AlUla: the perfect destination for Saudi cycling

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The Saudi Tour has showcased the stunning landscapes, natural beauty and ancient history of AlUla. (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)
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Honoring the winners of the Saudi club players for the youth category in the Saudi Tour race. (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)
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The Saudi Tour has showcased the stunning landscapes, natural beauty and ancient history of AlUla. (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)
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The Saudi Tour has showcased the stunning landscapes, natural beauty and ancient history of AlUla. (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)
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Updated 02 February 2023

AlUla: the perfect destination for Saudi cycling

  • 2.1 category Union Cyclists event being organized across the region

ALULA: The third edition of the Saudi Tour cycling race, currently taking place and being broadcast on the Experience AlUla YouTube channel, shows AlUla’s ambition to become the cycling capital of the Kingdom.

AlUla is the perfect location to take Saudi cycling to the next level, according to the coaching staff behind the Saudi Cycling Federation team, speaking exclusively to Arab News on the sidelines of the 2.1 category Union Cyclists International event, which is taking place across the region from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3. 

The Saudi Cycling Federation team has enjoyed a wonderful learning experience mixing in the peloton with UCI World Tour teams such as Team Jayco AlUla, Astana Qazaqstan Team, Bahrain Victorious, Cofidis, Movistar Team, Team DSM and UAE Team Emirates. 

Five-time Tour de France stage winner Dylan Groenewegen of Team Jayco AlUla, two-time Cycling Monument winner John Degenkolb, and Jonathan Milan of Cofidis have all demonstrated their abilities during the race, providing the Saudi team of Hassan Al-Jumah, Abdulaziz Hashim, Hani Al-Mhrhoon, Azzam Al-Abdulmunim, and Murthada Al-Shaghab with priceless riding experience. 

Salem Al-Salem, a vital member of the coaching team, told Arab News: “I am from Saudi Arabia, and since I was born in 1980, I have gone to cities all over the Kingdom, and AlUla looks incredible. It is a beautiful venue for hosting a world-class cycling event such as the Saudi Tour. 

This has been a real learning curve for the team and me, and I think that AlUla is the perfect place to move to the next level. It has everything necessary for a training camp, from the accommodation, food, and facilities to the right cycling conditions,” he added. 

The Royal Commission for AlUla recently signed a deal to become a second named sponsor of the Australian-based Team Jayco AlUla, the UCI World Tour team currently considered among the top three teams in the world. 

The partnership aims to put the destination of AlUla on the map for 1.7 billion road cycling spectators around the globe. The cyclists and teams in the Saudi Tour are finding out for themselves exactly what the destination has to offer. 

Al-Salem added: “I don’t think you can imagine how important this will be for developing cyclists from Saudi Arabia. AlUla would be perfect for training camps, national races, one and two-day events, and even international races. When I look at AlUla and the facilities and infrastructure here, I can’t see how we would want to train anywhere else from December to March each year.” 

As well as giving the riders top-level experience, the Saudi Tour has showcased the stunning landscapes, natural beauty and ancient history of AlUla, with the five stages passing the area’s extraordinary sights, including preserved tombs, historic dwellings and monuments, both man-made and natural, and geological formations that hold 200,000 years of largely unexplored human history. 

The first stage was a 180-km sprint leg that showcased both the evolving infrastructure and heritage of the region, starting at the redeveloped AlUla International Airport and finishing in the stunning landscape of Khaybar, featuring rare white volcanoes, lava fields, caves and wadis with freshwater springs supporting an abundance of plant and animal life. 

The second stage was a 184-km sprint from Winter Park through Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, which finished up at Shalal Sijlyat Rocks, an area of natural wonder and dramatic rock formations. Wednesday’s third stage was a 159.2-km journey from the Al-Manshiyah Train Station to Abu Rakah via short climbs. 

The architectural splendor of Maraya offered a unique backdrop for the start of the 163.4-km fourth stage today, which will finish at the Skyviews of Harrat Uwayrid. In contrast, Friday’s fifth stage will provide a fitting finale, a 142.9-km ride that takes the peloton through the streets of AlUla Old Town and Al-Jadidah’s Arts and Culture District, before finishing up at Maraya.

Saudi Arabia’s many sports fans can follow the third edition live on the Experience AlUla YouTube channel:


Hollywood scriptwriter participates in Qur’an recitation contest

Updated 26 March 2023

Hollywood scriptwriter participates in Qur’an recitation contest

  • Palestinian-American Yasser Omar Shaheen wows viewers with melodic voice, distinctive recitation

RIYADH: Palestinian-American contestant Yasser Omar Shaheen, a Hollywood film and television scriptwriter, was a participant in the latest episode of the international Qur’an recitation and adhan competition.

Shaheen entertained the viewers with his melodic voice and distinctive recitation of the Qur’an.

The “Otr Elkalam” TV show, which is being supervised by the General Entertainment Authority and is broadcast on MBC1 and the Shahid digital platform, has a total prize pool of SR12 million ($3.2 million).

Shaheen said: “My life is a mixture of memorizing and reciting the Holy Qur’an and writing scripts in Hollywood, where I have supervised the production of more than 130 programs, produced 14 documentaries, and contributed to several shows on TV channels of Arab and Islamic countries.”

He enjoys teaching Muslim children the verses of the Qur’an and the rules of intonation in mosques in Dallas, Texas. Shaheen also works as a faculty member at San Jose University in California.

Several competitions resulted in his participation in “Otr Elkalam” and its first episode featured 32 contestants from around the world.

It also focused on last year’s winners of the Qur’an recitation and adhan competitions, Younes Gharbi from Morocco and Mohsen Kara of Turkiye, respectively.

The “Otr Elkalam” competition is designed to highlight the rich diversity of cultures in the Islamic world, and the vocal methods of reciting the Qur’an and raising the call to prayer.

More than 50,000 entrants from 165 countries were whittled down to 50 for the final stage, which is held in Riyadh.

Another selection process by the main jury then left 32 contestants, 16 for each competition.


Filipino engineers help fellow expats climb career ladder in Saudi Arabia

Updated 25 March 2023

Filipino engineers help fellow expats climb career ladder in Saudi Arabia

  • Philippine Council of Engineers and Architects has helped 40k Pinoy professionals

MANILA: Mario Balboa had initially planned to return to the Philippines after a year, but his stay in Saudi Arabia has now spanned almost two decades, motivated by his successes and a desire to help other Filipino expats on their career paths.

An electronics and communications engineer, Balboa left his hometown in San Fernando, La Union province and moved to Riyadh in 2004 to work as a business consultant and analyst at Saudi Telecom Co.

Now a senior manager for product development, he enjoyed steady career progression over the years but at some point, saw that many Filipino engineers living and working in the Kingdom lagged behind.

Although they had all the necessary skills, many lacked the proper licenses, certifications, and credentials.

“In any development project here, you will always find a Filipino ... The only problem is that some lack the necessary papers to show that they are certified,” Balboa told Arab News. “If there’s a position where you are capable but not qualified because you don’t have the certification, it’s a lost opportunity.”

The situation prompted him to establish the Philippine Council of Engineers and Architects in the Kingdom in October 2013.

In January 2014, the PCEA signed a cooperation agreement with the Saudi Council of Engineers to exchange expertise and help qualify Philippine professionals in engineering and architectural practice.

A few months later, Balboa also took on board the Philippine government agencies — the Professional Regulation Commission and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority — which inked deals with the SCE for the professional development of Filipino engineers, architects, and technicians.

“The PCEA’s main goal is inclusive progression of Filipino professionals, especially engineers, architects, and technicians, upgrading their respective credentials and qualifications,” Balboa said.


Council’s role becoming increasingly valuable as Kingdom undertakes Vision 2030 megaprojects.

“It helped in making Filipinos, especially the engineers and architects, recognized in terms of professionalism and qualification level.”

Over the past decade, nearly 40,000 Filipino professionals working in Saudi Arabia have, thanks to the PCEA, received training, improved their skills, and obtained official certificates to validate their qualifications.

The efforts have been recognized both in Saudi Arabia and in the Philippines, where last year Balboa received the Presidential Banaag Award, which recognizes individuals advancing the cause of Filipinos overseas.

The PCEA helps connect Filipinos directly with Saudi authorities to evaluate their qualifications.

Leandro Conti, chairman of the PRC’s board of mechanical engineering, told Arab News: “Then they will give you a certificate on the equivalency based on their (Saudi) standards ... which is good for Filipinos so they can be at par with the locals based on their qualifications.”

The certification is becoming increasingly valuable as Saudi Arabia continues to undertake megaprojects as part of its Vision 2030 reform plan.

“Once the projects will be in full swing ... definitely they’ll need Filipinos,” Conti said. “Some of my friends from Dubai and Abu Dhabi came back to Saudi Arabia because of the opportunities.”

Leo Argoso, an engineer who for the past five years has been working for a Saudi company specializing in medical equipment and instruments, was one of those who obtained a good job thanks to the PCEA.

“It was them (the PCEA) who bridged my qualification in order for me to become an SCE member so that I will be able to work my craft here in Saudi Arabia, to be able to take on a position that is equivalent to my level of qualification,” Argoso said.

He knows many other Filipino professionals whose chances on the career ladder got similarly boosted.

“With the help of the PCEA, they were able to fill up what is lacking in their credentials and after some time get recognized by the SCE,” he added.

“Once you are recognized by the SCE, you will be given an ID, proof that you are a legitimate professional and qualified to take on perhaps a higher position than you are currently holding.”

Saudi Arabia, Syria in talks to resume consular services — Saudi foreign ministry

Updated 24 March 2023

Saudi Arabia, Syria in talks to resume consular services — Saudi foreign ministry

  • Move comes after Saudi Arabia and Iran decided earlier this month to resume diplomatic relations
  • Last month Riyadh said consensus was growing among Arab nations that Syrian isolation was “not workable”

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and Syria are in talks to resume consular services between the two countries, Al-Ekhbariya TV said on Thursday.

“Within the framework of the Kingdom’s keenness to facilitate the provision of necessary consular services between the two nations, discussions are underway with officials in Syria to resume consular services,” the TV channel reported, citing a Saudi foreign ministry official.

The report added that the statement from the foreign ministry’s source was in response to international media reports from earlier on Thursday.

The move comes after Saudi Arabia and Iran decided earlier this month to resume diplomatic relations and reopen embassies in both countries, following a China-brokered deal.

In a phone call on Wednesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan spoke with his Iranian counterpart, Hussein Amir Abdollahian, about holding a bilateral meeting in the near future.

On February 19, Prince Faisal said consensus among Arab countries was growing that Syrian isolation was “not workable”, adding that dialogue with Damascus was needed “at some point” at least with regards to the “humanitarian angle.”

He also said on March 8 engagement with Syria might eventually lead to its return to the Arab League, but that at the time, it was “too early to discuss.”

Saudi Civil Defense warns of thunderstorms, dust storms

Updated 24 March 2023

Saudi Civil Defense warns of thunderstorms, dust storms

JEDDAH: The General Directorate of Saudi Civil Defense has urged residents to take precautionary measures against thunderstorms and dust storms that are likely to affect some regions between Friday and Monday. 

The organization, acting on information from the National Center of Meteorology, said the Makkah region will be affected by moderate to heavy rains that may lead to torrential flows. The areas of Taif, Maysan, Adham, Al-Khurmah, Al-Ardiyat, Turbah, Rania, Al-Muwayh, Qia, Khulais, Al-Kamil, Al-Jumum, Bahra, Al-Lith, and Al-Qunfudhah are expected to be hit.

The Riyadh region is also expected to suffer, including the capital, Al-Kharj, Wadi Al-Dawasir, As-Sulayyil, Afif, Al-Duwadmi, Shaqra, Al-Zulfi, Al-Majma’ah, Al-Quwa’iyah, Al-Ghat, Hotat Bani Tamim, Al-Aflaj, Thadiq, Ramah, Al-Muzahimiyah, Al-Diriyah, Dhurma, Huraymila and Al-Dalam.

Authorities stressed the need to stay away from areas where torrents gather, and not to swim in dangerous places. 

Residents have been advised to adhere to instructions announced through the media. 

The regions of Asir, Al-Baha, Jazan, Najran, Madinah, Hail, Tabuk, Al-Jawf, the northern borders, Al-Qasim and the eastern borders are also expected to be affected.

Moderate rains and winds resulting in dust storms are expected in the Makkah region, including Jeddah and Rabigh.

The Civil Defense has stressed the need to stay away from areas where torrents gather, and not to swim in dangerous places.

Residents have been advised to adhere to instructions announced through the media. 


Saudi Arabia marks World Meteorological Day

Updated 24 March 2023

Saudi Arabia marks World Meteorological Day

JEDDAH: World Meteorological Day, observed on March 23 every year, is celebrated this year under the theme “The Future of Weather, Climate and Water Across Generations.”

It aims to join efforts at all national, regional and international levels to address the causes of extreme weather events and climate change, as well as the increasing scarcity of water resources.

The occasion also falls on the anniversary of the World Meteorological Organization’s establishment in 1950. The organization acts as an international umbrella that deals with weather and climate predictions, and serves as an effective channel for international cooperation in this vital area of development, urbanization and stability of humans and living organisms on the planet.

Through this year’s theme, the organization aims to pay tribute to the 24-hour national services of the meteorological and hydrological facilities, which collect and consolidate weather prediction data. 

Saudi Arabia is one of the founding states of the organization and undertook significant work in the field of meteorology at the local, regional and international levels. Its work in this regard is reflected in its functions on meteorology and climate, as well as through eight regional and international centers.

These centers are the Jeddah Regional Communication Center, the Regional Center for Drought Monitoring and Early Warning, the Jeddah Regional Climate Center, the Jeddah Global Information System Center, the Operational Information Center for Air Navigation Services, the Jeddah Historical Information Rescue Center, the Atmospheric and Hydrological Research Center, and the Agricultural Meteorology Research Center.