Traditional neighborhood at Saudi Arabia’s Souq Okaz takes Arab culture back to the future

The souq represents an important chapter in the history of the Arabs before Islam. It was more than a trade fair, serving as a cultural, social, economic and political gathering of Arabs. SPA
Updated 04 July 2018
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Traditional neighborhood at Saudi Arabia’s Souq Okaz takes Arab culture back to the future

  • The Saudi Wildlife Authority has offered visitors the opportunity to be introduced to the Kingdom’s diverse wildlife and the resettlement of endangered species in reserves
  • The countries taking part in the souq’s Arab neighborhood are Oman, the UAE and Egypt

JEDDAH: The Arab neighborhood at the 12th edition of Souq Okaz features contributions from three guest nations of authentic examples of Arab culture and heritage.
The diverse events and activities include crafts, traditional industries and folk shows, all of which help highlight the importance of Arab culture and tradition, and encourage visitors to learn more.
Souq Okaz is a unique tourism destination in Taif, and is considered one of the most important in the Kingdom. It has become a go-to annual event for those wishing to discover Saudi Arabia’s roots.
The countries taking part in the souq’s Arab neighborhood are Oman, the UAE and Egypt.
This year’s edition, which will end on July 13, was opened under the patronage of King Salman, with Egypt the honorary guest.
Its supervisor, Nasser Al-Abdullah, said that it has three sections. The crafts section features five craftsmen from the three countries, including: Silverware, textile and candy craftsmen from Oman; sadu (a traditional form of Bedouin weaving), millstone and sewing from the UAE; and embroidery, silverware and copper carving from Egypt.
He said that shows from Egypt, the UAE and Oman are held every 30 minutes on the stage at the International Crafts and Folk Arts section in the Arab neighborhood.
The souq is also presenting three culturally significant plays on its stages. Director Khalil Kareem said they feature more than 250 actors and performers, 90 percent of whom are Saudis.
The first play is about the Mu’allaqat poets, including Al-Nabigha Al-Dhubyani, Imru’ Al-Qais, Zuhayr bin Abi Sulma, Al-A’sha, Labid bin Rabi’ah and Antarah bin Shaddad. The second tells the stories of important historic events in the region, and the third explores the history of Souq Okaz through stories set there.
In addition, there are exhibitions featuring input from eight private museums, including one that showcases the heritage and tools of Bedouins, including coffee equipment and incense burners.
There is also a live show about the hospitality and traditions of Hail.
Another exhibition includes old tools and equipment traditionally used in education, along with information about school nutrition, homework, school-seating etiquette and uniforms, as well as the wooden boards on which students wrote with coal rather than chalk.
A third exhibition is a treat for coffee lovers who can sample different varieties while learning about the history and development of the drink, along with information about growing the beans, the trade in them and the role the drink plays in traditions and customs.
There is another display featuring historical documents and photographs that were used to record important events in the Kingdom’s history, especially in newspapers, and an exhibition of traditional weapons from different eras, including rifles, swords, spears, daggers, knives, darts, a silver sword and ammunition.
Many tourists from around the world visit the souq, which has provided a unique historical and artistic forum gathering intellectuals and people interested in literature and culture.
The souq represents an important chapter in the history of the Arabs before Islam. It was more than a trade fair, serving as a cultural, social, economic and political gathering of Arabs.
The Saudi Wildlife Authority (SWA) has offered visitors the opportunity to be introduced to the Kingdom’s diverse wildlife and the resettlement of endangered species in reserves.
The Taif Industrial Secondary Institute is also participating in the festival with a pavilion displaying models designed and produced by the institute’s students.
The pavilion features a section dedicated to carpentry and welding, where visitors are introduced to furniture, windows, doors and bedrooms made from the finest wood.
One of the main attractions during the 12th edition of the event is the Sadu and traditional carpets pavilion. Visitors can see hand-embroidered clothes for children, face covers for women, as well as tassels for horses, and special items for weddings and religious events.
Mutlaq Al-Jahid, one of the organizers of the horse march and knights in Okaz Avenue, said the marches organized by a number of knights who represent all Arabian tribes strongly confirm the harmony between all tribes.
Raja Al-Otaibi, organizer of the cultural activities and events at Souq Okaz, said: “We have worked this year on utilizing modern technology and using interactive systems such as light, sound and décor, and all the requirements that concern the seminars and lectures of the Souq Okaz festival.”
He added: “Souq Okaz’s activities are more special in content and organization this year.” He expected a large audience for Souq Okaz this year; it has become a big Saudi event everyone should be proud of.
Each year, the souq hands out 12 pan-Arab awards, including for poetry, handicrafts, creativity, photography, folkloric art, theatrics and creativity, fine arts and entrepreneurship. The value of the prizes totals SR2.2 million ($586,510) annually.


How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

Dr. Fatima Alakeel, cybersecurity expert. (AN photo)
Updated 20 March 2019
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How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

  • ‘Securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,’ says Dr. Fatema Alakeel of King Saud University in Riyadh
  • ‘Saudi women are ambitious,’ says one graduate. ‘We are acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers’

DUBAI: More and more girls in Saudi Arabia are opting for an education in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and now the challenge is finding them employment, said Dr. Fatima Alakeel, a cybersecurity expert and faculty member at King Saud University (KSU) in Riyadh.
“In the Kingdom, STEM-related jobs are limited at the moment, as the economy is primarily oil-based and there are few technical jobs available,” said Alakeel, who is also the founder and CEO of the non-profit Confidentiality, Integrity & Availability Group (CIAG), which focuses on information security training and research in Riyadh.
According to a government report on the labor market situation in the third quarter of 2018, more than 30 percent of Saudi women aged between 15 and 65 are unemployed.
Among them, the highest rate of unemployment is among 20-24-year-olds (more than 70 percent) and among 25-29-year-olds (55 percent).
According to the report, there are 923,504 Saudi jobseekers, of whom 765,378 are women (82.2 percent).
“We have more girls in STEM education compared to Western countries,” said Alakeel, who completed her doctoral degree in computer science in the UK at the University of Southampton in 2017.
According to a report prepared by the Saudi Education Ministry, girls accounted for 57 percent of undergraduates for the year 2015-2016 in the Kingdom.
That same year, women outnumbered men in graduating with a bachelor’s in biology, information technology (IT), mathematics and statistics, and physics.
According to a survey Alakeel recently conducted on social media, “almost 80 percent of (Saudi) girls were keen to study STEM, but securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,” she said.
Maha Al-Taleb, 22, graduated earlier this year with a degree in technology from KSU, specializing in IT networks and security.
“It’s common for girls in the Kingdom to opt for STEM education,” said Al-Taleb, who now works in a public sector company in Riyadh as a junior information security analyst.
“Saudi women are ambitious. We’re acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers. I don’t know why the world assumes that Saudi women are a backward tribal species who have no say in these matters. This entire perception is flawed.”
Al-Taleb got a job offer immediately after university, but realizes that not all her peers are as fortunate. Women “are facing problems in securing jobs, not because companies don’t want to hire us, but because employment for Saudi youths is a major challenge,” she said.
“In today’s Saudi Arabia, parents are encouraging their daughters to get a degree not just in the Kingdom; they also want them to go to Western universities. It has become a common phenomenon. Things have changed. Women are a crucial part of the nation’s development process.”
Not all women graduating in the Kingdom are as lucky, among them Razan Al-Qahtani. “It has been several months since I graduated, yet I haven’t been able to find a job. It has been a struggle so far,” said the 25-year-old IT graduate. “We have more talented and qualified girls, especially in the field of technology, but there are few jobs available. It’s a difficult situation, but we’re hopeful things will change very soon.”
Al-Qahtani expressed confidence that the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan will bring opportunities for qualified Saudis.
As part of Vision 2030, the government has committed to raise employment among Saudi women.
Alakeel said the government is working hard to find a solution, and it is only a matter of time until more such jobs are on offer.
“As per Vision 2030, there will be more jobs, including technical jobs, available in the country. Once we have more jobs, women will eventually get their due share,” she added. According to Alakeel, female empowerment and promotion to leading roles have made huge progress in Saudi Arabia, and this may affect existing STEM job opportunities.
“We’re glad to see Her Royal Highness Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud becoming the first female ambassador of the country. It only suggests change is on the way,” Alakeel said.
Al-Taleb expressed pride in the way her parents have supported her, saying: “My father isn’t educated and my mother has basic literacy, but both provided me with the education I desired. They want their daughters to be as successful as their sons.”
Like women in any country, the transition from university to the workplace is not always easy, even for young Saudi women with technology degrees. Yet they are not losing hope.
“We realize these are difficult times in terms of employment, especially in technology-related fields, but things will change,” Al-Taleb said. “Saudi women will soon be ruling the fields of STEM all over the country.”