The Fourth Industrial Revolution is coming to the Middle East

While the Third Industrial Revolution used technology to automate production, the Fourth one will overhaul the national economy and create alternative sources of revenue. (Shutterstock)
Short Url
Updated 10 February 2020

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is coming to the Middle East

  • Riyadh to host a Middle East-focused special meeting of the World Economic Forum in April
  • A Saudi center of the WEF's C4IR network will help shape the development of advanced technologies

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia will soon be the host of one of the most prestigious institutions at the heart of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) effort to shape the development and application of emerging technologies for the benefit of humanity. 

The Saudi branch of the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) — a network of technology-governance hubs and affiliate centers — will be the outcome of an agreement reached late last year between the Kingdom and the Swiss-based non-profit organization. 

The agreement heralds a new era of cooperation between the WEF and the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), supported by the Saudi Center for International Strategic Partnerships (SCISP). 

At the 50th annual WEF meeting in Davos, it was also announced that a conference on “the Middle East in the Fourth Industrial Revolution” would be convened in Riyadh on April 5-6.

The WEF’s website says: “Saudi Arabia’s G20 presidency in 2020, the first time an Arab and Middle East country has such a mandate, presents a unique opportunity for the entire region to take a global view of its future.”


  • Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.
  • Autonomous and Urban Mobility.
  • Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology. Data Policy.and digital trade, plus drones and Tomorrow’s Airspace.
  • Fourth Industrial Revolution for the Earth.
  • Internet of Things, Robotics and Smart Cities; and precision medicine.

The April meeting is billed as “a crucial opportunity to rise above the fog of geopolitical uncertainty and the gravitational forces of legacy conflicts and scale up the efforts of the region’s outstanding thinkers and practitioners who are committed to a can-do, positive agenda for the region and its people.”

In a 2015 essay in the magazine Foreign Affairs the founder and executive chairman of the WEF, Klaus Schwab, had defined the 4IR thus: “The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. 

“Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third … It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.” 

Muhammad Khurram Khan, CEO of the Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research in Washington, said the decision to establish a 4IR center in Saudi Arabia demonstrated the leadership’s commitment, in line with its National Transformation Plan (NTP) and Saudi Vision 2030, to “developing effective solutions to the challenges faced by organizations, while creating capacity and capability in the Kingdom.” 

Saudi Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah greets WEF founder Klaus Schwab in Riyadh on Wednesday. (SPA)

According to Khan: “Governments around the world are investing heavily in cutting-edge and emerging technologies to boost gross domestic product and diversify their economy. 

“The 4IR could help governments and organizations to drive economic development, competitiveness and social progress.” 

“This will help overhaul the national economy by investing in modern technologies to create alternative sources of revenue, as well as new jobs and opportunities.” 

The Saudi government has said KACST will manage the affiliate center in cooperation with the WEF, providing space for the development of 4IR mechanisms, plans and applications in the Kingdom. 

It is also expected to “contribute to the adoption of technology and best practices in the region and the world, reinforcing the directives of the leadership and harnessing the tools provided by the 4IR to serve the Kingdom.” 

The C4IR network, which is headquartered in San Francisco, currently has hubs in India, China and Japan,  in addition to the affiliate centers. 

The network “brings together governments, business organizations, dynamic startups, civil society, academia and international organizations from around the world to work together across nine emerging technology areas,” including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, autonomous mobility, data policy, drones, the Internet of Things (IoT) robotics, and smart cities. 

Furthermore, C4IR partners can send fellows to any of the four main hubs or affiliate centers, thus enabling a continuous exchange of insights and knowledge sharing. 

“Having such a center is very important to Saudi Arabia, given the heightened levels of tensions as well as recent attacks on the Aramco pipeline,” said Matthew Cochran, CEO and co-founder of URS Laboratories in the UAE. 

By virtue of its location, the center will facilitate customized solutions based on real-world requirements that are different for Saudi Arabia to other places in the world, he said. 

Citing the September 2019 drone strikes on Saudi Aramco’s oil facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais, and the many cyber-attacks on the Kingdom in the past, Cochran said: “The 4IR and the ability for countries and governments to react quickly is a challenge globally. 

“Saudi Arabia has shown, especially in the past 12 months, that they are willing to change and adapt their responses to threat levels with new ways of protecting their assets. 

“It must be a coordinated approach across all government agencies and, just as in the US, we have an increasing landscape of commercial security working with government security to protect vital assets.” 

That being said, Cochran expects the C4IR’s Saudi center to face challenges similar to what many other technology-governance institutions are grappling with. 

“As AI and machine learning become faster and better, we will have machines talking to robots and robots speaking to unmanned vehicles, in the air, on sea and land,” he said. 

“The potential challenges will be, in some ways, simply setting up the ability for those machines, robots and vehicles to deliver their requirement safely, with humans either in the middle or as the end-user.” 

As a host government, Saudi Arabia will be expected to commit to supporting and advancing the development and deployment of pilot frameworks on topics aligned with projects launched by the C4IR network, according to the WEF’s website. 

“The Kingdom’s participation in this global initiative of the WEF is a golden opportunity for extending economic relations, exploring investment prospects and learning from — and sharing experiences with — industrially developed countries,” Khan said. 

“The local center can cooperate with various public and private-sector organizations, international institutions, civil society, and think-tanks to develop innovative approaches and shape policies for the governance and utilization of 4IR technologies.

 “The objective would be to maximize benefits and minimize risks for the benefit of local as well as global actors.” 

Khan said the main challenge for the Saudi C4IR center would be the shortage of high-tech skills and talent needed to develop, implement and scale up what the WEF calls “agile and human-centered pilot projects that can be adopted by policy-makers, legislators and regulators worldwide.” 

“The public and private sectors in the Kingdom need to come forward, establish training, education, research and innovation programs and invest in human capital to meet the demands of this revolution,” he said. 

“The challenges and opportunities of the 4IR are global in scope, have cross-industry impact and require multi-actor cooperation.”

Kingdom’s embassies offer crucial lifeline for Saudis stranded abroad due to pandemic

Saudi Ambassador to Indonesia Essam bin Abed Al-Thaqafi reassuring Saudis about their safe return to the Kingdom. Saudi missions around the world continue to provide advice and accommodation for stranded citizens. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 31 March 2020

Kingdom’s embassies offer crucial lifeline for Saudis stranded abroad due to pandemic

  • Saudis stranded abroad by coronavirus tell Arab News how they cope

RIYADH: Hundreds of Saudi citizens stranded abroad due to the coronavirus travel bans are living in the lap of luxury at the expense of the Kingdom.
Since the first case of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was reported in Saudi Arabia, the government has been taking all necessary measures to protect its people through the closure of schools and offices to the halting of international and domestic flights.
And Saudi embassies around the world have been working day and night to organize the safe return of citizens, posting flight deadlines and important contact numbers on Twitter.
However, not all Saudis studying, working or on vacation in other countries have been able to make it home.
As the world battles with the pandemic, the Saudi government has been trying to ensure the well-being and health of its citizens stranded abroad, urging Saudi nationals to abide by the rules and regulations of the countries of their residence.
The Kingdom has expanded a ban on international flights for two weeks to help authorities fight the virus effectively within the country.
A number of Saudi families, tourists, businesspeople and students have found themselves stuck in the US capital, Washington, DC with no idea of when the next evacuation flights will take place.
However, the Saudi Embassy has provided luxury hotel accommodation for stranded Saudi nations including full-board meals and free laundry services.
Ayman Nassief and his family were on a two-week holiday in Orlando, Florida when the travel ban came in.
“When they closed Disney World in Orlando, we sensed something, and decided to go back to Washington to take the first flight to Saudi Arabia,” said Nasseif, an architect from Jeddah who had traveled to the US with his wife Safinaz Salamah, a pediatrician, and their daughter Hatoon, a freelance graphic designer.
“I knew that the flight had been canceled before I arrived in DC, so I called the embassy on their dedicated hotline. The embassy immediately made arrangements for our stay at the Hilton McLean hotel.”
The Saudi Ministry of Health made it mandatory for people entering the Kingdom after March 11 to go into 14-day quarantine and Nasseif said his family’s places of work had been very cooperative and understanding over their situation.



Safinaz said she was keen to get back to Saudi as soon as possible to help in her role as a pediatrician. “I wish I was there to return some of the favor that the government has bestowed upon me.
“I sit here with my family at the expense of the embassy; it is taking care of our accommodation, food and even paying for our laundry here. Now I really know what it means to be Saudi,” she added.
Nasseif said: “We understand the burden on the government, and we want to go back as soon as possible, but we realize how big the pandemic is. It put us at ease that the government was taking extreme measures to fight the virus, and we stand along with them.”
Another Saudi citizen, Faten Ahmed, became stranded at the Hilton McLean after her flight home was canceled during a visit to Florida to see her brother.
“Although I am missing my family and home, the help I have received here has made it up for me. I have nothing to complain about. I only hope the world passes through this crisis with the minimum of lost lives.”
Ahmed had only been in Miami for 24 hours before she heard the travel ban rumors and drove immediately to Orlando to catch the first available flight to Washington, DC. However, when she got there all flights to Saudi Arabia had been grounded.

Ibtihaj Al-Hanaki who was in the US capital for a brief personal trip was also unable to return due to the pandemic. Her flight was one of the last to land in the city from the Kingdom before things were shut down.
“I didn’t think that things will escalate this fast, when I finished my business here I tried to go back, but unfortunately it was too late,” the mother of two boys, 2 and 5, told Arab News. “I miss them too much, I didn’t plan to leave them for a long period, and they weren’t prepared for that,” she said.
Nevertheless, Al-Hanaki praised the action of her country to take strict precautions during the coronavirus outbreak, which has brought most of the world to a halt.


• Saudi embassies around the world have been working to organize the safe return of citizens, posting flight deadlines and important contact numbers on Twitter.

• Saudi Embassy in Washington has provided approximately 40,000 Saudi students in the US with clear guidance and advisories regarding how to ensure that their studies are not disrupted.

Fahad Nazer, spokesperson at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, told Arab News: “The well-being of Saudi citizens abroad is the top priority of all of the Kingdom’s diplomatic missions around the world.
“The Saudi Ambassador to the US Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan is personally overseeing the embassy’s effort to ensure that Saudis currently unable to return to the Kingdom due to the international travel restrictions, have adequate accommodation until the restrictions are lifted.
“The Kingdom’s embassy in Washington, in addition to its consulates in New York City, Los Angeles and Houston have spared no effort to make sure that the approximately 600 Saudi citizens who were visiting the US and are currently unable to return to the Kingdom have all their needs met,” said Nazer.

A group of Saudis gathered in the lobby of a hotel in Washington, DC.

“The accommodation, provided free of charge, includes transportation from airports to hotels and lodging at hotels, along with complimentary meals. In addition, the Kingdom’s cultural mission in Washington has provided approximately 40,000 Saudi students in the US with clear guidance and advisories regarding how to ensure that their studies are not disrupted, including guidance on distance learning.”
The embassy and consulates in the US have also advised all Saudis to strictly adhere to the public health and safety advisories issued by the states they reside in.
Saudi embassies and consulates around the world continue to closely monitor the spread of the coronavirus and provide advice and accommodation for stranded citizens.
In Indonesia, a video went viral of the Saudi ambassador to the country, Essam bin Abed Al-Thaqafi, reassuring a large crowd in an airport that they would all be cared for. “Our responsibility lies in overseeing that we care for you during this time,” he said.
The Saudi Embassy in Indonesia flew out 800 citizens and those that failed to make the flight have been provided free accommodation.
“There is no doubt that the authorities in the Kingdom are working hard for their return, but after taking all necessary precautions,” the envoy added.
The Saudi Embassy in Egypt helped to evacuate 5,900 Saudis in the space of 72 hours with the Kingdom’s ambassador, Osama Nugali, personally overseeing operations at the airport.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always been at the forefront of caring for its citizens whether in the country or abroad. The instructions we received from the leadership were to help facilitate and to accommodate the needs of our citizens during this crucial time,” he told Arab News.