Pakistani envoy to Riyadh praises Arab News’ bid to bring regions closer

Updated 09 February 2018
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Pakistani envoy to Riyadh praises Arab News’ bid to bring regions closer

JEDDAH: Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Khan Hasham bin Saddique, has congratulated Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas on the launch of the newspaper’s Pakistan edition.
“I congratulate you (Abbas) and your team on the successful launch of the Arab News online edition in Pakistan,” said Hasham bin Saddique in a message addressed to the editor in chief on Thursday.
“The strategic significance of Pakistan, and the historic ties that Pakistan shares with Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, make it a very suitable choice for the launch of an international edition,” he said.
“It will play a key role in bringing together the two regions, specifically Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and will enhance bilateral relations,” said the Riyadh-based ambassador.
“Arab News is an influential newspaper in the Arab world and has a wide readership across the globe,” said Hasham bin Saddique.
“The launch of the Pakistan edition will help in sharing the message of peace, goodwill and brotherhood to the world community,” he said.
“It will also improve understanding by the two countries’ populations, not only of their decades-old fraternal ties but also of their individual and joint efforts to achieve peace and security in the region,” he added.
“Modern digital media has a very significant role to play in bringing the world together for the common cause of the betterment of mankind, and I hope that you and your team will successfully rise to this challenge,” he said. 
“I also pray for your success, and wish that Arab News will reach new heights under your leadership.”
Pakistan’s Consul General in Jeddah, Shehryar Akbar Khan, lauded the role of Arab News in promoting bilateral relations through its media support. He commended Abbas and his team for the successful launch of the Pakistan edition.
Announcing the launch of the Pakistan online edition on Thursday, Abbas described the move as part of the newspaper’s ongoing global and digital expansion.
The service — available in English at www.arabnews.pk — covers news and views from Pakistan and the wider region, with a particular focus on Islamabad’s ties with Saudi Arabia and the Arab world.
Abbas said the new service aims to develop “a two-way conversation with an extremely important target market for us.” 
He cited the strategic significance of Pakistan, and the historic ties it shares with Saudi Arabia and the Middle East in general.
“Arab News is already a recognizable brand among many Pakistanis, given its deeply rooted relationship with the huge expat community in Saudi Arabia, where our newspaper was founded in 1975,” Abbas said.
“There are numerous shared ambitions, opportunities and areas of common interest between Pakistan and Arab countries, from religion and culture to defense and trade ties. All of these areas will be covered extensively by our new dedicated digital service.”


How ‘Absher’ app liberates Saudis from government bureaucracy

Updated 3 min 16 sec ago
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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.”