What Saudi Arabia’s improving digital quality of life signifies

What Saudi Arabia’s improving digital quality of life signifies
Governments and business leaders have been eager to find ways to improve the digital quality of life among their service users. (AFP)
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Updated 03 November 2021

What Saudi Arabia’s improving digital quality of life signifies

What Saudi Arabia’s improving digital quality of life signifies
  • Report by cybersecurity firm Surfshark reveals Kingdom’s IT strengths as well as potential areas for improvement
  • Ranked 50th overall, Saudi Arabia has come first in the category of most improved mobile speed

DUBAI: Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the trend toward digitalization has been accelerating, with more people choosing to shop, work, bank, and communicate online.

At the same time, a host of state and private institutions have moved their products and services into cyberspace, taking advantage of growing internet access, better infrastructure, and technological advances.

As a result of this rapid transition, governments and business leaders have been eager to find ways to improve the digital quality of life among their service users. To help them, cybersecurity firm Surfshark has created the Digital Quality of Life Index.

Drawing on a sample of public opinion from 110 countries, the 2021 index has focused on the fundamental pillars of internet affordability and quality, e-infrastructure, e-security, and e-government.




Saudi Arabia ranked 50th overall but came first in the category of most improved mobile speed. (AFP)

The study, first launched in 2019, is based on open-source information provided by the UN, the World Bank, Freedom House, the International Telecommunication Union, and other sources.

Saudi Arabia ranked 50th overall but came first in the category of most improved mobile speed. It was fifth for overall mobile speed at 97 megabytes per second and fifth for mobile internet stability.

Although the Kingdom had dropped five places over the previous year, its overall performance had improved as many more countries had been included in the new index.

Povilas Junas, a research project manager at Surfshark, told Arab News: “Clearly and undoubtedly, Saudi Arabia’s strength lies in mobile internet. Not only does the country rank first in that category, but the index shows how much the speed has increased over the past year.

“It also ranks fifth in mobile speed and mobile internet stability, which we take from analyzing how mobile internet varies from month to month.”




Saudi Arabia has made digital transition a key component of its Vision 2030 strategy to build a high-technology knowledge economy. (AFP)

Worldwide, digital tools have become an integral part of daily life, with the number of internet users jumping from 4.3 billion in 2019 to 4.7 billion today — constituting almost 60 percent of the global population.

Improving digital quality of life is therefore considered an urgent requirement for future prosperity and well-being as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Junas said: “We have to talk about the elephant in the room, which today is defined by the pandemic. Even prior to it, many people spent lots of time online, from TV to movies online, but due to the COVID-19 crisis, we do more things online — we work, study, and meet our friends and relatives because we couldn’t do that outside.

“It’s not only a social aspect but economics as well. Because a good digital quality of life means you can improve your economic status, offer services, and start your own business, as you can interact with partners and customers on the other side of the world.




Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the trend toward digitalization has been accelerating. (AFP)

“Digital quality of life strongly affects both the social and economic development of our lives in general,” he added.

Saudi Arabia has made digital transition a key component of its Vision 2030 strategy to build a high-technology knowledge economy that was not reliant on income from oil exports.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Kingdom ranks among the top 10 developed countries in the world for its robust digital framework, with the pace of digitalization having accelerated prior to 2020.

Since 2017, PwC said, state and private-sector investment of around $15 billion in information and communications technology infrastructure has allowed Saudi Arabia to further leverage its digital infrastructure with a solid base.




The Digital Quality of Life 2021 Index has focused on the fundamental pillars of internet affordability and quality, e-infrastructure, e-security, and e-government. (Supplied)

“The country’s digital backbone has enabled essential services, including learning, shopping, and even medical consultations, to carry on and protect the economy from the challenges of the pandemic,” PwC Middle East said in an April blog titled, “Vision 2030 in a Post-Pandemic World.”

It highlighted the example of one local online retailer, BinDawood Holding, which reported a 200 percent increase in average sales over a 10-day period in late March 2020, while its average order value rose by 50 percent and app installations by 400 percent.

The findings of the 2021 Digital Quality of Life Index study broadly confirmed the PwC blog’s assessment. Saudi Arabia was found to excel in internet quality, ranking 10th surpassing Singapore, France, and Israel, and in e-infrastructure coming 35th — about 20 percent better than the global average.

However, Saudi Arabia’s broadband internet speed showed room for improvement. Ranked at 41st, with 76 megabytes per second, it lagged far behind first-place contender Singapore, which enjoyed a speed of 230 megabytes per second.

FASTFACTS

• Digital Quality of Life Index was created by Surfshark to help govts. and business leaders.

• 2021 index measures internet affordability and quality, e-infrastructure, e-security and e-government.

“This is definitely an improvement that would allow Saudi Arabia to rank higher in the index,” Junas said.

Despite its high-quality internet connections, Saudi Arabia also has room for improvement in the affordability index too, scoring 70 percent below the global average.

Surfshark’s study suggested that residents had to work an average of almost nine hours in order to afford the cheapest broadband internet package — three hours and 13 minutes more compared with 2020.




In order to boost its overall ranking in future indexes, Povilas Junas, a research project manager at Surfshark, noted that Saudi Arabia should prioritize improvements in its cybersecurity and privacy laws.

Then again, with a land area of 2.15 million square kilometers, the challenge Saudi Arabia faced in building and maintaining the infrastructure required for providing fast and stable broadband connections was something that Singapore, a small city state, did not have to contend with.

Meanwhile, PwC’s latest “Hopes and Fears” survey found that 79 percent of respondents in Saudi Arabia believed that advances in technology would improve their future job prospects, and close to 90 percent were confident of being able to adapt to using new technologies coming into their workplaces.

“This is a strong endorsement of the success of the digital transformation initiatives already underway,” the study report said. “According to our latest Middle East CEO survey, 59 percent of Middle East CEO respondents, compared with 49 percent globally, aim to increase their investments in digital transformation by 10 percent or more over the next three years, as a direct response to the impact of COVID-19.”




The number of internet users globally has jumped from 4.3 billion in 2019 to 4.7 billion today. (AFP)

The 2021 Digital Quality of Life Index study revealed Saudi Arabia’s e-security — at around 20 percent lower than the global average — to be one of the potential areas for improvement despite the palpable progress made in recent years.

Surfshark’s chief executive officer, Vytautas Kaziukonis, told Arab News: “Digital opportunities have proved to be more important than ever during the COVID-19 crisis, stressing the importance for every country to ensure fully remote operational capacities for their economies.

“That is why, for the third year in a row, we continue the digital quality of life research, which provides a robust global outlook into how countries excel digitally. The index sets the basis for meaningful discussions about how digital advancement impacts a country’s prosperity and where improvements can be made.”

In order to boost its overall ranking in future indexes, Junas noted that Saudi Arabia should prioritize improvements in its cybersecurity and privacy laws.

“If countries grant more privacy against different data brokers or any sort of services which can access users’ data, the score improves, as it’s quite an important pillar,” he said.

“Another point worth mentioning is that a broader online presence for the country’s government agencies would also improve the Kingdom’s score, which means some services offered by the government that are available offline for citizens could also be enabled online.

“Online services are crucial: If citizens can do their taxes, register for healthcare, or do many other services provided by the state online, then that can help improve the index score,” Junas added.

Twitter: @CalineMalek


Saudi leaders send condolences to Jordan king over passing of Queen Rania’s father

Updated 6 sec ago

Saudi leaders send condolences to Jordan king over passing of Queen Rania’s father

Saudi leaders send condolences to Jordan king over passing of Queen Rania’s father

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman sent a cable of condolences and sympathy to Jordan’s King Abdullah II on the death of Queen Rania’s father who passed away on Friday, Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday.
The king said: “We have learned of the death of the father of Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah, doctor Faisal Sedki Al-Yassin, and as we send to Your Majesty and the family of the deceased our deepest and most sincere condolences.”
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also sent King Abdullah a similar cable of condolences and sympathy.


Saudi digital artist merges famous figures with KSA’s landscapes

Titan from Japanese anime ‘Attack on Titan’ behind mountains of Al-Shafa road, Taif. (Supplied)
Titan from Japanese anime ‘Attack on Titan’ behind mountains of Al-Shafa road, Taif. (Supplied)
Updated 28 May 2022

Saudi digital artist merges famous figures with KSA’s landscapes

Titan from Japanese anime ‘Attack on Titan’ behind mountains of Al-Shafa road, Taif. (Supplied)
  • One of his preferred locations is Jeddah’s historical quarter, but the graphic designer said that he can let his imagination run wild in any location he explores

JEDDAH: Imagine seeing Disney’s Princess Aurora in historic Jeddah, one of the titans from the Japanese anime “Attack on Titan” lurking behind the mountains of Taif’s famous Al-Shafa road, or international figures appearing in old alleyways. These are just some of the products of Hazem Al-Ahdal’s wild imagination.

I took a picture of the view in front of me, and merged characters and turned them into reality, says Hazem Al-Ahdal

The 26-year-old photographer and graphic designer draws inspiration from both visual art and cinematography, merging images of global figures and cartoon characters into landscape photographs and then using his graphic design skills to create realistic artworks.

HIGHLIGHT

Historic Jeddah, the Jeddah waterfront, and cities such as Madinah, Taif, NEOM and Tabuk have all been used by Al-Ahdal as locations for his images, while natural landscapes, abandoned places and random streets also feature in the final works.

Historic Jeddah, the Jeddah waterfront, and cities such as Madinah, Taif, NEOM and Tabuk have all been used by Al-Ahdal as locations for his images, while natural landscapes, abandoned places and random streets also feature in the final works.

Russian Countess Anastasia de Torby, left, in an old market in Tabuk. Princess Diana at an open Maq’ad in Historic Jeddah.

Al-Ahdal said that he has been interested in the visual arts since childhood.

“Because of this passion, I decided to start my own art world and realize it,” he told Arab News.

His personal favorite artwork imagines Countess Anastasia Mikhailovna de Torby, elder daughter of Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich of Russia, in an old market in Tabuk.

“This is my favorite because of the integration of Western and Arab civilization in one work. Because of this work, other ideas began to come,” said Al-Ahdal.

“I love anything vintage or related to history. I loved her classical attire and thought it would suit the vision I had for the photograph,” he said, referring to the 20th-century Russian countess.

Al-Ahdal said that he chooses characters from a host of international figures or cartoons based on the site of the photograph, “and so the integration process begins.”

One of his preferred locations is Jeddah’s historical quarter, but the graphic designer said that he can let his imagination run wild in any location he explores.

“Of course, there are stories with many works of art, including when I was drinking coffee in one of the cafes and I was in front of an empty chair. My fantasies began with characters who may be sitting in front of me,” he said.

“I took a picture of the view in front of me, and merged characters and turned them into reality.”

Al-Ahdal converts his digital art into posters and even fashion items.

“I have no limits in art. I participated in many exhibitions with realistic works and paintings, I even participated in the field of fashion and I’m planning on participating in more projects,” he said

Al-Ahdal said that he loves ’90s movies for their content. “The best old classic works from the ’90s and before — these films contain stories and lessons in life,” he said.

“One of my favorite TV shows is the sitcom ‘Friends’ and one of my favorite distinctive films is the Italian film La vita e bella (Life is Beautiful),” he added.


Saudi Misk Art Institute celebrates work of Fahad Hajailan, Amina Agueznay

Fahad Hajailan was known for his embodiment of women in most of his works, and he is known for his abstract art. (Supplied)
Fahad Hajailan was known for his embodiment of women in most of his works, and he is known for his abstract art. (Supplied)
Updated 28 May 2022

Saudi Misk Art Institute celebrates work of Fahad Hajailan, Amina Agueznay

Fahad Hajailan was known for his embodiment of women in most of his works, and he is known for his abstract art. (Supplied)
  • The Misk institute invited Agueznay to have her first exhibition in Riyadh, where visitors enjoyed the distinctive shapes created from wool and other elements

RIYADH: The Misk Art Institute celebrated the launch of its fifth and sixth Art Library book series, highlighting the work of the late Saudi artist Fahad Hajailan and Moroccan artist Amina Agueznay.

It featured a selection of their influential and seminal works alongside articles from local and international art critics and curators.

Accompanying the launch were two exhibitions of artists’ works discussed in the Art Library books.

Hajailan's book “Poetry in Color" carries a group of paintings that embody his figurative and abstract style and his poetic use of color.

Amina Agueznay’s art combines modern construction techniques and traditional weaving and breaks down barriers between art and crafts.

He was known for his embodiment of women and abstract art, geometric shapes, and colored spaces.

The Misk institute invited Agueznay to have her first exhibition in Riyadh, where visitors enjoyed the distinctive shapes created from wool and other elements.

Agueznay is an artist, jewelry designer, and architect based in Casablanca.  

“I've been into art since I was a child since my mother has been an artist as well,” she told Arab News. “I worked as an architect in the US, and I returned to Morocco to design jewelry and collaborate with other artists to make jewelry. I liked the synergy and exchange I learned from them. Likewise, they learn from me.

HIGHLIGHT

The event featured a selection of their influential and seminal works alongside articles from local and international art critics and curators. Accompanying the launch were two exhibitions of artists’ works discussed in the Art Library books.

“Then I started working on company projects to accompany artisans for different kinds of crafts to modernize their products for commercial purposes. I loved it because it enabled me to discover more of the areas of Morocco, where they have many different crafts and wool art.”

Agueznay's agency said she started working with female artisans and became interested in wool as an artistic element through rug weavers, which is how her inspiration for using threads began.

She had a workshop at the exhibition where she taught visitors to work with wool to create special pieces of art.

Al-Hujailan was known for his embodiment of women in most of his works, and he is known for his abstract art, geometric shapes, and colored spaces.

“What's cool about the workshop is that the theme was weaving, but it's about how you write stories with the wool. So, I brought the wool from Morrocco, and now the visitors are doing incredible things with it,” she said.

Her book “Unmuted Narratives” explores her artwork, which combines modern construction techniques and traditional weaving to break down the barriers between art and crafts.

“The book that was written about my art enabled me to see a large body of my work and my progress, which is great for an artist. And I'm ready to move on and evolve more in the art world, so I'm grateful for Misk Art Institute for this,” Agueznay said.

The Art Library series, which ends on Aug. 15, was launched to enrich local creative content. The event constitutes the core of the institute's goals and represents its focus on instilling a culture of awareness and encouraging more documentation in the Saudi art and culture sector.


International afforestation technology event to be held in Riyadh

International afforestation technology event to be held in Riyadh
The Saudi Green Initiative and the Middle East Green Initiative aim to plant 10 billion trees. (SPA)
Updated 28 May 2022

International afforestation technology event to be held in Riyadh

International afforestation technology event to be held in Riyadh
  • Experts to discuss environmental, climate, sustainability, investment issues

RIYADH: The International Exhibition and Forum on Afforestation Technologies begins in Riyadh on Sunday under the patronage of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

It is organized by the National Center for Vegetation Cover Development and Combating Desertification and being held at the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center, in coordination with the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture.

Saudi Minister of Environment, Water and Agriculture Abdulrahman Al-Fadley said the National Environment Strategy was a roadmap to realizing the aspirations of the Saudi Vision 2030 regarding the protection and development of the environment.

Talal S. Al-Rasheed, a consultant at Gulf Energy for Environmental Consultation.

He highlighted the crown prince’s efforts to promote vegetation cover locally, regionally, and internationally through ambitious plans including the Saudi Green Initiative, the Middle East Green Initiative, the Global Initiative on Reducing Land Degradation, and the International Coral Reef Initiative.

HIGHLIGHT

It covers topics such as nurseries, seeds, afforestation and technologies, land rehabilitation and desertification, irrigation technologies, forest management and development, water sources and technologies, environmental solutions in plant carbon storage, pest control, and agricultural waste management.

The last two initiatives were included in the declaration of environment ministers during Saudi Arabia’s presidency of the G20 in 2020.

Last October, the crown prince announced two initiatives worth SR39 billion ($10.39 billion) to combat climate change, to which Saudi Arabia will contribute about 15 percent of the entire cost.

The Saudi Green Initiative and the Middle East Green Initiative aim to plant 10 billion trees.

Nearly 150 different activities will be offered at the International Exhibition and Forum on Afforestation Technologies, with participation from international and local agencies, the government, the commercial sector, and environmental nonprofit groups.

Around 90 experts on environmental, climate, sustainability and investment issues from around 20 countries and global organizations will also attend.

There will be 19 dialogue sessions, workshops, over 50 scientific papers, and approximately 80 exhibitors showcasing their goods, ideas, and innovations.

These represent the most recent technological successes in combating desertification and minimizing its impact, developing and protecting vegetation cover, and the most recent advances in experimentation, research, and scientific studies.

The exhibition covers topics such as nurseries, seeds, afforestation and technologies, land rehabilitation and desertification, irrigation technologies, forest management and development, water sources and technologies, environmental solutions in plant carbon storage, pest control, and agricultural waste management.

The National Center for the Development of Vegetation Cover and Combating Desertification works to protect and control vegetation cover sites throughout the Kingdom, rehabilitate degraded ones, detect encroachment, combat deforestation, and supervise the management and investment of pasture lands, forests, and national parks, which promotes sustainable environmental development and contributes to achieving the objectives of the Saudi Green Initiative.

Experts told Arab News that these investments were critical for meeting global targets for environmental protection, climate change control, and mitigating the effects of greenhouse emissions.

Dr. Amal Aldaej, an international relations and strategic partnership adviser, said the Saudi Green Initiative was considered to be the biggest initiative for accelerating the Kingdom’s path toward a healthy, clean and green future.

“The initiative will also help in reducing carbon emissions and sandstorms, combating desertification and land degradation, as well as lowering the temperature (it) will also help in restoring the degraded ecosystems across the country and improve the natural capital,” she said.

She added that the Saudi Green Initiative would connect communities to a higher-level policy and technical and financial assistance that would have a great impact socially and economically.

She stressed that regional alliances would play a crucial role in coping with climate change and global warming challenges. Through regional alliances and joint efforts to redress climate change, adaptation and mitigation could play a vital role in investing and ensuring sustainability.

Aldaej pointed out that there was a strong link between climate change and sustainable development through regional alliances. Poor and developing countries, particularly least-developed countries, would be among those most adversely affected and least able to cope with the anticipated shocks to their social, economic, and natural systems which would lead to cross-border climatic issues.

“Climate change and global warming issues can affect the countries of the region and can lead toward other regions as well. The sustainable goals can only be achieved through regional alliances by investing and ensuring sustainability through joint efforts.”

Environmental activist Talal S. Al-Rasheed emphasized the “importance of activating the role of community organizations” in achieving this.

Al-Rasheed, a consultant at Gulf Energy for Environmental Consultations, said the Saudi Green Initiative and Middle East Green Initiative highlighted the importance of land conservation and the Kingdom’s leadership position in contributing to global goals.

Saudi Arabia faces numerous environmental issues, including high temperatures of 52 degrees Celsius in some parts of the country and a lack of rain, which threatens water security and increases sandstorms and their detrimental economic impact.

Al-Rasheed said the ministry prioritized community participation in cultivating local plants to raise environmental awareness.

 


Symposium reviews fatwa in Two Holy Mosques, projects to improve visitor experience

Symposium reviews fatwa in Two Holy Mosques. (SPA)
Symposium reviews fatwa in Two Holy Mosques. (SPA)
Updated 27 May 2022

Symposium reviews fatwa in Two Holy Mosques, projects to improve visitor experience

Symposium reviews fatwa in Two Holy Mosques. (SPA)
  • Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Sudais said the symposium had been the first of its kind held by the government agency and aimed to implement programs related to the fatwa of the general presidency

MAKKAH: Officials of the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques recently reviewed initiatives designed to improve the visitor experience of worshippers.

The outcomes of a symposium, titled “Fatwa at the Two Holy Mosques and its Impact on Facilitating Procedures for Visitors,” have received the approval of the Saudi leadership.

Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Sudais

Projects discussed at the scientific symposium are set to be launched at the Grand Mosque in Makkah and translated into 10 languages including English, French, Russian, Farsi, Turkish, Urdu, Chinese, Bengali, and Hausa.

Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Sudais, head of the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, said the symposium had been the first of its kind held by the government agency and aimed to implement programs related to the fatwa of the general presidency, the fatwa in the Two Holy Mosques, and efforts to make it easier for visitors to access the Grand Mosque, and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.

HIGHLIGHT

Projects discussed at the scientific symposium are set to be launched at the Grand Mosque in Makkah and translated into 10 languages including English, French, Russian, Farsi, Turkish, Urdu, Chinese, Bengali, and Hausa.

He pointed out that the symposium had highlighted the continued support of the country’s leadership in backing the development and administration of the holy sites, the empowerment of women, and the introduction of technology such as the use of robots and electronic platforms.

Abdulwahab Al-Rasini, adviser to the general presidency, undersecretary for governance, legal, and development affairs, and supervisor of scientific and guiding affairs, said the body, together with members of the scientific committee for research and iftar, had an important role to play.

Maher Al-Zahrani, deputy president for exhibitions and museums, said that renovation work carried out at the Two Holy Mosques was being put under the spotlight through an exhibition.