Dhahran: Saudi energy capital with a prosperous past

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Dhahran’s King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture — commonly known as “Ithra” — hosts the 29th Arab League Summit on Sunday.
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Saudi mailmen take a break in Dhahran.
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Aramco officials meet bedouins in 1948.
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The Ithra Center is an iconic monument and a hub for knowledge and culture.
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Then-Crown Prince Saud bin Abdul Aziz’s son rides a horse during their visit to Dhahran in 1950.
Updated 16 April 2018
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Dhahran: Saudi energy capital with a prosperous past

  • Dhahran has witnessed and incubated numerous political and economic milestones in the history of Saudi Arabia
  • Dhahran had been the home and headquarters of Saudi Aramco for the past 80 years

JEDDAH: Dhahran is hosting the 29th Arab League Summit at King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, commonly known as “Ithra”. The Aramco initiative is an iconic monument, a hub for knowledge and culture, and an incubator for arts, science and innovation. The center is located near the Well of Prosperity, where oil was first discovered.

King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture
King Salman first inaugurated King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in November 2016, marking Aramco’s 75th Anniversary.
The Ithra Center is 90 meters high, and covers 45,000 square meters. Ithra has a modern library, an archive gallery, the IDEAlab for innovation, an energy exhibition, a children’s museum and an extensive museum on the Kingdom’s natural history, contemporary arts and theater.
The Knowledge Tower looks over the surrounding facilities with its immaculate design; its main purpose, however, is to offer educational programs for pioneers in all fields, in hopes of inspiring, enriching and exchanging cultures, while directing society toward a knowledge-based economy.
The Great Hall that will host the Arab leaders on Sunday is surrounded by an oasis an outer courtyard; decorated by a vegetal wall, a Roman stadium to host outdoors events, it covers 1,600 square meters with floors made of recycled bamboo wood. It has housed countless cultural exhibits and global summits, targeting 500,000 visitors annually.

Snohetta
The international architecture, interior design, brand design and landscape architecture company designed Ithra. Founded in 1989, the Oslo-based company is famous for the reconstruction of New York’s Times Square in 2017, the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet house in Olso and Bibliotheca Alexandria (Library of Alexandria) in Egypt.
Snohetta participated in an architectural design competition in 2007 and was selected to design and overlook King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture.

Dhahran
Dhahran has witnessed and incubated numerous political and economic milestones in the history of the Kingdom. It is known for its importance in the field of energy, and it will forever be associated with the summit in the future, adding it to the list of historic imprints with the outcomes of the Arab League Summit.
The city is located in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, and forms part of the Dammam Metropolitan Area with Dammam and Alkhobar. It is commonly known as the home and headquarters of Saudi Aramco for the past 80 years.
It is rich in history and heritage, as well as having its own industrial imprint on the Kingdom today. It is known for its relevance in power generation and significance in the oil industry.
King Abdulaziz, the founder of Saudi Arabia, met with representatives of US oil companies in 1931, building the foundation for Saudi-American relations.
It also housed the first American consulate in the Kingdom in 1944, acting as the first diplomatic representation of the US in the Gulf region.
Due to its location and the importance it holds as a commercial city with Saudi Arabia’s busiest ports, it has received the utmost care and attention from the government and is considered substantial to the kingdom’s economy and the oil market globally.
As an oil manufacturer with Saudi Aramco on its heel, the city is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the Kingdom.
With Saudi Aramco’s base and compounds adding to its elegance and allure, it is relatively the cleanest and most organized of cities, resembling US cities with its modernity and fine neighborhoods.
Baleegh Abdullah, an Aramco employee based in Jeddah who has traveled to Dhahran frequently, told Arab News: “It’s a beautiful, modern city; I enjoy having some peace and quiet when I head there. It’s the exact opposite of Jeddah with its crowded streets.”
Meanwhile, Ahmad Abdulrahman from Yanbu, who studied at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran and lived there, said that the city seemed to have “coincidentally merged with Dammam and Alkhobar’s urban extension.”

History and war
On Oct. 19, 1940, during World War II, an Italian air force plane struck Dhahran while aiming for Bahrain, but there were no casualties.
In 1944, the US built an air base in the city with the construction taking two years before it was completed in 1946. The base remained in Saudi Arabia until 1962.
During the Gulf War, the city witnessed a large loss when an Iraqi missile hit US Army barracks in 1991, taking the lives of 28 Americans.

Well No. 7 and Max Steineke
When Standard Oil of California first discovered oil in Bahrain in 1932, it led to speculations on oil prospects in the Arab peninsula. By 1933, the Saudi government had allowed SoCal to explore for oil.
On arrival in Saudi Arabia to assist in the agreement signed with SoCal, Steineke climbed up the California-Arabian Standard Oil Company (CASOC, later became known as Aramco) ladder, becoming chief geologist by 1936. He asked diggers to start digging the seventh deep-test well. 10 months later, liters of oil were found.
In 1938, when SoCal decided to back out due to lack of results, Steineke managed to urge his superiors to wait until the results of the last drilling test well in Dammam, No. 7, leading to many more successful commercial oil ventures in Saudi Arabia. Steineke received the American Association of Petroleum Geologists’ Powers Award for his drilling methods, leading to further oil exploration in Saudi, and specifically Ghawar, the number one productive oil field in the world.

King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals
The prestigious university in Dhahran was founded in 1963 as College of Petroleum and Minerals by a royal decree in order to advance the high demand for petroleum and minerals. It was later elevated to university status in 1975 and renamed after King Fahd in 1986.
The university has an acceptance rate of 10 percent and is known to be the most selective in the Kingdom.
In 2015, it was named the top university in the Arab world via QS University Rankings as well as in 2016.


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
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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.”