Book by Saudi author unravels Ottoman atrocities in Madinah 

Madinah, Saudi Arabia, circa 1915 when it was part of the Ottoman Empire. From Heroes of Modern Adventure, published 1927. (Getty Images/Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group)
Madinah, Saudi Arabia, circa 1915 when it was part of the Ottoman Empire. From Heroes of Modern Adventure, published 1927. (Getty Images/Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group)
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Updated 25 March 2021

Book by Saudi author unravels Ottoman atrocities in Madinah 

Madinah, Saudi Arabia, circa 1915 when it was part of the Ottoman Empire. From Heroes of Modern Adventure, published 1927. (Getty Images/Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group)
  • "Seferberlik" sheds light on forgotten pillage of the city by Ottoman Turks and the looting of its holy relics 
  • Saudi historian Muhammad Al-Saeed says modern Turkey is attempting to whitewash its cruel imperial past 

JEDDAH: Although the rot had long set in, it was the onset of the First World War in 1914 that truly exposed the Ottoman Empire’s weakness, backwardness and inability to control its distant extremities. 

When historians use the term “Seferberlik” — the Ottoman word for “mobilization” — it is often assumed they are discussing the ethnic cleansing of the Armenians of Anatolia in 1915, when millions were slaughtered or sent into exile. 

But Seferberlik is also used to refer to another lesser known episode of mass displacement that occurred around the same time in what is today Saudi Arabia. 

“Seferberlik: A century on from the Ottoman crime in Madinah” — by Saudi author Mohammad Al-Saeed — tells the story of the deportation of the holy city’s population by Ottoman General Fakhri Pasha. 




Saudi author Mohammad Al-Saeed. (Supplied)

History books tell of Fakhri Pasha’s “heroic defense” of the city in the 1918 Siege of Madinah, fending off repeated attacks by the British-backed Arab fighters of Hussein bin Ali, the Sharif of Makkah. 

What the books often gloss over are the happenings of 1915, prior to the siege, when Fakhri Pasha forced Madinah’s population into trains and drove them north into present-day Syria, Turkey, the Balkans and the Caucasus. 

Moreover, the version of events told in Turkey today tends to omit the Ottomans’ removal of the valuables of Prophet Muhammad’s sacred chamber, the demolition of buildings to make way for defenses and supply lines and the man-made famine’s cruel toll on Madinah’s remaining civilian population. 

“The Seferberlik crime was an attempt to transform Madinah into a military outpost,” Al-Saeed told Arab News. “The Turks tried to separate the city from its Arab surroundings and annex it to the Ottoman Empire to justify ruling what remained of the Arab world.” 




The army of Faisal I of Iraq coming into Yenbo (aka Yanbu), in the present-day Al Madinah province of western Saudi Arabia, during the Arab Revolt against Ottoman rule, December 1916. (Pierre Perrin/Sygma via Getty Images)

Against the wishes of the Ottoman Caliph Sultan Mehmed V, the Young Turks who dominated the empire’s affairs at that time had sided with Germany and the Central Powers. Their brand of Turkish ethno-nationalism spelled disaster for the empire’s other ethnic groups. 

The highly strategic Hijaz railway, which linked Damascus and Madinah, was vital to the Ottoman war effort, which made it a frequent target of the Arab rebels and their British ally, T.E. Lawrence. 

So important was this rail link for the movement of troops and munitions that Ottoman forces were prepared to displace Madinah’s civilian population and garrison its holiest sites, no matter the harm and disrespect their actions caused to the resting place of Prophet Muhammad. 

“General Fakhri Pasha came to prove the power of the Ottoman Empire over Madinah, no matter what the cost,” Al-Saeed said. “He took the Prophet’s Mosque and its sanctity and turned it into a weapons depot and a camp for soldiers. 

“He also transformed the city’s minarets into artillery positions, unconcerned about affecting the Prophet’s Mosque, the dome and the Prophet’s Tomb. 

“Furthermore, he confiscated the inhabitants’ possessions, their date farms and their crops, and turned them over to the military effort and to his soldiers, estimated to be around 70,000 mercenaries. They desecrated Madinah by drinking alcohol in the streets.” 




The Hijaz Railway was strategically vital to the Ottoman war effort. (Supplied)

In the second phase of Fakhri Pasha’s campaign, “he destroyed homes and extended the railway to inside the Prophet’s Mosque, disrespecting the sanctity of the mosque in another crime, for the purpose of facilitating the transport of valuables and items in the Prophet’s Chamber — the possessions of Prophet Muhammad and his wives — away from the eyes of citizens and out of fear of them, and in preparation for smuggling them to Constantinople,” Al-Saeed said. 

“The stolen treasures arrived in Constantinople, the Ottoman Empire’s capital, and have been on display for many years at the Topkapi Museum (in present-day Istanbul).” 

The holy relics include old copies of the Quran; jewelry and golden candlesticks; and swords. Besides the 390 artefacts, visitors to the museum can see the following possessions of Prophet Muhammad: the Blessed Mantle, the Holy Banner, his sword and bow, a jar, a piece of his tooth and a hair from his beard. 

Sources suggest Fakhri Pasha even attempted to have the body of Prophet Muhammad exhumed and shipped to Constantinople. An Egyptian engineer who was summoned to Madinah to modify the minarets of the Prophet’s Mosque to support the weight of Ottoman artillery claimed he was ordered to open the tomb, but he refused. 

“Fakhri Pasha asked for his help to exhume the body of the prophet and move it to Constantinople, according to the historical documents written by the French representative in Cairo and sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Al-Saeed said. 




The Hijaz Railway was strategically vital to the Ottoman war effort. (Supplied)

“The French representative vouched for the account of the Egyptian engineer, who fled the city and did not carry out the crime, thus confirming that the grave in question did indeed house the prophet’s body and the goal was to move the body to Constantinople.” 

“In the last phase, the citizens of Madinah were forcibly displaced and soldiers were settled there instead,” Al-Saeed said. 

Possibly up to 40,000 civilians were deported, with parents separated both from each other and from their children.

“They kidnapped people from the streets and did not deport them as families. They deported them as individuals and sent them to other areas under Ottoman rule. 

“According to historical sources, the Seferberlik atrocities resulted in only a few hundred citizens remaining in the city. Fakhri Pasha ordered the monopolization of food, which was scarce in the first place, especially dates, which were given to the Ottoman soldiers. 

“Madinah reached the point of famine, forcing its citizens and orphaned children to eat cats, dogs and what remained on the farms and in the streets.” 




“Seferberlik: A century on from the Ottoman crime in Madinah” — by Saudi author Mohammad Al-Saeed.

Al-Saeed says he chose to write about the Ottoman Empire’s actions in Madinah a century on because he believes modern Turkey is trying to whitewash its imperial past. 

He plans to translate his book into several languages to raise awareness of this little-known chapter of Ottoman history. 

“I wrote an article in 2015 about the passage of 100 years since this crime and provided details that few people knew about,” Al-Saeed said. 

“Reactions to the article varied between people shocked at the information and those who could not believe it, given the Turkish publicity ahead of its publication which attempted to whitewash the Ottoman Empire’s ugliness and its heinous crimes against Arabs. The public was oblivious to the Ottoman crimes. 

“Following the article, the idea of documenting the event was established, so that history would not forget it like other events in Arab history, particularly since the few historical sources that documented Seferberlik are in the Ottoman, English and French archives. 

“Moreover, the sources of information are very limited and the grandchildren of those who were in Madinah at the time do not have many documents. A lot of the city’s inhabitants were displaced. Many of them did not return.” 


Saudi Arabia suspends flights to and from 7 more African nations due to new COVID-19 variant

Saudi Arabia suspends flights to and from 7 more African nations due to new COVID-19 variant
Updated 28 November 2021

Saudi Arabia suspends flights to and from 7 more African nations due to new COVID-19 variant

Saudi Arabia suspends flights to and from 7 more African nations due to new COVID-19 variant

LONDON: Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday it was temporarily suspending flights to and from seven African countries due to the outbreak of the newly discovered coronavirus strain, Omicron. 

The countries are Malawi, Zambia, Madagascar, Angola, Seychelles, Mauritius and Comoros, an official source from the Ministry of Interior told Saudi state news agency SPA.

Expats will be denied entry if they have been in any of the countries listed within the last 14 days before arrival in the Kingdom. 

Nationals and expats who are allowed entry will be required to quarantine for five days, including those who have been vaccinated. 

The Ministry of Interior called on those who entered Saudi Arabia after traveling to the list of banned countries after Nov. 1, to take a PCR test.


What do parents in Saudi Arabia really think about distance learning?

Schools in the Kingdom closed in March 2020, in the early stages of the pandemic. They began to reopen in September this year, though remote learning remains in place for younger children. (SPA)
Schools in the Kingdom closed in March 2020, in the early stages of the pandemic. They began to reopen in September this year, though remote learning remains in place for younger children. (SPA)
Updated 28 November 2021

What do parents in Saudi Arabia really think about distance learning?

Schools in the Kingdom closed in March 2020, in the early stages of the pandemic. They began to reopen in September this year, though remote learning remains in place for younger children. (SPA)
  • After education minister said 83% of parents believe online education has been good for kids’ mental health, we talk those on both sides of the debate

JEDDAH: Distance learning was a necessity imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the past 18 months there has been a great deal of debate, globally, about the merits or otherwise of remote education and how well its extended use has served students during these difficult times.

In Saudi Arabia, however, parents appear to be overwhelmingly in favor of distance learning, according to figures quoted by Education Minister Hamad Al-Sheikh. Speaking last month at the Saudi Family Forum, organized by the Family Affairs Council, he said 83 percent of parents believe that remote education has positively affected their children’s mental and psychological health. He added that it is here to stay, in some form, even after the pandemic ends because it has become a pillar of the education system.
Saudi authorities responded to the need to close classrooms during the pandemic by developing the Madrasati, or “My School,” platform as a gateway to keep students at all levels, from first to 12th grade, and their parents connected with schools and teachers in an attempt to provide the best possible online educational experience. To help achieve this it provides access to textbooks, notes, study materials, videos, tutorials and more besides. In the first week after its launch in September 2020, the free platform logged 41 million visits.
Redha Omda, a father of three in Jeddah, told Arab News that teachers are using new techniques to enhance the online learning environment, and applauded the increased use of technology.
“I like how technology is playing a big part in the educational sector,” he said. “Teachers are contacting me through WhatsApp and they are more accessible than before.

BACKGROUND

Saudi authorities responded to the need to close classrooms during the pandemic by developing the Madrasati, or ‘My School,’ platform as a gateway to keep students at all levels, from first to 12th grade, and their parents connected with schools and teachers in an attempt to provide the best possible online educational experience. To help achieve this it provides access to textbooks, notes, study materials, videos, tutorials and more besides.

“The Madrasati platform is linked to the parent’s Tawakkalna app, which is amazing, and it lets me know everything about my kids. I am also impressed by how my kids are using technology in a way that I did not imagine.”
Bara’a Alfergani, a mother of two living in Jeddah, said that distance learning saves students a lot of time.
“Study at home is better than attending eight hours of classes every day and then coming home with homework to do,” she said. “It is much easier to attend online and do homework at the same place.”

In the first week after Madrasati launch in September 2020, the free platform logged 41 million visits.

Alfergani added that it also makes it easier for her to keep an eye on her children and be more involved in their education.
The Ministry of Education has indicated that the future of learning in Saudi Arabia will involve some form of hybrid learning, as the concept of distance education has evolved as a result of the global health crisis.
Joud Al-Harbi, a 23-year-old college student from Jeddah, said that online education is a much better option than attending classes.
“It allows me to do many things at the same time,” she said. “I interact with my instructors, and most of my collegemates understand the subjects easily.”
One of her friends has a sick child, she added, and prefers to take classes online because it gives her more time to care for the youngster.
Schools and other educational institutions in the Kingdom closed in March 2020, in the early stages of the pandemic. They began to reopen in September this year, though remote learning remains in place for younger children.
Not all parents agree that distance learning has been a good thing, however. Stay-at-home mom Mashael Al-Sahli said it has had an adverse psychological effect on her two children because it has deprived them of a social life.
“Building social skills starts at school and it is an important factor of the growing process,” she said. “It was something we didn’t feel until schools were closed.”
Not only were her children deprived of the school environment, activities and their friends, she said, even though the online learning system that has been developed is good she nevertheless has found the learning process to be difficult.
“The kids can’t even see the teachers’ gestures or body language,” she added.
Nahedh Almwalad, an elementary school teacher in Jeddah, said that children have a lot of energy and their attention span is limited, which can be a challenge with online education, but added that it can help to teach them patience.


15,000 residency, labor, border violators arrested across Saudi Arabia

15,000 residency, labor, border violators arrested across Saudi Arabia
Updated 28 November 2021

15,000 residency, labor, border violators arrested across Saudi Arabia

15,000 residency, labor, border violators arrested across Saudi Arabia
  • The authorities transferred 75,649 offenders to their respective diplomatic missions to obtain travel documents

RIYADH: Saudi authorities arrested almost 15,000 people in one week for breaching residency, work, and border security regulations, an official report has revealed.

During the period Nov. 18 to 24, a total of 7,552 arrests were made for violations of residency rules, while 5,699 people were held over illegal border crossing attempts, and a further 1,529 on labor-related issues.

The report’s findings showed that among 429 arrested while trying to cross the border into the Kingdom, 70 percent were Yemeni citizens, 28 percent Ethiopians, and 2 percent other nationalities.

A further 36 people were caught trying to cross into neighboring countries, and 14 were held for involvement in transporting and harboring violators.

The authorities transferred 75,649 offenders to their respective diplomatic missions to obtain travel documents, while 2,048 were transferred to complete their travel reservations and 9,586 were deported.

The Ministry of Interior pointed out that anyone found to be helping people gain illegal entry to the Kingdom, and transporting, or providing shelter for them could face imprisonment for a maximum of 15 years, a fine of up to SR1 million ($260,000), or confiscation of vehicles and property.

Suspected violations can be reported on the toll-free number 911 in the Makkah and Riyadh regions, and 999 or 996 in other regions of the Kingdom.


Saudi Arabia’s Space101 training program launched for undergraduates

Space101 training program launched for undergraduates. (Shutterstock)
Space101 training program launched for undergraduates. (Shutterstock)
Updated 28 November 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Space101 training program launched for undergraduates

Space101 training program launched for undergraduates. (Shutterstock)
  • The commission explained that the training focuses on the basics of space science and technology by implementing professional programs under expert supervision

RIYADH: The Saudi Space Commission recently launched its first specialized training program in the field of space and space technology in cooperation with Airbus Defense and Space.
The program aims to raise the level of education and practical know-how in the space sector for undergraduates and those interested in learning space science.
The commission explained that the training focuses on the basics of space science and technology by implementing professional programs under expert supervision.
The training program is the result of a partnership agreement concluded on the sidelines of the International Astronautical Congress 2022 in October between the Saudi commission and Airbus to train national cadres in the space sector and provide job opportunities for trainees in the field.
It also contributes to achieving the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 by developing national human capabilities and qualifying them for the labor market.
Those wishing to register for the Space101 training program can do so via the following link: https://initiativesportal.saudispace.gov.sa/ar/user/login?destination=/ar/space101

 


Saudi initiative to develop digital capabilities of young people

Women attend a hackathon in Jeddah. (AFP file photo)
Women attend a hackathon in Jeddah. (AFP file photo)
Updated 28 November 2021

Saudi initiative to develop digital capabilities of young people

Women attend a hackathon in Jeddah. (AFP file photo)
  • The initiative focuses on analyzing eight basic digital skills, including managing cybersecurity by protecting personal data and addressing cyber-attacks, managing cyber-bullying by promoting awareness of how to combat it

JEDDAH: The governorate of Makkah region, in partnership with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, is implementing the Future Champions initiative to develop digital capabilities for young people.

Under the slogan “How to be a role model in the digital world,” and through the sixth session of the Makkah Cultural Forum, the initiative aims to enhance digital citizenship, raise awareness and teach the optimal use of IT and communication.

It also aims to study the awareness of community members in the use of digital world applications and their enjoyment of skills and sound ethics through the use of the Internet and technology by analyzing a set of digital patterns and studying the behavior of individuals in the digital space.

The initiative focuses on analyzing eight basic digital skills, including managing cybersecurity by protecting personal data and addressing cyber-attacks, managing cyber-bullying by promoting awareness of how to combat it, and managing privacy by safely handling personal data when requested on the Internet.

Other skills include sound thinking and owning tools to distinguish between correct and incorrect information, managing digital footprint by understanding its nature and the real consequences, digital empathy with people in the virtual world and knowing their needs and feelings, managing screen time through self-control and time management, and digital national identity and showing it healthily and fairly.

This is achieved through an initial questionnaire to measure basic digital skills among individuals. More than 50,000 participants take part in the questionnaire.

Through its active partnership with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, the governorate of Makkah contributes to promoting the concept of digital citizenship and providing digital role models within the forum’s programs by presenting a diverse initiative that takes place in the cities and towns of the region.

It targets all segments of society to develop the region and its digital space in line with national efforts to create a new stage in communications and IT by employing smart systems, digital algorithms, analyzing big data and using the techniques of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in its cities and the work of its sectors to make the Kingdom a leading digital model.