Key regional issues top agenda of GCC summit

Updated 17 December 2012

Key regional issues top agenda of GCC summit

Key regional developments, particularly the intransigent attitude of Syria, Iran and Israel, will top the agenda of the summit of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Bahrain next week. The ministerial council of the GCC has finalized the summit agenda, which is more focused on regional issues, closer defense cooperation, security threats, commercial cooperation and above all citizens' welfare.
"Bahrain is gearing up to host the 33rd GCC summit on Dec. 24," said Saleem S. A. Al-Alwi, a spokesman of the GCC General Secretariat, here yesterday. He said that there were "many challenges" facing the GCC today. It is therefore important for this regional bloc to address the major issues and the obstacles that it is facing, he added. The agenda has been formulated in such a way that it seeks to strengthen the GCC's structure and achieve the aspirations of its people after it is discussed by the summit.
Al-Alwi said that the Riyadh-based GCC Secretariat and the Bahraini government are gearing to host the two-day summit in Manama. To this end, he noted GCC Secretary-General Abdullateef Al-Zayani held talks with Hamoud bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa, Bahrain's ambassador to Saudi Arabia, here yesterday. A contingent of officials from the Riyadh-based GCC General Secretariat will also fly to Manama early next week. Hundreds of top officials including dozens of ministers from the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia will also participate in the summit talks.
Referring to the agenda of the GCC summit, a statement released by the GCC Secretariat, said that "it is critical for the GCC to speed up its works on the future road map toward full integration." The changing environment in the region as well as developments that have taken place within the past decade define the priorities of the GCC as regional bloc, it said, quoting GCC chief Al-Zayani. Al-Zayani said in the statement, that the topics of discussion among the heads of GCC states will not be "limited" to certain issues or problems affecting the region.
They may choose any other subject or any other topic that falls beyond the format of traditional agenda, he added. Of course, regional issues and the latest international developments will figure high in the talks, but the events in Syria are set to hold a special significance. The GCC, especially Saudi Arabia, has been actively involved in providing assistance to Syrians as they struggle with the difficult situation in their country. The summit may also review reports that call for closer security cooperation, formation of the GCC Union, formation of a joint GCC police force and cooperation in the field of nuclear energy.
This will be in addition to the "subject of environment and economic unification" to be taken up for discussions, said a GCC official, who did not want to be identified. In addition, each country has its own opinion and every member state has also witnessed various developments — especially when it comes to infrastructure, education and population, he observed. All of these variables have made it necessary today that the Gulf countries address what best can be attained for its people in the coming decades.
Referring to the forthcoming summit, the statement further said that "the summit will continue the trend of achievements. When you look at the larger picture, you see that the GCC has never regressed and that it has always moved forward." Today’s GCC is different from what it was 10 or 20 years ago, it added.
All issues to be discussed at the summit are interlinked besides being urgent that calls for urgent attention, said the statement. “We cannot separate security issues from economic or political issues or even social issues," read the statement.


Umrah app will increase competition, enrich pilgrim experience, says Saudi official

Updated 24 September 2020

Umrah app will increase competition, enrich pilgrim experience, says Saudi official

  • External agents who used to control everything will no longer do so

MAKKAH: The Kingdom’s new Umrah app will create a competitive business environment that will improve pilgrim services and enrich the pilgrim experience, according to a senior ministry official.
I’tamarna is aimed at enforcing health standards amid the COVID-19 pandemic and making it easier for people to book their journeys. It also offers booking services that pilgrims can use ahead of their arrival in Makkah for accommodation, transport and recreation.
Dr. Amr Al-Maddah, chief planning and strategy officer at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, said that the app’s launch should push companies to provide people with a broader and better range of services.
“When we provide high quality services at competitive prices, the pilgrim will find himself drawn to these companies, especially when companies work hard to provide the best services at a competitive price to local pilgrims,” Al-Maddah told Arab News.
He added that external agents who used to control everything related to Umrah will no longer do so as they were just agents and did not own facilities. Their job was to represent and market Umrah companies abroad.
According to Al-Maddah, new measures had fixed this problem and organized the relation between Umrah companies and their external agents to be strictly marketing-based.
“The newly adopted measures will free Umrah companies and motivate them, especially at a time when bookings are being performed through several electronic platforms. This allows foreign pilgrims to directly deal with Umrah companies through the phone, the app and additional means other than the external agents. This will liberate the Umrah companies and improve their performance, allowing them to market their services inside and outside the Kingdom.”
Saudi Arabia said earlier this week that it would start allowing pilgrims to perform Umrah in phased return, while taking the necessary precautions. The decision was made after assessing the developments of the pandemic and in response to the desire of Muslims around the world to perform the ritual.

FASTFACT

I’tamarna offers booking services that pilgrims can use ahead of their arrival in Makkah for accommodation, transport and recreation. Pilgrims can download the app on Sept. 28.

“The launch of the app came due to the coronavirus pandemic, its repercussions and preventive measures that require specifying the number of pilgrims,” Al-Maddah said. “There is a capacity that should not be exceeded. This is what prevents the overcrowding of holy sites and limits the spread of the virus among pilgrims.”
He said that the operational capacity was calculated through the Ministry of Health’s Tawakkalna app, with the pilgrim using I’tamarna to book an Umrah appointment that was time-specific and accompanied by anti-coronavirus preventive measures.
The first phase of the gradual return will include allowing citizens and expatriates from within the Kingdom to perform Umrah at a capacity of 30 percent from Oct. 4, the equivalent of 6,000 pilgrims per day.
The second will increase the capacity of the Grand Mosque to 75 percent, which would include 15,000 pilgrims and 40,000 worshippers a day from Oct. 18.
In the third phase, pilgrims from abroad would be allowed to perform Umrah from Nov. 1 with a capacity of 20,000 pilgrims and 60,000 worshippers per day.
The fourth stage will see the Grand Mosque return to normal, when all COVID-19 risks have gone away. Pilgrims can download the app on Sept. 28.