Saudi Arabia pledges aid to Tunisia as COVID-19 infections rise

So far, only 715,000 people have received two doses out of a total of 11.6 million residents. (File/AFP)
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Updated 10 July 2021

Saudi Arabia pledges aid to Tunisia as COVID-19 infections rise

Saudi Arabia pledges aid to Tunisia as COVID-19 infections rise
  • Several other Arab countries also promised to help Tunisia fight the coronavirus as the north African country recorded its highest daily death toll since the pandemic began

DUBAI: President Kais Saied said in a statement that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had pledged to send vaccinations and whatever medical equipment Tunisia needed.

The crown prince had received a call on Friday from Saied where they reviewed the relations between the two countries, state news agency SPA reported. 

Several other Arab countries also promised to help Tunisia fight the coronavirus as the north African country recorded its highest daily death toll since the pandemic began, putting its health care system under severe stress, putting its health care system under severe stress and depleting oxygen supplies.

Libya also pledged to send medical aid, the president's office said in a separate statement. Officials and local media said that Kuwait, Turkey and Algeria had promised to help.
Qatar had already sent a military plane with a field hospital on board, including 200 medics and 100 respirators.
After successfully containing the virus in the first wave last year, Tunisia is now grappling with a rise in infections. It imposed a lockdown in some cities starting last week, but rejected a full national lockdown over concerns about the impact on the economy.
Tunisia recorded 189 deaths on Friday, the highest daily toll since the pandemic began last year. It reported 8,500 new coronavirus cases.
"We are in a catastrophic situation ... the health system has collapsed, we can only find a bed in hospitals with great difficulty," health ministry spokesperson Nisaf Ben Alaya said.
"We are struggling to provide oxygen ... doctors are suffering from unprecedented fatigue," she said. "The boat is sinking."
The total number of coronavirus cases so far in Tunisia has climbed to around 480,000, with more than 16,000 deaths.
Vaccinations lag far behind other countries. So far, only 715,000 people have received two doses out of a total of 11.6 million residents.
The president's office said last week that the United States pledged to donate 500,000 vaccination doses. 


Listen up: How Saudi Arabia is tuning in to a new future

Listen up: How Saudi Arabia is tuning in to a new future
Updated 22 sec ago

Listen up: How Saudi Arabia is tuning in to a new future

Listen up: How Saudi Arabia is tuning in to a new future
  • Digital-savvy Saudis are becoming a nation of podcasters embarking on an exciting aural adventure

JEDDAH: As digital audio and podcasts become part of everyday life in Saudi Arabia, millions of regular listeners are tuning into the future, sparking what one insider describes as a “podcast frenzy.”

Easy to access, and with a seemingly endless choice of programs and subjects, podcasts are transforming Saudis’ daily rituals, turning mundane activities such as driving, exercising and cooking into “listening experiences.”

But not content with simply tuning in, many people are setting up their own audio blogs and becoming podcasters themselves.

“It’s a free space; anyone can participate,” one podcaster told Arab News. “All you need is content, a microphone and a mobile device, to record and publish.”

Podcasts began to appear in the Kingdom in 2015, gradually reviving Saudis’ love of listening to radio broadcasts.

According to one 2020 survey, 15 percent of respondents in the Kingdom’s western region were regular podcast listeners, while more than 5.1 million people tuned in around the country.

Numbers continue to surge in line with worldwide trends, as national surveys in countries such as the US and South Korea show up to 50 percent of respondents listening to podcasts in any given month.

A podcast is a digital audio file made available on the internet for downloading to a computer or mobile device. Typically, podcasts come in series, with new installments that subscribers can automatically receive.

According to Ammar Sabban, creative director and founder of the “Mstdfr” podcast, ease of access makes podcasts especially appealing.

FASTFACT

Podcasts, previously known as audio blogs, date back to the 1980s. With the advent of broadband internet access and portable digital audio playback devices, such as the iPod, podcasting began to catch hold in 2004. The term podcast is an amalgam of ‘broadcast’ and ‘pod’ from iPod.

“Unlike TV shows, you don’t have to wait for a podcast — you can listen to it any time,” he said.

“The average person usually listens for up to 15 minutes, but those who are into it can listen for up to two hours — the more the merrier for them. Some people are obsessed with podcast shows. Another reason is because the hosts are spontaneous and laidback, and people like that,” Sabban added.

As the trend gathers pace, more people are coming up with their own concepts for podcast shows. “Anyone can do it if they are talented enough,” he said.

“We can meet anyone, and record and upload anywhere, because we don’t have to be in the same place to interview people. Production costs are low, so we can interview people who are not that famous but are interesting to listen to. This is what our listeners want — someone they can relate to.”

Sabban believes podcasts can only grow. “There is a podcast frenzy now. A lot of people are making them and we have thousands of them. Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest Arab countries and the production of podcasts is big here — now companies are aware of this and want to join the field.”

Firms seeking to creatively market their products are also looking to podcasts, with the equivalent of modern-day radio ads.

“Ads, sponsorship and company contracts are the main ways for podcast income, and we do have a studio that we rent for content creators. Companies contact us with a podcast idea, and we create it for them,” Sabban said.

He said that podcasts also lead to a lot of business deals. “We did not expect that our shows such as ‘Mstdfr’ and ‘Cartoon Cartoon’ would bring people together. Some of them created businesses because they found their people through podcasts.”

With more than five years’ experience in the field, Sabban and his colleagues constantly strive to keep their programs fresh.

Their latest podcast, “Let’s Talk Saudi,” highlights Saudis that people overseas want to know about.

“We received a lot of messages from Saudi students studying abroad, telling us that this show touched their hearts and they feel closer to home when they listen to it,” he said. “It is like a haven for locals away from home.”

Another Saudi podcaster, Abdul Aziz Al-Qattan, host of “Tanafs Breath,” described the podcast as an “audio companion that whispers to those who are curious about their surroundings.”

He added: “It guides those searching for answers and meaning, especially understanding themselves.”

Al-Qattan said that there is a revolution in podcasts and audio media in the Arab world. “The future of podcasting is very large and wide, but it lacks organizations and sponsors to support content makers, to push and motivate them to continue providing content,” he said.

The podcaster’s interest in audio media grew out of his love of voiceover and recitation. “I met with my friend Mohammed Ishaq, who had a passion for writing, and discussed the idea of a podcast, and we started publishing initial episodes. The popularity of the podcast was unexpected, exceeding half a million listeners. After that, we had Ibtihal Al-Misfer join as a writer, too.”

Al-Qattan said: “We started in October 2020, and it was a humble beginning. We had to learn how to present ourselves to an audience, to prepare realistic content.”

People listen to the podcast because it is an effective way to enjoy content, he said.

“Unlike visual content, which may require you to focus on certain details and visuals, with podcasts you can listen to a science article or story while you are driving or doing sports, in other words keeping outside noise out and enjoying an audio journey using your imagination.”


Festival announces best short films from emerging KSA filmmakers

Festival announces best short films from emerging KSA filmmakers
Updated 9 min 32 sec ago

Festival announces best short films from emerging KSA filmmakers

Festival announces best short films from emerging KSA filmmakers
  • Selected titles part of New Saudi/New Cinema Shorts program, which showcases up-and-coming Saudi filmmakers

JEDDAH: The Red Sea International Film Festival, which is set to take place from Dec. 6-15, announced its first slate of shorts on Monday that will be showcased at the festival’s inaugural edition.

The 15 announced titles are part of the New Saudi/New Cinema Shorts program, which showcases up-and-coming Saudi filmmakers, displaying a careful curation of animated, documentary, and fiction shorts.

Edouard Waintrop, artistic director of the festival, said: “New Saudi/New Cinema is an opportunity for the Red Sea Film Festival to showcase the diverse aspects of Saudi society, celebrating the creativity and originality of emerging Saudi filmmakers. The Shorts program in particular allows unique and diverse work to be displayed, and we’re looking forward to sharing these works with local and international audiences.”

Mohyee Qari, program manager of the festival, said: “Within New Saudi/New Cinema, audiences will be able to find stories told by ambitious, young, enthusiastic directors who have the potential to take Saudi cinema to the next level. Some stories will introduce viewers to the truth of modern-day local cultures, while others will take audiences back to the 1960s or to an imagined future of the 2090s. Common among all these fantastic chosen shorts is the chance for audiences to experience stories and life from a distinctly new Saudi perspective.”

In “My Dear Fiction,” directed by and starring Ahsan Minhas, a man narrates a story about heartbreak’s comedic and dark sides and how one can persevere following the experience.

“Professional Scammer,” directed by and starring Abdul Hameed Hassan Alam, tells the story of an unemployed man who tries to steal from people until he finds that fate has something in store for him that he never expected.

“The Window of Life” is a short and personal documentary in which director Hayder Dawood raises questions on the broader meanings of life by exploring the movement inside vehicles.

SPEEDREAD

The 15 announced titles are part of the New Saudi/New Cinema Shorts program, which showcases up-and-coming Saudi filmmakers, displaying a careful curation of animated, documentary, and fiction shorts.

“Hallucinated,” directed by Mohammed Basalamah, tells the story of Moayd, a deliveryman struggling with insomnia. As his condition worsens, he becomes unable to distinguish between reality and his hallucinations.

In “Little Bird,” directed by Khalid Fahad, protagonist Malik lives alone in the world, facing fateful challenges in his life.

“The Palm Witch,” directed by Hala Al-Haid, tells the story of two friends who set off in the old city of Riyadh looking for their lost pet as an evil night witch comes after them.

“Whisper Down the Lane,” directed by Raghad Al-Barqi, is an experimental animated short film exploring the concepts of communication, self-destruction, and the domino effect. It takes the audience on a linear journey, following a string of interconnected phone calls between five individuals that eventually escalate to a bigger conflict.

“Red Circle,” directed by and starring Abdulaziz Sarhan, is an inspirational and motivating short about a Middle Eastern man who has difficulty telling his simple story to his English storytelling class.

“Panting,” directed by Hassan Saeed, tells the story of Marco, who finds himself in a maze between reality and virtual reality as he seeks to meet in person a girl he encountered on social media.

“Covida, the 19th,” directed by Omar Al-Omirat, offers a different perspective on life during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic: A family survives quarantine, with their lives ultimately improving.

“Al-Rufea,” directed by Abbas Al-Shuwayfie, is a documentary that explores the intimacy of community through an old neighborhood.

“The Jakar,” directed by Abdulaziz Saleh, tells the story of an annual boat race held over 100 years ago before coming to an end with the construction of Jeddah’s Islamic Seaport. Today, the boats are docked at what is sometimes referred to as “Al-Sanabeek Cemetery.” The exciting story is told from the perspectives of the grandchildren of one of the race’s founders and the people of the port-side district.

“The Day I Lost Myself,” directed by and starring Rami Al-Zayer, tells the story of Salem, who is having a “quarter-life crisis.” Before an interview, he finds himself stuck in an elevator with an older man, where something happens that changes the course of his life.

“Acceptance Land,” directed by Mansour Assad, is set in 2096, in a post-World War III world. A homeless maid struggles to take care of a child in a time during which the color of their clothes represents who they are.

“Hide and Seek,” directed by Mohammad Helal, centers on a girl chased by a demon who makes her friends search for her.


Saudi minister, UN official discuss Vision 2030

Saudi minister, UN official discuss Vision 2030
Updated 27 min 28 sec ago

Saudi minister, UN official discuss Vision 2030

Saudi minister, UN official discuss Vision 2030

RIYADH: Saudi Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb met Executive Director of the UN Human Settlements Program Maimunah Mohammed Sharif to discuss boosting quality of life in the Kingdom’s cities as part of Vision 2030.
Cooperation between the Kingdom’s Quality of Life Program and the UN program was also discussed, especially governing standards for its application in the Middle East.
The UN program aims to promote a better urban future, including the sustainable and fair development of human settlements.
The Quality of Life Program is one of the programs that seeks to achieve the goals of Saudi Vision 2030.
Five years ago, Saudi Arabia’s leadership unveiled a strategic plan designed to transform the Kingdom’s economy, reduce its dependence on oil, and nurture a “vibrant society ... characterized by strong roots and strong foundations that emphasize moderate Islam, national pride, Saudi heritage and Islamic culture.”


Saudi aid agency launches program to combat blindness in Burundi

Saudi aid agency launches program to combat blindness in Burundi
Updated 39 min 15 sec ago

Saudi aid agency launches program to combat blindness in Burundi

Saudi aid agency launches program to combat blindness in Burundi
  • 1,402 people were examined

BUJUMBURA: King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center has launched a voluntary medical program to combat blindness and its causes in Bujumbura, capital of the Republic of Burundi, in cooperation with the Makkah-based Muslim World League.
During the campaign, which began on Sunday, the volunteer medical team examined 1,402 beneficiaries, performed 20 surgeries and 210 operations, and distributed 250 pairs of glasses.
The campaign is one of the projects to combat blindness being implemented by the center to help families with low incomes in a number of countries.
The center aims to offer assistance to needy communities around the world.
The center recently carried out a water and environmental sanitation project in Yemen’s Hodeidah governorate in the Al-Khawkhah district.
It provided 301,000 liters of drinking water and 287,000 liters of non-potable water.
It carried out 34 shifts to remove waste from temporary housing camps, benefiting 8,400 people. Meanwhile, the center distributed 2,000 food baskets to people in Sudan.


Archaeological dig at Saudi Arabia’s Zubala site begins 

Archaeological dig at Saudi Arabia’s Zubala site begins 
Updated 53 min 53 sec ago

Archaeological dig at Saudi Arabia’s Zubala site begins 

Archaeological dig at Saudi Arabia’s Zubala site begins 
  • Zubala is mentioned in several historical sources

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Heritage Commission announced on Monday the start of a new archaeological excavation of the site of Zubala as part of the commission’s excavation projects across the Kingdom. The site is located south of Rafha Governorate in the Northern Border Region.
Zubala is mentioned in several historical sources. It was a key station for trade caravans and pilgrims on the Kufic pilgrimage route known as the Zubayda Trail. The project will excavate one of the historical trail’s stations following the announcement by Saudi Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan concerning the commission’s intent to preserve the cultural heritage of the trail, and to launch the Zubayda Trail Program. The program will research and publish its findings surrounding the historical sites and launch new projects to explore the trail.

FASTFACT

Works uncovered several findings at the site, including a rectangular mosque and artifacts such as pottery, porcelain, soapstone and precision tools made of metal and glass.

The station reached the height of its prosperity during the Abbasid era, with early Arab sources citing various markets, a fortress protecting the city and a mosque.
The Zubala site has been subject to archaeological excavations since 2015, when works uncovered several findings, including a rectangular mosque and artifacts such as pottery, porcelain, soapstone and precision tools made of metal and glass.
The findings indicate the methods of manufacture and decoration, the creativity of early artisans and the commercial relationship between Zubala and the surrounding cities.
The current work aims to complete excavation of the site by utilizing new methodology.
The project’s objectives are to document the features of the site, preserve Saudi cultural heritage and highlight the civilizational role of the Kingdom through various historical periods.