Saudi village of Rijal Alma prepares to join UNESCO World Heritage List

Rijal Almaa heritage village in Asir Province. (SPA)
Updated 04 August 2018

Saudi village of Rijal Alma prepares to join UNESCO World Heritage List

  • Rijal Almaa, which won the Prince Sultan bin Salman Award for Urban Heritage in 2007, has become a tourist destination for those visiting the region of Asir
  • The residents’ initiatives to preserve their village are driven by an awareness of its history, culture, nature and moderate climate

JEDDAH: The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) prepared the file of Rijal Almaa heritage village in Asir and handed it over to the UNESCO World Heritage Center in January 2018.

The village of Rijal Almaa had won the Prince Sultan bin Salman Award for Urban Heritage in 2007 and has become a tourist destination for those visiting the region of Asir. This importance comes as a result of the numerous historical, cultural, heritage and natural factors, and the hospitality and culture of its residents.

The residents’ initiatives to preserve their village are driven by an awareness of its history, culture, nature and moderate climate — the main reasons behind the decision to rehabilitate and develop the village of Rijal Almaa.

Those elements were the driving factor for a general plan for the development of the village, including its infrastructure, in addition to creating economic opportunities of heritage value that benefit the villagers.

The development plan was the result of the collaboration between many parties that included the SCTH, the authorities of Asir region, a number of government and service agencies in addition to the villagers.

Rijal Almaa witnessed many stages of development. At first came the open theater, which can hold up to 1,000 people, as well as the surrounding areas that are mainly shopping places that showcase the village’s famous products. 

Green spaces were increased by about 7,000 square meters, in addition to 15 canopies, family gatherings at the village entrance and the lighting of the highway leading to the village.

The Commission has taken an interest in the registering of heritage sites considering it “an activity that contributes in shedding light on the Kingdom’s cultural heritage worldwide, in preserving this diverse history, archaeological sites and heritage that enrich the Kingdom and in rehabilitating these sites according to the standards of specialized international organizations.”

The SCTH’s efforts to register heritage and archaeological sites to the Urban Heritage list fall under Kingdom’s Cultural Heritage Care program that includes a system of projects and programs to develop, highlight and preserve national heritage sites.

The Commission has allocated a department, which is a part of the Commission’s antiquities sector concerned with the registering of site in with UNESCO. This department has specialized people and experts in the field and is directly supervised by Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, the Commission’s director.

Saudi Arabia first started registering sites when the government approved the registration of three sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2006. The SCTH later worked on the files of all three sites that were added to the list in 2008, 2010 and 2015, in addition to a fourth site that was registered in 2015. The fifth site was registered during the meeting of the World Heritage Committee held in Bahrain on June 29, 2018.

A royal decree approved the Commission’s request to register 10 new sites to the World Heritage list that included the Rijal Almaa village on Oct. 24, 2014. This came after the SCTH asked the organization to add the 10 sites to its preliminary list through the Kingdom’s permanent representative.

How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

Dr. Fatima Alakeel, cybersecurity expert. (AN photo)
Updated 20 March 2019

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.”