From Elbrus to Everest, a Saudi explorer climbs for a cause

Updated 24 May 2019

From Elbrus to Everest, a Saudi explorer climbs for a cause

  • Mona Shahab raises awareness and funds while aiming to complete the prestigious Explorers Grand Slam challenge
  • Shahab says Saudi women can, and will, reach "whatever heights they set their mind and heart to"

From cancer patients to war refugees, the list of beneficiaries of the causes for which Saudi explorer Mona Shahab climbs the world’s highest summits is lengthy. Currently, she is tackling the world’s tallest mountain, Everest. If she succeeds in scaling it, it would see Shahab tick five boxes out of the classic adverturer’s to-do list of Seven Summits — the highest point on each of the seven continents.

Raising awareness and funds — more than $350,000 (SR1.3 million) to date — for charitable causes is what chiefly motivates Shahab to win the Explorers Grand Slam title — that is, to reach the North Pole and the South Pole in addition to the Seven Summits. But beyond that, she wants to send a message to Saudi women — and to the world at large.

“One of my goals is for us to gently shake the world, to change misperceptions, and maybe even shatter some stereotypes. Many raise an eyebrow when they hear a Saudi woman has achieved something,” Shahab told Arab News from the Everest base camp part way through her expedition. “Saudi women can, Saudi women will, reach whatever heights they set their mind and heart to.”


2012 — Completed Kilimanjaro4 Cancer and helped raise funds to build the first detection cancer center in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. Also completed “A Woman’s Journey: Everest Base Camp” with nine other Saudi women to raise breast cancer awareness in the Kingdom.

2013 — Elbrus4Cancer, scaling Europe’s Elbrus mountain, to raise funds for Umniyaty, Saudi version of “Make a Wish Foundation.”

2014 — MtBlanc4Humanity by scaling Mont Blanc — the highest mountain in the Alps and the highest in Europe west of Russia’s Caucasus peaks — to reinforce the importance of tolerance among citizens of the world.

2015 — Vinson4Mohammed — a mission completed by Shahab standing on the roof of Antarctica for Mohammed, a Syrian boy diagnosed with osteosarcoma. Also completed Toubkal4Smiles, which saw Shahab stand on the roof of the Arab world.

2016 — Kilimanjaro4Mawaddah — to raise funds to help build a safe haven where children of divorcees can meet parents. Also completed LeninPeak4Tomorrow to raise funds to give 100 refugee children in Lebanon tan education.

2017 Aconcagua4Cancer — in Latin America in support of a child with cancer and in memory of her friend Marwa Fayed.

2019 Aims to climb Mount Everest as part of Shahab’s goal to win the Explorers Grand Slam title — to reach the North Pole, the South Pole and all of the Seven Summits.

Together with Joyce Azzam and Nelly Attar, from Lebanon, and Nadhirah Alharthy from Oman, Shahab is part of an all-Arab women’s team aiming to scale Mount Everest, 8,848 metres above sea level, this month.

Next Shahab has her eye on two of the world’s highest seven summits — Australia’s tallest mountain, Mount Kosciuszko, and Denali, the highest point in North America. Once those peaks have been scaled, she intends to make her way to the North and South Pole on skis and become the first Saudi to complete the Explorers Grand Slam challenge.

“Saudi Arabia is not in the Explorer Grand Slam’s books yet and there are dear Saudi friends (HH Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al-Saud and Raha Moharrak) who are closer to it than I am. They have already completed the Seven Summits,” said Shahab, who is a clinical child psychologist by profession. “Less than 50 names are on the current list, so it will be a pretty big achievement when a Saudi’s name is finally included.”

Shahab, who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, said that she loved the outdoors from a young age and was bitten by the hiking bug early on.

“Growing up, my parents would punish me by not allowing me to go outside,” she told Arab News. “I never wanted to be between four walls, boxed up in a room. I have always loved the outdoors.

“Whether playing tennis or softball, I would have bruised knees because I was always outside playing with my friends in a compound once I had completed my homework.”

Shahab said it was when she moved to the US to continue her education that she considered her first altitude hike. “I was working at the Children’s Hospital Boston, and one of my close friends emailed me asking if I would like to join him and his wife who were going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in 2007.”

Due to visa issues, that trip did not work out. But the idea never left Shahab’s mind. 

“Fast forward to 2010, my friends and I are sitting by the sea in India and out of the blue I ask, ‘Kilimanjaro early 2012. Who’s in?’”

By 2011, the trip had been planned. “It just so happened that all of us were members of the Saudi Cancer Foundation in the Eastern Province, and we ended up helping to raise funds for the first early detection centre for cancer in the Eastern province.”

After that first trip, Shahab has never looked back. “So Kilimanjaro was my first high-altitude hike, and I basically exchanged vows with the mountains ever since.”

In 2012 Shahab was part of the first team of Saudi women, headed by HRH Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, to reach the Everest Base Camp. It was during the expedition that she met a woman who has inspired Shahab.

Shahab forged a friendship with Marwa Fayed, the late wife of Omar Samra, who was the first Egyptian to climb Mount Everest, the Seven Summits and ski to both the South and the North Poles.

“Right after trekking to the Everest Base Camp together, we decided to climb Aconcagua the following year,” Shahab recalled.

However, Fayed, could not fulfill her ambition: three days after the birth of her daughter in 2013, she passed away.

Fayed’s death came as a shock,  Shahab said. “So I aimed to climb that mountain in her memory.”

After failing in 2014, Shahab achieved their shared Aconcagua dream in 2017.

Now, during her mission to the top of Everest, it is Fayed’s memory that Shahab holds dear. She is also raising funds for a charity that Fayed founded.

“Marwa had founded a charity called Marwa Fayed’s Toy Run. It had humble beginnings — to collect toys and distribute them to orphans in Egypt. It then expanded to refugee camps worldwide and today the charity is educating children in all areas — from theatre and analytical thinking to space.

“It only takes $500 a year to educate a child on the skills they need to become change agents in their communities. I have joined forces in the hope that we can reach 300 children in underprivileged areas in Egypt.”

Shahab has teamed up with Gento, an anti-bacterial company in the Middle East, which believed in her mission and offered her full sponsorship for her Everest ascent.

Together they are raising awareness on obesity and diabetes, two conditions plaguing both the Kingdom and the wider region, as part of Gento’s commitment to highlight the importance of hygiene and community physical activities.

“We want to motivate people and encourage them to move
and become more physically
active. Research shows that women who are more physically active are at less risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer,” Shahab told Arab News.

“The focus now in the Kingdom is on Vision 2030. In order to move our nation to higher heights, we need to start with ourselves. Let’s get moving, Saudi!

“We want men, women, and youth to toss all those excuses — “I can’t,” “I don’t want to,” “No one’s going to support me” — out the window.”

Shahab, who along with her team-mates hopes to reach the summit of Everest in late May, continued: “We are here. We are standing on our own peaks whatever they may be, one hand, one heart. If we can do it, anyone can.

“Change doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye. It takes time and that is OK.”




Photo exhibition recalls 90 years of Saudi-Lebanon ties

Updated 19 August 2019

Photo exhibition recalls 90 years of Saudi-Lebanon ties

  • Thousands of photos on display
  • Ties ‘rooted’ in history, says Kingdom’s ambassador

BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Walid Bukhari and Lebanon’s Minister of Information Minister of Information Jamal Jarrah on Monday inaugurated a photography exhibition celebrating 90 years of bilateral relations.

The King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives and the Abdulaziz Saud Al-Babtain Cultural Foundation provided the embassy in Lebanon with historical documents and photos for the exhibition, which was launched on World Photography Day. Some of the material dates back more than 90 years.

Bukhari said the exhibition’s content proved that the countries’ relations were rooted in history and recalled the words of King Abdul Aziz bin Abdulrahman, who said: “Lebanon is part of us. I protect its independence myself and will not allow anything to harm it.”

Jarrah, who was representing Prime Minister Saad Hariri, said: “We need this Arab embrace in light of the attacks targeting the Arab region and we still need the Kingdom’s support for Lebanon’s stability, because Lebanon is truly the center from which Arabism originated.”

The exhibition starts with a document appointing Mohammed Eid Al-Rawaf as the Kingdom’s consul in Syria and Lebanon. It was signed by King Abdul Aziz bin Abdulrahman Al-Faisal Al-Saud in 1930 and states that the consul’s residence is in Damascus and that his mission is to “promote Saudi merchants, care for their affairs and assist them with their legal and commercial interests.”

Black and white pictures summarize milestones in the development of bilateral relations, while others depict key visits and meetings between leaders and dignitaries.

“The exhibition demanded great efforts because the pieces were not found at one single location,” former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told Arab News. “Circulating this activity in the Kingdom’s embassies in numerous countries is a great step and has pushed the Lebanese Ministry of Information to benefit from this archive. The Lebanese people remember the important positions the Kingdom has taken over the year to support their independence and sovereignty and in hard times.”

Lebanon, particularly Beirut, is a hit with Saudi travelers although the Kingdom had been advising citizens since 2011 to avoid the country, citing Hezbollah’s influence and instability from the war in neighboring Syria. 

But the easing of restrictions since February has led to a surge in Saudis heading to Lebanon.

Riyadh earlier this year released $1 billion in funding and pledged to boost Lebanon’s struggling economy. Another sign of warming ties was an anniversary event marking the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father that featured Saudi Royal Court adviser Nizar Al-Aloula as a keynote speaker.

“The exhibition highlights the unique model of Lebanese-Arab relations that should be taught in diplomatic institutes, starting with the Lebanese Foreign Ministry,” former minister Marwan Hamadeh told Arab News. “Over the course of 90 years, we have had brotherly ties and political support for independence, freedom, growth, economy and culture and then the Taif Accord (which ended the Lebanese Civil War). Even after that, when Lebanon engaged in military adventures, the Kingdom was there to help with reconstruction and we are proud of these relations.”

Highlights include a recording of King Faisal telling President Charles Helou about the need to strengthen “brotherhood in the face of the aggression targeting our countries without respecting the sanctity of holy sites and international, human and moral norms to extend its influence not only in the region but across the world.”

There are also photos from a recent meeting that brought together King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Lebanese officials. 

An old broadcast recording can be heard saying that the “tragedy of the Lebanese civil war can only be ended by affirming the Lebanese legitimacy and preserving its independence and territorial integrity.”

The exhibition is on at Beit Beirut, which is located on what used to be the frontline that divided the city during the civil war.