One woman’s quest for a driving license in Saudi Arabia

One woman’s quest for a driving license in Saudi Arabia
Noor Nugali pictured in her car on the anniversary Saudi women driving, June, 24, 2019. (Supplied)
Updated 24 June 2019

One woman’s quest for a driving license in Saudi Arabia

One woman’s quest for a driving license in Saudi Arabia
  • One year after women were allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, the ranks of aspiring female drivers just keep swelling
  • Women could begin to think of driving in Saudi Arabia only since Sept. 26, 2017, when a landmark royal decree was issued

RIYADH: No sooner had the royal decree of Sept. 26, 2017 lifting the ban on women driving been issued than excitement filled Saudi Arabia. Women began to gear up for the big day when they would get behind the wheel without breaking the law.
I remember waking up my two young sons on the day the decree was announced with the words: “Well, gentlemen. It looks like I’ll be getting to drive before you both.” They looked at once stunned and delighted.
The royal decree took effect on June 24, 2018. It has been one year since women in Saudi Arabia were first allowed to drive, and the ranks of aspiring female drivers just keep swelling.
I had been hearing horror stories about the Saudi Driving School (SDS), located in Princess Nourah University in Riyadh, so I decided to put on my journalist hat and find out the truth. What I saw was somewhat different.
On May 23, I signed up for the driving placement exam, which allows women with prior driving experience to skip the mandatory 30 hours of lessons and settle for 12 or 6 hours, depending on an evaluation by a driving examiner.
I had my exam scheduled a full month later, but I had heard of exceptions being made, so I asked the officer concerned to set up an earlier appointment. My request was considered: I was evaluated in two weeks’ time and advised to take 12 hours of driving lessons.
Men in Saudi Arabia know from birth they will be able to drive on the Kingdom’s roads one day. Women, on the other hand, could afford to think likewise only since 2017. The goal of the SDS, according to its operations supervisor, Aseel Al-Saleh, is to “give women the confidence to overcome the fear of being on the road.”
She added: “When you take the final exam, wear your seat belt, say Bismillah and drive as you would do on the streets and not as if it were an exam you have to pass. No examiner will fail you if you succeed. Our pass rate is 90 percent.”
Although it opened its doors only a year ago, the SDS has already issued 40,000 driving licenses. After complaints of long waiting periods, the administrative process has been streamlined. With the staff working 12-hour shifts six days a week, help and guidance are always at hand for Riyadh’s aspiring female drivers. “Our motto is to teach them how to drive safely,” said Nora Al-Dossary, supervisor of marketing and PR at SDS.
For mothers with little children, the SDS has a high-quality nursery with a playground and a toy driving track. Kids can spend time there learning about road safety and getting their own “driving license” while their mothers finish their lessons.
Amira Al-Maliky, a lecturer coordinator, recounts the case of an elderly man who came to the office gates to tell her he had one daughter and a son who was in jail. If the daughter could drive, life would be different for him and his family. Al-Maliky said seeing the young woman’s learning process through to the end became a personal mission for her.
“The joy we get from helping people is what keeps us going,” she said. “We are trying our best to help all female applicants gain the confidence and the skill to take to the country’s roads.”
Of course some customers do have grumbles. A few applicants express frustration that they have to take lessons even after a full year of practice. Also, as Al-Dossary said, there are applicants who express surprise they have to take the full 30, or 12, hours of lessons despite having driven for a year without a license - and without “following the rules of safe and correct driving.”
At the same time, “the SDS recognizes unique Saudi talents and we are proud to have them as part of our school,” she said. She was referring to two instructors who have taken part in international racing. One of them, Jawaher AlZamil, who is now an examiner, was a rally racer who competed in the VMAX race in London last March. “My dream is to see Saudi women in the highest of positions” Al-Zamil said.
On June 20, I passed my theory exam. Now I am looking forward to the practical lessons, clearing the tests and joining the growing ranks of Saudi women who have a license to drive.


Umrah companies gear up to receive foreign pilgrims

Following the temporary closure of Umrah due to the emergence of the pandemic, worshippers were allowed to perform the Umrah rituals in early October. (AFP/File)
Following the temporary closure of Umrah due to the emergence of the pandemic, worshippers were allowed to perform the Umrah rituals in early October. (AFP/File)
Updated 26 July 2021

Umrah companies gear up to receive foreign pilgrims

Following the temporary closure of Umrah due to the emergence of the pandemic, worshippers were allowed to perform the Umrah rituals in early October. (AFP/File)
  • Industry workers could be trained to operate under pandemic conditions, says official

MAKKAH: Hundreds of companies are gearing up to receive fully immunized foreign pilgrims wishing to perform Umrah from Aug. 9.

Via an online platform, pilgrims will be given access to 500 businesses providing access to flights, transport, hotels and Umrah companies.
Hani Al-Omairi, a member of the National Committee for Hajj and Umrah and the Hotels Committee in Makkah, told Alarabiya that nearly 30 websites and platforms will be available for international reservations.
“Health courses and crowd management courses were given to all employees as several companies have commenced operations. Procedures for the rest of the companies and institutions are being finalized by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah and other relevant authorities,” said Al-Omairi.
Commenting on the news, Mohsin Tutla, chairman of the World Hajj and Umrah Care Foundation, told Arab News the return of pilgrims could be ensured through training the industry to provide services under pandemic conditions. He added that the introduction of vigilance technology throughout the pilgrimage and further measures would help smoothen the process.
Tutla told Arab News that the demand from pilgrims to conduct rituals during the pandemic is not as high as people may think.

SPEEDREAD

• Via an online platform, pilgrims will be given access to 500 businesses providing access to flights, transport, hotels and Umrah companies. 

• Hani Al-Omairi, a member of the National Committee for Hajj and Umrah and the Hotels Committee in Makkah, says nearly 30 websites and platforms will be available for international reservations.

“Even though we can assume that people have been queuing to perform Hajj and Umrah, the reality is that people’s financial capability has been depleted.
“Where Hajj and Umrah were available and easy for the mass population and the middle income population, it is now only possible for the rich and thrifty savers.”
Tutla added: “The road to recovery and rejuvenation is not dependent on only demand, it is dependent on the development of global safety mechanisms such as the Hajj and Umrah Safe Corridor, which is currently being developed by the World Hajj and Umrah Care Foundation, and is being installed in 25 countries worldwide.

Demand from pilgrims to conduct rituals during the pandemic is not as high as people may think. 

Mohsin Tutla, Chairman of the World Hajj and Umrah Care Foundation

“Globally you will realize that demand would have dropped by approximately 40 percent for international Umrah and 15 percent for international Hajj pilgrimages.” Following the temporary closure of Umrah due to the emergence of the pandemic, worshippers were allowed to perform the Umrah rituals in early October. As many as 250,000 domestic pilgrims were able to register, book appointments and granted permits in the first phase.
Some 10,000 foreign pilgrims were gradually allowed back into the Kingdom in the third phase on Nov. 1 after a seven-month hiatus of strict regulations.


Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Jasser, Islamic Development Bank president

Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Jasser, Islamic Development Bank president
Updated 26 July 2021

Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Jasser, Islamic Development Bank president

Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Jasser, Islamic Development Bank president

Dr. Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Jasser has been appointed as the new head of the Islamic Development Bank for the next five years.

He has been an adviser at the General Secretariat of the Saudi Council of Ministers and the chairman of the General Authority for Competition since 2016.

Al-Jasser received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of California in 1986. He obtained his master’s degree in economics from the same university in 1981, and a bachelor’s degree in economics from San Diego State University in 1979.

He served as the Kingdom’s economy and planning minister from 2011 to 2015, and as governor of the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) between 2009 and 2011. He was also the vice governor and vice chairman of the SAMA’s board from November 1995 to February 2009.

He has participated in major international events, including G20 meetings at the deputy, ministerial, governor and full summit levels. Al-Jasser also participated in regular meetings of the Bank for International Settlements from 1997 to 2011, and took part in local and international symposia, while also giving frequent lectures on economic and monetary policies.

His previous memberships of ministerial committees, boards and councils include the Council for Economic Affairs and Development, the Supreme Council for Civil Defense, and the Ministerial Committee for Mining Affairs among others.

Al-Jasser has received many awards such as the King Abdul Aziz Medal of the First Order in 2001, the Euromoney (Emerging Markets) Award for Central Bank Governor, MENA Region for the Year in 2009, the Arab Bankers Association of North America Achievement Award in 2010, and “The Banker” Award and “Central Bank Governor of the Year for the Middle East” in 2011.


Makkah’s hospitality sector eyeing recovery

The hotel sector in Makkah is the strongest in the Middle East, says expert. (SPA)
The hotel sector in Makkah is the strongest in the Middle East, says expert. (SPA)
Updated 25 July 2021

Makkah’s hospitality sector eyeing recovery

The hotel sector in Makkah is the strongest in the Middle East, says expert. (SPA)
  • Several services can also be built upon within the hospitality industry to create diverse “backup sectors” that the industry can fall back in exceptional circumstances

MAKKAH: The hospitality sector in Makkah is beginning to look forward to a strong recovery from the devastating economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and experts predict hotels could begin to see results within two years.
The city, the third-most densely populated in the Kingdom, is particularly well served in terms of hotels — almost two-thirds of all those in Saudi Arabia can be found there. Before the pandemic it was a thriving sector, its growth fueled by the ever-increasing numbers of visitors from around the world who flock to Makkah for the annual Hajj pilgrimage or to complete their Umrah rituals.
COVID-19 changed everything. However, experts predict that after the dramatic decline in business caused by the pandemic, “hotel recuperation” plans could begin to yield results by 2023 as the world slowly starts to emerge from lockdown.
Fadhel Manqal, manager of a hotel in the city and a member of the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and industry hotels committee, told Arab News that the sector has faced immense challenges for almost two years.
“The sector has experienced an economic downturn,” he said. “This has crippled its economic power, which is an important contributor to the local economy. It has borne the burden of the effects of the pandemic, which has had a negative effect on all areas of the global economy, including significant implications for the hotel sector.

FASTFACT

The city, the third-most densely populated in the Kingdom, is particularly well served in terms of hotels — almost two-thirds of all those in Saudi Arabia can be found there.

“Makkah’s hotels were not spared; they have suffered substantial losses, leading some to close down and others to suspend their activities or recover partially. Many have suffered losses worth billions.”
Manqal said that the hotel sector in Makkah is the strongest in the Middle East, with more than 1,300 hotels that are expected to receive 30 million pilgrims by 2030, as visitor numbers increase as a result of the National Transformation Program and the wider Saudi Vision 2030. But it is still suffering real hardship, he added, despite the early signs of recovery.
The hospitality industry has been irreversibly changed by the health crisis, he said, adding that despite the efforts of some governments to minimize the effects and reduce losses, it has been an economic catastrophe for the sector and the fates of many businesses hang in the balance.
“Not everyone is capable of recovery, adapting or even reorganizing,” said Manqal. “The large five-star hotel chains near the Grand Mosque in Makkah will certainly recover quickly, especially the ones in the central area or the commercial districts near the holy sites in Al-Aziziyah.
“There is no doubt that the unfolding effects on the industry pose a challenge even for more-experienced hotel owners.” For this reason it is vital that businesses plan for the future and confront obstacles, he added.
Saudi authorities began to look for ways to help people and plan for recovery early in the pandemic, said Manqal. For example, they provided assistance through the SANED unemployment insurance program for the families of Saudi hotel workers.
With continued support from the authorities, and the gradual return of Umrah pilgrims from within the Kingdom and, in initially limited numbers, other countries as vaccination rates increase around the world, Manqal said that he expects the sector to begin to recover by 2023.
This gives hospitality providers time to consider their options and develop a better understanding of their perfect hotel guest, he added, but some service providers will face greater challenges than others, particularly those that were heavily dependent on the annual Hajj and Umrah seasons.
Economic analyst Fadl Abu Al-Ainain told Arab News that he expects the sector will continue to experience hardship until the end of this year and that greater public and private sector support, in the form of exceptional incentive programs, as well as the Kingdom’s rapidly expanding vaccination program, will alleviate the continuing effects of the pandemic on Makkah’s hospitality industry.
“Recovery is linked to the return of pilgrims at levels similar to those in the past, and this cannot be achieved due to the coronavirus,” he said. “Consequently, change in the sector is closely linked to a full recovery from the pandemic. Thus, there should be greater focus on reducing the effects of the pandemic on the sector through the provision of government support, as well as measures to reduce the financial burdens on the sector.
“There should be a mechanism for coping with exceptional circumstances, which would also require an enhancement of crisis management that would cover financial and operational damage,” Al-Ainain added.
“The sector has not achieved efficiency in combating crises, and its ability to withstand shocks is nonexistent, but the pandemic situation might open the door for the development of strategies to urgently manage crises in the future.
“I think that reconsidering the value of lease agreements and fixed costs, in partnership with the government, are tools that could be used to address this crisis, and that more sharing of risk among all parties to a contract might reduce the magnitude of losses and the burden of them falling mostly on just one side.”
Several services can also be built upon within the hospitality industry to create diverse “backup sectors” that the industry can fall back in exceptional circumstances, Al-Ainain said, lamenting the fact that “no one searched for them in the past due to the steady and easy income during the high season.”


Authorities in Saudi Arabia sterilize holy sites after Hajj pilgrims depart

The work was carried out under the supervision of the Services Agency represented by the General Administration of Environmental Sanitation. (SPA)
The work was carried out under the supervision of the Services Agency represented by the General Administration of Environmental Sanitation. (SPA)
Updated 25 July 2021

Authorities in Saudi Arabia sterilize holy sites after Hajj pilgrims depart

The work was carried out under the supervision of the Services Agency represented by the General Administration of Environmental Sanitation. (SPA)
  • Spraying and sterilization work was carried out in Arafat and Muzdalifah

JEDDAH: The Municipality of Makkah carried out several field tours to sterilize the holy sites area following the completion of the Hajj pilgrimage, as part an integrated municipal services system.
The Municipality said that sanitation work covered the holy sites to combat public health threats, filling and suctioning water from swamps or water pools, while using environmentally friendly means to preserve public health.
The work was carried out under the supervision and follow-up of the Services Agency represented by the General Administration of Environmental Sanitation.
The agency indicated that spraying and sterilization work was carried out for 103 open water fountains, 48 ​​watershed sites, 217 toilet facilities, and 55 rainwater drainage ducts, in addition to cleaning and sterilizing three government offices in Arafat.
62 open water fountains, 13 watershed sites, 103 toilet facilities, 24 rainwater drainage ducts and a government office in Muzdalifah were also sprayed and sterilized.


Aden receives Saudi oil derivatives grant

The third batch of Saudi oil derivatives, worth a total of $4.2 billion, will reach the intended beneficiaries and improve the living standards of Yemenis. (SPA)
The third batch of Saudi oil derivatives, worth a total of $4.2 billion, will reach the intended beneficiaries and improve the living standards of Yemenis. (SPA)
Updated 26 July 2021

Aden receives Saudi oil derivatives grant

The third batch of Saudi oil derivatives, worth a total of $4.2 billion, will reach the intended beneficiaries and improve the living standards of Yemenis. (SPA)
  • The Saudi grants have reduced the burdens on the Yemeni government’s budget, reduced the depletion of hard currency in purchasing oil derivatives from global markets

ADEN: A total of 75,000 metric tons of Saudi oil derivatives reached the Port of Aden to help the Yemeni authorities meet the growing energy demands.
Sent with the help of the Saudi Development and Reconstruction Program for Yemen (SDPRY), the shipment was received by the Deputy Gov. of Aden Badr Mouaen, the first undersecretary of Aden Mohammed Nasr Al-Shathili, SDPRY representative Mohammed Al-Yehya, and other officials.
Al-Yehya hoped that the third batch, worth a total of $4.2 billion, will reach the intended beneficiaries and improve the living standards of Yemenis.
Earlier batches in May and June helped increase energy output by more than 25 percent in Yemeni governorates and more than 40 percent in Aden and stabilized fuel supplies.
The Saudi grants have reduced the burdens on the Yemeni government’s budget, reduced the depletion of hard currency in purchasing oil derivatives from global markets, stabilized Yemen’s riyal exchange rate and fuel prices against the US dollar, provided job opportunities, raised the productivity of Yemeni citizens, raised the performance of vital sectors’ services, and improved the livelihoods of Yemenis.

The grant has helped to address the problem of frequent outages and increase power hours by 30 percent in comparison with March.

This support has had a positive impact on the economic, health and educational fields, and has improved general living conditions.

The SDPRY and the Yemeni government have developed an integrated governance mechanism for oil derivatives.

The Yemeni government has formed a supervisory committee consisting of Yemeni ministries and relevant authorities. The committee ensures that the grant reaches the intended beneficiaries and that the oil derivatives are used for their intended purpose.

The joint committee has scheduled the shipments of the Saudi oil derivatives grant to help the Yemeni government direct its expenses, use the amounts which were allocated to buy the oil derivatives to support the salaries of public employees and provide basic public services.

SDPRY has so far implemented 198 development projects and initiatives to support the Yemeni people in seven different sectors: education, health, water, transport, agriculture and fisheries as well as strengthening governmental institutions.