short film went to the heavily tipped “Clouds,” about a widower and war veteran who are forced to balance their own morals with societal expectations in southern Oman, directed by Muzna Almusafer.
The award for best documentary film went to Mansoor Al-Dhaheri’s climate change expose “Swimming 62.”
Ziad Al-Hussein took home two awards, including one for best director, for his film “Shiabni Hani.”
The award for best original soundtrack went to Khaled Al-Kammar for his music that featured in the movie “Hawjan,” a modern twist on the ancient Arab jinn mythology, which also opened the latest edition of the Red Sea Festival last year.
The Gulf Cinema Festival was held under the patronage of Saudi Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, who is also chairman of the board of directors of the Film Commission, which organized the event.
This year’s festival hosted screenings of 29 films, three training workshops and six cultural seminars.
Abdullah Al-Qahtani, CEO of the commission, said in a speech during the ceremony that the festival embodied a commitment to supporting the film sector in the region and building bridges for cinematic cooperation between the Gulf countries.
He thanked Prince Badr for his sponsorship and support of the festival and the film sector in Saudi Arabia, as well as the general secretariat of the Gulf Cooperation Council.