Saudi Arabia celebrates Valentine’s Day without hiccup

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Valentine's Day is lucrative for businesses, especially flower shops, restaurants, cafes, cosmetic clinics and beauty salons. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Valentine's Day is lucrative for businesses, especially flower shops, restaurants, cafes, cosmetic clinics and beauty salons. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Valentine's Day is lucrative for businesses, especially flower shops, restaurants, cafes, cosmetic clinics and beauty salons. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Valentine's Day is lucrative for businesses, especially flower shops, restaurants, cafes, cosmetic clinics and beauty salons. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Updated 17 February 2019

Saudi Arabia celebrates Valentine’s Day without hiccup

  • Love is in the air ... Valentine’s Day in the new Kingdom
  • Celebrating love is not limited to non-Muslims: Sheikh Ahmed Qasim Al-Ghamdi

JEDDAH: Red roses are no longer hidden in flower shop backrooms, and heart-shaped chocolates are no longer sold under the counter on Valentine’s Day, due to curbs placed in 2016 by the Saudi religious police.

In 2018, a Saudi religious figure endorsed Valentine’s Day celebrations for the first time in the Kingdom. 

Sheikh Ahmed Qasim Al-Ghamdi, former president of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Makkah, announced on TV that celebrating Valentine’s Day does not contradict Islamic teachings, and that celebrating love is not limited to non-Muslims.

Valentine’s Day is celebrated worldwide, much like Mother’s Day, as “a positive aspect of the human being,” he said.

As a result, Valentine’s Day is becoming very lucrative for businesses, especially flower shops, restaurants, cafes, cosmetic clinics and beauty salons.

Chocolate and gourmet food brands, such as Godiva, have prepared Valentine’s Day products.

Abdulaziz Al-Noman, a high-end local chocolatier, is cooperating with the Rubaiyat retailer and Fitaihi Jewelry to offer customers free chocolate boxes and flowers. 

Fitaihi, a well-known Saudi brand, is offering discounts on love bracelets and pendants for what they have dubbed “a very special occasion.”

Nadine Attar, a jewelry designer and the face of Nadine Jewellery, has dedicated a special line, “A Journey of Love,” for Valentine’s Day.

The limited collection is a continuation of the designer’s Rouh collection, which is inspired by “the words that speak to the soul,” citing verses from the Quraan and famous Arab poets like Gibran Khalil Gibran with philosophy and Al-Mutanabi for love.

“I decided to use colors and symbols of love, hence the heart-shaped ruby stone, which is traditionally paired with white and yellow gold, but I chose rose gold instead as rose and red colors created a modern combination, and they go very well together in symbolizing the occasion,” Attar told Arab News. The collection will be discontinued once its items run out.

Attar is also targeting men, having produced red aluminum cuff links and aluminum cuff bracelets tipped in red. She said she intends for her pieces to become heirlooms.

Lingerie brand Nayomi has launched a campaign called #CelebrateRomanceWithNayomi, with discounts of up to 25 percent on its romance collection, and free shipping on all orders until Feb. 14.

Fitness centers such as ReFit Gym are offering discounts on new memberships, and supermarkets such as Manuel and Al-Tamimi have special sales on products such as chocolates, teddy bears and red roses.

The Foursquare City Guide has listed 15 romantic spots in Jeddah for a Valentine’s dinner. The list includes French restaurant Le Traiteur, Zodiac Lounge in Al-Andalus, Italian restaurant Il Gabbiano on the Corniche, and Japanese restaurant Nozomi in Al-Rawdah.

Tokyo summit discusses ‘strategic response’ to Saudi Aramco oil attacks

Taro Kono denounced the recent attacks on Aramco sites in Saudi Arabia. (AN Images/Kevin Hammontree)
Updated 13 min 51 sec ago

Tokyo summit discusses ‘strategic response’ to Saudi Aramco oil attacks

  • Shinzo Abe says it is Japan's mission to reset transparent, rules-based international order
  • Goldman Sachs' chief Japan strategist says closing gender gap can greatly boost global GDP

TOKYO: The attacks on Saudi Arabia grabbed all the headline attention at the G1 Global Conference in Tokyo, but the day-long think-in in Tokyo was more than just a survey of the dramatic headlines and images that had dominated the weekend media.

The event is now in its ninth year, as a global leaders’ conference conducted entirely in English on the big themes of international affairs, business, culture and society from a Japanese perspective.

One of the organizers called it the “Davos of Tokyo,” and while it may have fallen short of the famous Swiss Alpine gathering in numbers and glamour, the Sept. 16 event certainly rivaled it in the breadth and ambition of the agenda.

Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan, set a high bar in an opening video address in which he said it was “Japan’s mission” to lead the world in resetting the transparent, rules-based international order that has been weakened by the populist waves in the US, Europe and elsewhere.

On the theme of “sustainable innovation in times of disruption”, the G1 followed a familiar pattern of plenaries, breakouts, workshops and networking, in the functional setting of the Globis University in downtown Tokyo. What it lacked in Alpine splendour, it more than made up for with the convenience of a one-day colloquium.

But first, the weekend’s news stole the show at the opening plenary, and was an elephant in the room for the rest of the day.

Taro Kono, the Japanese defense minister, declared the attacks on Saudi oil installations and the threat to global oil supplies the “most worrying scenario” in the world today.

He was backed up by John Chipman, director general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, who criticized the failure of the US and its allies in the Middle East and elsewhere to counter Iranian expansion in the region.

“The strategic response to this has not been properly considered, and now Saudi Arabia’s most important strategic asset has been attacked,” he said.

The attacks on Saudi oil installations also featured prominently in a later session, conducted behind-closed-doors under the Chatham House Rule, at which security experts debated the origins and impact of the attacks, including the appropriate level of response from Saudi Arabia and its allies.

Chipman also spoke frankly about the confrontation between the US and China over trade, technology and digital strategy. “The US and the West has only just woken up to China’s strategic rivalry,” he said.

Referring to the Soviet space launch in the 1950s that stirred the US into a space race with the USSR, Chipman said: “China wants a unipolar Asia in a multipolar world, and that is a ‘Sputnik’ moment for the Americans,” he said.

There was skepticism that US President Donald Trump was the man to lead an effective rule-based order against Chinese expansion.

Mieko Nakabayashi, professor of social sciences at Waseda University, who spent many years in the corridors of power in Washington, said: “A lot of people say that Trump is a disaster, but he also has a lot of supporters. He might win next year’s election, which would make for a very adventurous four years to come.”

Given the East Asian venue and focus of the event, the threat from China, and its relations with neighbors such as Japan, Korea and the Southeast Asian countries, were recurring themes of the day.

A session entitled “Geo-politics: US-China hegemony in Asia” had two experts from opposite sides of the issue. Abraham Denmark, American director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said the US was in the middle of the biggest debate about foreign policy since the end of the Cold War.

Although recent polls suggested that a large number of Americans still support an active role for the US in trade and global affairs, it was also apparent that the old rules of engagement with the rest of the world were no longer sufficient.

“We used to believe that engaging with China was a good thing in itself. Now we have to balance competition and co-operation, and will co-operate only on matters of mutual self-interest,” Denmark said.

Zha Daojiong, of the School of International Studies at Peking University, said there had been some “positive momentum” in recent weeks with both sides pulling back from higher trade tariffs, adding: “What is the antagonism between China and the USA? It is about primacy, and somebody has to be number one. They are like two 800-pound gorillas rising and falling under their own weight.”

Lynn Kuok, of the IISS, gave a Southeast Asian perspective on the issue. “Trump’s insistence that other countries have to ban Huawei means that the USA is saying ‘you have to chose between USA and China,’ but it should not be a choice between two countries but between rules and non-rules based orders.”

The session turned into a barbed exchange between the US and Chinese representatives. “If you give technology to Huawei, you’ve got to assume it will end up with the People’s Liberation Army,” said Denmark, who also complained about Chinese state subsidies to corporations.

Zha Daojiong responded with allegations about subsidies to US defense manufacturers such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin. “Where is the state, and where is the company with them,” he said. Taking a swipe at US financial policy, he said: “Negative interest rates are not very capitalist.”

The G1 was not just about high matters of geopolitics, however. One big theme was the progress towards achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals in environmental, social responsibility and corporate governance.

Also high on the agenda was gender equality. In a session entitled “Womenomics and Gender Equality in Entrepreneurship,” Kathy Matsui, chief Japan strategist at Goldman Sachs, produced recent research showing a direct link between economic growth and greater female participation in the global workforce. “I believe that if you close the gender gap, you could actually boost global GDP by as much as $5 trillion,” she said.

The Tokyo gathering also focused on events that will put Japan in the global spotlight and boost tourism. The Rugby World Cup begins next week, and the country is hosting the Olympic Games in 2020.

In a session headed “How to evolve into a unique and sustainable tourism super-power,” experts discussed Japan’s ambitious plans to increase the number of international visitors and get them to spend more while on holiday. The government wants 40 million visitors next year.

About 75 per cent of foreign visitors to Japan come from four Asian countries — China, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong — and the government would like to attract more Americans, Europeans and Australians, who tend to stay longer and spend more.

This year a 30 per cent drop in the number of Korean tourists is expected as Japan and South Korea square off amid a trade dispute sparked by events dating back to the  Second World War.