DiplomaticQuarter: Ties between Saudi Arabia and Austria on upward trajectory

The outgoing Austrian Ambassador, Gregor W. Koessler, with the Governor of Riyadh region, Prince Faisal bin Bandar. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 09 January 2019

DiplomaticQuarter: Ties between Saudi Arabia and Austria on upward trajectory

  • The annual two-way trade between Riyadh and Vienna is reportedly around SR1.9 billion ($0.5 billion)

RIYADH: Austria’s outgoing ambassador to Saudi Arabia called on Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Ibrahim Al-Assaf and Riyadh Gov. Prince Faisal bin Bandar to bid farewell at the end of his tenure.
Gregor W. Koessler said issues of mutual interest were discussed and that the two top-level officials wished him success for the future.
“We reviewed the broad range of bilateral relations I was covering in my six-and-a-half years in the Kingdom,” the envoy told Arab News.
“I expressed my deep appreciation for the friendly reception in Saudi Arabia and the many friendships built on to connect our two countries even more.”
He wished King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the government and nation a prosperous and peaceful future, and every success for the Vision 2030 reform plan.
“We need to continue building bridges between our societies and making every effort for constructive dialogue.”
Koessler previously called on Austrian companies to ensure their “local presence” in the Kingdom for intensive engagement and promoting business. Saudi Arabia and Austria enjoy cordial ties. Last year, Austria pledged to ramp up cooperation in key commercial sectors with Saudi Arabia after a group of business leaders representing about 25 top-notch Austrian companies had wide-ranging talks with Saudi officials and businessmen.
The pledge came within the framework of Saudi Vision 2030, which calls for forging partnerships with foreign companies to achieve the desired objectives of the vision.
The annual two-way trade between Riyadh and Vienna is reportedly around SR1.9 billion ($0.5 billion).
Many Austrian companies have been working closely with Saudi enterprises over the past decades, either as joint ventures or in close collaboration with the Saudi side on a number of projects. As of 2018, there were reportedly 20 joint ventures operating in different sectors.
Austria has been the fastest growing European tourist destination in the Middle East. The number of guests from the Middle East to Austria has increased by 400 percent in the last 10 years.
Klaus Ehrenbrandtner, director Middle East of the Austrian National Tourist Office, said: “In 2016, Austria welcomed 105,000 guests from the Kingdom.”


Saudi Hajj ministry investigating how gift to pilgrims was wrongly labelled ‘anthrax’ 

Updated 18 August 2019

Saudi Hajj ministry investigating how gift to pilgrims was wrongly labelled ‘anthrax’ 

  • The Arabic word “jamarat" was inaccurately translated to “anthrax",  a dangerous infectious disease
  • Citing possible repercussions of the mistranslation, scholars want a probe to pinpoint responsibility

RIYADH: The Hajj and Umrah Ministry is investigating the inaccurate translation of the word “jamarat” into “anthrax,” which led to Sheikh Yusuf Estes making a video warning pilgrims of the mistake and its possible repercussions.

The translation concerned a bag that was a gift to pilgrims, containing small pebbles to use for the “stoning of the devil” upon their return from Muzdalifah. The bag had the correct original Arabic description, which roughly translates as “jamarat pebble bag,” whereas the English version of “jamarat” was translated into “anthrax,” a dangerous infectious disease.

According to SPA, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah was notified and opened an investigation with the contractor and translator on August 10, before handing them to authorities to take the necessary disciplinary action.

“Anthrax, where did they get that? They get it from Google, it’s not Google’s fault. Google allows people to tell the meaning of the different languages of words,” Sheikh Yusuf said in the video.

Google Translate, the free multilingual machine translator, relies on comparing large quantities of content between pairs of languages to establish patterns and, in most cases, determine the probability that certain words in one language will correspond with a set of words in another. 

Putting Google Translate to the test, Arab News used the platform to translate a name of a type of fish known in the region as “sha’oor” from Arabic to English. The scientific term for the fish is Lethrinus nebulosus, a type of emperor fish most commonly known as the green snapper or sand snapper.  

Google Translate’s translation was “thickness of feeling.”

Though it yields imperfect results, the service can be used at a pinch, though real human translators rather than artificial intelligence are far more likely to lead to more accurate translations.  

Speaking to Arab News, Dr. Gisele Riachy, director of the Center for Languages and Translation at the Lebanese University in Beirut, explained how the mistranslation of “jamarat” could have happened.

“We have two possibilities, it was either translated by Google Translate or the translator was provided with a single sentence and therefore didn’t understand the meaning of “jamarat,” she said.

“The translator may have not taken into consideration the general context of the word, which has certain religious connotations, therefore it should have been borrowed, translated by the “Stoning of the Devil” or even left as it is.”

Dr. Riachy said that the word anthrax cannot be translated without an accompanying adjective for a better explanation of the term.

“What surprised me is that when translating the word “jamarat” from Arabic to English, the word should have been accompanied with the adjective “khabitha,” or malignant in Arabic, for it to be translated to “anthrax” in English. That is why I am confused and I do not think Google Translate would have translated it into “anthrax” if the Arabic version didn’t include the word “khabitha.”

Sheikh Yusuf Estes’ video was intended for those who would like to take the small bags home as a souvenir or gift, sending a message that the mistranslation could cause the traveler trouble with customs in their own countries.