Saudi women take the wheel, test-driving a new freedom

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A Saudi woman leaves a car during a driving training at a university in Jeddah. (Reuters)
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A Saudi woman has a driving lesson in Jeddah. Saudi Arabia’s historic decision in September 2017 to allow women to drive from June has been cheered inside the kingdom and abroad. (AFP)
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A Saudi woman receives a driving lesson from an Italian instructor in Jeddah. Saudi Arabia’s historic decision in September 2017 to allow women to drive from June has been cheered inside the kingdom and abroad. (AFP)
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A Saudi woman awaits her Italian driving instructor during a lesson in Jeddah. Saudi Arabia’s historic decision in September 2017 to allow women to drive from June has been cheered inside the kingdom and abroad. (AFP)
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A woman sits in a car during a training at a university in Jeddah. (AN photo)
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A Saudi woman gestures as she sits in a car during a driving training at a university in Jeddah. (Reuters)
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A Saudi woman has a driving lesson in Jeddah. Saudi Arabia’s historic decision in September 2017 to allow women to drive from June has been cheered inside the kingdom and abroad. (AFP)
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A Saudi woman awaits her Italian driving instructor during a lesson in Jeddah. Saudi Arabia’s historic decision in September 2017 to allow women to drive from June has been cheered inside the kingdom and abroad. (AFP)
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Participants of a driver training session pose for a group photo. (AN photo)
Updated 08 March 2018
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Saudi women take the wheel, test-driving a new freedom

JEDDAH: Fatima Salem giggled with hesitation when it was her turn to drive through a small car park lined with bright orange cones and arrows. Like millions of Saudi women, she will apply for a driver’s license in June — but first she has to learn how to drive.
“I’m a little nervous,” the 30-year-old master’s student said.
Francesca Pardini, an Italian former racing driver, helped to  calm her nerves, reminding Salem to check the mirrors and buckle up. Once on the road, Pardini reached over to help straighten out the wheel after a left turn, and they both lurched forward when Salem stepped on the brakes before a stop sign.
Effat University in Jeddah organized the sessions for students to learn the basics of how to operate a car. For most of the young women, the hour-long training, sponsored by Ford Motor, is the first time they have sat in the driver’s seat. Universities across Saudi Arabia are expected to offer women full driving courses once the rules and guidelines from the government are announced.
“I felt out of place. I’ve never sat on that side of the car. Usually, I always sit in the back or on the right side, but it felt good. You feel, like, in control,” said Sara Ghouth, 18. “I want to drive a car. I want to be independent.”
Car companies see the lifting of the ban on women driving in June as an opportunity to promote their brands and increase sales.
Ford’s Driving Skills for Life program, a one-time session that focuses on safety, has been taught around the world, and to male drivers in Saudi Arabia, but this is the first time the company has taught women-only groups.
“With these girls, they’re like an empty book,” Pardini, the Italian trainer with Ford, told The Associated Press. “They really want to learn.”
Before the training began this week, Ford conducted surveys with women across Saudi Arabia to better understand what they are looking for in a car and how to market their brand to the new drivers.
“The first thing we don’t want to do is be patronizing. This isn’t about lip gloss and nail polish and things like that. These are educated women,” said Crystal Worthem, a marketing manager with Ford.
Worthem said Ford “absolutely” expects a lift in sales as Saudi women start driving this summer. She says some women are already purchasing cars for when the ban is lifted, while others own the cars they are driven around in.
“Women have always been in our showrooms, but now women are actively shopping for themselves, which is exciting,” she said. “It’s a car that they can drive and not a car that they’ll be riding in.”
Amal Al-Jihani, 23, an architecture student, said her biggest supporter encouraging her to drive is her father, who has promised to give her one of the family’s used cars when she’s ready for the road. Her 16-year-old brother already drives.
“My mom is refusing the idea of us driving. She says it’s dangerous and she’ll let us drive when we’re married,” Al-Jihani said, laughing. “My dad tells her she’ll relax when she sees everyone else driving.
Joanna Al-Fattani, 19, relies on services such as Uber to go most places. To get to and from college, she has two different drivers. She said a lot of women are nervous about the idea of driving alongside men on the roads, but she’s looking forward to the freedom.
“It’s such an important announcement. Everybody needed this. Now is the right time to do it,” she said.
The President of Effat University, Dr. Haifa Jamal Al-Lail, said women driving would offer them more opportunities to join the workforce. “It’s not a simple societal change,” she said. “It’s time to take the wheel and drive to our heart’s content.
“Effat University always leads things and gives women opportunities that have never been offered to them before. This initiative is one of those opportunities, we’re offering it gradually.
“We’re making sure that the students, staff, and faculty learn the basics before going into real driving.”


Saudi Arabia’s up-and-coming energy park set to transform KSA into a global industrial powerhouse

Situated in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province, between Dammam and Al-Ahsa, the project will be developed in three phases. (Supplied)
Updated 12 December 2018
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Saudi Arabia’s up-and-coming energy park set to transform KSA into a global industrial powerhouse

  • The first phase is scheduled for completion by 2021
  • SPARK will localize more than 300 new industrial services and facilities and will have specialized training centers to cater to the huge influx of manpower

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia is fast catching up with the world’s ever-growing energy and technology scene ahead of 2030. In fact, the King Salman Energy Park (SPARK) may soon prove a global destination for energy industry investors.

The new energy city mega-project is being developed by Saudi Aramco, which received authoritization to embark on the initiative in the summer, and is operated, managed and maintained in partnership with the Saudi Authority for Industrial Cities and Technology Zones (MODON). 

With projections that the megacity will create more than 100,000 jobs, it is considered one of the most up-and-coming energy parks in the world.

SPARK will localize more than 300 new industrial services and facilities and will have specialized training centers to cater to the huge influx of manpower.

Situated in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province, between Dammam and Al-Ahsa, the project will be developed in three phases. 

The first phase is scheduled for completion by 2021, while the final phase of the project is set for completion in 2035. With all this on track, the 50-square-kilometer project is poised to be a magnet for foreign and domestic investment. 

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman inaugurated the King Salman Energy Park at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) on Monday. (SPA)

What’s more, Aramco’s espousal of SPARK will also help businesses indulge in technological development, manufacturing and exports channels and build a world-class energy supply chain. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman inaugurated the King Salman Energy Park at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) on Monday.

During the groundbreaking ceremony, Energy Minister and Aramco Chairman Khalid Al-Falih declared SPARK a special economic zone (SEZ) in which businesses can enjoy exclusive benefits. 

“We are looking forward to collaborating with our first anchor partners at SPARK,” said Saudi Aramco President and CEO, Amin Nasser.

SPARK has already attracted investment from foreign and local companies to produce and manufacture goods and services. The first phase of the project is expected to cost about $1.6 billion. 

The park is set to attract industrial investors in the water, power, petrochemical and wastewater sectors, among others. 

Facilities at SPARK will also help investors bridge gaps in local production back home, increasing competition in the long run. 

“This energy city is exciting because it brings together a multitude of businesses,” Mark McCollum, president and CEO of Weatherford Corp, told SPARK.

“We firmly believe that collaboration and cooperation among service companies and individual providers to the energy sector is vital in breaking new ground.”

The King Salman Energy Park is also set to promote small and medium-sized enterprises. With focus on energy production, it also provides opportunities for investment in residential and commercial real estate projects.

Nasser said that the “King Salman Energy Park will spur a new era of growth for one of the Kingdom’s already thriving sectors. What’s more, it will serve as a central gateway to the region’s economies since Aramco is at the heart of the global oil and gas industry.”