Keeping traditional cultures alive, Saudi Arabia's Janadriyah festival attracts thousands

The heritage oasis from various regions of the Kingdom and presentations by national and international organizations are good attractions drawing many visitors every day. (SPA)
Updated 16 February 2018

Keeping traditional cultures alive, Saudi Arabia's Janadriyah festival attracts thousands

RIYADH: Visitors from Saudi Arabia and around the world are participating in the 32nd Janadriyah National Heritage and Culture Festival, annually organized to celebrate Saudi Arabia’s lifestyle and the symbols of its identity.
The heritage oasis from various regions of the Kingdom and presentations by national and international organizations are good attractions drawing many visitors every day.
The 18-day-long festival, which opened last Wednesday with India as the guest of honor, is seeing a huge rush of visitors, both citizens and expatriates.

US Army delegation 'impressed'
A delegation from the US Army Command and Staff College said it was impressed by the cultural heritage and folklore of the Kingdom during their visit to the festival.
The delegation on Wednesday visited pavilions of the regions, governmental administrations and markets participating in Janadriyah.
Col. Rosenburger, one of the delegation’s members, praised the development renaissance the Kingdom is witnessing.

KAUST displays innovations and startup projects
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is displaying innovations and startup projects, most notably selective hydrogen generation technology as an alternative energy source, energy-efficient light bulbs developed in cooperation with SaNoor, drones, the smart suit, the supercomputer “Shaheen II,” and smart dental brace technology.
KAUST’s participation at Janadriyah this year also features documentaries depicting the university’s various laboratories and facilities specialized in the process of water desalination and the reuse of desalinated water in a sustainable way, harnessing state-of-art technologies and alternative energy sources.

87 trips for students to festival
The oasis of the Saudi Commission of Tourism and National Heritage has so far received more than 670 students from different parts of the Kingdom, Saudi Press Agency said.
The director of the “Live Saudi Arabia” program at the SCTH, Hatim Al-Ahmadi, said more than 87 tourist trips will be organized for students to the festival. He expected more than 3,900 students to visit Janadriyah through the program.
The program also allows teachers and educators to participate in community and voluntary activities organized during such visits, he said.

Traditional sesame oil mill from Jazan
The corner of a sesame processing mill in the heritage village has attracted a large number of visitors interested in the traditional methods of producing sesame oil.
Eisa Al-Rajhi, one of the participants displaying the traditional sesame processing mill, said they wanted to demonstrate the traditional methods that most people still use in Jazan and Asir Regions.

Precious stones pavilion a hit among visitors
The precious metals, industrial rocks and ornamental stones displayed at the pavilion of the Saudi Geological Survey drew plenty of attention.
The pavilion features samples of gold, precious metals, and aluminum ores along with samples of the most important industrial rocks and minerals such as granite and stones.
SGS spokesman Tareq Aba Al-Khail said the strategy for mining aims to increase the production of minerals, metals, and rare-earth elements to grow production tenfold because mining is one of the national economy’s strongest pillars.


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.”