Iran says not sending Haj pilgrims this year

Updated 29 May 2016

Iran says not sending Haj pilgrims this year

TEHRAN/JEDDAH: Iran’s culture minister on Sunday said Iranians will not take part in this year’s Haj, set for September. More than 60,000 Iranians took part in last year's Haj.
Ali Jannati’s announcement, reported by Agence France Presse, comes two days after his delegation left the kingdom “after two series of negotiations without any results.”
Iran pointed to “obstacles” raised by Saudi Arabia, the AFP report said.
The Saudi Ministry of Haj and Umrah on Friday chided the Iranian Haj delegation for playing politics by refusing to sign the minutes of an agreement negotiated earlier this week between the two sides.
It said it had offered “many solutions” to meet a string of demands made by the Iranians in two days of talks.
Agreement had been reached in some areas, including the of use electronic visas which could be printed out by Iranian pilgrims, as Saudi diplomatic missions remain shut in Iran, it said.
Riyadh cut ties with Tehran in January after Iranian fanatics torched its embassy and a consulate following its execution of a prominent Shiite man convicted of sedition.
Despite Tehran’s politicking, Saudi Arabia remains committed to serving pilgrims from across the world, and making the journey safe and comfortable for them, the ministry said.
The ministry stated that the Iranian delegation had been made comfortable during their stay while in Jeddah, including having arrangements made for members to perform Umrah.
There had been intense discussions on Wednesday and Thursday on all issues, included having visas issued for Iranian pilgrims by the Swiss Embassy in their country, acting on behalf of the Saudi government, and equal division of pilgrims between the Saudi and Iranian national carriers.
Earlier this month, Iran had accused its regional rival of seeking to “sabotage” the Haj, a pillar of Islam that devout Muslims must perform at least once during their lifetime if they are able.
Tehran said Riyadh had insisted that visas for Iranians be issued in a third country and would not allow pilgrims to be flown aboard Iranian aircraft.
But the Saudi Haj ministry said Friday that Riyadh had agreed to allow Iranians to obtain visas through the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which has looked after Saudi interests since ties were severed in January.
Riyadh also agreed to allow some Iranian carriers to fly pilgrims to the kingdom despite a ban imposed on Iranian airlines following the diplomatic row between the two countries, the ministry said.
Last week’s talks were the second attempt by the two countries to reach a deal on organizing this year’s pilgrimage for Iranians after an unsuccessful first round held in April in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi ministry said at the time that the Iranian Haj Organization would be held responsible “in front of God and the people for the inability of its pilgrims to perform Haj this year.”
Another contentious issue has been security, after a deadly stampede during last year’s Haj.

(With input from AFP)

Saudi films soar at Golden Falcon film awards

Updated 19 April 2018

Saudi films soar at Golden Falcon film awards

  • Winners of first Golden Falcon award will travel to the Netherlands to study filmmaking techniques
  • Film screenings have been revived in KSA as part of wide-ranging social and economic reforms encouraged by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman 

RIYADH: Saudi films have won awards at an international film festival organized by the Netherlands to coincide with the return of cinema to the Kingdom.

The first Golden Falcon Film Festival awards drew Saudi actors, filmmakers and cinema-lovers to the Netherlands embassy in Riyadh on Wednesday.

More than 30 shortlisted Saudi films were shown at the maiden festival on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Nine films were nominated, with three each in the best film, best script and best director categories. Overall winners were chosen by an international jury headed by Dutch filmmaker Hans Treffers.

Best movie award went to “Mazban.” The other two films nominated in the category were “Tongue” and “Building 20.”

“The Poetess,” “Matour” and “Atoor” were nominated in the best director category with “Atoor” bagging the award.

“Departures,” “Atoor” and “The Remaining” were nominated in the best script category with “Departures” winning the award.

Besides the Golden Falcon trophy, the winners will travel to the Netherlands to study filmmaking techniques.

Joost Reintjes, the Netherlands ambassador in Riyadh, told Arab News: “We are proud to organize the first Golden Falcon Film Festival here to promote filmmaking in the Kingdom and provide a platform for young Saudi filmmakers to show what they have to offer.”

Film screenings — banned in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s following religious changes in the Kingdom — have been revived as part of wide-ranging social and economic reforms encouraged by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

The return of cinema was heralded with a film screening on Wednesday at a newly built theater at the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) in Riyadh. 

Commenting on the lifting of the 35-year ban, Reintjes told Arab News: “That’s Vision 2030 — it is good sign to diversify and develop.

“Although the cinemas in the Kingdom have only been restarted now, Saudi filmmaking has already made a name for itself on the world stage.

“The Saudi film industry will grow very fast. The level of talent is high,” he said.

Mohammed Al-Qass, lead actor from “Departure,” said: “We have been working for this day for years. 

“Saudis with a thirst for cinema were traveling outside the country — now they can enjoy and share the experience in their homeland.” 

Mohammed Khawajah, a Saudi filmmaker and adviser for the film festival, told Arab News: “The idea for this festival came last year when the lifting of the cinema ban was being discussed.

“The Netherlands embassy had this idea about nine months ago; we sat together and planned the whole festival, which was carried out successfully, with hundreds of people enjoying Saudi films.

“We will improve with our next festival, which will have more fun and entertainment,” he said.