On historic Saudi visit, Maronite Patriarch supports Hariri’s reasons for resigning

King Salman receives Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi in Al-Yamamah Palace in Riyadh. (SPA)
Updated 15 November 2017
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On historic Saudi visit, Maronite Patriarch supports Hariri’s reasons for resigning

BEIRUT/RIYADH: King Salman on Tuesday received Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi in Al-Yamamah Palace in Riyadh.

They “reviewed fraternal relations between the Kingdom and Lebanon and confirmed the importance of the role of different religions and cultures in promoting tolerance, and renouncing violence and terrorism,” the Saudi Press Agency said.

After the meeting, the patriarch said: “I can assure you that we are returning carrying an ode of love for the country and we must work together, each from his own position … in order to portray the beautiful face of Lebanon, which we need very much.”

Nothing should affect relations between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, the patriarch said. “And even if special circumstances occurred, they should not affect the current friendship. And this is what we heard today from the king and the crown prince.”

The meeting was attended by Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif; Musaid Al-Aiban, minister of state and member of the Cabinet; Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir; and Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer Al-Sabhan.

The patriarch also met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Lebanon’s ambassador to the Kingdom, Abdul Sattar Issa, said Al-Rahi was very happy to have met the king and crown prince during his first ever visit to Saudi Arabia.

“The patriarch discussed religious and cultural issues with the king and crown prince, and explored ways to strengthen cooperation between the religious bodies of the two countries,” Issa told Arab News. This is the start of future exchanges of visits, he added.

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who resigned last week, also met with Al-Rahi, but the meeting was held away from the media, Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) reported. The patriarch described the meeting as “very nice.”

Al-Rahi said Hariri conveyed that “he’s ready to resume his job, but there needs to be discussions with… Lebanese leaders about the issues that made him resign.”

If and when Hariri decides to return to Lebanon, the patriarch said: “A new era would begin, God willing, and a new march. Let us always look forward.”

Al-Rahi declared his backing for Hariri and said he supported the reasons for Hariri’s resignation.

“I am fully convinced by the reasons for his resignation,” the patriarch said. “He was expressing something he felt in his heart and experience. He will return to Lebanon as soon as possible.”

Hariri confirmed this. “Everybody, I’m totally fine. God willing, I’ll be back in these two days. Let’s calm down,” he said on social media. He said his family would remain in Saudi Arabia, which was “their country.”

Riyadh Gov. Prince Faisal bin Bandar held a luncheon banquet in honor of Al-Rahi and his delegation.

It was attended by Riyadh Deputy Gov. Prince Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Abdul Aziz; Faisal bin Abdul Aziz Al-Sudairy, undersecretary of the Riyadh governorate; Suhmi bin Shuwaimi bin Fawiz, special adviser and general supervisor of the office of Riyadh’s governor; Riyadh Mayor Ibrahim Al-Sultan; and other senior officials, the SPA reported.

“We hope to meet in Lebanon, and that Lebanon lives in security and stability,” said Prince Faisal.

“The purpose of the mutual visits is to establish a new policy… under the leadership of King Salman and the dear brothers in Lebanon.”

Al-Rahi told reporters: “We were honored to meet King Salman and the crown prince. We crowned the visit by meeting the governor of Riyadh, whom we thank for his love. What we heard, both from the king and the crown prince… was the ode of Saudi love of Lebanon.”

The patriarch added: “The king never stopped talking about Lebanon, and expressed his big love of Lebanon and his hope in the continuous support of Lebanon.”

The king and crown prince talked about “their respect for the Lebanese community in the Kingdom, especially that they’re active and have contributed in building the Kingdom which is dear to them, and they love and respect its laws and traditions,” Al-Rahi said.

“We must work together… in order to portray the beautiful face of Lebanon, which we need very much.”

Al-Rahi said “nothing should affect” bilateral relations, “and this is what we heard from the king, the crown prince and the governor of Riyadh.”

The patriarch said his visit highlighted the strong cultural links between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

During a community reception hosted in honor of Al-Rahi at the Lebanese Embassy, he said he was very happy to visit the Kingdom.

Thanking the king and crown prince for the invitation, Al-Rahi said Saudi Arabia had contributed immensely to supporting and building Lebanon economically and politically, and had helped the country strengthen its security and stability.

Al-Rahi left Riyadh on Tuesday evening for church meetings at the Vatican.


‘Because I can’: ride-hailing app welcomes Saudi women drivers

Updated 25 June 2018
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‘Because I can’: ride-hailing app welcomes Saudi women drivers

  • The Dubai-based ride-hailing app, along with global behemoth Uber, say they would begin to hire women
  • Seventy percent of Careem’s customers in Saudi Arabia are women

RIYADH: Reem Farahat waited for a ride request. Her phone pinged. “I’ve already cried twice,” she said, heading out to work as one of Saudi Arabia’s first female drivers for Careem.
The Dubai-based ride-hailing app, along with global behemoth Uber, reacted to Saudi King Salman’s September announcement of an end to the Kingdom’s ban on female motorists by saying it would begin to hire women.
On Sunday, when the king’s decree took effect, nearly a dozen Careem “captainahs” — all Saudi women — were ready to pick up riders.
“This morning, when I got in the car, I felt the tears coming,” Reem said as she stocked her car with chilled water bottles for her riders.
“I pulled the car over and cried. I could not believe that we now drive... It’s a dream. I thought it would be totally normal, I’d just get in the car and go. I was surprised by my own reaction.”
She took a long pause.
“I didn’t expect it,” she said. “I’m doing this because I can. Because someone has to start.”
Seventy percent of Careem’s customers in Saudi Arabia are women, according to company statistics, a figure largely attributable to the Kingdom’s now-obsolete ban on women driving.
Uber puts its equivalent figure closer to 80 percent.
At Careem’s offices on Sunday, staff gathered to celebrate the women’s first day on the job.
Farahat’s first ride request came just hours after the ban was officially lifted.
“This is my first ride. I’m excited. I’m excited to know who I’m picking up, what their reaction is going to be,” she said.
The driver — who also works with her father as a quality control consultant, is training in life coaching, and scuba dives with her sister off the Red Sea city of Jeddah — picked up Leila Ashry from a local cafe.
Walking toward the car, Leila spotted Reem, did a little jump of joy on the sidewalk, and was already chatting as she opened the door.
“Oh my god I can’t believe it’s you. I can’t believe you’re here. I can’t believe I’m here,” Leila said.
“I’ve been tweeting to my friends that my ride is coming and it’s a woman! And you’re so pretty! And I can sit in the front now — wait, can I actually sit in the front next to you?“
Some 2,000 women have signed up to get their Careem licenses since September, said Abdulla Elyas, co-founder and CPO — “chief people officer” — of the ride-hailing app. They are all Saudi women, from their 20s to their 50s.
Uber also plans to introduce women drivers to their service this autumn.
“They come from completely different backgrounds,” Elyas told AFP.
“We have women who have degrees, a master’s degree. We have women who have no degree at all. We have women who want to do this full time. We have women who want to do this part time (for) an additional income, who are already working.”
Most of those who had been licensed by Sunday, like Reem, had permits from foreign countries, enabling them to skip driving courses and take the final exam for a Saudi license.
The “captainahs” can pick up any customer, man or woman.
Both the driver and rider have the right to end the ride at any point.
Leila, a young medical student with a pixie cut and bright smile, says she would still choose a woman.
“This automatically feels a lot safer... being a female and dealing with sexism on a day-to-day basis. There’s just something about it that feels wonderful. But it’s not only that. It’s also women joining the workforce,” she said.
Sitting in the front passenger seat, she recalled previous rides with male drivers.
“Before, sometimes they would stare at me from the mirror,” she said.
“It’s just like that thing we share with women, where we just automatically understand what it’s like to be in that position where you feel their eyes on you but you can’t say anything, you can’t do anything against it.”
She turned to chat to Reem, and sang a riff from a West Side Story tune before saying: “If you can do it, then I can do it.”
“See? That’s what I was talking about,” Reem said. “It’s that ripple effect.”