Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses

 The houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, have ornately decorated walls and ceilings restored and renovated with a modern touch. (Supplied)
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The houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, have ornately decorated walls and ceilings restored and renovated with a modern touch. (Supplied)
 The houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, have ornately decorated walls and ceilings restored and renovated with a modern touch. (Supplied)
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The houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, have ornately decorated walls and ceilings restored and renovated with a modern touch. (Supplied)
 The houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, have ornately decorated walls and ceilings restored and renovated with a modern touch. (Supplied)
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The houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, have ornately decorated walls and ceilings restored and renovated with a modern touch. (Supplied)
 The houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, have ornately decorated walls and ceilings restored and renovated with a modern touch. (Supplied)
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The houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, have ornately decorated walls and ceilings restored and renovated with a modern touch. (Supplied)
 The houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, have ornately decorated walls and ceilings restored and renovated with a modern touch. (Supplied)
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The houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, have ornately decorated walls and ceilings restored and renovated with a modern touch. (Supplied)
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Updated 15 May 2021

Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses

Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses
  • The region is replete with historical heritage because it is an ancient region known for its generosity and hospitality

RIYADH: Old neighborhoods in the heart of the city of Hail, in northern Saudi Arabia, are popular attractions, especially with older visitors who like to wander around and look at the traditional mud houses that remind them of their childhood days.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the region in these buildings, both the surviving examples of those built a century ago and the more recent buildings that mimic their style.

Mohammed Al-Na’am is the supervisor of several Al-Na’am heritage houses. These properties, which are owned by his family and were built many decades ago, are open 24 hours a day to visitors and passers-by, who can stop by for a coffee and some food or even stay the night. There are many other houses across the Hail region that are similarly welcoming, he said.

His heritage houses are usually busy with visitors from Hail and beyond, who appreciate the generosity of their hosts, he said. Most of those who visit the houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, are particularly impressed by the ornately decorated walls and ceilings, which have been restored and renovated with a modern touch, Al-Na’am added.

“Hail is replete with historical heritage because it is an ancient region known for its generosity and hospitality,” he said. “This explains the interest in the ancient buildings of the region.”

The traditional buildings in the region differ from those in other parts of the Kingdom, and some other Gulf countries, because they were designed and built with the help of Iraqi specialists and architects and so include distinctive plaster decorations in a variety of shapes and forms, he explained. Some examples have been well maintained and preserved while others are in need of restoration.

While this traditional style of building enjoys enduring popularity, Al-Na’am said, the high cost of constructing mud houses and the need for continuous maintenance means that modern versions are often built using concrete. This allows the classic mud-house style to be preserved while reducing the cost of construction and maintenance.

“Some modern buildings maintain the traditional design used in ancient buildings and use the same style of decorations, especially those in the city center,” he said. But this style of ancient buildings originally developed and spread in the villages of the region, not in the city.

HIGHLIGHT

The traditional buildings in the region differ from those in other parts of the Kingdom, and some other Gulf countries, because they were designed and built with the help of Iraqi specialists and architects and so include distinctive plaster decorations in a variety of shapes and forms. Some examples have been well maintained and preserved while others are in need of restoration.

One feature of these buildings is the design of the majlis or sitting rooms, which often have relatively high ceilings to make it easier to keep the room clear of smoke from the fire during the winter and keep it cool in the summer, said Al-Na’am.

“Most of the sitting rooms are decorated with plaster featuring geometric shapes,” he added. “However, today’s buildings use gypsum plaster and cement, which have lower costs.”

Some people continue to keep the old traditions alive by working with authentic materials. Abdullah Al-Khuzam, a member of the National Program for the Development of Handicrafts, has been passionate about building mud houses for more than 30 years.

He said he mixes the mud he uses, and that other materials used in the construction include tree trunks and palm-tree fronds. He described the Hail architectural style as durable and solid, with strong walls ranging in thickness from 30 to 40 centimeters. Mixing the mud is a delicate process that requires special skills, and is not as random as it might appear, he added.

“For example, certain parts of the building require a certain amount of mud and clay and a certain quantity of soil,” he explained. “For other parts, mud and soil are mixed and soft hay is added. The mixture is fermented for seven to 14 days before construction starts.”

Al-Khuzam, who is also a well-known fine artist, has taken part in many heritage exhibitions in the Kingdom and other countries.

“My participation in these events aimed to promote our traditional heritage and introduce the next generations to the traditional methods our forefathers used,” he said. The traditional designs and construction methods used in old buildings reflected the values and beliefs of the community, said Al-Khuzam. It was usual, for example, for doors in mud houses to be positioned in such a way that they did not reveal the interior of the house. A wall would block the view. Decorations were also an important part of the design process.

“Our forefathers paid special attention to the sitting room’s construction, which reflected their taste in art and architecture,” he said. “The majority of sitting rooms were decorated with engravings on the walls as well as Qur’anic verses, wise proverbs and drawings of plants.”

The majlis, where guests were hosted, was known as al-qahwa (the coffee area), he explained, and the area overlooking the yard was called liwan (summer majlis).

One feature that sets houses in Hail apart from those in other areas, according to Al-Khuzam, is the yard. Typically, it is a large space with an orange tree in the center. Orange trees live a long time and are a signature feature of yards in Hail. Some also have palm trees.

Another prominent feature of architecture in the region is something called a “dome,” which is located in front of the building. It is where the residents of the house traditionally spend most of their time during the summer. It also helps to shield the rest of the house from the sun and rain.

The previously mentioned majlis or sitting room in the heart of the house is where family members gather during the cold days of winter and light a fire to keep warm. The heads of the family occupy the main bedroom, while the children share rooms that are divided between boys and girls.

One of the nicest parts of a traditional Hail house is called “al-qubaiba.” Located off a corridor or a corner, it is a small space usually used by women, especially the elderly, to pray. A clay pot filled with water is stored there to keep it cool.

Al-Khuzam’s enduring passion for Hail’s old buildings is clear.

“I have been ready to do anything for the sake of this precious heritage and legacy,” he said. “I was glad when I heard that the Ministry of Culture had decided to restore the heritage sitting rooms in the city of Hail. These public places represent an important aspect of the traditions and values of the people of Hail, reflecting their generosity to visitors and passers-by. Some of them are open from after Asr prayers until midnight.

“I was a member of the team that restored these sitting rooms. I am grateful for the authorities’ support and for giving us the opportunity to put our touches on the historic buildings in the area.”

Mohammed Al-Halfi, a historian and doctorate student at King Saud University, said a house represents a part of a family’s identity and offers an insight into their history. Houses built close together are indicative of the close relationships between the people that lived in them, he explained.

They reveal how these people planned their lives together and built houses that reflected their environments and surroundings, he added. In the rural desert environment, known for its harshness and extreme summer heat, mud houses helped to manage the temperature.

“Using mud in architecture became an art hundreds of years ago, and still is,” said Al-Halfi. “Guest and living rooms in today’s houses have the same style as the old ones, and this reflects our pride in this identity and our heritage.”

He added that a study of the materials, design and construction techniques that were used to make the mud houses reveals the expertise of the builders. They took into account all factors to ensure the structures were perfectly suited to the local conditions, including the terrain and climate, and even the rising and setting of the sun.

“We must view mud houses as a historical source when studying any society,” said Al-Halfi. “These houses deserve to be studied, economically and socially, to get more information about the community at the time.

“That is why we find mud houses differ from one region to another, according to the cultures of their inhabitants and the building requirements available in their environments.”


Saudi air defense intercepts Houthi drone attack on Khamis Mushait

Saudi air defense intercepts Houthi drone attack on Khamis Mushait
Updated 17 min 55 sec ago

Saudi air defense intercepts Houthi drone attack on Khamis Mushait

Saudi air defense intercepts Houthi drone attack on Khamis Mushait
  • Coalition says it thwarted all hostile Houthi attempts aimed at targeting civilians and civilian objects

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said Monday that the Saudi Arabian air defense has intercepted and destroyed an explosive-laden drone launched by the terrorist Houthis militia towards Khamis Mushait, Al Arabiya TV reported. 

The coalition said it thwarted all hostile Houthi attempts aimed at targeting civilians and civilian objects.

Adding that the coalition is taking all operational measures to protect civilians from such attacks.


Saudi Arabia studies vaccinating 12-18 aged group

Saudi Arabia studies vaccinating 12-18 aged group
There were 1,017 new cases, meaning that 465,797 people in the country have now contracted the disease. (REUTERS)
Updated 14 June 2021

Saudi Arabia studies vaccinating 12-18 aged group

Saudi Arabia studies vaccinating 12-18 aged group
  • Saudi Arabia on Sunday reported 19 more COVID-19-related deaths, taking the overall toll to 7,572

JEDDAH: National COVID-19 committees in the Kingdom are studying giving vaccines to people between the ages of 12 and 18, the Ministry of Health’s official spokesman, Dr. Muhammad Al- Abd Al-Aly, said on Sunday.
The news came during a press conference held by the health spokesman with the participation of the official spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce, Abdulrahman Al-Hussein.
Al-Aly said that postponing the administration of the second dose lies in achieving the highest level of immunity among society members with the first dose. He confirmed that there had been no changes in the COVID-19 infection curve in the Kingdom, adding that demand for the vaccine and a commitment to precautionary measures contributed to achieving this.
For his part, Al-Hussein said that after 48 days on Aug. 1, those unvaccinated would not be allowed to enter commercial facilities, centers and malls.
The Ministry of Interior announced earlier that shoppers should be fully vaccinated, or have had one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, or been vaccinated after recovering from coronavirus infection — with the exception of age or health groups not obligated to take the vaccine.
He said that the commitment among society members was high during the last period, and the discipline was noticeable, contributing to the return of some activities and services that were restricted earlier such as the reopening of fitting rooms and the use of touch screens.

FASTFACTS

• Saudi Arabia reported 1,017 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday.

• The death toll has risen to 7,572 with 19 more virus-related fatalities.

The spokesman reiterated the four practices that lead to crowding inside and outside of commercial establishments, which are still prohibited: Inviting celebrities and advertisers to these places, opening ceremonies for shops and markets, commercial competitions that require attendance, and inaugural occasions for products or services.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health said that obese people were the most vulnerable to infection from the coronavirus disease and its severe complications, stressing that the vaccine should be taken for protection while implementing precautionary measures.
The ministry, through its Twitter account and awareness platform “Live Healthy,” published an infographic to outline the risks of obesity and associated ailments as a result of the disease.
Saudi Arabia on Sunday reported 19 more COVID-19-related deaths, taking the overall toll to 7,572.
There were 1,017 new cases, meaning that 465,797 people in the country have now contracted the disease. A total of 10,132 cases remain active, of which 1,575 patients are in critical condition.
Of the newly recorded cases, 344 were in Makkah, 198 in Riyadh, 155 in the Eastern Province and 68 in Madinah.
The ministry said that 1,133 patients had recovered from the disease, increasing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 448,093.


Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia doubling down on Diriyah Gate project, says DGDA CEO 

In a wide-ranging interview on Frankly Speaking, CEO Jerry Inzerillo talks about DGDA's far-reaching plans to rival such global attractions as the pyramids in Egypt and the Colosseum in Rome. 
In a wide-ranging interview on Frankly Speaking, CEO Jerry Inzerillo talks about DGDA's far-reaching plans to rival such global attractions as the pyramids in Egypt and the Colosseum in Rome. 
Updated 14 June 2021

Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia doubling down on Diriyah Gate project, says DGDA CEO 

In a wide-ranging interview on Frankly Speaking, CEO Jerry Inzerillo talks about DGDA's far-reaching plans to rival such global attractions as the pyramids in Egypt and the Colosseum in Rome. 
  • Jerry Inzerillo made the remarks on Frankly Speaking, a series of video conversations with leading Middle East decision-makers
  • Project’s budget has been increased from $27 billion to $40 billion, and its scope increased significantly, he said

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is doubling down on its landmark Diriyah Gate project to build a leisure and cultural zone in the historic heart of Riyadh.

Jerry Inzerillo, CEO of the authority that runs the landmark project, told Arab News that his budget has been increased from $27 billion to $40 billion, and its scope increased significantly.

“What has happened is that the master plans, (following further) research, have evolved into a broader vision to allow it to be a component (of the strategy to turn) Riyadh into one of the 10 great cities of the world,” he said.

Inzerillo, a veteran of the global tourism business who was appointed to the top job at the Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA) in 2018, revealed the project’s new ambitions in an interview with “Frankly Speaking,” the series of video conversations with leading business and political leaders.

The inaugural celebration of Diriyah Gate. (Supplied)

During the interview, he also spoke of the DGDA’s prime place within the Vision 2030 giga-projects, the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Kingdom’s tourism industry, and its far-reaching plans to rival such global attractions as the pyramids in Egypt and the Colosseum in Rome.

The move to increase the project’s budget and scope was the brainchild of Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, Inzerillo said.

“It’s not just that we were given some more money. It’s a result of a change in vision. He (the crown prince) studies plans meticulously. As the smartest guy in the room, his visual acuity is amazing,” he said.

Old structures in Diriyah, the site of the first Saudi Kingdom in the 18th century, have been preserved. (Supplied)

"So, the same way Paris was master-planned and laid out, the same way Berlin was laid out, the same way Manhattan was laid out — this is how the crown prince looks at all the cities and that’s why we’ve grown.”

Diriyah, the site of the first Saudi Kingdom in the 18th century, is regarded as the centerpiece of the Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the economy and provide more leisure and cultural facilities for Saudi citizens, as well as attracting foreign tourists.

“There’s only one Diriyah. We’re the first born, we’re the favorite son. My fellow CEOs can come on the show and say, ‘No, we’re great.’ They’re all great, we love them, but there’s only one Diriyah,” Inzerillo said.

He insisted that Diriyah Gate and the other mega-projects are on time and have not been unduly delayed by the economic effects of the pandemic.

 

 

The budgets of the other big leisure projects — such as the Red Sea Development and AlUla — have not been cut back, he said.

“We executed our exact strategy all of 2020; we didn’t cut back. He (the crown prince) was brave,” Inzerillo added. “So now as a result of it, the major giga-projects in the Kingdom are on time and on budget.”

Some of the big projects will “need another budget cycle” to determine the right mix of equity and new investment required, but he is confident that the overall investment will be met by government funds, investment from the Saudi private sector and foreign investment.

Some tourism experts have questioned the overall strategy, which seeks to attract 100 million visits by the end of the decade to a variety of new leisure and cultural attractions, but Inzerillo said the projects are not in competition. “They’re very intelligently crafted to complement each other,” he added.

The reason for the big number of new tourism projects, he said, is that Saudi Arabia is trying to compete with other recognized global travel centers — such as Singapore and European countries — within a short space of time.

 

 

Inzerillo conceded that there has been an effect on the number of people visiting Saudi Arabia because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, but he estimated that it has been proportionately less than other big tourist destinations such as France and the US. “We’re coming off a low base,” he said.

In line with the new budget, the DGDA has lifted the estimate for the number of visitors it hopes to attract. It now expects 27 million visits and 100,000 residents by 2030.

Inzerillo said these estimates are achievable, and he took encouragement from the number of people applying for the new tourism visa — 55,000 per week — before the COVID-19 restrictions came into effect.

Diriyah is aimed at both Saudi domestic visitors and foreign tourists, seeking to capitalize on the rich historical legacy of the region.

 

 

Inzerillo is convinced that it can take its place among the other great cultural attractions of the world.

“It is to Saudi Arabia what the Acropolis is to the Greeks, what the Colosseum is to Rome, what Machu Picchu is to Peruvians,” he said.

“So when people come to the Gulf, they’re going to want to see where it all started — the home of the House of Saud.”

Inzerillo, who trained in Las Vegas and went on to international projects in South Africa, the UAE and elsewhere, believes that the absence of alcohol in Saudi Arabia will make little difference to its attractiveness to tourists.

When global focus groups were asked about their priorities for tourism in the Kingdom, the non-availability of alcohol in the food and beverage mix was not in the top five concerns, he said.

 

 

“People were astonished by the beauty of the Kingdom, and by the warmth of the Saudi people,” he added.

Originally from Brooklyn in New York City, Inzerillo is enthusiastic about the quality of life in Saudi Arabia for him and other Western expatriates, who make up about 20 percent of the DGDA workforce.

 

 

“But the No. 1 thing that people like is civility — the fact that you’re treated warmly and kindly, and the great thing about the Kingdom right now as a society — it’s optimistic, it’s positive,” he said.

Inzerillo also gave some insight into the decision-making style of the crown prince, whom he described as a “supercharged CEO.”

Inzerillo said: “He’s very methodical, asking, ‘What’s your process? How did you study this issue? Who did you study it with? Did you study it with the world’s best? What did you learn, and what options are you bringing to me?’

“So when you leave a meeting with an approval, he doesn’t stop. One day, two days, five days later, you’ll get a call from him. ‘If you connect that with that, doesn’t it make Diriyah better?’ ‘Yes sir, we didn’t see that’.”

_________

Twitter: @frankkanedubai


Women can register for Hajj without male guardian

Women can register for Hajj without male guardian
Muslim pilgrims gather on Mount Arafat southeast of the Saudi holy city of Makkah, on Arafat Day which is the climax of the Hajj pilgrimage. (AFP file photo)
Updated 14 June 2021

Women can register for Hajj without male guardian

Women can register for Hajj without male guardian
  • Ministry approves three packages’ prices range between $3,230 and $4,426

JEDDAH: Three packages have been approved for this year’s pilgrimage, with a government ministry saying that people could register online for Hajj including women without a mahram (male guardian).

Registration for this year’s Hajj opened at 1 p.m on Sunday after the government said it would limit this year’s cohort to citizens and residents of the Kingdom.
Registration is available until 10 p.m. on June 23. There is no priority for early applicants.
Costs for the three approved packages are SR16,560.50 ($4,426), SR14,381.95, and SR12,113.95. VAT will be added to the price of each package.
According to the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah’s website, people will be bussed to the holy sites and there will be a maximum of 20 pilgrims per vehicle.
They will be supplied with three daily meals in Mina and two meals (breakfast and lunch) in Arafat. They will be given dinner in Muzdalifah. Other food and beverage services will be available, but  pilgrims are not allowed to bring food with them from outside Makkah.
Applications will go through five stages. These include a prospective pilgrim reviewing and acknowledging health information and providing personal details based on their official papers. After that, the system will verify the applicant’s eligibility for Hajj based on the data provided by the National Information Center.
Once an application is accepted, the applicant will be given a registration number for further inquiries. After ensuring an applicant’s COVID-19 status — fully immune, immune by the first dose, or immune after recovery — a text message with the payment details will be sent out.

HIGHLIGHT

Costs for the three approved packages are SR16,560.50 ($4,426), SR14,381.95, and SR12,113.95. VAT will be added to the price of each package.

The ministry said that registering for Hajj did not mean a final Hajj permit had been granted.
“A Hajj permit will only be issued after an application is found to meet all the mandatory health conditions and regulations,” it added. “The ministry has the right to reject a request at any time, in case it was found to be violating the organizing regulations.”
Before a Hajj permit request can be sent, all applicants must acknowledge that they have not performed Hajj in the last five years, they are not suffering from any chronic disease, and are not infected with COVID-19.
People must also acknowledge that they have not been admitted to a hospital due to chronic diseases or for dialysis treatment in the past six months.
On Saturday it was announced that 60,000 pilgrims would be allowed to perform this year’s Hajj, which begins mid-July.
Authorities also said that those wishing to perform Hajj must be free of any chronic diseases and be aged between 18 and 65.
The decision was “based on the Kingdom’s constant keenness to enable the guests and visitors at the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque to perform the rituals of Hajj and Umrah,” the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said. “The Kingdom puts human health and safety first.”
The “sorting” phase of the Hajj application process starts on June 25, according to an official ministry tweet, which also said that applicants should pay for their package within three hours of selecting it to avoid cancelation. Priority will be for registered applicants who have never performed Hajj, it added.


Trial run: 6,000 students get a taste of careers in medicine, engineering and science across Saudi Arabia

Trial run: 6,000 students get a taste of careers in medicine, engineering and science across Saudi Arabia
The annual summer program aims to enrich student’s knowledge, increase their efficiency, promote their readiness, and develop their practical and scientific expertise. (Supplied)
Updated 14 June 2021

Trial run: 6,000 students get a taste of careers in medicine, engineering and science across Saudi Arabia

Trial run: 6,000 students get a taste of careers in medicine, engineering and science across Saudi Arabia
  • The remote program aims to teach students the scientific curriculum of enrichment units and train them in specific skills

RIYADH: Six thousand students from the Kingdom will have the chance to become engineers, doctors and scientists in 23 different fields for 21 days as part of the Mawhiba academic enrichment program.
One of the world’s largest scientific programs, organized by the King Abdul Aziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity (Mawhiba), began on June 13 across five Saudi universities, to be followed by a second phase that will be held virtually.
The advanced scientific units were developed in cooperation with the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY).
This comes within the program provided by Mawhiba for talented students discovered through the national program, held yearly by the foundation in partnership with the Education Ministry.
Students in the Kingdom can register for the program directly or via their schools. The annual summer program aims to enrich student’s knowledge, increase their efficiency, promote their readiness, develop their practical and scientific expertise, challenge their capacities and develop their skills.
“The academic enrichment program provided this summer covers the scientific and skills’ aspects, to promote student’s personal and social skills and help them acquire the skills of the 21st century,” a statement from Mawhiba said.
Mawhiba’s academic enrichment programs this year will be held in in-person and remotely. The in-person attendance program will run from June 13 to July 1 and provide students with a total of 90 hours’ experience, six hours a day.
Top academics will teach the scientific curriculum for four hours a day with two hours of skills’ development.
The remote program aims to teach students the scientific curriculum of enrichment units and train them in specific skills. Students will receive a total of 60 hours training in this program, divided into four hours a day; three hours dedicated to the scientific curriculum and one hour to skills’ development.
The second phase of the enrichment program will be held from Aug. 1-19, 2021.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Mawhiba’s academic enrichment programs this year will be held in in-person and remotely.

• The in-person attendance program will run from June 13 to July 1 and provide students with a total of 90 hours’ experience; six hours a day.

Attendance will be mandatory for students in five universities: King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, King Saud University in Riyadh, Princess Noura University in Riyadh, Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University in Dammam and the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) in Dhahran.
The annual program reflects all training and qualification aspects for students. Those selected to train the students are among the best academics who receive periodical sessions and programs according to the best technology, sciences and direct and virtual teaching techniques, to deliver the information to students and create a positive environment for innovation, learning and motivation.
“Mawhiba ensured that the training program provided to teachers includes specialized training sessions, to promote the coaches’ role in helping students acquire the skills and basics of rational thinking, empower them to deeply understand self-confidence skills, and provide them the scientific steps and techniques for problem-solving and decision-making skills,” the foundation said.
The number of students enrolled in Mawhiba’s summer enrichment programs has reached 5,887 to date, with the program able to receive up to 6,000 students. A hundred and thirteen seats are still empty, including seven seats for the attendance program and 106 for the virtual program.
The program provided for Mawhiba’s discovered talents is part of a journey in which students undergo different scientific experiences.
Over the past 10 years, talented students discovered by Mawhiba have represented the Kingdom in scientific competitions and events around the world. They have won 500 international prizes; 415 international prizes in scientific contests and 85 international prizes in International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) — the world’s most prestigious scientific competition for students.