Arab News launches Hajj special coverage with all-female team

The Arab News all-female team comprises Hala Tashkandi from our Riyadh bureau, Rua’a Al-Ameri from our Dubai bureau and photographer Huda Bashatah from our Jeddah bureau. (AN photo)
Updated 12 August 2019

Arab News launches Hajj special coverage with all-female team

  • In tandem with comprehensive coverage in print and online, the Arab News Hajj app for mobile devices is again available as a free download from the Apple App Store and Google Play

JEDDAH: Arab News today launches its special coverage of Hajj 2019 — with, for the first time, an all-female team on the ground at the holy sites.

Today’s special edition of the newspaper, with a stunning cover-wrap image of the Kaaba, is being distributed to pilgrims at Mina as they begin their spiritual journey.

In tandem with comprehensive coverage in print and online, the Arab News Hajj app for mobile devices is again available as a free download from the Apple App Store and Google Play.

The app, developed with the support of the Muslim World League, features a digital Qibla compass, a real-time currency converter, Qur’an prayer audio files and live news updates.

This year the app also has an enhanced “pilgrim tracker” function, an optional feature that allows users who activate it to share their location and follow loved ones in real time, round the clock.

For Hajj 2019 our staff will also be distributing Arab News umbrellas; designed for sun protection, they were invaluable last year when Makkah and Madina were deluged with rain. This year, in association with the Makkah Health Affairs General Directorate, the umbrellas will also be distributed to outpatients attending hospital for treatment during Hajj.

The Arab News all-female team comprises Hala Tashkandi from our Riyadh bureau, Rua’a Al-Ameri from our Dubai bureau and photographer Huda Bashatah from our Jeddah bureau.

“It is both amazing and intimidating to know that I have the task of bringing news to the general public, who rely on us to deliver information accurately, quickly and in an entertaining way,” Tashkandi said.

“I hope we can supply new and exciting information to all our readers, from Hajj veterans looking to see how things have changed, to young Muslims soaking up information to prepare for their first Hajj experience, and even curious non-Muslims who just want to know what it is about.”

Al-Ameri, on her first visit to Saudi Arabia, will be focusing on stories with a human interest. 

“I am keen to learn about pilgrims’ experiences and share their personal stories on their spiritual journey,” she said.

Bashatah, the photographer, said: “I’m touched and proud to be part of the team as this is my first Hajj journey. I’m even more excited to leave my fingerprint on people’s memories with the photos I take of the pilgrims.”

The initiative for a 50:50 gender-balanced newsroom by 2020 was launched by Arab News editor-in-chief Faisal J. Abbas in 2018, reflecting Saudi Arabia’s drive toward reform and female empowerment. Hajj coverage was a key area for implementing the initiative, Abbas said.

“As the voice of our changing region, and the English-language newspaper of record for Saudi Arabia, Arab News sets the benchmark for reporting on Hajj, and our female staff play a crucial role in that work,” he said.

Global stars shine at Saudi leisure forum

Updated 14 October 2019

Global stars shine at Saudi leisure forum

  • “It (Saudi Movies) will bring Saudis closer to the world and the world closer to Saudi,” Shahrukh Khan 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia took another step toward establishing its place on the global entertainment map with a major industry event in Riyadh on Sunday.

The Joy Forum19 brought together entertainment promoters and pioneers from around the world, along with global stars such as Indian actor and film producer Shah Rukh Khan; Hong Kong martial artist, actor, film director Jackie Chan and Belgian actor and martial artist Jean-Claude Van Damme.

The event was organized by the General Entertainment Authority (GEA), which signed several important agreements on the day, including a financing guarantee program for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Participants are ushered in on the first day of the Joy Forum19 event in Riyadh. (AN photo by Noor Nugali)

“Our message is for both, locally and internationally. Me and my generation suffered a lot, we had lots of time on our hands,” GEA chairman Turki Al-Sheikh said at the event.

“Today you are witnessing things we have never had in Saudi Arabia. We have 300,000 visitors to our events, and our sales have hit 80 percent.

“Saudi Arabia has never seen anything like Riyadh Season, we have over 400 sponsors, which is unprecedented.”

Al-Sheikh announced that the authority had named a stadium after singer Mohammed Abdo, the “Artist of Arabs,” and another after Abu Baker Salim, the father of Khaleeji music. 

READ MORE: Three MoUs signed at opening day of Joy Forum19 in Riyadh

Drunken master

The actors expressed what it meant to be movie stars and how wide-reaching their influence could be.

Jackie Chan recalled that when he was a new actor, he often acted like a drunken fighter until he realized that he has a responsibility towards younger fans. 

Jackie Chan: no longer a "drunken master". (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)

“All over the world I keep drinking and fighting (in films).  I realized that I made drunken master cool — so I stopped,” he said. One of Chan's most popular movies was the 1978 action comedy martial arts film "Drunken Master".

“When you’re 20 you don’t have this inner thought — anything that makes the audience laugh you do, but later on especially (when I went) to Africa so many years ago — they started doing the drunken style — the children look up to me. So, I realized we have a responsibility to the children so all those years I corrected those actions: no dirty comedy words or action,” he said.

He attributed his awareness in being responsible for the content he produces to the fans. “I’m really thankful to the fans in making me a good actor.”

Chan spoke about his experience in acting martial arts in both the United States and Asia. “I realized we have two different markets one for America another for Asia. They are totally two different things.”

The safety measures the US takes for stunts is very impeccable making sure of the wellbeing of the actor comes first. However, in Asia it’s a different story, “In Asia when I want to do a stunt, I roll, jump (and then go to the) hospital, he said laughingly.

“It’s so difficult sometimes in the USA so many rules- Jackie Chan movies: NO RULES!” he said and received applause from the audience.


Good start

Jean Claude Van Damme gave a shout out and a big thank you to all his “brother and sisters from Saudi Arabia,” He said he got a royal treatment fit for “Kings and Queens”. He went on to reveal that his hotel room at the Ritz Carlton Riyadh was so big he could easily “roller-skate” in it.

Jean Claude Van Damme: "Let's do a movie together". (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)

“I’m honored to be invited here. I know it’s your first time to do this event, but I know it will have a very bright future and I hope next year you will invite more people,” he said.

He said he may not be a “good talker” but expressed his joy at being in Saudi Arabia saying. “I’m happy to be here and I hope to have more connection later with the audience.”

Van Damme remarked how that in every country in the world you have treasure actors and movies with different cultures, “In the Middle East I don’t know what the taste will be, but I know they love American, Asian and Indian movies. They have a broad taste. (Saudi Arabia) should do a movie with all of us together!”


Crossing barriers

Sharukh Khan emphasized the importance of every country telling their story through movies; “As long as we are telling the story in whatever language it doesn’t matter. Cinema crosses all barriers.”

Shahrukh Khan: "I'd audition for a Saudi movie". (AN photo by Noor Nugali)

With the opening of Saudi Arabia to the world and Cinemas, he said, “I can’t wait to talk about the Saudi films...It will bring Saudis closer to the world and the world closer to Saudi.”

“The stories that you tell should talk about goodness and people should be engaged with the content and it should bring them together. People want to laugh and sadly have to cry, to be entertained and to feel.”

Sharukh noted that Saudi Arabia has started to make movies and he’s watched the King Faisal movie, "Born a King". 

“You’ll always find gems in all movie industries and I think there’s are gems in Saudi and as a matter of fact one of the things I’d like to do is audition for a Saudi movie … Please give me an opportunity!” he said, eliciting a thunderous applause from the audience.

Red carpet

Abdulaziz AlMuzaini, co-founder and CEO of the Saudi Arabian Myrkott Animation Studio; gave a heartfelt thanks full of gratitude to King Salman and the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, saying: “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have dreamed of this moment or this panel.”

Some of the celebrities invited to the event walk the red carpet. (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)

Lebanese actor Wahid Jalal, who was the voice of Long John Silver in Treasure Island, came onstage for the opening of the event. “Children love heroes and they try to imitate them,” he said. 

He also delighted the crowd by performing Silver’s famous laugh.

Some of the celebrities who walked down the red carpet were American actor Jason Momoa, star of Aquaman; Amr Adeeb, Balqis Fathi, Yusra, Boosy Shalabi, Lojien and Aseel Omran, Mohammed Hamaki, Nawal AlZoghbi, Talal Salama, Ahlam Al-Shamsi, Hussain AlJismi, Suad Abdulla, Ibrahem Alharbi, Tariq Alali and Abdulnaser Darweesh.

The gala dinner hosted 500 guests and was a private event, but the red carpet captured the essence of where Saudi is moving to culturally.