‘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


Expo shines light on Arabic script, calligraphy in Riyadh

Expo shines light on Arabic script, calligraphy in Riyadh
The exhibition will be divided into five sections: Origins of the Arabic script, development of calligraphy, master calligraphers, calligraphy and contemporary art, and calligraphy, artificial intelligence. (AN photos/Basheer Saleh)
Updated 11 min 19 sec ago

Expo shines light on Arabic script, calligraphy in Riyadh

Expo shines light on Arabic script, calligraphy in Riyadh
  • Event devoted to the art form opens on Wednesday at the National Museum of Riyadh

RIYADH: Artists have been sharing their thoughts about the “mesmerizing and elegant” beauty and spirituality of Arabic calligraphy, and the importance of the art form, ahead of the opening on Wednesday of an exhibition in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi conceptual artist Othman Al-Khuzaim believes that global interest in the art of Arabic calligraphy has grown in recent years, and this can be attributed to increased awareness of its beauty.
“The general interest of people in calligraphy has led them to show appreciation for Arabic calligraphy, with all its mesmerizing and elegant shapes and forms,” he said.
“Arabic calligraphy stands witness to beauty, which is depicted by Arabic calligraphists on walls inside the Two Holy Mosques to add more spirituality to the holy places.”
Describing Arabic calligraphy as one of the most prominent forms of visual art, Al-Khuzaim said he often recommends it to people and encourages them to enjoy and appreciate it even if they cannot read the language or understand the meaning of the words.
Script and Calligraphy: A Timeless Journey, which opens on Wednesday at the National Museum of Riyadh and runs until Aug. 21, is a good place for newcomers to the art form to start, or for those who are already familiar with it to learn more about its history, from its origins right up the present day.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Organized by the Culture Ministry, the exhibition runs until Aug. 21.

• The 1,500-square-meter exhibition highlights the development of the Arabic script from its very beginnings.

• It includes one of the oldest surviving pages of the Holy Qur’an, dating back to the second century AH/8th century AD.

Organized by the Ministry of Culture to showcase the history of Arabic calligraphy, the 1,500-square-meter exhibition highlights the development of the Arabic script from its very beginnings, along with the relationship between calligraphy, contemporary art and artificial intelligence (AI).
This exceptional journey through history features input from Saudi and international master calligraphers, contemporary artists and designers. It begins with the advent of written communication on the Arabian Peninsula nearly 1,700 years ago and traces the development of scripts engraved on stone and included in linear paintings, manuscripts and other objects across the Islamic world.
The exhibition brings the story right up to date by considering the most modern applications of Arabic calligraphy, for example in fashion, design and even AI. Alongside the classic artworks on display, visitors will find an AI machine, developed by Egyptian artist and designer Haytham Nawar, that allows them to produce a new pictographic language on a video screen.
At the other end of the timeline of Arabic calligraphy, the exhibition includes one of the oldest surviving pages of the Holy Qur’an, dating back to the second century AH/8th century AD. There is also a selection of Qur’an manuscripts, including the renowned Blue Qur’an and Mushaf Al-Madinah, and a specially designed manuscript presented by Obvious, a collective of French AI researchers and artists.

Such events are important because they enhance the communication between professional Arab calligraphists and enthusiasts.
Abdelrahman El-Shahed Calligrapher

Abdelrahman El-Shahed, a calligrapher and contemporary artist involved in the exhibition, said such events are important because they enhance the communication between professional Arab calligraphists and enthusiasts, who view the preservation of the art form as an important way to show pride in their religion and nations. They also help bring calligraphists together to continue to develop an ancient art, he added.
“We are glad that the Mohammed bin Salman Global Center for Arabic Calligraphy has been launched,” said El-Shahed. “It will definitely help in promoting and preserving Arabic calligraphy around the world, and giving it the appreciation it deserves.”
Saudi authorities announced in April last year that the Dar Al-Qalam Center in Madinah would be developed to become a global platform for calligraphers from all over the world and was renamed in honor of the crown prince. Arabic calligraphy in the region also receives great support from the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, who last year launched the Year of Arabic Calligraphy initiative to raise awareness and interest in the art form.


Red Sea Film Festival announces $10 million fund to support Arab, African cinema

Red Sea Film Festival announces $10 million fund to support Arab, African cinema
Saudi nationals will be able to apply to the Red Sea Fund to support short films. (Supplied)
Updated 16 June 2021

Red Sea Film Festival announces $10 million fund to support Arab, African cinema

Red Sea Film Festival announces $10 million fund to support Arab, African cinema
  • The Red Sea Souk project market will take place from Nov. 12-15 at the RSFF as projects will compete for the Red Sea Development and Production Awards in the amount of $25,000 and $100,000

JEDDAH: The Red Sea Film Festival Foundation has announced its SR37.5 million ($10 million) fund, which will support projects with directors from the Arab World and Africa, launching a new generation of filmmakers and supporting established auteurs as they bring their work from script to screen.
The Red Sea Fund will back more than 100 projects in its first year, creating a game-changing boost for filmmakers by supporting fiction, documentary, and animation feature films, as well as episodic content.
Additionally, Saudi nationals will be able to apply to the Red Sea Fund to support short films in development and production.
“Helping African and Arab cinema grow — that is a very exciting responsibility,” said Edouard Waintrop, the artistic director of the Red Sea International Film Festival (RSFF).
“That is what the Red Sea Fund will do at every stage of the making of the chosen movies and episodic content. In providing more than 100 grants of up to $10 million to help the development, production, and post-production of movies across the Arab World and Africa, the Red Sea Fund will help cinema that is in full metamorphosis.”
The Red Sea Fund is part of the foundation’s commitment to the regional screen sector, which also includes launching the inaugural RSFF from Nov. 11-20 in Al-Balad, Jeddah’s historic downtown.
The festival will see the launch of the Red Sea Souk, its marketplace and industry hub for the region. Red Sea Souk will include a project market, with pitching sessions of more than 20 projects from the Arab World and Africa, as well as a films-in-progress workshop.
All projects that apply to the Red Sea Fund will automatically be eligible for the Red Sea Souk.
The Red Sea Souk project market will take place from Nov. 12-15 at the RSFF as projects will compete for the Red Sea Development and Production Awards in the amount of $25,000 and $100,000.

FASTFACTS

• Fund will back more than 100 projects in its first year as grants will be awarded for development, production, and post-production.

• Inaugural Red Sea Film Festival will be held Nov. 11-20 in Al-Balad, Jeddah’s historic downtown.

The Red Sea Souk films-in-progress workshop will be held Nov. 12-15 at the RSFF as each selected project will compete for the Red Sea Post-Production Awards worth $30,000.
“Over the past two decades, we have seen the Arab and African film industry grow and flourish,” RSFF Managing Director Shivani Pandya said.
“The fund and the Red Sea Souk will provide more tools to support the Arab and African film business to make even more of an impact on the international marketplace with the launch of its project market and films in-progress workshop this November.”
The Red Sea Souk will also include panels, networking events, workshops, and booths connecting the international film community to the exciting new Saudi market.
Applications are welcome from around the world to support projects by African or Arab directors, as the Red Sea Fund is open through July 21.
The Red Sea Fund will be split across three main categories. The first is development, which aims to support bold and creative directors in developing live-action, emerging media, and animation projects from treatments to production-ready screenplays and concepts. The Fund will develop projects from Arab, African and Saudi directors that have a director and producer attached.
The second category is production, which targets projects going into production and is aimed at supporting any aspect of the shoot.  The last category is post-production.


Al-Qasabi stresses joint media strategy to fight pandemic

Al-Qasabi stresses joint media strategy to fight pandemic
Acting Minister of Media Dr. Majid Al-Qasabi. (SPA)
Updated 16 June 2021

Al-Qasabi stresses joint media strategy to fight pandemic

Al-Qasabi stresses joint media strategy to fight pandemic
  • Al-Qasabi: The continuation of the pandemic and the emergence of new variants requires us to increase precautionary measures to prevent outbreaks

JEDDAH: Arab countries should work together to address the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic through a new joint media strategy, acting Minister of Media Dr. Majid Al-Qasabi has said.
The strategy should also include executive projects in the Arab world to raise awareness about coronavirus vaccines and refute false information about the pandemic, he added.
His comments came during a speech at the 13th session of the Executive Office of the Council of Arab Information Ministers, where he proposed the formation of a group under the supervision of the Media and Communication Sector of the Arab League General Secretariat.
Al-Qasabi said: “The continuation of the pandemic and the emergence of new variants requires us to increase precautionary measures to prevent outbreaks.
“From this point of view came the Kingdom’s decision to limit pilgrimage this year to a limited number of residents in the Kingdom to ensure that the virus does not spread, and to ensure the health and safety of pilgrims.”

HIGHLIGHTS

Saudi Arabia recorded 1,269 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday.

With 16 new virus-related fatalities, the death toll has risen to 7,606.

He added that the Kingdom had submitted a working paper that includes the proposed objectives of the strategy, as well as its main tracks and topics.
Meanwhile, the Saudi Health Ministry repeated its warning to expatriates and citizens to avoid public gatherings, which have led to recent spikes in coronavirus cases.
Saudi Arabia on Tuesday reported 16 new coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the death toll to 7,606.
There were 1,269 new coronavirus cases, meaning that 468,175 people in the Kingdom have now contracted the disease. A total of 10,314 cases remain active, of which 1,569 are in critical condition.
The ministry said that 1,014 patients recovered from the disease, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 450,255.
As the Kingdom continues its vaccine rollout campaign, 16,050,143 people in the Kingdom have so far received a coronavirus vaccination.


Nigeria seeks to bolster cooperation with Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition

Nigeria seeks to bolster cooperation with Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition
Nigerian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Yahaya Lawal received by IMCTC Secretary-General Maj. Gen. Mohammed bin Saeed Al-Moghedi in Riyadh. (SPA)
Updated 4 min 27 sec ago

Nigeria seeks to bolster cooperation with Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition

Nigeria seeks to bolster cooperation with Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition
  • The IMCTC chief said the coalition aims to enhance cooperation and coordination among member states

RIYADH: Nigerian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Yahaya Lawal visited the headquarters of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) in Riyadh on Tuesday.
IMCTC Secretary-General Maj. Gen. Mohammed bin Saeed Al-Moghedi received the top diplomat and the accompanying delegation.
The Nigerian ambassador and Al-Moghedi discussed ways to enhance cooperation to combat terrorism in all its forms.
Al-Moghedi briefed the visiting dignitaries about the coalition’s goals, achievements and the initiatives it has taken to fight terrorism in different forms.
He said the coalition represents an integrated system of intellectual and media initiatives and also aims to fight terror financing to effectively root out this menace. The IMCTC chief said the coalition aims to enhance cooperation and coordination among member states. 


Who’s Who: Haneen Abu Azzah, Saudi scholar

Who’s Who: Haneen Abu Azzah, Saudi scholar
Haneen Abu Azzah. (Supplied)
Updated 16 June 2021

Who’s Who: Haneen Abu Azzah, Saudi scholar

Who’s Who: Haneen Abu Azzah, Saudi scholar

Haneen Abu Azzah is the first Saudi female scholar to lecture at the Institut d’Administration des Entreprises (IAE) of the University of Lille, France.
Abu Azzah has been an assistant professor at the university since 2019.
She obtained a bachelor’s degree in English literature in 2005 at Taibah University in Madinah. Six years later, she received a master’s degree in business administration from the Multimedia University, Cyberjaya, Malaysia.
Strongly believing that Saudi Arabia is witnessing a renaissance, Abu Azzah decided to take part in its transformation. She is currently doing her Ph.D.
She told Arab News that she was “honored to focus on one of the world’s largest petrochemicals manufacturers, SABIC,” in her doctoral thesis at the University of Lille.
Before she joined the University of Lille, Abu Azzah attended a French language course at the Sorbonne University, one of the world’s oldest institutions of higher education, in 2016.
In an interview carried by the Saudi Press Agency, Abu Azzah expressed her deep thanks and appreciation to the leadership of Saudi Arabia for the support it has given to Saudi young men and women through scholarship programs.
Abu Azzah is a member of the Social Responsibility Development Association (Maharat), the first licensed association of its kind in Madinah. She is also a member of the Saudi Alzheimer’s Disease Association and the Taibah Charitable Society.