Balqees Fathi shines at Saudi Arabia's first female-only concert

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Yemeni-Emirati singer Balqees Fathi presented a scintillating performance at the Jeddah Hilton on Wednesday. (Photo/GEA)
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Yemeni-Emirati singer Balqees Fathi presented a scintillating performance at the Jeddah Hilton on Wednesday. (Photo/GEA)
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Yemeni-Emirati singer Balqees Fathi presented a scintillating performance at the Jeddah Hilton on Wednesday. (Photo/GEA)
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Yemeni-Emirati singer Balqees Fathi presented a scintillating performance at the Jeddah Hilton on Wednesday. (Photo/GEA)
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Yemeni-Emirati singer Balqees Fathi presented a scintillating performance at the Jeddah Hilton on Wednesday. (Photo/GEA)
Updated 01 December 2017

Balqees Fathi shines at Saudi Arabia's first female-only concert

JEDDAH: The Yemeni-Emirati singer Balqees Fathi captivated the audience during the first female-only concert in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

“Good evening, in the good land where my husband was born and my son will be from,” she told the crowd at the Jeddah waterfront.

The concert began with the Saudi national anthem followed by the Emirati anthem. Balqees then sang national songs of Saudi Arabia, including traditional numbers, as well as her own songs.

The General Entertainment Authority (GEA) had announced in advance of the concert at the Hilton Hotel in Jeddah that it was part of the celebrations of the 46th National Day of the UAE, under the slogan “Together Forever.”

Ghada Ghazzawi, owner of GAG, the concert organizing company, told Arab News that 3,000 tickets had been sold, with ticket prices varying between SR2,500, SR600, SR400 and SR300.

“Ten days before the concert, we started selling tickets, and during the first six hours a very large number of them were sold,” Ghazzawi said.

“As for the organizing, we had some reservations as it was the first-ever female-only concert in Saudi Arabia. We prevented mobile phones from being brought to the concert hall to create a comfortable environment for the women to have a good time,” she said.

Ghazzawi said that the turnout was huge. “We hope to have more upcoming parties,” she said.

Randa Al-Sheikh, a broadcaster at Radio Jeddah, described the event as historic. "It’s a radical change. I feel that we have broken a barrier that existed in Saudi Arabia.”

“The ladies were very happy and we wish for more concerts in the future. The start with Balqees was a great success. The organization was good and we want more such events,” Al-Sheikh said.

Khairiyya Abu Laban, a social media influencer, said: “I felt cold at the beginning of the concert but I could not stay still when the second song started. I got so excited. The atmosphere was pleasant and the songs were beautiful.”

Samar Mohammed, a 24-year-old media graduate, said that she did not feel that this was strange or new experience. “The atmosphere was like any traditional Saudi wedding party, but the new thing was the presence of a famous singer, the purchase of tickets and thousands of fans who were shouting enthusiastically.“

Captain Rima, a broadcaster and presenter of radio and television programs, said: “I feel that it's a dream to see this concert in Saudi Arabia.”

“We had so much fun. The audience did not want to leave because they enjoyed it so much. What proves the success of the entertainment body (GEA) is that today is Wednesday and tomorrow is a working day. However, the hall is crowded, and the time is very late. The audience is ready to go to work the next day without sleep because they are attending an event they had hoped for in Saudi Arabia for a long time,” Rima said. “I hope to attend a concert by Nawal Al-Kuwaitia in the future,” she said.

Randa Turkistani, a presenter at MixFM Radio, said that she had expected many women would attend the concert, “but to be so enjoyable that the audience sings half of the songs with Balqees is not what I ever expected,” she said.

How ‘Absher’ app liberates Saudis from government bureaucracy

The Absher website also provides information on how to report wanted persons, or administrative or financial corruption. (Supplied)
Updated 17 February 2019

How ‘Absher’ app liberates Saudis from government bureaucracy

  • Western media mistaken in portraying app as a tool of repression, leading female journalist says

JEDDAH: Absher, the “one-click” e-services app launched by the Interior Ministry in 2015, is now regarded as the leading government platform for Saudi citizens, freeing them from bureaucratic inefficiency and endless queuing for everyday services.
However, in a recent New York Times article, the app was criticized as a “tool of repression” following claims by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and women’s rights groups.
Apple and Google were urged to remove the application from their devices over claims that it “enables abhorrent surveillance and control of women.”
In an official statement, the ministry rejected the allegations and said the Absher platform centralized more than 160 different services for all members of society, including women, the elderly and people with special needs.
The app makes electronic government services available for beneficiaries to access directly at any time and from any place in the Kingdom, the ministry said.
Absher allows residents of the Kingdom to make appointments, renew IDs, passports, driver’s licenses, car registration and other services with one click.
Many Saudis still recall having to queue at government agencies, such as passport control offices and civil affairs departments, for a variety of official procedures. Appointments could take weeks to arrange, with people relying on their green files, or “malaf allagi” — the 1980s and 1990s paper form of Absher that was known as the citizen’s “lifeline,” both figuratively and literally.
Hours would be spent as government departments ferried files back and forth, and if a form was lost, the whole transaction process would have to start again. As complicated as it was for men, women suffered more.
Muna Abu Sulayman, an award-winning strategy adviser and media personality, told Arab News the introduction of Absher had helped strengthen women’s rights.
Sulayman said she was disappointed at comments on the e-services platform being made abroad. “There are consequences that people don’t understand. It’s a very idealistic and naive way of understanding what is going on,” she said.
“The discussion on the guardianship law is internal and ongoing — it is something that has to be decided by our society and not as a result of outside pressure. We’re making strides toward equality and Absher is a step in the right direction,” she said.
“In a Twitter survey, I asked how many women have access to their guardian’s Absher. Most answered that they control their own fate. Men who don’t believe in controlling women gave them access to their Absher and that shows an increase in the participation of women in their own decision-making.”
Absher also provides services such as e-forms, dealing with Hajj eligibility, passport control, civil affairs, public services, traffic control, and medical appointments at government hospitals.
The platform is available to all men and women, and removes much of the bureaucracy and time wasting associated with nonautomated administrative systems.
On the issue of granting women travel permits, the law requires a male guardian to grant it through the portal, as well as for men under the age of 21.
Retired King Abdullah University professor Dr. Zainab M. Zain told Arab News: “I always had issues with my passport renewal as well as my children’s as they are both non-Saudi. For years it was risky not to follow up properly at passport control — you never knew what could happen, but now I can renew their permits by paying their fees online through Absher from the comfort of my home in Abu Dhabi.”
Ehsanul Haque, a Pakistani engineer who has lived in the Kingdom for more than 30 years, said: “Absher has helped tremendously with requests, such as exit and entry visas for my family and myself. I can receive approval within an hour whereas once it would’ve taken me days,” he said.
“The platform has eased many of my troubles.”
The Absher website also provides information on how to report wanted persons, or administrative or financial corruption.
In April, 2018, the ministry launched “Absher Business,” a technical initiative to transfer its business services to an interactive digital system.
With an annual fee of SR2,000 ($533), business owners such as Marwan Bukhary, owner of Gold Sushi Club Restaurant in Jeddah, used the portal to help manage his workers’ needs in his expanding business.
“There are many features in Absher that helps both individual and establishment owners,” he said. “I took advantage of the great features it provided, and it saved me a lot of time and trouble and also my restaurant workers. It’s a dramatic change. When Absher Business was launched last year, it organized how I needed to manage my workers’ work permits.
“Through the system, I could see the status of all my employees, renew their permits, grant their exit and entry visas, and have their permits delivered to my house or my business through the post after paying the fees. It saved business owners a lot of time and energy.
“I used to have to do everything manually myself or have my courier help. I believe it’s the government’s most advanced system yet with more features being added every now and then,” Bukhary said.
“Absher has eased our burden, unlike the old days when we needed to visit government offices and it would take four weeks just to get an appointment. One click is all it takes now.”