Third expansion of Makkah Grand Mosque receives 19 million worshippers
80 new prayer halls opened at the start of the holy month
Updated 01 May 2022
JEDDAH: Almost 19 million people worshipped in the third expansion of the Grand Mosque in Makkah during Ramadan, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
The director of the General Administration of the Third Saudi Expansion at the Grand Mosque, Walid Al-Masoudi, said the expansion had received more than 500,000 worshippers per hour at a rate of 250,000 inside the expansion and more than 250,000 in the squares.
He stressed that these efforts came under the directives of the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques in fulfillment of the aspirations of the Saudi leadership.
At the start of Ramadan, 80 new prayer halls that form part of the third phase of expansion opened to worshippers for the first time.
Al-Masoudi said worshippers were divided throughout the days of the holy month on all floors of the expansion building, on the ground floor, first floor, first mezzanine, second floor, second mezzanine, the balconies, and the surrounding northern and western squares.
When King Abdulaziz united the country and founded Saudi Arabia, he made the Two Holy Mosques a top priority and ensured they received special attention.
Worshippers were divided throughout the days of the holy month on all floors of the expansion building, on the ground floor, first floor, first mezzanine, second floor, second mezzanine, the balconies, and the surrounding northern and western squares.
In 1926, he ordered a complete renovation to the Grand Mosque, including a directive to cover the entire floor with marble. A year later, according to the general presidency, he ordered marquees to be erected at the Mataf (circumambulation space) to protect worshippers from the sun’s heat. He also ordered that the Masa, the area between Safa and Marwah where pilgrims walk in what is known as Saee, be paved with stone.
When his son King Saud became monarch, the Grand Mosque covered approximately 28,000 square meters. In 1955, he launched a long-term expansion project that continued for nearly 10 years. The size of the Masa was increased, and an underground area and another floor were added.
Saud’s successor, King Faisal, continued the expansion and development work. The building surrounding the Maqam Ibrahim was removed to provide more space for worshippers while circumambulating the Kaaba.
After King Khalid took over in 1975, the Mataf area was expanded and the stone pavement of the Masa was replaced with Greek, heat-resistant marble so that worshippers could circle the Kaaba more comfortably, especially at noon.
On Sept. 14, 1988, King Fahd laid the foundation stone for the largest expansion of the Grand Mosque in 14 centuries. The project increased its size to 356,000 square meters, enough space for up to 1.5 million worshippers to comfortably perform their rituals. Two minarets were added to the existing seven.
The sixth Saudi leader, King Abdullah, who took the throne in 2005, initiated another major expansion project. It included architectural, technical, and security improvements. The capacity of the Mataf area was increased from about 50,000 people an hour to more than 130,000 to cope with the growing numbers of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims.
The total space covered by the Grand Mosque and its open areas and facilities increased to 750,000 square meters, at a total cost of more than SR80 billion ($21.3 billion).
In 2015, King Salman launched five major projects designed to allow the mosque to accommodate nearly 2 million worshippers on a 1.5-million-square-meter site.
US director Oliver Stone explores Saudi film scene at Red Sea International Film Festival
Oliver Stone’s latest documentary 'Nuclear' is screening at the festival on Sunday
The 'Scarface' director, RSIFF jury president earlier took to stage at opening ceremony
Updated 04 December 2022
JEDDAH: Lauded US director Oliver Stone took part in a roundtable discussion at the ongoing Red Sea International Film Festival in Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
When asked by Arab News if he would consider filming in Saudi Arabia, he said: “My time is limited, I’m 76 years old. What do you want me to do, come down here and learn a whole different culture? No, I don’t think that’s possible. I have one project in mind, which I can’t tell you because nobody knows about it and if I can get that done, I would be very happy.”
“The Middle East has tremendous potential, economically too. People are putting money here, no question,” he added.
When commenting on film’s ability to act as a cultural bridge, he said “I imagine cinema has played a huge role, but on the other hand cinema is also very violent and revenge-motivated — those stories always seem to work — so you could say that’s not a good example for the world… so it’s double-edged, it depends on the movie.”
Stone’s latest documentary “Nuclear” is screening at the festival on Sunday.
Prior to his private discussion, the “Scarface” director and RSIFF jury president took to the stage at the opening ceremony of the festival on Thursday to share his views on Saudi Arabia.
Stone said the country is “much misunderstood in the present world – people who have judged too harshly should come and visit to see for themselves.” He also noted “changes” and “reforms” taking place in the Kingdom, which he said make it worth a visit.
Commenting on the 15-strong competition slate, the Oscar-winning director said: “These films stick to very basic ideas of survival, migration, suffering. There’s a real spirit here, which is growing,” according to Variety.
The event will continue until Dec. 10 under the slogan “Film is Everything.”
The festival is set to showcase 131 feature films and shorts from 61 countries, in 41 languages, made by established and emerging talents. Seven feature films and 24 shorts from Saudi Arabia will also be shown.
At Riyadh Forum, thinkers say space may be ‘home’ sooner than we think
With participation from over 19 countries, the platform targets wide audience from various backgrounds
This year’s conference is building off the success of last year’s event which discussed unpredictability
Updated 03 December 2022
RIYADH: The second edition of the Riyadh Philosophy Conference launched on Thursday as international and local specialists gathered to discuss topics under the theme “Knowledge and Exploration: Space, Time and Humanity.”
Organized by Saudi Arabia’s Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission, the three-day event kicked off with welcome remarks by Saudi critic, thinker and translator Saad bin Abdulrahman Albazie, who was introduced by the CEO of the commission, Mohammed Alwan.
With participation from over 19 countries, the global platform targets a wide audience from various academic and professional backgrounds.
“We are heading toward endless informational and explorational horizons, toward space, time and humanity, and settling into our human fate, moral values and scientific criteria of the universe,” Albazie said.
“We will create a philosophical space out of our physical space, and propose new concepts in an undiscovered field in the spirit of entrepreneurial research that has been touched upon by this conference’s esteemed guests.”
While taking a trip to space is, undoubtedly, a dream for many, it may well be a place we call “home” much sooner than we think.
A keynote speech by Mishaal Ashemimry, moderated by Prof. Nicolas de Warren of Penn State University, examined the futuristic concept of humanity becoming an interplanetary species.
Discussing humanity’s options if Earth is no longer accommodating or habitable, Ashemimry, special adviser to the CEO at the Saudi Space Commission, said: “We must prepare for our future because no one knows. Yes, we can monitor all these items that are orbiting Earth, but there are so many that we don’t know about.
“I’m not suggesting that this is the only way. I am suggesting that we need to hedge our bets, invest in all the technologies necessary and all the possible solutions to prevent this existential problem — whether it’s going to Mars or preparing to go to Mars, or whether it’s intercepting that asteroid, and having mechanisms to detect it sooner and enable us to have enough time.”
The conversation around space continued with Abdullah Al-Ghathami, professor of criticism and theory at King Saud University, delivering a keynote speech under the title “Humanity in Space: Glory or Power.”
Leading thinkers took part in panel discussions, including “Inquiry Techniques in the Classroom” by General Manager of the Baseera Institute Dalia Toonsi, and “Chaos and Logos” with physicist Reem Taibah and Saudi Space Commission adviser Haithem Al-Twaijry.
This year’s conference is building off the success of last year’s event, which discussed unpredictability.
The forum aims to open up the once-taboo study of philosophy in the region by involving contemporary philosophers, scientists, writers and intellectuals from all over the world.
Discussions in the coming days will focus on the status of contemporary science, the complexities of space diplomacy and climate change, justice and ethics in exploration, and the dilemmas of artificial intelligence.
Saudi Arabia and Zanzibar have many development priorities in common, President Hussein Ali Mwinyi tells Arab News
Both nations have commonalities in tourism and economic diversification, says leader of Tanzanian province
Mwinyi says sustainability, heritage, renewable energy and agriculture are areas of potential cooperation
Updated 04 December 2022
MAKKAH: Saudi Arabia and Zanzibar have many priorities in common concerning economic diversification and investment in tourism, renewable energy, and agriculture, according to Hussein Ali Mwinyi, president of the semi-autonomous Tanzanian province, off the coast of East Africa.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News in Makkah on Wednesday, where he performed Umrah during a visit to the Kingdom, Mwinyi said Saudi Arabia and Zanzibar share a number of concerns over sustainable tourism and the promotion of heritage sites.
“In Zanzibar, we have two main types of tourism,” said Mwinyi. “We have beach tourism, because it’s an island with sandy beaches. But we also have old towns, such as Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Those are commonalities where we can learn from each other.
“But we also have differences. For example, I’m told the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a good number of tourists coming for sports tourism, like Formula One and such. So those are things that we can learn from the experience here.”
The tropical archipelago in the Indian Ocean is a veritable crossroads of cultural influence, where Africa meets Arabic history and Indian flavors; the fabled “spice islands” synonymous with abundant production of cloves, nutmeg, pepper and cinnamon.
Zanzibar united with Tanganyika in 1964 to form the United Republic of Tanzania, but has a culture, heritage and geography distinct from the mainland. It is also pursuing a strategy of economic diversification that takes into account its geographical advantages and multicultural strengths.
Zanzibar’s economy has traditionally been underwritten by tourism. Visitors from colder countries are drawn to its year-round tropical climate, stunning white-sand beaches, and many cultural and heritage sites.
The tourism industry directly employs around 60,000 people and contributes almost $900 million to Zanzibar’s gross domestic product each year.
However, like many nations and regions reliant on tourist traffic, Zanzibar’s economy has suffered as a result of lockdowns, closures and travel bans during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has underscored the necessity of rebuilding the tourism industry while diversifying the economy across other, more shock-resistant industries.
“The mainstay of the economy of Zanzibar depends very much on tourism,” said Mwinyi, who attended the 22nd World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit in Riyadh this week. “Tourism is contributing to about 30 percent of our GDP.
“We are looking forward to growing the sector following the pandemic and luckily the numbers are coming back. We are almost back to pre-pandemic numbers and we are hoping to have more visitors than we used to have before the pandemic.”
Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector is likewise enjoying a post-pandemic boom. The Kingdom’s investments in leisure and hospitality have created thousands of jobs, setting it on course to emerge as a global destination welcoming 100 million visitors per year by 2030.
Data published by the Saudi Tourism Authority shows that the Kingdom had already received 62 million tourist visitors by late August this year, placing it well on course to meet or even surpass its target by the end of the decade.
Heritage tourism forms a major part of the Kingdom’s strategy. The Diriyah Gate Development Authority’s At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace developments were officially unveiled on Monday at a gala event during the WTTC Global Summit.
Zanzibar is also promoting its heritage sites. Stone Town, its administrative capital, features distinctive architecture, much of it dating back to the 19th century, reflecting native Swahili culture and a unique mixture of Arab, Persian, Indian and European influences. For this reason, the town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000.
However, COVID-19 is not the only threat facing the tourism industry. Climate change is causing sea levels to rise, increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, and damaging valuable land and ocean habitats, especially in low-lying island regions.
During the UN Climate Change Conference — COP27 — held in Egypt’s coastal resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh last month, delegates from climate-vulnerable nations called on the international community to do more to help them mitigate the effects of global warming.
Several governments, including Zanzibar’s, have recognized the urgent need to make their economies more sustainable, resilient and diverse, and to accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources.
“Luckily, we haven’t been affected so much when it comes to climate change, but we are mitigating the effects by specific policies that were put in place,” said Mwinyi.
“For example, the tourism we are talking about in Zanzibar is high-value, low-volume tourism. So we want quality tourism, few numbers but high quality, as opposed to mass tourism, which is devastating to the environment.
“And we also have put down policies to mitigate the effects of climate change, including the use of renewable energy, the recycling of solid waste and such measures. So, in effect, we are hoping to make sure that we are not affected as other island nations have been affected by climate change.”
To avoid potential economic setbacks in the long run, Zanzibar is looking beyond tourism as a primary source of revenue, by embracing agriculture and the “blue” economy, which sustainably utilizes maritime and marine resources.
This includes the establishment of new fisheries, the development of seaports for travel and trade, off-shore renewable energy, seabed aquaculture, and other extractive activities, all under the umbrella of the Zanzibar Development Vision 2050.
Through its Blue Economy Policy, Zanzibar’s government has focused on strengthening the aquaculture sector with investments in seaweed farming, which offers local women economic empowerment and farming communities sustainable livelihoods.
“Since Zanzibar is made up of islands, we have to utilize ocean resources for economic development, but in a sustainable way,” said Mwinyi.
“So other than tourism, we are looking into fisheries. It’s an important industry for us — not only fishing but also fish farm aquaculture. We are looking at other sectors like seaweed farming. But we are also developing infrastructure like seaports so that we can have more maritime trade and transportation.”
After meeting with business leaders in Riyadh, Mwinyi is more confident than ever that Tanzania and the province of Zanzibar can enjoy reciprocal trade and cooperation in a wide range of industries.
“Tanzania and Saudi Arabia have had longstanding diplomatic relations. We have embassies on both sides. And now we are trying to strengthen that by encouraging investment from the Saudi side into Tanzania by sending some products from Tanzania to Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“I had a good conversation with the Federation of Saudi Chambers, where members discussed a lot about food security. And as you know, Tanzania is a huge country, we have almost 1 million sq km of fertile land.
“So, we are an agricultural nation. We can send in a lot of agricultural produce to Saudi Arabia, and we can also send livestock to Saudi Arabia. And it has started actually. We are hoping to increase that.
“On the other hand, Saudi Arabia can send Tanzania products from the hydrocarbon industry, from plastics and fertilizers, including oil and gas itself. So there’s a lot of room for cooperation and strengthening our economy.
“But on the investment side, I know there’s a lot of Saudi business people who would like to come and invest in tourism in Zanzibar, but also fisheries and livestock keeping. So, we had a good discussion. And I’m sure the cooperation will be further strengthened.”
Mwinyi believes Saudi expertise and interest in Zanzibar as an investment destination will benefit its environmental agenda and bodes well for future cooperation.
“There was a lot of interest to come and invest in Zanzibar in areas where they have already invested here and which have shown success. One of them is renewable energy. We are an island so we need to have renewable energy. And it has been done here to great success,” he said.
“Businessmen here are willing to come and share experiences with us and invest in Zanzibar, but that is only one sector. We spoke about a lot more sectors and I think we have huge potential for cooperation in different sectors.”
Why corporate optimism in Saudi Arabia and UAE remains widespread despite global economic headwinds
Survey suggests businesses are drawing confidence from governments’ ambitious blueprints
Climate change and sustainability issues high on the agenda for businesses in both countries
Updated 02 December 2022
LONDON: A new survey of business leaders in Saudi Arabia and the UAE reveals widespread corporate optimism in the two countries about the coming year, despite the uncertainties and challenges that have plagued the global economy in 2022.
Overall, 70 percent of 250 decision-makers representing a wide range of sectors expressed optimism about the prospects for the global economy in 2023, with 46 percent declaring themselves to be very optimistic.
The survey was carried out for Gedeon Mohr & Partners, a newly formed Dubai-based consultancy focused on the retail, entertainment, destinations, and hospitality sectors, all of which are set to play an increasingly important role in transforming the economies of the Arab Gulf region.
“It is hugely positive to see a majority of business leaders across the UAE and KSA being so optimistic about the future of the economy, recognising the vibrant business ecosystem and opportunities in the region,” said Maria Gedeon, CEO and founder of Gedeon Mohr & Partners.
There were, she said, several reasons for the robust picture of regional optimism that has emerged from the survey.
“Obviously, we’re lucky to have had an increase in oil prices, so naturally the economy is in better health than anywhere else in the world right now. Also, geographically the region is far from the Russia-Ukraine war, and less affected than Europe by higher prices and so on.
“But overall, I think the sentiment is better because of the amount of work that the two governments are putting into developing the economies, increasing quality of life, and attracting foreigners and expatriates to this part of the world.”
The survey also showed that overall 29 percent of business leaders in the two countries — 22 percent in the UAE, rising to 37 percent in Saudi Arabia — were slightly or very concerned about what the new year might bring.
“I would assume that these are probably working for global organizations, because they’ve had layoffs and a lot of financial issues, and slowdowns in growth, and so on,” said Gedeon.
Businesses in the two countries are drawing guidance and confidence, she said, from the ambitious blueprints set out by governments.
“Both of these countries have published their visions, the Kingdom for 2030 and the UAE for 2031, and in Saudi (Arabia) especially the mega-projects, such as NEOM, the Red Sea project and Qiddiya, and the massive investments in infrastructure, are tremendous economic catalysts.”
In November the International Monetary Fund predicted that GDP growth in Saudi Arabia would be 7.6 percent for 2022, placing it among the top five high-growth economies in the world.
Gulf Cooperation Council policymakers as a whole, said the IMF, had “managed to quickly mitigate the economic impact of the twin COVID-19 and oil price shocks.”
Even though global commodity prices had surged, it added: “The outlook is more positive for GCC countries, with new challenges linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and tighter global financial conditions expected to have a limited impact on GCC economies.”
The IMF also offered a cautionary note, warning that even as the GCC states benefit from “higher, albeit volatile, oil and gas prices, numerous risks still cloud the outlook — notably, a slowdown in the global economy.
“In this context, the reform momentum established in previous years should be maintained … to ensure equity between generations and a smooth energy transition out of fossil fuels.”
This, said Gedeon, was exactly what was happening, as Saudi Arabia works to diversify its economy and open up its society. As a senior manager with the UAE’s Majid Al-Futtaim Group, the malls to hotels, retail and entertainment giant, she had direct experience of the ongoing program of social and economic reforms in Saudi Arabia when she worked on the introduction of the group’s Vox Cinemas chain in the country.
Both of the Gulf states “will keep investing in oil, but they are keen to diversify,” she said, and one clear way ahead is “driving significant tourism to very beautiful countries.”
One thing that emerges strongly from the survey is that climate change and sustainability issues are rising to the top of the agenda for businesses in both countries. Asked how important sustainability was to their business, 90 percent of respondents in the UAE and 85 percent in Saudi Arabia said it was very important. Overall, only 2 percent said it was not important.
Climate change was also seen as the biggest threat to business in 2023 by 11 percent of respondents in the UAE, and 18 percent in Saudi Arabia.
However, more surprising, and concerning, says Gedeon, is the attitude that emerges from the survey in both countries toward the thorny corporate issue of ESG, or environmental, social and governance, a metric increasingly valued by investors and consumers as a measure of how companies impact upon, and interact with, society and the environment.
In its recent 2022 Social & Governance Report, PwC Middle East concluded that “embedding environmental, social and governance principles across all areas of economic and social evolution is essential to realizing the ambitions of our region, enabling it to become a leader on the global sustainability stage.”
In the new survey, says Gedeon, “sustainability and business growth top the agenda, yet what is clear is that while leaders care about climate change, there is still a great deal of work to do around ESG, which provides an opportunity for sustainable growth.”
The bottom line, she says, is that increasingly “consumers want to purchase from and be associated with brands that have a solid purpose, and that are doing good for the planet and the organization.
“Consumers will no longer buy a product from a company or brand that is not respecting all of these sustainability and ESG pillars, and companies that aren’t doing so will just become obsolete if they’re not transparent about their policies and procedures, about how they’re offsetting their carbon footprint.”
Again, government initiatives are likely to force the pace. The staging of COP27 in Egypt last month, and the fact that the next Conference of the Parties will take place in the UAE next year, has put environmental and social responsibility issues front and center in the thinking of governments, businesses and individuals throughout the region.
It is also hugely significant that the UAE and Saudi Arabia, two of the world’s biggest oil producers, have committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and 2060 respectively — ambitious targets that will demand the collaboration and cooperation of businesses across every sector, and will almost certainly be legislated for.
One issue of concern that slightly overshadows the overall confidence identified by the survey is the recruitment and retention of the talent necessary for companies to perform at their best.
While overall 62 percent of business leaders felt they had the right talent in their business going into 2023, there were significant concerns about workforce challenges in the year ahead. Overall, 18 percent were worried about being able to attract talent, and 10 percent about retaining the talent they already had.
Despite the generally positive experience of remote working during COVID-19 lockdowns, a quarter of all respondents also saw hybrid working as a challenge in 2023. One reason, said Gedeon, was because of the unique nature of many of the big projects underway, especially in Saudi Arabia.
“A lot of these projects are truly remote and you need to be there, watching the project grow,” she said.
“If you’re developing on the Red Sea, it’s going to be very difficult to manage the project operating from New York, London, or even Dubai.
“So, there’s an eagerness to have people on site at projects such as NEOM, and they are building staff accommodation and even schools, making it exciting for people to work so far away from the capital and other cities.”
Red Sea to be ‘leading global marine sports destination,’ say industry experts
Updated 01 December 2022
JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coastline is destined to become a major global marine sports destination, according to a panel of leading industry professionals.
The sports committee of the American Chamber of Commerce Saudi Arabia (AmCham Saudi Arabia) joined private and public sector leaders on Wednesday at Al-Marsa Yacht Club, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, to share knowledge and best practices as part of the Kingdom’s rapidly growing sports and recreation sector.
The main aim was to link local and international industry experts with key stakeholders, as well as promote investment and partnership opportunities in the sports sector.
Maxwell Andrews, operations lead at KAUST, moderated an interactive session on “Marine Sports and Tourism” that included panelists Hassan Alkabbani, chairman of the Saudi Sailing Federation; Rosanna Chopra, executive director of Red Sea Global; Hussain Assaggaf, vice president of strategy and business intelligence at the Red Sea Authority; and Oliver Rees, general manager of the Jeddah Yacht Club.
Topics discussed included sustainable development and management models to build the best services for yachting, boat owners and those involved in water sports.
The session also discussed strategies to protect the Red Sea coast, promote eco-tourism, and to address regulations encouraging the marine and water sports industry.
Chopra highlighted Red Sea Global’s achievements and major projects, while also focusing on private yacht tourism.
During the panel discussion, she announced Red Sea Global’s involvement with the Ocean Race and Warner Bros. Discovery to help promote the round-the-world challenge and to drive awareness of the importance of “ocean health” to an international audience.
“Through such platforms, we aim to collaborate more, be transparent and learn from each other to reach our objectives further and faster,” Chopra said.
Panelists also shared their views on the initiatives to create jobs and opportunities in the marine sports industry.
Mohammad Tafesh, vice president of the chamber’s Jeddah chapter, said: “Today’s program represented one of the best opportunities I’ve seen short of a major exhibition that brings together key stakeholders in one of the most important pillars of the Saudi Vision 2030 ‘Enhanced Quality of Life.’”
Saudi Arabia is aiming to increase its appeal to “sport tourists” who will either visit the country for a major sporting event or to take part in recreational sports.
In line with the National Tourism Strategy, the Kingdom has ambitious goals to ensure that the sector contributes 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product by 2030, with 1 million jobs created along the way, and sports contributing to at least 1 percent of the economy.
“Through this event, we were able to find out how and where the private and public sectors can get involved and contribute to the Saudi sports industry,” Tafesh added.
Rola Osta, director of the chamber’s Jeddah chapter, said: “Our key speakers shared valuable insight on what the future will look like for the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia. From high engagement in water sports to opportunities for tourists and locals to enjoy the sea in various ways, the projects in the works will allow everyone to take part.”
She said that the plans will enhance business opportunities between Saudi Arabia and the US, increasing employment opportunities for all.
“This was evident this evening during Red Sea Global’s announcement about joining forces in new innovative partnerships with the Ocean Race and Warner Bros.” she said.
Osta described the AmCham Saudi Arabia platform as “a great place for business leaders to meet, explore partnership opportunities and expand their knowledge in various sectors.”