British expat using social media to dispel misconceptions about Saudi Arabia

British expat using social media to dispel misconceptions about Saudi Arabia
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Abdulrahman Afia said he has discovered many admirable qualities that are common to the people of all regions of the Kingdom, including generosity to guests, love of traditional culture, and good manners. (Social media)
British expat using social media to dispel misconceptions about Saudi Arabia
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Abdulrahman Afia said he has discovered many admirable qualities that are common to the people of all regions of the Kingdom, including generosity to guests, love of traditional culture, and good manners. (Social media)
British expat using social media to dispel misconceptions about Saudi Arabia
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Abdulrahman Afia said he has discovered many admirable qualities that are common to the people of all regions of the Kingdom, including generosity to guests, love of traditional culture, and good manners. (Social media)
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Updated 25 May 2021

British expat using social media to dispel misconceptions about Saudi Arabia

British expat using social media to dispel misconceptions about Saudi Arabia
  • ‘I could live anywhere in the world — I choose to stay in Saudi Arabia,’ says Abdurahman Afia
  • The reality is Saudi Arabia has one of the largest numbers of female entrepreneurs in the world and an incredible number of Saudi ladies now graduate from university

JEDDAH: A British expatriate who has lived in Saudi Arabia for more than two decades is showcasing the changing face of the country to hundreds of thousands of followers around the world — and dispelling some of the misconceptions about life in the Kingdom

Abdurahman Afia was born and grew up in London. He moved to Saudi Arabia with his wife, Khadija, in 2000, and their four children —26-year-old Abdullah, 24-year-old Abdurahman, 20-year-olds Anas and Aisha — were raised there.
He has watched the nation evolve and grow in the past 21 years, and recently decided to embrace the power of social media and use it to show the world what modern-day Saudi Arabia and its people are really like.
The 46-year-old is fast becoming a social media sensation, with 1.4 million followers on TikTok, more than 24,000 on Twitter and 100,000 on Instagram. He shares with them a varied mix of entertaining, informative and compelling content in Arabic and English, including amusing and interesting anecdotes and snippets from his day-to-day life in the Kingdom, recipes for shawarma, which he clearly adores, and his appreciation of the famous Al-Baik chicken nuggets, one of the country’s most popular fast-food treats.
Afia, whose original first name was Joel, found himself on the road that would eventually lead to Saudi Arabia at a young age.
“I was born in London in 1974 and grew up as an atheist,” he told Arab News. “At 16 years of age, a friend of mine asked me if I knew the purpose of my creation: Why was I alive? That question started a search for answers.
“The search continued until just after my 18th birthday, when one day I found a Muslim who would come every Sunday to Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park.” This is a section of the park where anyone is free to come and share their lawful ideas and beliefs with the public.




Afia and his eldest son, Abdullah, graduated together in 2019.

“After many months had passed I asked him to help me understand more about the religion of Islam, and shortly after that I accepted Islam as my way of life,” Afia said. It gave him a sense of peace and purpose “I’d never had before,” he added.
He then began to forge a career, first as an educator and then as an expert in leadership development. He holds a number of qualifications, the most recent of which is a master of business administration from the University of Northampton. He studied for it alongside his eldest son, Abdullah, and they graduated together in 2019.
Afia’s first job when he arrived in Saudi Arabia in 2000 was as a senior English instructor with language-training center Direct English. The following year he became a center director. In 2004, he was appointed an English-language coordinator at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, before moving to King Saud University in Riyadh in 2008, where he held a number of positions until 2011.
He worked at several educational establishments for the next five years before becoming vice director of the preparatory program at the University of Dar Al-Uloom in 2016. In 2019, he co-founded and became a managing partner of i2iCorporate, a company that provides leadership training and coaching.

FASTFACTS

• Abdurahman Afia was born and grew up in London.

• He moved to Saudi Arabia with his wife and children in 2000.

• The 46-year-old is fast becoming a social-media sensation, with 1.4 million followers on TikTok, more than 24,000 on Twitter and 100,000 on Instagram.

• He shares with them a varied mix of entertaining, informative and compelling content in Arabic and English.

Afia said that as he has explored the Kingdom over the years, he has discovered many admirable qualities that are common to the people of all regions, including generosity to guests, love of traditional culture, and good manners. Yet he has also noticed that some characteristics are particularly strongly associated with certain regions.




Abdulrahman Afia with his father in his early days. (Supplied)

“I have found the people of Yanbu to be incredibly relaxed and calm, the people of Makkah to be seriously business minded, the people of Dammam to be so happy, the people of Jeddah to be so welcoming, and the people of Riyadh to be so noble,” he said. “And yet at the same time all the regions of Saudi Arabia reflect the characteristics I’ve just described.”
Afia said he has had the opportunity over the past 21 years to move to other countries but is happy to remain in Saudi Arabia.
“I have the ability to live anywhere in the world but I have chosen to stay in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for 21 years because I cannot find the peace, security and lifestyle that I have found here,” he said.
“I have raised my family here, built an incredibly successful career as a leadership development consultant here, and always have access to world-class medical care.
“My friends and family can visit whenever they like, and these days you can get a tourist visa within minutes. These are some of the reasons I continue to choose to live in the Kingdom.”
For many years, Afia said, his parents who live in London, refused to visit him in Riyadh. But after much convincing, in 2016 they eventually agreed and discovered they had been missing out on a fascinating and friendly country with many hidden gems to discover.
“I am delighted to say they absolutely loved the time they spent here,” he said. “They found the Saudi people to be so kind and welcoming, and at the same time found in the city of Riyadh everything they could want.”
Afia said he has been asked many times by friends and relatives in the UK what life is like in the Kingdom and whether it is a safe place to live. He is always happy to share his experience and observations.
“In 21 years of living in Saudi Arabia I haven’t once needed to call the police,” he said. “I haven’t been the victim of a crime, nor ever even felt the threat of a crime.
“It is very normal to be able to sit outside a cafe with one’s wallet and phone on display without ever having to worry about someone stealing them. This is in stark contrast to my own beautiful city of London, where more than 340 mobile phones are stolen every day.
“I have visited countries all over the world, from East to West, yet I have never felt safer than when in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
However, many people still have misconceptions about the country and its people, Afia said, the main one being that women are oppressed, uneducated and undervalued.
“The reality is Saudi Arabia has one of the largest numbers of female entrepreneurs in the world and an incredible number of Saudi ladies now graduate from university,” he said.
Another popular misconception, he added, is that citizens of the Kingdom are unhappy and unfriendly. In fact, he said, his experience as an expatriate has been that the Saudi people are some of the warmest, friendliest and happiest people he has ever met. So he decided to put the record straight about his adopted home.
“After 21 years of living here, raising a family and having a successful career, my goal through social media is to show the world the reality of Saudi Arabia,” he said. “I believe it is one of the most misunderstood countries in the world, a diamond that most of the world is unaware of.”
His ambitions for revealing the truth behind the misconceptions about Saudi Arabia extend beyond social media to more traditional media outlets.
“I am in discussions with some television networks to produce a show in which I would visit all the regions of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and explore and share my experiences with the world,” he said.
“I believe passionately that this would bring a huge amount of awareness about this beautiful land I am so happy to continue to live in.”


UN travel chief hails Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector successes during pandemic

UN travel chief hails Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector successes during pandemic
Updated 29 sec ago

UN travel chief hails Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector successes during pandemic

UN travel chief hails Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector successes during pandemic
  • Saudi government’s intervention to support its domestic industry cemented its prominent position among global bodies

MADRID: Saudi Arabia’s successful efforts to keep its tourism sector afloat at the height of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has helped project the country’s influential voice on the international stage, a UN regional travel chief has claimed.

Basmah Al-Mayman, the UN World Tourism Organization’s director for the Middle East, said the Saudi government’s intervention to support its domestic industry had further cemented its prominent position among global bodies.

The Kingdom has for a number of years been an active member of the UNWTO’s executive council for tourism and is vice president of its current session.

“The organization has recently opened its first regional office in the Middle East and the Kingdom hosted, for the first time, a regular session, which was the meeting of the regional committee for the Middle East, in May,” Al-Mayman added.

She pointed out that Saudi Arabia’s participation and contributions to the WTO had helped transform it into a specialized agency of the UN while encouraging the adoption of Arabic as an official language in the organization, and the Kingdom now held key positions on the executive boards of a number of high-profile international organizations.

While the COVID-19 pandemic had crippled the tourism sector in many parts of the world, Al-Mayman said: “The Kingdom intensified its efforts, along with the UNWTO, and several member states, to form the International Committee for Tourism Crises, the Kingdom’s membership of which is represented by its Ministry of Tourism which has also hosted the committee’s work during the current year.” She noted that Saudi Arabia’s success in opening up domestic tourism during the summer of 2020 while maintaining virus health and safety precautions had been used as an example for other countries to follow.


Thousands of volunteers in Riyadh help plant trees in shape of map of Saudi Arabia

Thousands of volunteers in Riyadh help plant trees in shape of map of Saudi Arabia
Updated 24 September 2021

Thousands of volunteers in Riyadh help plant trees in shape of map of Saudi Arabia

Thousands of volunteers in Riyadh help plant trees in shape of map of Saudi Arabia
  • The completed project, covering 170,000 square meters is expected to be one of the biggest afforested maps in the world

RIYADH: Thousands of Riyadh residents turned out to take part in a tree-planting project as part of the Khadra Ya Darna (Green is our Homeland) initiative launched to celebrate the 91st Saudi National Day on Sept. 23.

The trees are being planted close to King Khalid International Airport in the shape of the map of Saudi Arabia, which will be visible from the air to travelers as they fly in. It will cover an area of 170,000 square meters, which organizers say will make it one of the biggest afforested maps in the world, and an important city landmark.

The project is part of a wider Green Riyadh initiative and its director, Abdul Aziz Al-Moqbel, is delighted that so many local people volunteered to help.

“We were happy with the huge participation of young and old from all over Riyadh to support this national initiative on the 91st National Day,” he said. “We want everybody to be part of Green Riyadh, which is an environmental and sustainable initiative that will make the inhabitants of Riyadh proud of their city’s present and future.”

He added that the initiative aims to increase the share of green space in the city from the current 1.5 percent to 9.1 percent by 2030 in an effort to improve air quality, reduce temperatures, and protect the environment and biodiversity.

The participation of local people in Green Riyadh is considered one the most important elements of the project, which aims to plant 7.5 million trees in the city and is considered one of the biggest urban afforestation projects in the world.

It is one of the main projects launched in the capital by King Salman, based on initiatives introduced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, chairman of the board of directors of the Royal Commission for Riyadh, to help achieve the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030 to enhance and develop Riyadh so that it ranks in economic terms as one of the top 10 cities in the world.


Arab coalition destroys Houthi drone launched toward southwest Saudi Arabia

Arab coalition destroys Houthi drone launched toward southwest Saudi Arabia
Updated 24 September 2021

Arab coalition destroys Houthi drone launched toward southwest Saudi Arabia

Arab coalition destroys Houthi drone launched toward southwest Saudi Arabia
  • Houthi militia’s escalation in attacks is deliberate attempt to target civilians: Coalition

RIYADH: The Arab coalition intercepted and destroyed a booby-trapped Houthi drone launched toward Saudi Arabia’s southwestern city of Abha on Friday.

The militia’s escalation in attacks is a deliberate attempt to target civilians, the coalition said. 

On Thursday, the Iran-backed militia launched five armed drones toward Saudi Arabia as people celebrated the Kingdom’s 91st national day. All the drones were intercepted. 

On Wednesday, the Houthis launched three drones toward the southwestern city of Khamis Mushait, all of which were shot down.


Saudi Arabia announces 4 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 4 more COVID-19 deaths
Updated 24 September 2021

Saudi Arabia announces 4 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 4 more COVID-19 deaths
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 535,842
  • A total of 8,688 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced four deaths from COVID-19 and 51 new infections on Friday.

Of the new cases, 14 were recorded in Riyadh, 12 in Makkah, five in the Eastern Province, four in Madinah, three in Jazan, three in Najran, two in Asir, two in Tabuk, one in Hail, one in Al-Jouf and one in the Northern Borders region.

The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 535,842 after 59 more patients recovered from the virus.

A total of 8,688 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.

Over 41.3 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.


Saudi foreign minister meets US Special Envoy for Iran

Saudi foreign minister meets US Special Envoy for Iran
Updated 24 September 2021

Saudi foreign minister meets US Special Envoy for Iran

Saudi foreign minister meets US Special Envoy for Iran

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan met on Friday with the US Special Envoy for Iran Affairs Robert Malley, state news agency SPA reported.
The two officials met on the sidelines of the 76th United Nations General Assembly in New York.
During the meeting, they discussed enhancing joint action, and developments towards the nuclear program.
Iran has been urged to return rapidly to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiations in Vienna to reduce tensions over Tehran’s nuclear programme.