‘An honor and duty:’ Meet the female Saudi officers guarding the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah

Dozens of female officers are currently deployed both in Makkah and Madinah, where they are providing security and managing worshippers at the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
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Dozens of female officers are currently deployed both in Makkah and Madinah, where they are providing security and managing worshippers at the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
Dozens of female officers are currently deployed both in Makkah and Madinah, where they are providing security and managing worshippers at the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
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Dozens of female officers are currently deployed both in Makkah and Madinah, where they are providing security and managing worshippers at the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
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Updated 29 April 2021

‘An honor and duty:’ Meet the female Saudi officers guarding the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah

Dozens of female officers are currently deployed both in Makkah and Madinah, where they are providing security and managing worshippers at the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
  • Dressed in tan uniforms, veils and black berets, the 113 officers assist pilgrims and worshippers at the mosque
  • Military-trained batch, created six months ago, part of Special Security Forces’ homeland security unit

MADINAH: Few media images have captured the impressive strides Saudi Arabia has made toward the empowerment of women and gender equality since 2016 like the recent photos of a smartly uniformed female security officer guiding Umrah pilgrims in Makkah during Ramadan.

Dozens of female officers are currently deployed both in Makkah and Madinah, where they are providing security and managing worshippers at the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque. The fact that their daily work is now considered a matter of course is a signal achievement of the Kingdom’s five-year-old Vision 2030.

The 113-strong all-female batch of military-trained officers stationed at the Prophet’s Mosque was created six months ago. It is part of the homeland security branch of Saudi Arabia’s Special Security Forces. The officers work round the clock in four teams of nearly 18 members each.

Their job, according to a statement by Major-General Abdul Rahman Al-Mashhan, director of the Madinah Police, is to watch over and assist pilgrims performing Umrah.

 

Dressed in mocha-colored uniforms, black berets and with their faces partially veiled, the young officers oversee a section of the mosque to guide and assist female worshippers and enforce the government’s COVID-19 protocols.

They exude the confidence that comes from succeeding in a demanding career that was closed to them until recently. As part of their professional training, they learned self-defense, first aid and how to use firearms. They also had to enroll for courses in Arabic and English (to improve their communication skills), computer education and fitness.

Hanan Al-Rashidi, 27, who has been a soldier for all of eight months, said she accepted the job because it is a form of humanitarian service. “I am full of joy. It is an honor to work at the Prophet’s Mosque and serve the guests of Allah,” she told Arab News.

Al-Rashidi expresses pride in flying the flag for Saudi Vision 2030 and regards the current era as one of female empowerment.

”I am grateful to be working in this position. Our leadership has given us so many opportunities. From driving to working in any field, women are equal to men. There is no difference,” she said.

Reem Al-Mahjoob, 27, who has been performing security duties in Madinah for the past six months, echoed Al-Rashidi’s sentiments. She pointed out that Vision 2030 has empowered Saudi women to take up jobs in such diverse fields as the military, aviation and government. 

”This is the era of women,” Al-Mahjoob told Arab News. “Women are now able to join the military among many other sectors they have always wanted to enter.”

From a historical perspective, the deployment of female officers in the two holy cities is one of the many remarkable changes that Saudi Arabia has witnessed since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched the Vision 2030 plan in April 2016.

Empowerment of women — including their economic inclusion and workforce participation — is one of the key objectives of the Vision 2030 programs.

As part of the strategy, Saudi Arabia has not only introduced legal reforms but also funded projects and initiatives in a number of sectors — including tourism, investment and culture — that have created opportunities for women.

Along with these initiatives, government sectors have committed to guaranteeing and protecting women’s rights in the workplace. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development has worked to reduce gender-based discrimination and find ways to create safe work environments that foster growth and innovation.

Women have also played their part in creating legislation and opening businesses and have taken a leading role in private-sector investment. Saudi Arabia now has its first female professional racing driver, female ambassadors, female judges, and award-winning female filmmakers.




The 113-strong all-female batch of military-trained officers stationed at the Prophet’s Mosque was created six months ago. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)

The pace of progress towards gender equality in the defense sector has been particularly impressive. Saudi Arabia decided three years ago to allow women to join the military.

In 2020, the first military wing for women in Saudi Arabia’s armed forces was launched. In February this year, the Ministry of Defense announced that men and women in the Kingdom could apply for positions in the military through a unified admission portal.

Among the positions now open to women are lance corporal, corporal, sergeant and staff sergeant, with a long line of prospective employers, including the Royal Saudi Land Forces, Royal Saudi Air Force, Royal Saudi Naval Forces, Royal Saudi Air Defense Forces, Royal Saudi Strategic Missile Force and Armed Forces Medical Services.

Female police officers joined the ranks of Makkah’s security force for the first time during last summer’s Hajj season, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.




The freshly minted officers in Madinah look out for hawkers and beggars while making sure that measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 are respected by visitors. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)

Like them, the all-female contingent stationed at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah proves that anything Saudi men can do, Saudi women can do too, and that no matter how masculine a job may seem to traditionalists, it can always benefit from a woman’s touch.

The freshly minted officers in Madinah look out for hawkers and beggars while making sure that measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 are respected by visitors. Al-Hanouf Al-Gomzi, 29, who comes from a family with a defense background, said she finds her posting in the holy city hugely rewarding.

“The feeling is completely indescribable,” she told Arab News. “I’m at the Prophet’s Mosque watching over the visitors. I’m very proud of myself and my colleagues.”

As a case in point, she cited a situation that required her to be quick on her feet. “A 50-year-old woman fainted here at the mosque. I called the ambulance team right away and the woman was very well taken care of,” she recalled.

To be able to work in the military is a source of immense pride for Al-Gomzi. “I was able to join my brothers in this field. I wanted to join this sector more than any other,” she told Arab News.

Speaking about Saudi Arabia today, she said: “We now find women working in many fields. They are almost equal to men.”

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Twitter: @DeemaAlkhudair


Saudi foreign ministry condemns comments made by Lebanon foreign minister

Charbel Wehbe, Lebanon's caretaker foreign minister at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beirut, Lebanon in 2020. (Reuters/File Photo)
Charbel Wehbe, Lebanon's caretaker foreign minister at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beirut, Lebanon in 2020. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 54 min ago

Saudi foreign ministry condemns comments made by Lebanon foreign minister

Charbel Wehbe, Lebanon's caretaker foreign minister at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beirut, Lebanon in 2020. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • In a statement, Saudi foreign ministry said comments were inconsistent with the most basic diplomatic norms

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry on Tuesday summoned the Lebanese ambassador to the Kingdom to express condemnation of comments made by Lebanon's foreign minister.

The ministry said it strongly condemned the comments made in a television interview by caretaker Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Charbel Wehbe, against the Kingdom, its people, and the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

In a statement, the ministry also said the comments were inconsistent with the simplest diplomatic norms and were not consistent with the historical relations between the two brotherly peoples.

“Due to any consequences that may develop because of the Lebanese minister’s disparaging statement, the Kingdom’s ministry of foreign affairs summoned the Lebanese ambassador to express and relay its strict censure and rejection to those statements and handed him an official note of protestation,” the statement added.

Saudi Arabia summoned Lebanon's ambassador to the kingdom over the remarks, handing over a memorandum about what were described as Wehbe's "offences".

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) asked Wehbe to make a formal apology to Gulf states.

The UAE denounced the statements, describing them as “disgraceful and racist.”

Lebanese politicians also criticised Wehbe.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun said Tuesday Wehbe’s comments on Gulf countries reflected his personal opinion and not the opinion of the state.

“The presidency assures the depth of the brotherly relationship between Lebanon and Gulf countries and at the forefront Saudi Arabia,” a statement by the presidency said.

“What was said by the foreign minister last night is his personal opinion and does not reflect in any way that of the Lebanese state.”


Saudi family infected with COVID-19 evacuated from India 

Saudi family infected with COVID-19 evacuated from India 
Updated 18 May 2021

Saudi family infected with COVID-19 evacuated from India 

Saudi family infected with COVID-19 evacuated from India 

RIYADH: A Saudi family infected with coronavirus has returned to the Kingdom from India, the Saudi Press Agency reported late Monday.
The family was airlifted by the Air Medical Evacuation Department of Health Services at the Saudi Ministry of Defense in an implementation of directives issued by Saudi King Salman.  
The plane arrived at King Salman Air Base in Riyadh, with all precautionary measures taken by crew members to combat the spread COVID-19.
Previously, Saudi Arabia transported more than 74 cases infected with COVID-19 through its medical air evacuation planes without infecting the medical and aircrews with the virus.


Saudi Arabia’s King Salman receives phone call from Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman receives phone call from Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa
Updated 18 May 2021

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman receives phone call from Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman receives phone call from Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa
  • King Hamad congratulated King Salman on the re-opening of the King Fahd Causeway
  • King Salman thanked Bahrain’s ruler for his efforts to further strengthen the relations between both Kingdoms

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman discussed in a phone call with Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa issues of common interest and relations between both Kingdoms, state news agency SPA reported.
King Hamad further congratulated King Salman on the re-opening of the King Fahd Causeway, following the coronavirus lockdown, Bahrain’s news agency BNA reported.
Only those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or those who have recovered from the disease are allowed to leave the Kingdom.
Meanwhile King Salman thanked Bahrain’s ruler for his efforts to further strengthen the relations between both Kingdoms.


Saudi passengers flock to airports as foreign travel resumes

Saudi passengers flock to airports as foreign travel resumes
About 385 international flights took off from nine Saudi airports on Monday, including 225 departures from Riyadh, 75 from Jeddah, 66 from Dammam, and 19 from the other airports. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 18 May 2021

Saudi passengers flock to airports as foreign travel resumes

Saudi passengers flock to airports as foreign travel resumes
  • About 385 flights to international destinations took off from nine airports in the Kingdom on Monday

JEDDAH: The terminals at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah were once again bustling with passengers on Monday, as international travel resumed more than a year after it was suspended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Arrivals and departures resumed at the Kingdom’s air, land and sea ports at 1 a.m., with Saudi citizens who have been vaccinated, or have recovered from the virus within the past six months, free to travel.
As passengers flocked to the airport from early Monday morning, the flow of traffic was well-organized and smooth. Entry to terminals was restricted to people with valid tickets and helpers accompanying disabled travelers.
As part of the latest rules implemented by authorities, Saudis younger than 18 must also provide proof that they have a health insurance policy, approved by the Saudi Central Bank, that will cover the cost of treatment for COVID-19 in other countries.
Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Civil Aviation also issued updated travel guidelines, including requirements for the use of the country’s Tawakkalna COVID-19 tracking app. The conditions apply to all travelers, regardless of whether their trip is for leisure, study, work or to receive medical treatment.
About 385 international flights took off from nine Saudi airports on Monday, including 225 departures from Riyadh, 75 from Jeddah, 66 from Dammam, and 19 from the other airports. In addition, about 300 vehicles crossed land borders into Qatar during the morning.
The Kingdom’s national carrier, Saudia, resumed flights to 43 destinations in 30 countries. It said it will operate 178 scheduled flights each week from Jeddah and 153 from Riyadh.

As part of the latest rules implemented by authorities, Saudis younger than 18 must also provide proof that they have a health insurance policy.

Ibrahim Al-Omar, the airline’s director general, said that Saudia has implemented more than 50 precautionary measures throughout all stages of the flight process, and has been ranked among the Top-10 safest airlines in the world by the Airline Passenger Experience Association. He added that since the pandemic began, the airline has operated more than 100,000 flights, transporting more than 10 million passengers.
The destination of the first international flight to depart from Riyadh on Monday was Hyderabad in India, while the first flight of the day from Jeddah was bound for Dhaka in Bangladesh. The first international flight to land in Riyadh on Monday was from Cairo, and the first arrival in Jeddah was from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

INNUMBERS

More than 18,000 people traveled from King Abdulaziz Airport on Monday.

More than 47 flights operated from the Kingdom within 6.

Despite the resumption of international flights, the Saudi Interior Ministry said that a ban remains on direct or indirect travel to 13 countries without prior permission to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The countries this applies to are: Libya, Yemen, Armenia, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Somalia, Belarus, India, Lebanon, Turkey, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Venezuela.
In addition, the ministry said travelers heading to Bahrain must have received two doses of a vaccine, and children under the age of 18 are not eligible to travel there. Diplomats and individuals accompanying them, air navigation and ship crews, workers in companies that are part of the health supply chain, and truck drivers are exempt from these rules. People who arrived at the King Fahd Causeway, on the border with Bahrain, but did not meet the requirements were turned away on Monday.
Travelers returning to the Kingdom after visiting a foreign country will be required to quarantine at home for seven days. However foreign visitors, including members of diplomatic missions arriving by air from most countries, will no longer need to quarantine if they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Those who are not vaccinated must provide proof of a negative PCR test, issued by an approved laboratory within 72 hours of flying to the Kingdom, otherwise they will not be allowed to board the plane.
With the exception of Saudi citizens, resident expats and GCC citizens, all people arriving in Saudi Arabia must have medical insurance that will cover the costs of COVID-19 treatment in outpatient clinics, emergency rooms and hospitals.
On Jan. 29, Saudi authorities postponed the reopening of air, sea and land ports and extended the travel ban from Mar. 31 to May 17. Further information about international travel, including the rules and requirements, is available at www.saudia.com.


Covid rule violators warned as cases decline in Saudi Arabia

Covid rule violators warned as cases decline in Saudi Arabia
Hundreds of individuals were fined for breaking social gathering protocols in different part of Saudi Arabia. (SPA)
Updated 18 May 2021

Covid rule violators warned as cases decline in Saudi Arabia

Covid rule violators warned as cases decline in Saudi Arabia
  • Saudi Arabia has administered more than 11.7 million COVID-19 vaccines so far at a rate of 33.5 doses per hundred

JEDDAH: More than 250 people have been fined for breaking social distancing rules in 24 hours, including 72 women attending a wedding where both guests and the host were fined.
For the fourth day in a row, the number of people infected with the coronavirus in Saudi Arabia remained below 1,000 with a significant rise in recoveries.
There were 886 new cases recorded in the Kingdom on Monday – a total of 433,980 people have been infected with the disease in Saudi Arabia since the start of the pandemic.
Meanwhile a further 1,127 people have recovered, taking the total number of recoveries to 418,914, meaning the Kingdom’s recovery rate has increased to 96.5 percent, marking a significant decline in the epidemiological curve.
There were 7,892 active cases, 1,377 of them critical, an increase of just one patient in the past 24 hours.

FASTFACTS

• A total of 886 new cases were recorded in the Kingdom on Monday.

• The highest number of cases was recorded in the Riyadh region.

• More than 250 individuals fined for violating health protocols.

The regions with the highest number of infections were Riyadh with 281 cases and Makkah with 250. Twelve new COVID-19 related deaths were reported, raising the death toll to 7,174.
Saudi Arabia has administered more than 11.7 million COVID-19 vaccines so far at a rate of 33.5 doses per hundred. Of the Kingdom’s 34.8 million people, 33.6 percent have now been vaccinated with at least one jab.
On Monday, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs closed nine mosques temporarily in six regions, after cases of COVID-19 were detected among worshipers.
The ministry stated that the total number of mosques that had been closed now amounted to 1,210, with 1,188 subsequently reopened after the completion of disinfection.