Saudi students abroad are watching in hope as dramatic reforms in the Kingdom promise a new era of optimism

Saudi students abroad are watching in hope as dramatic reforms in the Kingdom promise a new era of optimism
Saudi students typically come to the US to benefit from a learning environment they say is very open and supportive. (Courtesy: Shutterstock)
Updated 26 March 2018

Saudi students abroad are watching in hope as dramatic reforms in the Kingdom promise a new era of optimism

Saudi students abroad are watching in hope as dramatic reforms in the Kingdom promise a new era of optimism

NEW HAMPSHIRE: From 4,000 miles away, Saudi students in the US have been watching a political transformation unfold in their homeland with a renewed sense of hope for their own futures — and for the future of a country in a region beset by turmoil.
Since becoming crown prince in June, Mohammed bin Salman has embarked on a series of bold policies designed to curb corruption, push back against religious extremism and confront an expansionist Iran.
Domestically, social reforms have been high on the agenda, including the headline-grabbing decision to allow women to drive. Prohibitions on women driving had consistently been invoked by Saudi Arabia’s overseas friends and critics alike as an unacceptable restriction on civil rights.
“When I came to the US, the first thing I did was get my driving license and get my own car to drive,” said Siham Karkaah, a 33-year-old Saudi student from Riyadh. She arrived in the US in August, and is studying for a master’s degree in education at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).
A month after she arrived, the crown prince issued a decree that means she will be able to drive when she returns to Saudi Arabia after completing her studies, something she plans to do.
“I have always been supportive of women’s rights, and I definitely believe in that and women’s freedom, and doing what you want to do as a woman.
“I fully support the changes that have been made. When I do go home, it will be to a different country,” she said.
Karkaah’s enthusiasm was echoed by other young Saudis studying in the US, who believe the crown prince understands their dreams and aspirations far better than previous leaders.
“It’s really important that the crown prince is close to our age; it means he understands our generation. We have a new way of thinking, and he does, too,” said Abdullah Al-Mutairi, 26, another SNHU student from the Kingdom.
He also supported the crown prince’s anti-corruption drive, which included seizing assets from some wealthy members of the Saudi royal family and prominent businessmen.
The crown prince’s methods have provoked concern in the US about respect for property rights and due process, although there is a widespread belief among US experts and Saudi expats that serious action against financial corruption was needed.
“I wasn’t expecting the crown prince to do what he did, but I’m glad he chose to,” Al-Mutairi, a business studies student, said.
Although supportive of the decision to let Saudi women drive, Al-Mutairi said the measure would run up against a strong strand of conservatism in Saudi society.
“Women may now be legally allowed to drive, but if there are men in their family who don’t want them to, that is a real barrier. The women could go to court, and they could win, but it might mean breaking ties with their family, which would be a huge sacrifice,” he said.
Saudi students typically come to the US to benefit from a learning environment they say is more open, supportive and of higher quality than they are able to get at home. Fees are usually paid by a Saudi government-funded scholarship fund, which also covers living costs.
SNHU, in the New Hampshire city of Manchester, is considered one of the most innovative higher education establishments in the US and has long been popular with Saudi students.
Another SNHU student, Hussam Samir Al-Deen, said he had longed to visit the US and had learned a great deal from his time there. He hopes to find work in the US after graduating, but expects to return home one day.
The 28-year-old from Jeddah said he tried to be a good ambassador for his nation. “Most Americans I’ve met have been very nice, but some have the wrong impression about Saudi Arabia and about Islam. I hope I have helped to improve their view,” he said.
Al-Deen said he and friends had suffered isolated cases of racism, or had been called terrorists by people in the street.
“I just ignore them, they don’t really understand what they are saying — most people are very kind,” he said.
His years studying in the US had changed him and some of his views on culture, he said. If there was one social reform that could be added to the list of those underway in Saudi, he hoped it would be a shift in the nature of personal relationships.
“In Saudi Arabia, it is more difficult to be friends with women, or to work alongside women, and it is not always accepted that you get to marry the woman you love. Instead you are supposed to marry and hope you fall in love with your wife afterwards. I would like to see those things change one day,” he said.


What Saudi citizens need to know to travel safely

What Saudi citizens need to know to travel safely
Travelers will not be allowed into airports or planes without showing their health statuses through the government-approved health app, Tawakkalna. (Supplied)
Updated 10 May 2021

What Saudi citizens need to know to travel safely

What Saudi citizens need to know to travel safely
  • COVID-19 insurance mandatory for those under the age of 18 wishing to travel

JEDDAH: With one week to go before international travel resumes, Saudis are being encouraged to cover all the necessary basics before leaving the country.

During a joint press conference on Sunday, the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) and the Council of Cooperative Health Insurance (CCHI) shared new instructions and updated travel insurance policies for all Saudis wishing to travel abroad following a previous announcement stating the four categories allowed.
Ibrahim Alrwosa, GACA official spokesman, outlined the new travel procedures for citizens, health protocols followed at airports, and the shipment, transport and reception of vaccines at the Kingdom’s airports.
“After a week, our airports will witness the resuming of flights for citizens starting 1 a.m. We call on everyone to thoroughly follow the set health precautions to achieve a completely safe trip,” said Alrwosa, adding that the authority will update its safety instructions to add COVID-19 health measures in a new leaflet.
Travelers will not be allowed into airports or planes without showing their health statuses through the government-approved health app, Tawakkalna. Travelers who have received two vaccine doses, those who have completed two weeks since receiving the first jab, those who are immune by recovery no more than six months since infection and children under the age of 18 who have travel insurance obtained in cooperation with the Saudi Central Bank will be the only groups allowed to cross international borders.
Alrwosa stressed that travelers follow their country of destination’s health precautions to avoid any problems.

HIGHLIGHT

Travelers will not be allowed into airports or planes without showing their health statuses through the government-approved health app, Tawakkalna. Travelers who have received two vaccine doses, those who have completed two weeks since receiving the first jab, those who are immune by recovery no more than six months since infection and children under the age of 18 who have travel insurance obtained in cooperation with the Saudi Central Bank will be the only groups allowed to cross international borders. 

Meanwhile, CCHI spokesman, Othman Al-Qasabi, revealed that the new insurance policy will include benefits that cover the risks of COVID-19 infection, and that it is mandatory for those under the age of 18 wishing to travel.
“This is in cooperation with the Saudi Central Bank. Persons vaccinated with two doses, first dose, and immune by recovery with the required timeline, will have the travel insurance available for them, but it has been made mandatory for those under the age of 18 to reduce the risks accompanied by the virus.”
The travel insurance, which is only valid for 30 days, will cover emergency medical expenses related to COVID-19 such as emergency rooms, urgent care and transportation. It also covers quarantine-related accommodation costs, medical evacuation and issues related to canceling flights due to COVID-19 conditions.
“These new benefits have been added to the already existing travel insurance benefits.”
The council revealed that a consortium of 12 companies has been approved for people to receive travel insurance from, with Tawuniya Insurance Company chosen to lead the alliance.


King Salman appoints Abanmi as governor of Zakat, Tax, and Customs Authority

King Salman appoints Abanmi as governor of Zakat, Tax, and Customs Authority
Updated 10 May 2021

King Salman appoints Abanmi as governor of Zakat, Tax, and Customs Authority

King Salman appoints Abanmi as governor of Zakat, Tax, and Customs Authority

RIYADH: King Salman has issued a royal order appointing Suhail bin Mohammed bin Abdulaziz Abanmi as governor of the Zakat, Tax, and Customs Authority, with the rank of minister, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) announced on Saturday.

The new body is a merger of the former General Authority of Zakat and Tax (GAZT), which Abanmi headed since 2017, and the Saudi Customs, of which he was named acting governor since March.

Abanmi has worked as an executive in various private companies and government agencies, including as head of business development and manager of the Tadawulaty program, general supervisor of the Ministry of Commerce’s agency for internal trade, and member of the advisory committee for the Capital Market Authority.


Saudi crown prince allocates 20 million square meters for housing units north of Riyadh

Saudi crown prince allocates 20 million square meters for housing units north of Riyadh
Updated 10 May 2021

Saudi crown prince allocates 20 million square meters for housing units north of Riyadh

Saudi crown prince allocates 20 million square meters for housing units north of Riyadh
  • The additional lands will provide more than 53,000 various housing units
  • Riyadh aims to become one of the 10 largest economic cities in the world

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has directed the allocation of 20 million square meters for new residential land north of Riyadh.
The ownership will be transferred to the Ministry of Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing, and is part of a drive to improve the housing sector and hep families, Saudi Press Agency reported.
The allocation aims to increase the residential area of ​​Al-Jawan suburb from 10 million square meters to 30 million square meters, and build up to 53,000 housing units through integrated projects, facilities and services in partnership with the private sector. This is on top of the 20,000 housing units that have already been announced.
Support for the housing sector has led to Saudi home ownership increasing from 47 percent to 60 percent in the last four years.
The Kingdom hope that figure will reach 70 percent under the Vision 2030 reform programs.
“The additional lands allocated to the housing sector north of Riyadh will provide more than 53,000 various housing units that real estate developers will work on, taking into account the quality of services that meet the aspirations of citizens,” the statement said.
The move is also in line with the city’s growth with the aim of becoming one of the 10 largest economic cities in the world and an increase in population from 15 to 20 million by 2030.
Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing Majed Al-Hogail said the housing sector contributes more than SR115 billion ($30.6 million) to GDP and provides about 40,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Riyadh’s housing sector has witnessed rapid growth over the past two years.


UAE condemns Houthi drone targeting Saudi Arabia’s Khamis Mushait    

UAE condemns Houthi drone targeting Saudi Arabia’s Khamis Mushait    
Updated 10 May 2021

UAE condemns Houthi drone targeting Saudi Arabia’s Khamis Mushait    

UAE condemns Houthi drone targeting Saudi Arabia’s Khamis Mushait    

RIYADH: The UAE repeated its “strong condemnation and denunciation” of the Iran-backed Houthi militia launching drone attacks at innocent civilians in Saudi Arabia.

The comments come after the latest attempted attack on the Kingdom’s southern regions. The Arab coalition said on Sunday that an explosives-laden drones was intercepted after it was launched towards Khamis Mushait. 

The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said the latest drone attack showed Houthi's “blatant defiance of the safety of the international community and its disregard for all international laws.”

The UAE said it stands against any threat to Saudi Arabia’s security and stability.


Weather warnings issued across Saudi Arabia until Friday

Weather warnings issued across Saudi Arabia until Friday
Updated 10 May 2021

Weather warnings issued across Saudi Arabia until Friday

Weather warnings issued across Saudi Arabia until Friday
  • Civil defense warns of thunderstorms and risk of flooding in some areas

RIYADH: Weather warnings have been issued for several regions across Saudi Arabia from Monday until Friday, the Kingdom’s civil defense said on Sunday.
The authority warned of thunderstorms with moderate to heavy rain and brisk winds that may lead to torrential flows in Asir, Al-Baha, Jazan, Najran, and Makkah.
The regions of Madinah, Qassim, Hail, the Northern Borders Province, Al-Jawf, and Tabuk will be affected by moderate rain, while the Eastern Province will be affected by light to moderate rain.
The warnings were based on data from the National Center of Meteorology.
Lt. Col. Mohammed Al-Hammadi, civil defense spokesman, called on everyone to be wary of the potential dangers of severe weather conditions, to stay away from places that could flood, and to abide by the civil defense’s instructions and updates announced through media and social media outlets.