Saudi Arabia is on the way to ‘becoming the digital hub of the region’

Updated 01 May 2019
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Saudi Arabia is on the way to ‘becoming the digital hub of the region’

  • The summit is planned to be held annually in Saudi Arabia as a way to gather local and international experts in the field to discuss further developments in government digitization

RIYADH: The Saudi government must keep pace with technological advances if the Kingdom is to stay on course to become the digital hub of the region, a major international conference has been told.
More than 200 executive directors of information technology from government departments throughout Saudi Arabia, gathered in Riyadh to discuss digitization and how to adapt it to benefit society.
The Global Digital Government Summit, held at the capital’s Ritz-Carlton hotel, was organized by the new Saudi e-Government program, Yesser, under the title “Putting Citizens First.”
The forum focused on the future of government services and explored how authorities around the world are leveraging digital technology to move toward a unified and citizen-friendly service delivery model.
Welcoming delegates to the opening of the summit on Monday, Ali Al-Asiri, CEO of Yesser, said the Saudi government needed to re-evaluate its role in society and to review the services it delivered.
Al-Asiri said the gathering was “very important to our country, the future of our country, and the future of all countries and societies. The world has changed in the past decade at a speed that has not been seen for centuries.
“We are witnessing technological changes that have far-reaching implications on society, and what has an impact on society has to have an impact on the government.”
The chief executive drew attention to the latest technological advances that have impacted society over the past decade, such as artificial intelligence and robotics, and highlighted how Saudi Arabia could utilize them to enhance government activities and improve quality of life in the country.
He added that the organization of health care and education in the country had seen little change since the industrial revolution and pointed to how digitization could help the Saudi government update its structure to better adapt to the modern era.
“These advancements come with important societal challenges, and governments must adapt, today, in order to maximize the social benefits to their citizens. And not enough has changed,” Al-Asiri told conference attendees.
Saudi Minister of Telecommunication and IT Abdullah bin Amer Al-Sawaha said in a statement that the Kingdom was a prime location to stage the summit.
“The Kingdom is on the way to becoming the digital hub of the region, executing it in a visionary, agile, and remarkable fashion powered by its talent.”
The government forum kicked off on Monday evening with networking and a gala dinner, followed by an all-day event on Tuesday that featured panels of international digitization experts.
Speakers included Swedish journalist, author, and digital futurist Andreas Ekstrom, practice manager of governance global practice at the World Bank, Renaud Seligmann, and deputy director of the analytic center of the Russian government, Mikhail Pryadilnikov.
Ekstrom gave a presentation on the future of digital transformation and its impact on humanity, public service provision, and government policymaking.
The summit is planned to be held annually in Saudi Arabia as a way to gather local and international experts in the field to discuss further developments in government digitization.


Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

Updated 20 July 2019
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Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

  • The TV images beamed from 320,000km away in space left viewers astounded but happy
  • The TV coverage influenced thinking and attitudes in the Kingdom just like everywhere else

DUBAI: It was a sleepy afternoon in Saudi Arabia, just days before the end of the school vacation, and Saudis had their eyes glued to their TV sets as they waited for live coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Before July 20, 1969, the idea of a human walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction. However, almost overnight, sci-fi had turned into reality with a live broadcast showing American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s dramatic descent onto the empty lunar landscape.

Between science fiction and science fact, the live coverage of the lunar landing amounted to an unusual fusion of news and entertainment.

Saudi TV technicians bring the first live images of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing to
viewers around the Kingdom. (Supplied photo)

The historic images — beamed back to Earth more than 320,000 km away — left Saudi viewers astounded and confused, but mostly elated to be witnessing such an epoch-making event.

The event was covered live on television and radio stations in Saudi Arabia. Most Saudis and residents living in the Kingdom watched it on Saudi channels 1 and 3, owned by Saudi Aramco.

Hessah Al-Sobaie, a housewife from Al-Dawadmi, recalled watching the moon landing from her grandparents’ backyard as an 11-year-old.

“It felt weird watching a human walk on the moon,” she told Arab News. “I remember the endless questions I asked as a child.”

While most people were aware that going to the moon was risky, many Saudis believed that such a journey was impossible and all but unthinkable.


EVENTS WATCH

1. NASA’s Apollo 11 mission control room in Houston has been restored to its 1969 condition and regular tours
will be conducted by the Johnson Space Center.

2. NASA ‘Science Live’ will have a special edition on July 23 on board the aircraft carrier that recovered the Apollo 11 capsule.

3. A summer moon festival and family street fair will be held in Wapakoneta, Ohio, from July 17-20.

4. Downtown Houston’s Discovery green will host a free public screening of the ‘Apollo 11’ documentary, with an appearance by NASA astronaut Steve Bowen.

5. Amateur radio operators will host a series of events on July 20-21.

6. The US Space and Rocket Center is staging a special ‘Rockets on Parade’ exhibition.


The Apollo 11 mission prompted discussions across the Middle East over the reality of what people saw on their TV screens. Some Saudi scholars found it hard to believe their eyes.

“I watched it, and I clearly remember each and every detail of the coverage,” Hayat Al-Bokhari, 68, a retired school principal in Jeddah, said.

“My father, Abdul, was 56 at the time. He said the landing was faked. He couldn’t believe or accept that a human could go to the moon.”

Khaled Almasud, 70, a retired university lecturer, was a student in the US state of Oregon at the time of the mission. “Americans were stunned and over the moon, happy with their national achievement. But many Saudis like me were either in denial or insisting on more proof.”

Since the beginning of the 1960s, King Faisal had been rapidly transforming Saudi Arabia, inviting foreign-trained experts to help build a modern country with world-class infrastructure.

Billie Tanner, now 90, lived in the Kingdom for many years with her husband, Larry, and their two children, Laurie and Scott, aged six and four. The family had just arrived in Saudi Arabia and headed to the Aramco compound in Ras Tanura in the Eastern Province.

A screengrab of video of the first lunar landing beamed toward Earth and shown on television worldwide. 

“We were going through a culture shock,” she told Arab News. “I wasn’t thinking of the moon landing, but we heard about it on the news from Dhahran.

“My kids tried to see the astronauts on the moon with their binoculars and said they could see them walking around.”

The Apollo 11 spaceflight has become a milestone in the annals of human history and science. Since 1969 space exploration has greatly expanded man’s knowledge of the universe, far beyond Earth’s limits.

The captivating live coverage of the moon landing inspired millions of people around the world, profoundly influencing their thinking and attitudes.

The people of Saudi Arabia were no exception.