Perception at odds with reality of generous Saudi humanitarian support for Ukraine

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KSrelief has funded humanitarian support in Poland, aiding the millions of refugees fleeing Ukraine. (SPA)
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Ukrainians cross the border from Ukraine to Poland at the Korczowa-Krakovets border crossing on Feb. 26, 2022, as Russian forces invade their country. (AFP)
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Young girls and other refugees from Ukraine wait for the bus after they crossed Ukrainian-Polish border in Medyka, southeastern Poland on April 8, 2022. (AFP)
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Refugees from Ukraine's Odessa arrive at a railway station in Przemysl, southeastern Poland, on April 6, 2022. (AFP file photo)
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KSrelief chief Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah visiting Poland’s Institute of Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases, which is supporting refugees in Warsaw. (Supplied)
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Updated 15 August 2022

Perception at odds with reality of generous Saudi humanitarian support for Ukraine

  • Kingdom’s track record belies lack of recognition of its donations for displaced Ukrainian refugees
  • A $10 million aid package has just been signed off by the UNHCR, WHO and Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief 

JEDDAH: The perception that Saudi Arabia is not helping Ukrainians affected by the war with Russia is completely at odds with the reality. 

The firmness of the Kingdom’s commitment to supporting refugees and resolving the conflict has been evident since the outbreak of hostilities. Aid pledges have been matched by donations that are already making a big difference.

A $10 million Saudi humanitarian package for war-displaced Ukrainians has just been signed off by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Health Organization and Saudi Arabia’s leading humanitarian aid agency.

About half of the $10 million grant has been allocated for distribution through the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSrelief).

In April, King Salman directed KSrelief to provide this amount of support for immediate assistance and give “urgent medical and shelter aid” to Ukrainian refugees, giving priority to those arriving in Poland.




KSrelief chief Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah visiting Poland’s Institute of Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases, which is supporting refugees in Warsaw. (Supplied)

Delivering on the Kingdom’s promise during his ongoing visit to Poland, Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, adviser at the Royal Court and supervisor general of KSrelief, also discussed the humanitarian situation with Polish, UNHCR and WHO officials, according to a Saudi Press Agency report.

It said Al-Rabeeah visited several health establishments and facilities, taking time to speak to some Ukrainian refugees who had fled to Warsaw from their war-torn country.

“Thank you very much, and thanks to the center for helping us. The situation is as you can see,” a Ukrainian resident of a refugee center told Al-Arabiya news channel.

“All of us came from Ukraine, and we were in a very bad way. Thanks to you, our situation has improved. Thanks a lot, and we wish peace to the whole world.”  

At the Poland-Ukraine border, Al-Rabeeah lauded the collaboration between the WHO, KSrelief, and the Polish government. “We highly appreciate the partnership with the WHO. Our work together has made great support to refugees and those in need here and elsewhere,” he said in a video released by WHO Poland.

KSrelief has donated funds to support the critical response efforts for Ukrainians in Poland, with the delivery of emergency medical supplies and equipment benefiting more than 1 million people in need.

The Kingdom’s support for Ukrainian refugees is an extension of its well-known humanitarian efforts in more than 85 countries, yet several reports have hinted that Saudi Arabia has picked sides in the conflict because of its ties to Russia as a fellow OEPC+ member.

Despite the political and humanitarian initiatives taken by the Kingdom, urging all parties to come to the negotiating table to resolve the conflict through dialogue and diplomacy, the Kingdom’s efforts have been viewed with skepticism in some quarters.

A March report by the Wilson Center, a US government-linked public policy think tank, claimed that Saudi Arabia “has decided to side with Russia” and “chose Putin over Biden,” accusing the Kingdom of playing political games to keep oil prices high.

The remarks came despite the Kingdom’s repeated offers to both mediate between the warring parties and increase oil production along with neighboring Gulf countries.




Millions of Ukrainian refugees suddenly left their country in February after Russian troops invaded. (AFP)

The differences between the Western and Arab positions on the question of how to end the war have not stopped either side from addressing the humanitarian emergency.

For its part, Saudi Arabia has reiterated that though ending the ongoing war in Ukraine is no easy feat, the Kingdom has treated the issue just as any ongoing crisis in the region, stressing that human suffering is the same in all conflicts and that violence is not the solution.

In March, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Kingdom was ready to exert all efforts to mediate between the two nations.




Saudi Arabia has sent millions of dollars in humanitarian aid for Ukrainians forced to stay in evacuation centers in Poland. (AFP photo)

In May, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss the crisis.

Less than a week later, Prince Faisal bin Farhan met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov during the latter’s visit to Riyadh, where he underscored the importance of reaching a political solution to achieve security and stability for all involved.

Though scant details on Lavrov’s visit and meeting with Gulf Cooperation Council ministers were released, the trip was still misinterpreted as evidence of Saudi Arabia’s support for Russia, even though the Kingdom and other Gulf states had opted to stay neutral, treating the war in Ukraine in “a fair context” and providing aid to the needy.

In June, Prince Faisal bin Farhan clarified the Kingdom’s position further: “Our stance as Gulf countries regarding the Russian-Ukrainian crisis is unified,” he said on June 1 during a speech at the opening of the 152nd session of the Ministerial Council of the Gulf Cooperation Council.




Millions of Ukrainians were forced to leave their country since February after Russian troops invaded. (AFP photo)

“Today we had two fruitful meetings with the Russian and Ukrainian ministers, during which we stated our unified stance regarding the Russian-Ukrainian crisis and its negative consequences, namely the food security of the affected countries and the world.”

Saudi Arabia’s decision to remain neutral and prioritize humanitarian engagement during the war also ought to be viewed in the context of public opinion. In a recent Arab News-YouGov poll, of the more than 1,000 Saudis who were asked for their opinion, 14 percent blamed US President Joe Biden for the conflict while 21 percent blamed NATO.

While a high number of Saudi respondents expressed skepticism about NATO’s involvement with the conflict, 41 percent of Saudis said they did not know or were not sure who was to blame.

Throughout the conflict, more than 40 countries, organizations, and individual donors have made pledges and commitments, some of which have made their way to the 6.3 million refugees fleeing Ukraine as well as those who remained. But there is a striking gap between pledged and delivered support.




In this April 9, 2022, photo, Ukrainian refugees fleeing war stay at a gymnasium in Tijuana, Mexico as they await permission to enter the US. (AFP)

Thus far, most Western governments have given priority to military assistance over humanitarian aid.

According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, the US has pledged $23.8 billion in military aid, the highest amount to date, but has allocated a comparatively modest $8.9 billion to humanitarian assistance.

According to the center, that number has since increased but by a relatively small percentage. Similarly, the EU pledged $12.3 billion in military aid but just $1.4 billion has been siphoned for humanitarian response and aid packages.

Since the outbreak of the conflict, Western and Arab governments have been under no illusion that the need for a resolution of the conflict is no less pressing than addressing the humanitarian emergency.

Last month, President Biden visited Jeddah and met with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The two sides discussed several topics of concern, including energy, security and the crisis in Ukraine.




King Salman bin Abdulaziz meets with US President Joe Biden, witnessed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US State Secretary Antony Blinken at al-Salam Palace in Jeddah on July 15, 2022. (SPA)

Soon after Biden left the Kingdom, Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs, spoke to CNBC to set the record straight. “We have said from the very beginning, we supported the UN General Assembly Resolution and the inadmissibility abuse of force, about the sovereignty of nations and respect for that,” he said.

“We have called for a peaceful resolution to this; stop the fighting and get to the negotiating table and work out your differences peacefully.

“The concern that we have is that escalation on one side leads to escalation on the other side and before you know it, things are more likely to spin out of control and we all pay the price.”

For good measure, Al-Jubeir said: “We’ve reached out to both Russia and Ukraine. We’ve urged them to move towards a ceasefire settlement and their conflict peacefully. We continue to be engaged with them as are a number of other countries, and our hope is that they will be able to recognize that it’s better to argue across the table from each other than fight across the battlefield, because of the unintended consequences of war and conflict.”

Meanwhile, when it comes to humanitarian giving, Saudi Arabia’s pledges continue to be matched by its actions.

On Friday, accompanied by Saad Al-Saleh, the Saudi ambassador to Poland, KSrelief’s Al-Rabeeah visited the UNHCR’s warehouse facilities in Rzeszow in Poland. They jointly inspected the aid already provided as part of the Kingdom’s $10 million grant to support Ukrainian refugees.

 

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Arab publishers turn the page with audiobooks, Riyadh forum told

Updated 28 September 2022

Arab publishers turn the page with audiobooks, Riyadh forum told

  • Kingdom’s key role in regional publishing outlined on conference final day

RIYADH: The second edition of the International Publishers Conference held in Riyadh ended on Wednesday with sessions focusing on the growing demand for audiobooks, the impact of technology and data services, and the search for ways to innovate and renew education.

The event, which was organized by the Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission, introduced a session themed “Stages of the Global Book Publishing Industry.”

Abdul Karim Al-Aqeel, president of the Saudi Publishing Association, told the session that the Kingdom plays an important role in the growth of the regional publishing business.

Saudi Arabia “has 300 publishing houses, 1,000 individual writers, and reading is popular among 31 percent of the population,” he said.

The two-day conference was attended by Secretary-General of the Indonesian Publishers Association, Mohammed Radwan. 

The event held eight interactive sessions and five workshops to discuss key aspects of the book and publishing industry, review future prospects and read current market trends.

Mohammed Zatara, founder of Wajeez for Audiobooks, said that the format helped to expand public knowledge “because an audiobook can be accessed any time and any place, whether one is going to work or working out at the gym.”

Sebastian Bond, head of the Middle East and Northern Africa at Storytel, said improving the audiobook business requires collaboration between traditional publishers and their audio counterparts to ensure enriching and enlightening content.

Ibraheem Al-Sinan, head of editorial at Raff Publishing, told Arab News that the standard of authorship is “extremely high in the domains of creative books, as well as professional and educational books.” 

Ibraheem Al Sinan, head of editorial at Raff Publishing. (Supplied)

However, he believes that “this trend does not exist in the market due to the difficulty of publishing houses to absorb it and because readers are not attracted by the new authors.”

Al-Sinan said that authors have become part of the so-called content industry, particularly in the film-writing, series and marketing content sectors, “because of high financial return” in these fields.

Publishing has expanded recently with the inclusion of audiobooks and electronic books, “because of the society’s interest in new audio media such as podcasts,” he added.

Audiobooks are recognized as the fastest-growing and most acceptable format, but “are still not as popular as paper books,” Al-Sinan said.

Mohammed Alsalem, a member of the Arab Publishers Association, believes that the presence of “podcasts” as a content channel has had an impact on the widespread and acceptance of audiobooks. 

Mohammed Alsalem, a member of the Arab Publishers Association. (Supplied)

Alsalem predicted a bright future for publishing in the region, particularly in translation and better reader access via traditional and digital channels, indicating “A promising future for publication.”

Mohammed Kandil, CEO and founder of Dar Molhimon Publishing and Distribution, said that artificial intelligence is “inevitably coming,” and that it will help publishers to upgrade their profession and professional development. 

Mohammed Kandil, CEO and founder of Dar Molhimon Publishing and Distribution. (Supplied)

He believes that while audiobooks are now expensive to produce, “one day they will be the basic material on which the writer relies.”

Mesfer Alsubaie, general director of the Arabic Literature Center for Publishing and Distribution, said that the publishing future is thriving locally and regionally because of local and international book fairs, which have helped considerably in the evolution of the publishing sector. 

Mesfer Alsubaie, general director of the Arabic Literature Center for Publishing and Distribution. (Supplied)

Salih Al-Hammad, founder of Rashm House for Publishing and Distribution, said that although audiobooks are having a growing impact, “paper books have kept their shine and quality.”

He said: “When we talk about audiobooks today, we talk about a few categories of readers associated with the concept of a detained reader, any reader who is in a hospital, on a train, or on an airplane. Book authorship has gone through phases, and books will remain and won’t disappear, just like radios remained when TVs were invented.”

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British team to retrace steps of epic Philby trek across Saudi Arabia

Updated 28 September 2022

British team to retrace steps of epic Philby trek across Saudi Arabia

  • Explorer’s 1,300 km journey a century ago led to lifelong friendship with Ibn Saud, Kingdom’s first ruler
  • The expedition was launched by the UK’s Princess Anne, and the team includes Philby’s granddaughter

LONDON: An Arabian desert expedition aims to retrace the steps of a famous journey by a British explorer who served as an adviser to the first ruler of Saudi Arabia.

The planned 1,300-km Heart of Arabia coast-to-coast trek across the peninsula was launched by Anne, Princess Royal of the UK, on Wednesday. It was her first public engagement since the death this month of her mother, Queen Elizabeth II.

The expedition will honor the undertaking and achievement of adventurer, Arabist and intelligence officer Harry St. John Philby, who traveled from the Gulf coast village of Al-Uqair to Jeddah, on the Red Sea coast, on a mission in support of Ibn Saud, the Kingdom’s first ruler.

The Heart of Arabia journey will set off in November, a century after Philby’s crossing. It is led by veteran British explorer Mark Evans and the team, which will travel by foot and on camels, includes Philby’s Saudi granddaughter, Reem.

After reaching Riyadh they will travel west on the final stage to Jeddah, which is likely to present the greatest challenge because of harsh winds and rough terrain, including sand and loose rock.

Philby was sent to Arabia during the First World War to assist T. E. Lawrence as part of the British efforts to foment an Arab uprising against the Ottoman Empire, which at the time stretched across the Red Sea side of the Arabian Peninsula all the way to Yemen.

His journey led to groundbreaking cartographic and natural discoveries, and resulted in significant changes to the political landscape of the Middle East.

Philby, who would later reside in Riyadh, developed a close relationship with Ibn Saud, who at the time was a significant tribal leader. Philby adopted local dress and customs, and converted to Islam, which helped him play a key role in the events that led to the Arab Revolt and the creation of Saudi Arabia.

Evans said of Philby: “He is considered by many as one of the greatest early explorers of Arabia. He not only set out across uncharted land but took time to record everything he saw.”

Reem Philby said that she is drawn to “the stillness and constant movement of the desert at the same time.”

She added: “Just observing how nature controls everything in harmony and how we are the ones that have to adapt, makes one very humble.”

Princess Anne said: “How did people live in the environment that he crossed? What was different about it? And actually, what’s perhaps even more important in modern terms, is to understand how much has changed compared to what existed before.”

The Arabian landscape has long attracted interested intrepid Britons, including explorer and writer Wilfred Thesiger, who commended the tribes he encountered during his crossing of the Kingdom’s Empty Quarter for their loyalty and generosity.
 


Hajj, Umrah e-services app undergoes update, name change

Updated 28 September 2022

Hajj, Umrah e-services app undergoes update, name change

MAKKAH: Hajj and Umrah government officials have alerted pilgrims around the world about an important update and name change to a key services and permits app for the Two Holy Mosques.

Launching the newly named Nusuk app, an update on the Eatmarna platform, Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said visitors and worshippers would be able to access a range of e-services including applying for a visa and booking hotels and flights.

Hajj and Umrah services adviser, Ahmed Saleh Halabi, told Arab News: “During the past few years, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has been keen to switch to the e-government system to add ease to the experience of pilgrims and visitors. As such, their experience will be forever remembered as an enriched religious journey.”

He pointed out that the portal allowed users to select from a list of service packages.

“The program will provide the pilgrims with a cultural and religious journey, while reflecting the bright and civilized side of the Kingdom in the Two Holy Mosques,” he added.

The platform has been designed to provide services and information to help worshippers perform rituals with ease and is part of the Saudi Vision 2030 objectives to improve service offerings and the quality of religious experience.

Ahmed Bajaiffer, an investor in Umrah companies, said: “Nusuk is the representation of the strong will of the Kingdom’s leaders and their loyalty toward Muslims, citizens, and residents.”

Nusuk has been launched in cooperation with the Saudi Tourism Authority and is linked to the services provided by the Kingdom’s official tourism website, Visit Saudi Arabia.

Head of the World Hajj and Umrah Convention, Mohsin Tutla, told Arab News: “What Nusuk has developed resonates with the World Hajj and Umrah Care Foundation’s vision toward enhancing the pilgrim’s experience.

“When traveling to a foreign country, visitors may often feel anxiety or even fear; for many, Arabic is not their first language, and trying to make sense of the cultural practices of a new country at times can be difficult.”

Via the nusuk.sa platform, Hajj and Umrah performers can receive visit or Umrah visas with the option to buy a service package and pay electronically.

“The launch of this service sends a strong message with it: We are listening, we are caring, and we will provide the solutions to continually enrich your experience, and we do it with passion, as the Kingdom sees serving pilgrims as a privilege and obligation,” Tutla added.

According to the Saudi Press Agency, more than 21.5 million Umrah and Hajj performers had registered with the Eatmarna app since its launch, and it has issued 6.4 million permits to visit and pray at Al-Rawdah Al-Sharifah at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.


Arab, Muslim leaders congratulate Saudi crown prince on appointment as prime minister

Updated 28 September 2022

Arab, Muslim leaders congratulate Saudi crown prince on appointment as prime minister

  • Global leaders wish crown prince success, hope ties between their countries will continue to grow
  • Pakistani PM wishes further success and prosperity to Saudi Arabia under new prime minister

RIYADH: Arab and Muslim leaders have congratulated Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman following his appointment as Saudi Arabia’s prime minister on Tuesday, Saudi Press Agency reported.  

UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum congratulated the crown prince on his appointment.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani wished the crown prince success and hoped the relations between the two brotherly countries will continue to develop and grow. 

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa also sent a similar cable. 

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said: “On this occasion, I congratulate His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, wishing him further success and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia further welfare and prosperity under the leadership of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.”


Deal signed to establish Saudi-Senegalese Business Council

Updated 29 September 2022

Deal signed to establish Saudi-Senegalese Business Council

RIYADH: The Federation of Saudi Chambers and Senegal’s National Union of Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture signed a cooperation agreement to establish a joint Saudi-Senegalese Business Council as part of endeavors to enhance trade movement between Saudi Arabia and Senegal as well as increase the commercial and investment cooperation volume between the two countries.

The signing ceremony was held in Dakar in the presence of Saudi Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Senegalese Abroad Aissata Tall Sall. The agreement was signed by FSC Vice Chairman Nizar Al-Harkan and President of Senegal’s National Union of Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture Serigne Mboup.

Al-Harkan said that the agreement was a result of ongoing efforts, joint action and Saudi-Senegalese will to increase the volume of commercial and investment exchange between the two countries.

He added that the council will be tasked with several commercial and promotional activities in the fields of commerce, investment, services, industries, training, healthcare and IT, among other industries that are targeted as part of the economic cooperation agenda. The council will provide a platform for Saudi and Senegalese businesspeople to promote their activities and enter into commercial partnerships.

The council will also seek to open up new areas for economic cooperation, facilitate ongoing interaction between the Saudi and Senegalese business sectors, work to remove challenges and constraints, exchange information on markets and investment opportunities, enable business and investment partnerships, refer recommendations to competent authorities in the two countries to improve economic relations, as well as encourage participation in exhibitions, forums, exchange visits and trade delegations.

The business council will consist of Saudi and Senegalese business representatives interested in investment and trade. It will hold periodic meetings in Riyadh and Dakar, where opportunities for trade and investment between the two countries will be discussed.

Trade volume between the Kingdom and Senegal reached about SR185 million ($49 million) in 2021, with the two countries encouraging their private sectors to take advantage of business opportunities and investment partnerships.

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