Un-forbidden love: Saudis enjoy second ‘religious police-free’ Valentine’s Day

Un-forbidden love: Saudis enjoy second ‘religious police-free’ Valentine’s Day
A florist in Jeddah freely sells roses to a customer on Valentine’s Day. In previous years, the religious police confiscated roses on Feb. 14. (AN photo by Adnan Mahdali)
Updated 15 February 2018

Un-forbidden love: Saudis enjoy second ‘religious police-free’ Valentine’s Day

Un-forbidden love: Saudis enjoy second ‘religious police-free’ Valentine’s Day

JEDDAH: Saudis celebrated Valentine’s Day and its message of love and peace in the absence of religious police after a fatwa permitting the celebrations was circulated via Twitter.
Gift and flower shops opened their doors without any hassle or confiscation from the religious police, who formerly banned florists from working on Valentine’s Day and monitored the Kingdom’s streets for any violations. This was confirmed by market visits by a number of Arab News reporters in different Saudi cities.
Speaking to Arab News, Sheikh Ahmed Qasim Al-Ghamdi, former president of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Makkah, endorsed Valentine’s Day as a social celebration similar to the National Day and Mother’s Day.
“All these are common social matters shared by humanity and are not religious issues that require the existence of a religious proof to permit it,” he said.
Describing love as a natural feeling, the cleric said that Valentine’s Day celebrated “a positive aspect of the human being.”
Al-Ghamdi said the celebration of love was not limited to non-Muslims. “There are many worldly things that we deal with morally that may be of interest to non-Muslim communities and became more common among Muslim communities because of their popularity,” he said, citing the Prophet as an example. “The Prophet dealt with many worldly things that came from non-Muslims.”
He rejected the view that marking the day is an imitation of non-Muslims and said: “Even greeting peaceful non-Muslims in their special religious holidays is permitted without participating in a forbidden act that contradicts Islam.”
Al-Ghamdi stressed his support for fatwas that permit the celebration of Valentine’s Day and exchanging of gifts.
A fatwa issued on Feb. 13 by the fatwa secretary of Dar Al-Ifta Al-Misriya (Egyptian Religious Edict House), Ahmed Mamdouh, said: “There is no harm to allocate one day to show love to one another.”
Tunisian Grand Mufti Othman Battikh also rejected the claim that Valentine’s Day is solely a Christian tradition. “Anything that brings people closer together is good and desirable,” he said, adding that Muslims can celebrate without departing from Islamic ethics.
Mohammed Al-Shahat Al-Jundi, a member of the Islamic Research Center, said that the celebration helps “maintain ties of kinship.”
Al-Ghamdi described the current religious police as “very useful and conciliatory.”


Saudi Arabia announces 15 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 15 more COVID-19 deaths
Updated 8 min 16 sec ago

Saudi Arabia announces 15 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 15 more COVID-19 deaths
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 451,187
  • A total of 7,621 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced 15 deaths from COVID-19 and 1,239 new infections on Wednesday.
Of the new cases, 371 were recorded in Makkah, 253 in Riyadh, 229 in the Eastern Province, 98 in Asir, 83 in Jazan, 71 in Madinah, 32 in Najran, 17 in Al-Baha, 17 in Hail, 10 in the Northern Borders region, nine in Tabuk, and five in Al-Jouf.
The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 451,187 after 932 more patients recovered from the virus.
A total of 7,621 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.
Over 16.1 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.


US climate envoy John Kerry welcomes Saudi Green Initiative, says world needs more of the same

US climate envoy John Kerry welcomes Saudi Green Initiative, says world needs more of the same
Updated 43 min 25 sec ago

US climate envoy John Kerry welcomes Saudi Green Initiative, says world needs more of the same

US climate envoy John Kerry welcomes Saudi Green Initiative, says world needs more of the same
  • Kerry says what Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has put forward as a concept is “both challenging and exciting at the same time”
  • American diplomat is seeking to increase climate ambition in the lead-up to the UN Climate Change Conference in November

RIYADH: US climate envoy John Kerry has praised the Saudi Green Initiative as “a very important step,” adding that it is “the kind of initiative we that we need on a global basis — planting trees, beginning to move to different kinds of innovative solutions that reduce the level of emissions, to deal with waste more effectively.”

Aimed at reversing environmental degradation and climate change, the combination of the Saudi Arabia Green Initiative and the Middle East Green Initiative were announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in April. The step has put the Kingdom at the heart of regional efforts to meet international targets on environmental projects.

“I think it’s an extremely important initiative, together with the Middle East Green Initiative, when you put them together,” Kerry said during a special interview with Arab News in Riyadh on Wednesday.

The former top US diplomat was in Abu Dhabi en route to Riyadh, his second visit to the UAE capital where attended the first Regional Dialogue Conference on Climate Change in April. That conference focused on preparations for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), to be held later this year to accelerate efforts to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Referring to the participants - “11 different mostly producer countries including Morocco, Iraq, Egypt and others – he said: “They are all committed to moving in this direction. Now what we need to do is harmonize the global understanding of the goals and the different standards that are being applied to ‘green’ and the definition of ‘green’ and so forth.

Arab News Assistant Editor in Chief, Noor Nugali, (L) and US climate envoy John Kerry.
 

“But we could do these things and that’s my mission as special envoy to help us to stay focused as we move to Glasgow, where the world will come together as we did in Paris and renew ambition. We have to raise our ambition to get this job done, and I think the Green initiative is a good step towards helping to do that.”

For months now, Kerry has been crisscrossing the globe, meeting heads of government, kings, crown princes and ministers and senior officials, seeking to increase ambition in the lead-up to the COP26, to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

Kerry’s latest foray to the Middle East brought him to Riyadh on Tuesday for talks with Saudi ministers, officials and CEOs on the gamut of climate-related issues.

He said his meeting with Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz included “the whole group of CEOS who are leading different initiatives in different sectors of the economy to begin to ‘green’ the way we are doing things.”

“We had a very good series of meetings that covered everything possible. Also, Prince Abdul Aziz pulled together his experts and we spent a lot of time really going through every aspect of what Saudi Arabia is doing currently and what it can and will do,” he added.

Kerry said he was “very impressed by the depth of the (Saudi) analyses and the commitment going forward, which clearly is beginning to grapple in a serious way with this challenge,” acknowledged that “it’s a big challenge and getting more urgent,” and added that President Biden is “equally committed to moving forward.”

“We believe that Saudi Arabia could be one of the principal agents of change because Saudi Arabia has such an extraordinary opportunity with solar and green hydrogen and the possibility is very real,” Kerry said.

Among the goals of the Saudi Green Initiative and Middle East Green Initiative are cutting carbon dioxide emissions in the region by 60 percent; using renewables to produce 50 percent of the Kingdom’s energy by 2030; and eliminating more than 130 million tons of carbon emissions using clean hydrocarbon technology.

“I think what Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman put forward as a concept is in fact both challenging and exciting at the same time, and has the ability to speed up the transition for all of us by providing alternative fuel,” Kerry said, who met with the Crown Prince later on Wednesday to discuss international efforts to combat climate change and Saudi Arabia’s initiatives in this regard.

“Many people in the world are looking for the hydrogen solution now, and I am, I think that out of our meetings has come a commitment to work together to try to accelerate that, so I am very hopeful.”

The administration of Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris agreement but President Biden signed an executive order to have the US rejoin the Paris climate agreement within hours of being sworn in in January. The policy U-turns have prompted some questioning about the future consistency of America’s own climate policy.

But Kerry dismissed such concerns emphatically. “No, absolutely not and I will tell you why not. The reason is that the private sector is moving in an extraordinary way all across the planet and trillions of dollars are going to be invested in this transition,” he said.

“We have six major banks in the US that have committed about $4.16 trillion over the next 10 years for climate investment. That’s without even getting to the development banks or the asset managers. And thanks to the work of a number of people around the world who are helping to put together an alliance, there are many other financial institutions in other countries that are completely committed to the same goal — net zero by 2050 or earlier.”

Explaining why the policy clock cannot be put back, Kerry said: “I believe there’s so much technology, innovation and so much new product development and new fuel development, the market place is going to be a powerful force that no politician in any one country is going to be able to change that. They wouldn’t want to because it is going to be millions of jobs for our citizens even as it transitions the world to sustainable and renewable energy sources. 

Kerry said the same logic applies “with respect to carbon obviously because a place like Saudi Arabia is a producer which is deeply concerned.”

“As long as the emissions are going down at the rate we need to, as long as we are able to even capture those emissions and put them to use in one way or another, then there will be a combination of different approaches and different fuels,” he told Arab News.

“So I think the future is really very, very promising. This is the biggest economic transformation facing all of us since the Industrial Revolution and I think it’s filled with opportunity. Whoever discovers battery storage of two weeks or one week, or whoever is the person who, or country that comes up, or a company with a way to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, store it or put it to use, they are going to make a lot of money because these are things the whole world needs, and will want.”

The UN has warned that nations must redouble their climate efforts if they are to reach the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise by 2C - ideally 1.5C - by the end of the century. Climate science has called for a transformation that must start early and result in deep emission reductions even before 2030. 

However, developing countries want richer countries to make good on their Paris negotiations pledges to mobilize $100 billion a year in public and private financing to aid the energy-transition effort. Kerry said progress has been made on this contentious issue.

“About $81 billion of the total $100 billion is now accountable. It is not just direct giving of the money but it is also mobilizing money so you can push some of the development banks or you can bring other people to the table and mobilize a certain amount of money,” he said.

“We have to get there. It is very, very important for the developed world to produce the $100 billion that has been promised and we are already working very hard on it. I have talked personally to President Biden about it and he is well aware of it. It was discussed at the G7 (summit held over the weekend in Cornwall in the UK). In the next four months, it is critical for us to bring it together and get the job done.”

Kerry is confident that funds can be found for the necessary energy transitions by the governments that responded with significant monetary and fiscal policy changes to limit the COVID-19 pandemic’s shock to the economy.

“Some of the money will have to come from countries, because we need money that is what we call ‘concessionary money,’ money that is there to though public budget to help pay for things that the private sector will not be interested in doing because it does not have a return on investment,” he said.

“But the vast majority of this money is going to come from the private sector all around the world because they have the money to invest and because the different sectors of our economy produce products such as in transportation. If you have a train or a high-speed rail or a clean public transport, those are areas where you have revenue. And if you have revenue, then you have the ability to be able to attract investment. 

“The same is true for energy use. People will pay for the energy they use for their air conditioning, for their heating, for their lights and so that's a revenue stream. That means you can actually invest in that and make some money so the private sector will see economic opportunity in many of the choices that we need to make and that’s why those banks I talked about put $4.16 trillion on the table. 

“There will be more than that, much more than that, around the world. And that’s what’s going to drive this - the ability of people to seek solutions, through technologies and individual use, products that people use and are willing to pay for.”


Saudi crown prince meets US climate envoy John Kerry

Saudi crown prince meets US climate envoy John Kerry
Updated 16 June 2021

Saudi crown prince meets US climate envoy John Kerry

Saudi crown prince meets US climate envoy John Kerry

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman met on Wednesday US Climate envoy John Kerry.

The meeting comes after Kerry met with Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir met on Tuesday.

Kerry was on his first visit to the Kingdom after assuming the position of US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.

Since President Joe Biden was sworn in on Jan. 20, he has made several moves to emphasize the importance of mitigating global warming and reinstating America's role as a leader in that battle. This included appointing former Secretary of State Kerry to be the country's first Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, making him the administration's global face on the issue.


Saudi Arabia, UAE sign MoU to enhance aviation security 

Saudi Arabia, UAE sign MoU to enhance aviation security 
Updated 16 June 2021

Saudi Arabia, UAE sign MoU to enhance aviation security 

Saudi Arabia, UAE sign MoU to enhance aviation security 
  • The MoU included several areas, including developing the civil aviation security infrastructure

RIYADH: The president of the Saudi aviation authority GACA signed on Tuesday a memorandum of understanding in Riyadh with his UAE counterpart to enhance bilateral cooperation in aviation security, state news agency SPA reported.

The MoU included several areas, including developing the civil aviation security infrastructure, to apply best practices used in their software systems, and to benefit from qualified technical teams between the two countries.

GACA’s president Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al Duailej and the general director of UAE’s aviation authority GCAA Saif bin Muhammad Al Suwaidi hope the MoU will contribute to the modernization of the administrative, organizational, operational and technical fields.


Saudi Arabia approves creation of sports academy

Saudi Arabia approves creation of sports academy
Updated 16 June 2021

Saudi Arabia approves creation of sports academy

Saudi Arabia approves creation of sports academy

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s government on Tuesday approved the creation of a sports academy designed to discover and develop talented youth.
The Mahd Sports Academy is expected to become one of the largest in the world over the next decade and aims to create a new golden generation of Saudi sportspeople.
The academy, which was launched in July, 2020, received praise from a number of international sporting officials and personalities, including FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Italian national football team coach Roberto Mancini and veteran football manager José Mourinho.
At launch, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, the sports minister, said: “This project is a dream step for Saudi Arabia, with the nation now focused on creating world-class Saudi talent that will make their country proud.”
Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia’s massive national reform program, has supercharged sports in the country since its introduction.
The Kingdom has hosted a number of major international events, including the Supercoppa Italiana, Formula E, heavyweight boxing as well as golfing and tennis tournaments.
The reforms have also allowed for more participation of women in sports.
“All of our programs today that we do in the ministry of sports and the Federation is all about diversity and inclusion,” Prince Abdulaziz told Arab News’ Frankly Speaking show last year.
Mahd Sports Academy will be identifying gifted boys and girls aged between 6 to 12.
The academy will look for players in two ways: the first via elementary school, where more than 10,000 PE teachers alongside scouts will be training and looking for players respectively. The second stage involves the chosen ones joining the talent discovery centre, which the country aims to have 44 of by the end of 2025, including 1.7 million participants.