The Flowerman Festival: Sharing Asir’s culture with the world

The Flowerman Festival: Sharing Asir’s culture with the world
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The second edition of the Flowerman Festival offers live music, performances and a laser show to celebrate the local culture and heritage of the floral garlands. (Ministry of Culture)
The Flowerman Festival: Sharing Asir’s culture with the world
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The second edition of the Flowerman Festival offers live music, performances and a laser show to celebrate the local culture and heritage of the floral garlands. (Ministry of Culture)
The Flowerman Festival: Sharing Asir’s culture with the world
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The second edition of the Flowerman Festival offers live music, performances and a laser show to celebrate the local culture and heritage of the floral garlands. (Ministry of Culture)
The Flowerman Festival: Sharing Asir’s culture with the world
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The second edition of the Flowerman Festival offers live music, performances and a laser show to celebrate the local culture and heritage of the floral garlands. (Ministry of Culture)
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Updated 20 September 2021

The Flowerman Festival: Sharing Asir’s culture with the world

The Flowerman Festival: Sharing Asir’s culture with the world
  • Flowerman Festival celebrates the rural traditions in the Asir mountains in the southwestern region of Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: Bright colors, regional flowers and celebrations of heritage are highlights of the second Flowerman Festival, hosted by the Ministry of Culture in the Asir region.

Young and old visitors wear colorful floral garlands and join hands and dance to celebrate this important cultural and historical event.

The Flowerman Festival celebrates the rural traditions in the Asir mountains in the southwestern region of Saudi Arabia from Sept 13 to Sept. 27.

One of the missions of the festival is to share the Flowerman heritage and spread awareness of its cultural diversity with local and international visitors through art, dance and storytelling.

The festival is centered around three features, which focus on the preservation of culture under the theme of “nine years of glory.”

The first feature of the festival depicts the stories of the historical roles of the flowermen in a feature called “FlowerMen and Determination,” showing Rijal Almaa’s timeline through dance and chanting.

The second feature of the festival will celebrate women and the important role they play in preserving the heritage of the Asir region through their colorful artwork.

Some of the local women can be seen around the festival grounds carefully weaving the traditional floral crowns made of marigolds, jasmine and basil.

These floral crowns are the staple of the festival, worn not only the locals in Rijal Almaa village but by all visitors in celebration of its rural heritage. 

Made of freshly cut flowers, these crowns are a historical symbol of power, health and eternity worn by many locals in the Asir and Jazan region. 

The third feature of the festival is “Rijal’s Fort.” This showcases the local architecture — made of colorful stone, delicately stacked — and which also makes use of clay and wood.

Projected on the 60 buildings in the village is a laser show that shares the story of Rijal’s history.

At night these buildings, 14 of which were used as forts, are highlighted with bright colored lights that trace each corner of the structures, creating a bright glow from miles away.

The events are hosted in two locations — the first is the village of Rijal and the second is in Al-Soudah Park.

Al-Soudah Park features a 360-degree main stage where folk performances are held, and where the local colorful thobes and floral crowns have caught the attention of locals and international visitors. 

Located 45 km west of Abha, the hub of the festival Rijal Almaa, the location is in the process of becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The hub was once the meeting place for merchants and pilgrims traveling to the holy cities of Makkah and Medina. Here merchants traded food, grains, household items, spices and jewelry.

This culturally rich region is home to the Rijal Almaa village, also referred to by international tourists as the gingerbread village because of the bright colors of the stone bricks carefully laid to create its century-old architectural structures.

Rijal Almaa holds a deep historical importance for the Kingdom; it is the location where the Asiri tribes claimed independence over the region and defeated the Ottoman forces in 1825.

The Flowerman Festival is a harmonious celebration of the environment and the rich local heritage of the village people. The festival showcases the connected villages that coexist within the environment, where people harvest flowers to create garlands and live in harmony with nature.

Few places in the world are preserved in the way that the Asir region is, with its historic villages hidden in the mountains.

The second edition of the festival offers live music, horseback riding and an open-air heritage market that sells many handmade crafts created by the local village people of the Asir region.

The first festival in 2019 welcomed more than 30,000 visitors with the theme of the local roses.

The Flowerman Festival will continue as an annual event organized by the Ministry of Culture to attract global visitors.


Riyadh’s 70s-themed cafe takes patrons back in time

Riyadh’s 70s-themed cafe takes patrons back in time
Updated 24 October 2021

Riyadh’s 70s-themed cafe takes patrons back in time

Riyadh’s 70s-themed cafe takes patrons back in time
  • Cafe recalls memories, nostalgic emotions flooding back as soon as they sit down for a cup of tea or soda pop

RIYADH: With its retro furnishings, decor, coffee, posters, and food, Riyadh’s Seventies Cafe is a blast from the past. 

For many residents, the cafe recalls memories, nostalgic emotions flooding back as soon as they sit down for a cup of tea or soda pop. 

“We wanted to relive the 70s a bit and serve the community something exciting and new,” said Bandar Al-Quraishi, founder of the Seventies Cafe.

On why he chose the 70s era as his theme, Al-Quraishi said: “I love everything about the 70s: the music, the clothes, everything. It was a great historical era. It was when the Kingdom saw an acceleration in urbanization and made major steps toward the Saudization of its oil and other industries.”

The new venue is decked out entirely in vintage items from the 70s and has been causing quite the stir since opening in the Al-Nakheel district.

“People’s response has been great!” Al-Quraishi said. “There are many local coffee shops scattered around our area, so one of the comments we’ve most frequently received is how nice it is to have such a unique cafe. Everyone loved the decor and the nostalgic feelings it inspired.”

He noted that, in the beginning, the idea of ​​the cafe was to target the elderly, the retired, and those who were seeking calm and comfort. To his surprise, the venue attracted many different age groups.

Retro TVs, radios, photos of old actors and musicians, and posters of figures ranging from the late King Khalid bin Abdulaziz to Egyptian singer Umm Kalthum decorate the interior, all part of Al-Quraishi’s efforts to have his cafe stand out.

“The aim was to create a unique, authentic and sustainable atmosphere through simple decor, high-quality products, and fair prices,” he said. “I was inspired by the old Riyadh period, and I wanted my cafe to serve as a museum for all to enjoy.”

One of its regular customers, Faris Al-Aqeel, head of Riyadh’s classical cars league, said that a walk through the old door of this cafe lands customers back in the 70s, offering a genuine vintage experience.

“It is so great to see smiles on the faces of those who lived during that era as soon as they enter,” he said. “You can tell that everything here reminds them of the good old days.”  

Speaking to Arab News, Saudi author Ali Saeed, a regular patron of the cafe, said that it is one of his favorites in the capital.

“I always recommend it to people who come to Riyadh. The last guest I brought here was Iraqi novelist, poet, screenwriter and documentary filmmaker Ahmed Saadawi, who won the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction for his novel ‘Frankenstein in Baghdad.’”


Saudi soldier who died in Iraqi prison finally home and at rest

Saudi soldier who died in Iraqi prison finally home and at rest
Updated 24 October 2021

Saudi soldier who died in Iraqi prison finally home and at rest

Saudi soldier who died in Iraqi prison finally home and at rest
  • Capt. Abdullah Al-Qarni was captured in Kuwait during first Gulf War; his death was not discovered until after Saddam’s fall

MAKKAH: After three decades, Capt. Abdullah Al-Qarni, a Saudi soldier who was captured by Iraqi forces during Operation Desert Storm and died in an Iraqi prison, finally returned home this week.

His remains arrived at King Abdulaziz airport on Oct. 21 and were taken to Makkah for funeral prayers and burial at the city’s Cemetery of Martyrs.

The chain of events that led to his death began on Aug. 2, 1990, when Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait and took over the capital city within a matter of hours. The surprise attack was the beginning of a seven-month occupation of the country. In response, troops, tanks, artillery, ships and aircraft from more than 40 allied countries, led by the US, mobilized and gathered in the Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province and the capital, Riyadh, for Operation Desert Storm, with the aim of driving the invaders out of Kuwait.

By Jan. 17, 1991, an allied force of more than 600,000 ground, sea and air troops had assembled and an aerial and naval bombardment began. This was followed a week later by a ground assault. Al-Qarni was among the troops.

Most of the casualties during the 42-day war were among the Iraqi troops, with some estimates suggesting as many as 35,000 were killed. Dozens of allied troops also died. Among the Saudi forces, 18 were killed and 32 wounded. Eleven Saudi prisoners of war were later returned unharmed to the Kingdom. 

The exact circumstances that led to Al-Qarni’s capture remain unknown but it was eventually confirmed he was in a prison in Iraq and apparently died there at some point in the decade that followed, though the details are unclear. Years of efforts by Saudi authorities to have his remains returned home to his family were finally rewarded this week.

The martyred soldier’s brother, retired Saudi navy veteran Saleem Al-Qarni, and cousin, Saleh Salman Al-Qarni, told Arab News that he had died a noble death, serving his nation until the very end.

Before the war, they said, he had bid his three daughters and wife farewell and left their home town of Shaaf in Qarn, in Asir region, and headed to Riyadh for some military training.

“A few months before the Gulf War in 1990, my brother was chosen among a group to train in Al-Muzahimiyah (west of Riyadh),” said Saleem. “After more than a month, the brutal attack on Kuwait occurred and they were ordered to go directly there on military missions.”

He said that his brother did not hesitate to join the fight but it is believed that after about five days in action he was captured and taken to Iraq. The family was informed and the Saudi government continued to monitor the condition of detainees. Saleem said his brother was believed to still be detained in Iraq when US-led forces invaded the country in 2002.

After the death of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the fall of his regime, however, no trace could be found in any prison of Al-Qarni or a group of his friends. Later, his remains were identified and the family faced a new battle to have them returned. But they never gave up hope and, with the help of the Saudi government, continued their campaign.

“The government also did a thorough follow-up of all necessary procedures, until his remains were identified and taken back home,” said Saleem.

“My brother died fearlessly defending our country. God granted him the honor of martyrdom while he was defending the region with his colleagues who knew of the sacrifices and were loyal, fearless and defended their country to the very end.”

In 2004 the family had a death certificate issued the following year, Saleem married his brother’s widow to take care of her and his three nieces, the youngest of whom Abdullah only saw for a day before shipping out. Together they had two more daughters and remained together as a family until she died in 2019.

Saleem explained that his parents endured a lot of suffering as a result of what happened to his brother. Because his whereabouts were unknown until his death was confirmed, they had clung to the hope that they might be reunited. His father died in 2000 and his mother in 2015.

Saleh said that the martyrdom of his cousin while defending his country was a source of the utmost honor, pride and nobility. He was very religious and loyal to his homeland and king, he added, and did his duty without hesitation for the sake of his country and region.

“We bid him farewell as a body and soul and welcome his remains,” said Saleh. “This situation creates mixed feelings of pain, loss and pride. We are comforted that he honored his duty. We lost his pure soul and beautiful spirit in the darkness of Iraqi prisons.”


Saudi data science camp graduates first student group

Saudi data science camp graduates first student group
Updated 24 October 2021

Saudi data science camp graduates first student group

Saudi data science camp graduates first student group
  • The initiative aims to graduate more than 900 young professionals in data science and artificial intelligence during 2021

RIYADH: The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority celebrated on Friday the graduation of the first 35 graduates of the data science camp launched in July.

The SDAIA academy initiative aims to graduate more than 900 young professionals in data science and artificial intelligence during 2021.

The graduation ceremony was attended by Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology Abdullah bin Amer Al-Swaha and SDAIA President Dr. Abdullah bin Sharaf Al-Ghamdi, among other officials.

Meanwhile, 20 teams qualified for the boot camp stage of the second edition of the Global Artificial Intelligence Artathon.

The event will now move to workshops and training sessions aimed at building attendees skills and the opportunity to complete the final versions of their artworks.

Three teams will be nominated to win cash prizes of up to SR500,000 ($133,305).

The Artathon is one of the main initiatives of the World Artificial Intelligence Summit, where people interested in music, interactive art, drawing and stereoscopic art work together with data and AI experts to create artwork using AI techniques.

This edition received worldwide attention, with 8,400 artists and programmers representing 69 countries taking part, and 500 candidates representing 164 teams being selected.

During the ceremony, Al-Ghamdi congratulated the graduates and those who qualified for the second phase of the Artathon, praising “their tireless efforts that reflect their keenness to make the most of the programs offered to them.”

Al-Ghamdi said that improving national competencies in the field is one of the top priorities of the SDAIA. He added that it comes as a result of the support and guidance of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is keen to support the national development process and achieve the objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

The second edition of the Global Artathon of Artificial Intelligence falls within the SDAIA’s partnerships with the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones, Misk Art Institute and the Saudi Telecom Company, which sponsored the graduation ceremony.


Who’s Who: Naser Almarri, Saudi specialist in seed production policies and strategies

Who’s Who: Naser Almarri, Saudi specialist in seed production policies and strategies
Updated 24 October 2021

Who’s Who: Naser Almarri, Saudi specialist in seed production policies and strategies

Who’s Who: Naser Almarri, Saudi specialist in seed production policies and strategies

Since February, Naser Almarri has been general director of the Seed Center — MEWA; chairman of the Committee of Seed Producers in Saudi Arabia; and general-secretary of the National Committee on Plant Genetic Resources 2019.

Before that, he was deputy director general at the Natural Resources Department from June 2016 to September 2018.

Almarri is a specialist in seed production policies and strategies, seed and plant genetic resources laws, seed production, quality control, seed certification, field, horticultural crops varieties evaluation, seed testing, plant genetic resources collection, storage, evaluation, identification and maintenance.

He has experience and knowledge spanning more than 20 years in the application of agricultural and environmental strategies, programs and projects to achieve food security and sustainable development of areas with diverse ecosystems.

Almarri has been Saudi Arabia’s representative at the Gulf Cooperation Council since Sept. 2018. He is a member of the Kingdom’s team preparing the first report on biodiversity for food and agriculture.

Almarri is a member of the team for the national transformation program and the coordinator in the preparation of reports on the strategy and national plan of forests.

He is a member of the preparatory committee of the Saudi Environment Council.

Almarri has been a member of the National Committee for the preparation of sustainable development indicators from January 2015 till now.

He has published several articles in the Riyadh newspaper on the environment, biodiversity for sustainable development, and seed production.

Almarri obtained a master’s degree in 2002 from King Saud University with a specialization in agriculture science. He completed a Ph.D. in 2014 from the University of Reading in England on the environment and seed physiology.


Pakistan’s PM welcomed in Madinah, Islam’s second holiest city

Pakistan’s PM welcomed in Madinah, Islam’s second holiest city
Updated 24 October 2021

Pakistan’s PM welcomed in Madinah, Islam’s second holiest city

Pakistan’s PM welcomed in Madinah, Islam’s second holiest city

MADINAH: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and his accompanying delegation arrived in Madinah on Saturday to visit the Prophet’s Mosque.

Upon his arrival at Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport, he was received by Prince Saud bin Khalid Al-Faisal, deputy governor of Madinah Region; Maj. Gen. Fahd bin Saud Al-Juhani, regional commander; Maj. Gen. Abdul Rahman bin Abdullah Al-Mashhan, regional police director; Ibrahim bin Abdullah Berri, director general of the Royal Protocol Office in Madinah; and many civilian and military officials.