Saudi Arabia unveils SR120bn business support war chest to fight virus pandemic

Saudi Arabia has suspended domestic flights, trains, buses and taxis for 14 days in a heightened effort to stop the spread of the COVID-19. (AFP)
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Updated 21 March 2020

Saudi Arabia unveils SR120bn business support war chest to fight virus pandemic

  • Immediate steps to ensure the safety of its citizens and residents
  • The Kingdom would do whatever required to tackle the crisis, say health minister

JEDDAH: Saudi government ministers on Friday announced a war chest of more than SR120 billion ($32 billion) to fight the “unprecedented” health and economic challenges facing the country as a result of the killer coronavirus pandemic.

During a press conference in Riyadh, finance minister and acting minister of economy and planning, Mohammed Al-Jadaan, unveiled a SR70 billion stimulus package to support the private sector, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and businesses worst-hit by the virus outbreak.

And the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) has also sidelined SR50 billion to help the Kingdom’s banking sector, financial institutions and SMEs.

Al-Jadaan said the government had introduced tough measures to protect the country’s citizens while immediately putting in place a financial safety net. He added that the Kingdom was moving decisively to address the global COVID-19 disease crisis and cushion the financial and economic impact of the outbreak on the country.

The SR70 billion package of initiatives revealed by the minister will include exemptions and postponement of some government dues to help provide liquidity for private-sector companies.

Minister of Health Dr. Tawfig Al-Rabiah noted the raft of precautionary measures that had been introduced by the Kingdom in cooperation with the private sector and government agencies to combat the spread of the coronavirus, highlighting the important contribution of the data communication services sector.

He reassured the Saudi public that the Kingdom would continue to do whatever was required to tackle the crisis.

“This pandemic has a lot of challenges. It’s difficult to make presumptions at this moment as we’ve seen; many developed countries did not expect the rate of transmission of this virus.

“We see that the reality of the situation is different from what many expected. The virus is still being studied and though we know the means of transmission, it is transmitted at a very fast rate, having spread to many countries faster than expected.

“We see that many countries have not taken the strong precautionary measures from the beginning of the crisis which led to the vast spread of the virus in these countries,” Al-Rabiah said.

He pointed out that social distancing would help slow the spread.

Al-Jadaan said the Saudi government had the financial and economic capacity to deal with the situation. “We have large reserves and large investments, but we do not want to withdraw from the reserves more than what was already announced in the budget. We do not want to liquidate any of the government’s investments so we will borrow.

“We have approval from the government after the finance committee raised its recommendations to increase the proportion of the domestic product borrowing from 30 percent to 50 percent. We do not expect to exceed 50 percent from now until the end of 2022,” he added.

The government would use all the tools available to it to finance the private sector, especially SMEs, and ensure its ongoing stability.

The finance minister said that at this stage it was difficult to predict the economic impact of the pandemic on the private sector, but he emphasized that international coordination, most notably through G20 countries and health organizations, was ongoing.

On recorded cases of the COVID-19 disease in the Kingdom, Al-Rabiah said: “Many of the confirmed cases are without symptoms, this is due to the precautionary measures being considered.

“As soon as a case is confirmed, we contact and examine anyone who was in direct contact with the patient. This epidemiological investigation, is conducted on a large scale to investigate any case that was in contact with the patient.”

Al-Jadaan also announced the formation of a committee made up of the ministers of finance, economy and planning, commerce, and industry and mineral resources, along with the vice chairman of the board of the Saudi National Development Fund, and its governor.

The committee will be responsible for identifying and reviewing incentives, facilities, and other initiatives led by the fund.

Committees had also been established, said Al-Jadaan, to study the impact and repercussions of the coronavirus crisis on all sectors and regions, and look at ways of overcoming them through subsidies or stimulus packages.


Uthman Taha: ‘I wish the verses about heaven would never end’

Taha is the official calligrapher of the Qur’an at the King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an in Madinah. The 86-year-old is still in the recovery phase, his wife said, and has been advised to rest and to avoid stress. (Supplied)
Updated 15 August 2020

Uthman Taha: ‘I wish the verses about heaven would never end’

  • The Syrian Qur’an writer, regarded as one of the world’s finest calligraphers, is on the road to recovery following his recent hospital admission

MAKKAH: Syrian calligrapher Uthman Taha is in good health and recovering at home after a 13-day stay in a hospital where he was treated for what he and his wife initially suspected to be the novel coronavirus COVID-19, although he ultimately tested negative for the virus.

Taha is the official calligrapher of the Qur’an at the King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an in Madinah. His wife, Fatimah Umm Al-Nour, said Taha had a chest infection during his stay at the hospital and stressed that he had been “careful and took all the precautionary measures” and that he had not left the house for five months before his hospital visit.
The 86-year-old calligrapher is still in the recovery phase, his wife said, and has been advised to rest and to avoid stress. She praised his doctors, who have consistently checked in with the couple since Taha returned home, and added that she has tested negative for COVID-19 too.
Taha is regarded as one of the most skilled calligraphers in the Arab world. Al-Nour told Arab News that he continues to practice calligraphy daily.
Taha, who has written the Qur’an 12 times at the King Fahd Complex, was born in 1934 and attended school in Aleppo. His father was also a skilled calligrapher, who used the Ruq’ah script, and Taha studied with several of Syria’s finest calligraphers including Mohammed Al-Mawlawi, Mohammed Al-Khatib, Hussein Al-Turki, and Ibrahim Al-Rifai.
When he moved to Damascus for university, Taha began to learn other scripts, including Thuluth, Naskh (in which he is now considered a master), and Farsi. He received his calligraphy certificate from master calligrapher Hamed Al-Amadi in 1973.
He arrived in Saudi Arabia in 1988, and began work as a calligrapher at the King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an in Madinah. He writes the Qur’an in the Ottoman script, and copies of his work have been distributed throughout the Islamic world.
What makes Taha’s work unique is that each page of the Qur’an that he writes concludes at the end of a verse. The secret, he explains, is to simplify the words — which is the origin of the Kufic script in which the Qur’an has been written since the days of Prophet Muhammad’s companions — keeping the letters close to one another.
Taha spent years perfecting his technique of evenly distributing the words in every line so that the space between the lettering is consistent throughout every page of every book, which means eliminating many of the script combinations that make such consistency difficult.
He explained to Arab News that when he is working on his Qur’an calligraphy he is transported: “When I begin writing the Holy Qur’an, I resort to solitude to allow myself to be invested in the verses and their interpretation, forgetting about the world around me,” he said. “I wish the verses about Jannah (heaven) would never end, and my hand trembles when I write the verses about Jahannam (hell).”