Coffee and cats — the purr-fect combination at Jeddah cafe

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An exotic Scottish Fold enjoys the view as the cafe overlooks the sea. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Updated 28 October 2018
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Coffee and cats — the purr-fect combination at Jeddah cafe

  • The number of the cats is not limited; Waheed has a total of 16 cats but the ones in the cat lounge come and go
  • “People need to understand that animals have the right to live and be loved,” Waheed Mohammed said. “The streets are not the right place for them to live

JEDDAH: You love cats. You love coffee. How can you make these things even more enjoyable? By combining them, of course. That is the idea behind Cat Lounge, which offers customers something they probably never knew they needed: A chance to sip coffee in the company of cuddly, fuzzy cats.
The two-story café is in Al-Shatea district of Jeddah, overlooking the sea, which is the perfect location. The coffee is ordered and made on the ground floor, which is decorated with adorable feline figurines and paintings.
There is also a cozy and relaxing lounge, in every nook and cranny of which you will find more cat-related decorations and trinkets, such as paw prints on the floor and cat silhouettes on the light switches, which show how much thought and effort went into the design and decor of the place.
As cute as the kitty-themed artwork and decorations are, they are no substitute for the real thing. When it is your turn to meet the cats, you climb the stairs and walk through a door that keeps the cats in and allows the number of visitors to be controlled.
The crowd is controlled by giving numbered tokens when the visitors place their coffee orders; when the number comes they are escorted upstairs to where the cats are; the workers check their time on the token and each visitor has half an hour to spend time with the cats.
And that is when the real fun begins. You are greeted by cats of many breeds, colors and ages. Some quite rare breeds are included, including the Sphinx, the Bengal, and the exotic Scottish Fold.

Growing with cats
The cafe is the brainchild of Dr. Waheed Mohammed, a 30-year-old dentist, who has cared for his cats since they were kittens. “They grew up in my bedroom,” he said.
Dr. Waheed has been interested in animals ever since he was a child, and it is not just domestic cats he is passionate about; he has also cared for big cats, including lions, leopards, and elephants, he said.
This helps to explain why the cats in the café come running when he calls them and seem unperturbed by visitors, with each of them very well-behaved and affectionate.
The number of the cats is not limited; Waheed has a total of 16 cats but the ones in the cat lounge come and go. “My favorite cat is Bluereen,” said Dr. Wahid. “She is a white Maine Coon and she has heterochromia iridis, which is a condition where a cat has different-colored eyes.” Maine Coons are also one of the largest breeds of domestic cat.
“To get the Sphynx cat, I traveled to Ukraine,” he adds. This breed is known for its lack of fur and is a sign of prestige and luxury as it is extremely rare and expensive.
Some people might be concerned about the presence of so many cats in a cafe, where food and drink is prepared and served, but Mohammed and his employees go to great lengths to maintain high standards of hygiene.
“Of course, I am a doctor so I am very keen on hygiene,” he said. “We have air filters all around the place and they are connected to the roof. We have air purifiers to keep the air clean and healthy.”

Inspiration
The room where the animals live is perfectly suited to them, with cat trees, scratching posts and panels on the wall for them to climb and clamber on. One end of the lounge has floor-to-ceiling glass windows and hammocks in which the cats can relax and enjoy the sea view. What inspired Mohammed to open such an unusual cafe?
“When I was studying at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University I saw one there, as Tokyo had one of the first cat cafes in the world,” he said.
Although cat cafes have since grown in popularity around the world, Wahid however faced many challenges and a lot of skepticism when he announced his plan to open one in Jeddah.
“Nobody believed in the idea of a cat cafe,” he said. “They kept telling me, ‘Focus on your career and forget about this because society is never going to accept it.’ But from when I had this idea, in 2012, I kept trying to accomplish it.”
He gave the perfect response to his critics when Cat Lounge became the No. 1 venue in Jeddah.
Its soft opening was done roughly a month ago on Sept. 20. Cat Lounge trended on Facebook as the No. 1 hottest destination in Jeddah and the week its soft opening was done. The purpose behind it, explained Mohammed, was to promote a cultural shift toward animal care and welfare in a part of the world where so many cats are abandoned, live on the streets and struggle to find food, and to teach people how to properly treat animals.
“People need to understand that animals have the right to live and be loved,” he said. “The streets are not the right place for them to live. I want to get this message across desperately that cats do not deserve to live in the garbage and struggle for food.”
To help improve the situation, he added, there is a need to change local attitudes about animals and enlist the help of the government.


IMF: KSA reform program in right direction but needs to ‘scale up’

Updated 23 min 50 sec ago
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IMF: KSA reform program in right direction but needs to ‘scale up’

  • IMF expects the Saudi economy to grow by 2.2 percent this year
  • Privatizations could have beneficial impact says analyst

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s reform process is heading in the right direction, but the Kingdom needs to “scale up” in certain areas of the economy, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The IMF’s director for the Middle East and Central Asia, Jihad Azour, told journalists in Dubai that prospects for foreign direct investment — which the Kingdom has sought to attract in its strategy to get away from oil dependency — would benefit from more government measures to increase public sector involvement.
“The fiscal reform process is heading in the right direction, but improving employment prospects are subject to continued structural reform and the Vision 2030 program. Allowing women to drive is expected to have a positive effect on growth, but more progress is still needed and it needs to scale up, especially in education for local skills, and allowing small-to-medium enterprises to grow with access to finance,” he said.
On foreign direct investment (FDI), he said the oil industry had its own dynamic, but that other sectors were still dependent on public investment, and FDI would come if there were more opportunity in the private sector and in SMEs.
Azour made the comments in Dubai in the course of his twice-yearly regional economic outlook, which forecast economic growth across most of the region — with the exception of Iran — but warned that Middle East economics faced “gathering storm clouds” from global macro-economic issues and from oil price volatility.
“Global growth remains strong, but there are troubling signs ahead. Growth has become uneven; trade barriers and tensions are increasing; financial market conditions have tightened; and investor sentiment is volatile and uncertain. This changing global economic environment is bringing new challenges for the countries in the region,” he said.
In the oil-exporting Arabian Gulf countries, overall growth would resume this year following a contraction in 2017, with the IMF forecasting 2.4 percent for 2018 and 3 percent next year. “Higher oil prices and a slower pace of fiscal consolidation are boosting near-term growth prospects,” Azour said.
Saudi Arabia growth would be 2.2 percent this year and 2.4 percent next, the IMF is forecasting. For the UAE, the figures are forecast at 2.9 percent this year and 3.7 percent next, with Dubai projected at 4 percent in 2019.
“The outlook on Iran has been significantly downgraded as a result of the re-imposition of US sanctions, which are anticipated to lead to a drop in oil production and exports in the coming years,” he added. Inflation could reach 35 percent next year.
However, he said that Iranian sanctions might not be a “big negative” for neighboring countries in the Middle East because many did not rush to increase trade or financial flows after the sanctions were relaxed in 2015.
In the oil-importing economies, the IMF said that overall economies are expected to grow 4.5 percent this year and 4 percent in 2019. But there were great variations across the non-oil regions of the Middle East. Egypt was forecast to grow its economy by more than 5 percent, but many oil importers would grow at less than 3 percent.
“Rising oil prices have added to fiscal pressures in many oil-importing countries, leading to an uptick in energy subsidies,” Azour said.
The IMF executive said that there was the prospect of “reform fatigue” in many counties in the region against the backdrop of slower economic growth.
On the prospects of global trade war between the US and China, he said that the direct impact on Middle East countries would be small, but that the indirect effects — in the form of slower global economic growth and lower oil prices — could be big.
Razan Nasser, senior economist for the Middle East at HSBC, said that FDI had been in decline in Saudi Arabia for some time and, despite successes in attracting capital to the country’s markets via the upgrade to emerging markets status, it was not an easy task to attract a long-term productive capital.
Salman Jeffrey, chief business development officer at the Dubai International Financial Center, said Saudi Arabia’s privatization plans were crucial in attracting foreign investment into the Kingdom.
“You have to pin your hopes on the privatization program coming through. Once you get one or two (privatizations) in the pipeline you will see a significant effect,” he added.