Hajj minister says Saudi Arabia’s tech triumph ensured successful season

Hajj minister says Saudi Arabia’s tech triumph ensured successful season
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The efforts exerted by the government to ensure a hassle-free Hajj and the facilities provided to pilgrims at different levels were highly praised, most notably the health precautions of social distancing and adhering to health requirements. (SPA)
Hajj minister says Saudi Arabia’s tech triumph ensured successful season
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Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Muhammad Saleh bin Taher Benten. (Supplied)
Hajj minister says Saudi Arabia’s tech triumph ensured successful season
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Hajj minister says Saudi Arabia’s tech triumph ensured successful season
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Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Muhammad Saleh bin Taher Benten. (Supplied)
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Updated 17 October 2020

Hajj minister says Saudi Arabia’s tech triumph ensured successful season

Hajj minister says Saudi Arabia’s tech triumph ensured successful season
  • Kingdom harnesses all its potential to make pilgrims feel at home, prioritizing their safety: Muhammad Saleh Benten

JEDDAH: The Saudi Hajj and Umrah Ministry has shared some of the secrets behind what made the “exceptional” 2020 Hajj season a success, with zero transmitted cases of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Muhammad Saleh bin Taher Benten said that the government utilized the latest technology to improve the pilgrim experience this season.
Speaking about his ministry’s efforts in preventing the spread of COVID-19, Benten said that it implemented precautionary measures in every phase of the pilgrimage, starting with the pilgrims being quarantined at home.
It also introduced institutional quarantine from the fourth to the eighth day of the Hajj, gave pilgrims electronic bracelets and enforced social distancing.
“For the second consecutive year, the ministry used the electronic platform through the ‘smart card’ application, taking into account the pilgrims’ special needs in terms of the journey’s organization and management,” he said. “The platform is a digital ID granted to the pilgrim that is directly linked with the ‘Smart Hajj’ application supervised by the ministry.”
He added that the digital ID contains the pilgrims’ personal, health and housing information, such as the numbers of their group, and which bus seat and bed has been allocated to them.
“It also enables pilgrims to know their special program, gathering points and times of departure. Moreover, the ministry registered pilgrims electronically by using an interactive platform that links 52 systems and is complemented by 30 governmental and nongovernmental bodies,” he added.
Relying on those services, the minister said, came as part of the ministry’s strategy to establish virtual platforms that reduce procedures, and keep pace with the technical development required to achieve the Saudi Vision 2030 goal to serve pilgrims.
With every Hajj season having its own challenges, the Hajj and Umrah Ministry has enjoyed success after success. However, the 2020 season put the ministry to an unprecedented test.
“As every year, Saudi Arabia harnesses all its potential and energies to make the Hajj season a success, prioritizing the safety and security of the pilgrims.

FASTFACTS

• When Saudi Arabia took the decision to hold Hajj for a limited number of people, it was keen to comply with all health and precautionary measures.

• This step was taken based on scientific decisions and thorough research studies that would ensure that pilgrims can perform Hajj rituals safely.

• The ministry and all Hajj-related authorities have learned many lessons from the last Hajj experience, where social distancing was implemented.

“However, last year’s Hajj was a little different with the whole world facing the COVID-19 outbreak. During the 2020 Hajj season, the Saudi government faced a rare and unprecedented challenge, and thanks to God, the Kingdom was able to address it,” he said.
He added: “When Saudi Arabia took the decision to hold Hajj for a limited number of people, it was keen to comply with all health and precautionary measures. This step was taken based on scientific decisions and thorough research studies that would ensure that pilgrims could perform Hajj rituals safely.”
He said that the efforts exerted by the Saudi government in this regard and the various facilities provided to pilgrims at different levels were highly praised, most notably the health precautions of social distancing and adhering to health requirements.
The ministry and all Hajj-related authorities have learned many lessons from the last Hajj experience, where social distancing was implemented. The minister shed light on the most notable lessons, and how they can benefit future seasons.
“The ministry implemented social distancing protocols in all phases of the pilgrims moving between the holy sites through limiting the seating capacity of buses to 50 percent,” said Benten.
As for the residence of pilgrims, officials conducted tests for all pilgrims and workers and assigned health observers to ensure guidelines were maintained.
He added: “Moreover, 49-seat buses were assigned to each group of 22 passengers, and Hajj routes were fixed in a way to achieve social distancing. These measures resulted in zero transmission of COVID-19 between pilgrims and their service providers.”
As many government officials have said in the past, preparations for the next Hajj season begin as soon as the previous iteration ends.
One of the advantages of the extraordinary 2020 season was that the ministry could accelerate projects in the holy sites.
Benten told Arab News that his ministry works every year on developing the services provided for pilgrims, to enrich their experience through providing diverse programs and initiatives.
“The ministry always benefits from the accumulated experiences, large-scale projects and personnel to provide the finest services with the best levels for pilgrims,” he said. “One of those initiatives that benefited the ministry, which will continue to implement it in the future, is the preparation and improvement of the holy sites, the preparation of a comprehensive scheme to expand the capacity and receive the largest number of pilgrims in order to achieve comfort, security, safety and environmental dimensions, reduce pollution and study spatial dimensions.”
He added that the ministry aims for a record time reception of pilgrims through the unified center to analyze data, enhancing crowd control efficiency and rapid intervention, reducing time to organize pilgrims, and distributing them equally.
The Hajj and Umrah companies have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; with some failing to meet their obligations towards their employees.
“The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has provided a myriad of facilities to these companies since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic through developing work and encouraging mergers and investments in Umrah companies,” Benten said.
He added that the ministry has also contributed to reducing the value of financial security for nondefaulting active Umrah companies to SR250,000 ($66,666) for six months.
“The ministry also authorized Umrah companies to reduce their capital in the commercial register to SR500,000 ($133,332), close their doors for one year, and postpone payment of nonessential violations for six months,” said Benten.
The ministry launched the business clinics unit, which is one of its programs aimed at helping companies review their mechanisms and operational plans.
“The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah will also be organizing many workshops and training programs for Umrah companies on strategies to recover from the COVID-19 crisis and the means of developing their business with efficiency,” he concluded.


OIC body addresses plight of displaced on World Refugee Day

OIC body addresses plight of displaced on World Refugee Day
Rohingya refugees walk to attend a ceremony organised to remember the first anniversary of a military crackdown that prompted a massive exodus of people from Myanmar to Bangladesh, at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia. (AFP file photo)
Updated 11 min 46 sec ago

OIC body addresses plight of displaced on World Refugee Day

OIC body addresses plight of displaced on World Refugee Day
  • Human rights body calls for political will and resources to enhance global cooperation

JEDDAH: The OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) has joined the international community in observing World Refugee Day 2021, calling on all states to enhance global cooperation toward achieving better protection of refugees’ rights across the world.

In light of the worrying trends of discrimination and xenophobia against refugees based on their sex, race, religion or origin, escalated by the COVID-19 pandemic; World Refugee Day is an occasion to build empathy for the plight of refugees and to recognize their resilience in rebuilding their lives. It is also an occasion to celebrate the strength and courage of all people who have been forced to flee their home countries to escape conflict or persecution and mobilize political will and resources to help them thrive.

With more than half of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people located in OIC countries, the IPHRC commended OIC countries for providing sustained humanitarian support to refugees, in line with the divine injunctions and Islamic principles of compassion and solidarity.

In recent years, the growing, increasingly complex and relapsing conflicts, crises and humanitarian emergencies have led to an alarming increase in the global refugee movement with more than half of these being women and children. The IPHRC remains concerned about the denial and violations of human rights of displaced people living under foreign occupation and armed conflicts who endure brutality at the hands of occupation forces. The commission reiterated its solidarity with refugee and displaced populations and stressed the need for eliminating the root causes of conflicts, especially foreign occupations.

The IPHRC said that the causes of forced movement of migrants and refugees extended beyond conflicts and persecution to include extreme poverty, violence and exploitation, environmental degradation and natural disasters, as well as denial of fundamental human rights. To deal with these challenges, the commission urged all countries to cooperate in developing the best ways to strengthen national legislation and action plans to promote human rights-based policy formulation, with the involvement of all stakeholders, as well as to enhance international cooperation to deal with trans-border refugees in line with universal human rights standards.

The IPHRC expressed concern over the dwindling level of financial support allocated to humanitarian relief for refugees that deprived them of shelter, access to health care and education. The commission urged the international community, specifically donor countries/organizations, to allocate resources to support and assist refugee-hosting countries, in line with the principle of international solidarity, cooperation and equitable burden-sharing.

 


Soul sisters: Meet the Saudi women blazing a musical trail

Soul sisters: Meet the Saudi women blazing a musical trail
Former reporter and jazz and blues singer, Loulwa Al-Sharif has been singing for seven years. The larger-than-life singer has been the talk of the town for years, delivering high and low notes with passion. (Supplied)
Updated 20 June 2021

Soul sisters: Meet the Saudi women blazing a musical trail

Soul sisters: Meet the Saudi women blazing a musical trail
  • Social reforms open doors for female musicians in traditional male field

JEDDAH: Saudi female musicians and performers are hitting the high notes and creating crowd-pleasing beats for Saudi fans.

Jazz and blues, rock, rap and many other genres have been explored by Saudis, but now more Saudi women are making their way to the performance stage, thanks to social reforms that mean career choices that once were taboo are now supported by many.
Saudi electronic music producer and DJ Nouf Sufyani, known as Cosmicat, told Arab News that has been obsessed with music since childhood.
“My love for music was overwhelming and kept leading me back until I started making my own,” the 27-year-old said.
In 2017, Sufyani began gaining attention in the male-dominated field because of her unique style.
She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in dental medicine and surgery, and worked as a dentist for a while before pursuing her music career.
“It’s a struggle proving myself in a male-dominated industry, and there is also the fear of being a social outcast for what I do since it’s not a traditional job and the style of music I play is not really mainstream,” said Sufyani.
Music is “the motivation that keeps me going every day — it’s a form of art that I keep rediscovering over and over.”
Sufyani taught herself to DJ. “I do electronic music, I love to use my voice and some Arabic poetry or spoken word or even a capella. I make music that can be enjoyed on the dance floor; my flavor is more underground and very personal.”

Saudi electronic music producer and DJ Nouf Sufyani, known as Cosmicat, told Arab News that has been obsessed with music since childhood.

Her music is available on major platforms such as Apple Music, Spotify, Anghami, Deezer and Soundcloud, and is also played on the flight entertainment system of Saudi Airlines.
Lamya Nasser, a 33-year-old facility and travel management officer, developed an interest in rock and metal at the age of nine, and began recording her music in 2008, long before the social reforms, as part of the first Saudi female rock band the Accolade.
“What got me started is my love and passion for rock music, how much I can relate to a lot of its messages and how it shaped my character along the way,” she told Arab News.

HIGHLIGHT

Jazz and blues, rock, rap and many other genres have been explored by Saudis, but now more Saudi women are making their way to the performance stage, thanks to social reforms that mean career choices that once were taboo are now supported by many.

“I started my journey with the Accolade back when I was 21 and a student at King Abdul Aziz University. I got to know a very talented guitar player named Dina and along with her sister we formed the band.”
In that year, the band visited Khaled Abdulmanan, a music producer in Jeddah at Red Sand Production. They have recorded three songs: “Pinocchio” (2008), “Destiny” (2009) and her favorite, “This is not me” (2010).
After the women graduated, they went their separate ways. “Sadly, we weren’t able to gather for rehearsals like we used to, and each one of us started her own career.”
In 2018, Nasser went solo and continues to share her performances on Instagram @Lamya.K.Nasser. She recently joined a new recording studio under the name of Wall of Sound.

Lamya Nasser, a 33-year-old facility and travel management officer, developed an interest in rock and metal at the age of nine, and began recording her music in 2008.

“Music can be the fuel to our soul and regenerate our energy. We can translate our pain and express ourselves through music,” she said.
Nasser said that the song “Pinocchio” had more than 19,000 listens on Soundcloud. “It made me truly happy and proud. Even now I still messages on my Instagram account from time to time from beautiful souls sharing their admiration for Accolade’s music,” she said.
Former reporter and jazz and blues singer, 33-year-old Loulwa Al-Sharif (@loulwa_music) has been singing for seven years. The larger-than-life singer has been the talk of the town for years, delivering high and low notes with passion.

Music is the motivation that keeps me going every day — it’s a form of art that I keep rediscovering over and over.
Cosmicat

“I tried working in different fields since I was 17, and decided to leave journalism three years ago to work on what I’m passionate about,” Al-Sharif told Arab News.
“I was one of very few women performing six years ago. It was a little difficult. There were talented females, but no one was singing live in front of an audience. I was maybe the first or second,” she said. “It was hard, but a lot of people were supporting me.” She described music as raw emotion.
“Blues is real emotion and jazz is unpredictable, I love how unpredictable it is from the sound of the piano — there are no rules, and the lyrics from blues music are so real.”
Al-Sharif hopes to educate the new generation on jazz and blues through her performances.
“I chose to sing it back then because not many from the new generation listen to jazz and blues, so I really wanted to bring it back and for people to enjoy it.”


Saudi Arabia reassures priority groups on COVID-19 vaccines

Saudi Arabia reassures priority groups on COVID-19 vaccines
Saudi Arabia reassures priority groups on COVID-19 vaccines. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 June 2021

Saudi Arabia reassures priority groups on COVID-19 vaccines

Saudi Arabia reassures priority groups on COVID-19 vaccines
  • Saudi health ministry reassured those over 60 and priority groups that they will continue to receive the second vaccine doses

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health said that second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be rescheduled for the general public according to the availability of supplies.

The MOH reassured those over 60 and priority groups that they will continue to receive the second vaccine doses.

On Saturday, the MOH announced 1,153 new cases of COVID-19, raising the total number of cases to 473,112, and 1,145 recoveries, bringing the total to 454,404. The death tally is now 7,663, with 13 new COVID-19 associated deaths reported in the past 24 hours.

The Kingdom’s recovery rate is holding steady at 96 percent.

Makkah reported 335 cases, Riyadh 266, the Eastern Province 148 and Asir 119. Jouf reported only 4 cases.

The number of active cases continues to rise despite the high recovery rate, and stands at 11,045. No new cases were admitted to intensive care, which leaves 1,496 still in critical care.

77,831 new PCR tests have been conducted in the past 24 hours and more than 16.5 million doses of the vaccine administered so far.


Endangered goat species released in Saudi Arabia’s Baljurashi park

Endangered goat species released in Saudi Arabia’s Baljurashi park
Endangered goat species released in Saudi Arabia’s National Park of Baljurashi. (SPA)
Updated 20 June 2021

Endangered goat species released in Saudi Arabia’s Baljurashi park

Endangered goat species released in Saudi Arabia’s Baljurashi park
  • The park is one of the largest in Saudi Arabia and features rugged mountain terrain, which serves as an ideal habitat for the goat species

BAHA: Twenty endangered mountain goats have been released back into the wild in Saudi Arabia’s National Park of Baljurashi, the first rehabilitation project of its kind in Baha.

It comes as part of efforts by The National Center for Wildlife Development to protect the Kingdom’s endangered animal species.

At a ceremony held for the release, Baha Gov. Prince Hussam bin Saud bin Abdul Aziz stressed the importance of preserving and restoring wildlife in the region to protect the environment and nature, adding that the efforts were part of the center’s coordination with a branch of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture and the National Center for the Development of Vegetation Cover and Combating Desertification, and were in line with Vision 2030.

He also stressed the importance of achieving ecological balance and praised the efforts of the ministry in achieving sustainable development and enriching biodiversity in the Kingdom.

The park is one of the largest in the Kingdom and features rugged mountain terrain, which serves as an ideal habitat for the goat species.

The release is part of the Saudi repatriation program carried out by the National Center for Wildlife Development to restore endangered species in their natural habitats, make the park more attractive for visitors, activate societal partnerships and restore the balance of natural environments.

Tourists and visitors in Baha will be able to safely watch the rare animals from afar and capture photos.

The release event was attended by undersecretary of the region’s principality, Abdul Moneim bin Yassin Al​-Shehri; CEO of the National Center for Wildlife Development, Dr. Mohammed Qurban; and director of the ministry’s branch in the region, Fahd Al-Zahrani.

 


5.6 million arrested for residency, labor, border violations across Saudi Arabia

5.6 million arrested for residency, labor, border violations across Saudi Arabia
More than 5.6 million violators arrested in Saudi Arabia. (SPA)
Updated 20 June 2021

5.6 million arrested for residency, labor, border violations across Saudi Arabia

5.6 million arrested for residency, labor, border violations across Saudi Arabia
  • The report said that 116,908 people were arrested while trying to cross the border into Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: More than 5.6 million violators of residency, work and border security systems have been arrested in the Kingdom, according to an official report.

Since the campaign began on Nov. 15, 2017 — and up to June 16, 2021 — there have been 5,615,884 offenders, including 4,304,206 for violating residency regulations, 802,125 for labor violations and 509,553 for border violations.

The report said that 116,908 people were arrested while trying to cross the border into the Kingdom: 43 percent were Yemeni citizens, 54 percent were Ethiopians and 3 percent were from other nationalities.

In addition, 9,508 people were arrested for trying to cross into neighboring countries, and 8,222 were arrested for involvement in transporting and harboring violators.

Some 2,766 Saudis were arrested for harboring violators against local laws, of whom five were being detained pending the completion of procedures.

The total number of violators being subjected to procedures was 53,916, including 49,954 men and 3,962 women.

Immediate penalties were imposed against 714,208 offenders, 901,700 were transferred to their respective diplomatic missions to obtain travel documents, 1,047,340 were transferred to complete their travel reservations, and 1,553,667 were deported.