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 elementary, kindergarten students excited about return to school

For the first few weeks after schools reopen the program will in particular focus on psychological efforts to help students get back into the school routine. (Supplied)
For the first few weeks after schools reopen the program will in particular focus on psychological efforts to help students get back into the school routine. (Supplied)
Updated 22 January 2022

Saudi elementary, kindergarten students excited about return to school

For the first few weeks after schools reopen the program will in particular focus on psychological efforts to help students get back into the school routine. (Supplied)
  • Psychological preparation and support important for the children as it will help them resume their studies and interactions with their peers, says mother-of-two

JEDDAH: As teachers and education authorities prepare for the long-awaited return of younger children to school classrooms on Sunday, so too are the students and their parents.

The Saudi Ministry of Education announced last week that elementary schools and kindergartens will reopen on Jan. 23, almost two years after they closed as a health precaution to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The resumption of in-person teaching for the under-12s had been postponed from October last year.
“It’s a decision we must face one day and my children are excited to return to school and it is better for them,” Ala’a Alama, mother of two, told Arab News.
Schools in Saudi Arabia closed classrooms and switched to online learning soon after the pandemic began in early 2020. More than 5 million students across the Kingdom used specially developed distance-learning platforms called Madrasati and Rawdati.  Jumana Haj Ahmad, UNICEF’s deputy representative for the Gulf region, said that Saudi authorities had played a world-leading role in the provision of online education.
In preparation for the long-awaited return of students, senior school officials across the Kingdom have implemented a program to prepare pupils, parents and teachers for a safe resumption of classes.

HIGHLIGHTS

• In preparation for the long-awaited return of students, senior school officials across the Kingdom have implemented a program to prepare pupils, parents and teachers for a safe resumption of classes.

• It focus on four key areas: Reassuring students and parents about the return to school and face-to-face learning; reminding them of the importance of adhering to safety protocols while in school; providing parents with a platform through which they can ask questions and share concerns; and motivating students to study and participate in activities.

It focus on four key areas: Reassuring students and parents about the return to school and face-to-face learning; reminding them of the importance of adhering to safety protocols while in school; providing parents with a platform through which they can ask questions and share concerns; and motivating students to study and participate in activities.
For the first few weeks after schools reopen the program will in particular focus on psychological efforts to help students get back into the school routine. As part of the program, schools will offer art activities, children’s theater, cultural and entertainment workshops, take photos and shoot videos as students return, and distribute gifts.
Alama said that psychological preparation and support is important for the children as it will help them to resume their studies and interactions with their peers.
Schools will also provide 22 cultural, sports and awareness activities to give students plenty of opportunities to get physically active again after a hiatus of almost two years.
Meanwhile, the online education facilities will remain available for children with serious health conditions that prevent them from returning to the classroom.
Educators in charge of kindergartens and elementary schools across the Kingdom will follow safety guidelines from the Saudi Public Health Authority: Morning assemblies will remain suspended; sports activities must be conducted in spacious, well-ventilated locations; organized entry and departure from school will be organized; and social-distancing measures must be followed in classrooms.
Alama said her children, who are 7 and 10 years old, are aware of all the precautionary measures they need to follow.
“During the pandemic, they learned the importance of washing their hands, maintaining social distancing, and using masks, sanitizers and disinfecting wipes, which are all kept in a kit prepared for them to take to school,” she said.
UNICEF’s Ahmad this week praised the decision by Saudi authorities to resume in-person teaching for children under the age of 12. Older children have already returned to classrooms.
Ahmad said it is an important step and added that during a pandemic, schools should be the last places to close and first to reopen.
 In addition,  Saudi Arabia’s provision of online education through its two platforms and TV and video channels was world-leading. She also praised the Ministry of Education’s efforts to ensure children’s successful psychological and social growth, and programs designed to protect them from abuse.


Interactive screens guide visitors at Makkah’s Grand Mosque

It aims to facilitate access to ritual sites as well as key locations, including the Mataf. (SPA)
It aims to facilitate access to ritual sites as well as key locations, including the Mataf. (SPA)
Updated 22 January 2022

Interactive screens guide visitors at Makkah’s Grand Mosque

It aims to facilitate access to ritual sites as well as key locations, including the Mataf. (SPA)
  • The interactive screens display data in six major languages and provide a QR code

MAKKAH: As part of its plan to develop and upgrade the quality of the guidance system, the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques has launched a new service for worshippers, providing them with interactive screens that display the guidance map of the Grand Mosque and its facilities.
It aims to facilitate access to ritual sites as well as key locations, including the Mataf (the area for circumambulation around the Holy Kaaba) and Mas’a building, through providing direct movement paths from the location of the user to the destination.
The interactive screens also display data in six major languages and provide a QR code so that the routes can be viewed via personal devices. 


Experts praise new Saudi specialist anti-fraud units

 Legal and financial experts emphasized the importance of combating financial fraud crimes, which have serious criminal and economic ramifications on society. (Supplied)
Legal and financial experts emphasized the importance of combating financial fraud crimes, which have serious criminal and economic ramifications on society. (Supplied)
Updated 21 January 2022

Experts praise new Saudi specialist anti-fraud units

 Legal and financial experts emphasized the importance of combating financial fraud crimes, which have serious criminal and economic ramifications on society. (Supplied)
  • The new legislation defines all aspects of financial crimes in detail and sets out the maximum penalties while taking into account the rapid pace of technological advances

RIYADH: Legal and financial experts have supported the decision of the Saudi Attorney General Saud Al-Mojeb to create new specialized units for investigating financial fraud.
Zahra Al-Nasser, an assistant professor in the department of finance and banking at Dar Al-Uloom University, told Arab News that the move to form new specialized units to investigate financial fraud will significantly enhance business sector governance and protect against the degradation of the pillars of economic prosperity.
“The best example is the collapse of the Saudi financial market in 2006. The market lost more than SR1 trillion ($266 billion), which is still fresh in the minds of investors, affected investor confidence, and resulted in the loss of much of their wealth and savings. One of the reasons was the Saudi market’s weak legislation,” Al-Nasser said.

Legal advisor, Thamer Al-Enezi. (Supplied)

Thamer Al-Enezi, a legal adviser, told Arab News that financial fraud has become an international issue, deceiving some highly educated workers due to its professionalism.
Al-Enezi said it was necessary to have highly efficient specialists to deal with fraud.

The Public Prosecution stressed the importance of addressing all cases of financial fraud, particularly those that involve cross-border networks.
The new legislation defines all aspects of financial crimes in detail and sets out the maximum penalties while taking into account the rapid pace of technological advances.
The Public Prosecution added that the new units have specialists in financial fraud crimes who are members of the Public Prosecution Office and have received investigation training courses.
The courses include criminal patterns and methods, tracking perpetrators, and stolen funds.

The possible punishments for individuals convicted of committing financial crimes include up to seven years in prison and a maximum fine of SR5 million ($1.3 million).

Al-Enezi, who owns a law firm, added that some financial frauds use the corporate entity as a cover, affecting the corporate sector’s reliability.
Therefore, a package of preventive measures was taken by government agencies such as the Saudi Central Bank and other authorities such as the Public Prosecution to protect society from money fraud. These measures help adhere to high governance standards and maintain formidable cybersecurity levels.
Al-Enezi pointed out that some of these crimes have technical flaws that facilitate financial fraud detection.
The law for combating financial fraud stipulates that guilty parties will be imprisoned “for no more than seven years and fined no more than SR5 million.”
Al-Nasser said that companies are now expected to take bolder steps to fight fraud, such as updating frameworks and approaches, increasing commitment and compliance, enhancing precautions and using deeper audits.
She said that companies may incur additional costs as they update procedures because many of them fall into financial fraud due to “weak internal governance mechanisms.”
The assistant professor praised the new units and focus on financial fraud, which she said would improve investor confidence and contribute to “the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 goals through the Financial Sector Development Program, which aims to deepen the financial market, increase liquidity levels and improve transparency.”


Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale launches local art ecosystem forum

Diriyah Biennale Contemporary Art kicks off local art ecosystem forum from Jan. 21 to 22 in Diriyah. (Supplied)
Diriyah Biennale Contemporary Art kicks off local art ecosystem forum from Jan. 21 to 22 in Diriyah. (Supplied)
Updated 21 January 2022

Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale launches local art ecosystem forum

Diriyah Biennale Contemporary Art kicks off local art ecosystem forum from Jan. 21 to 22 in Diriyah. (Supplied)
  • This public program, held in the Jax neighborhood in Diriyah, is supporting the growth of the local art ecosystem in the Kingdom

RIYADH: The Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale kicked off its two-day local art ecosystem forum to build bridges of knowledge and communication between the participating cultural entities.

This public program, held in the Jax neighborhood in Diriyah, is supporting the growth of the local art ecosystem in the Kingdom by gathering important contributors and investors interested in shaping the infrastructure of Saudi art and culture.

The forum sheds light on the opportunities that the different entities’ initiatives provide and seeks to grow a bigger network to strengthen the vision for art and cultural development in Saudi.

Key speakers of the first day of the forum included Aya Albakree, CEO of the Diriyah Biennale Foundation, Dina Amin, CEO of the Visual Arts Commission, Farah Abushullaih, museum director at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, and Nora AlDabal, arts and creative planning director at the Royal Commission For AlUla.

The second day’s programs will see input from Ilaria Bonacossa, arts and culture liaison at the Royal Commission for Riyadh City, Navid Niknejad, business enterprise and innovation director at AMAALA, Reem Alsultan, CEO of the Misk Art Institute, and Antonia Carver, director of Art Jameel.

The biennale, which opened to the public officially on Dec.11 and will run until March 11 next year, is located in the newly converted warehouses in the JAX district. It unfolds in six sections, featuring works by some 64 artists from around the world, with a particular focus on the 27 Saudi artists.


Blinken condemns Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia, UAE in call with Saudi FM

Blinken condemns Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia, UAE in call with Saudi FM
Updated 21 January 2022

Blinken condemns Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia, UAE in call with Saudi FM

Blinken condemns Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia, UAE in call with Saudi FM
  • Friday’s call came after this week’s attacks on Abu Dhabi in the UAE and continued launches aimed toward Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE and reiterated Washington’s support for the Kingdom and Gulf countries in a phonecall with foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan.

Blinken said the US was committed to helping Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies defend themselves against threats from Yemen and other places in the region, the State Department said.

“Secretary Blinken reiterated the US commitment to help Gulf partners improve their capabilities to defend against threats from Yemen and elsewhere in the region and underscored the importance of mitigating civilian harm,” spokesman Ned Price said.

Friday’s call came after this week’s attacks on Abu Dhabi in the UAE and continued launches aimed toward Saudi Arabia, claimed by the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen.

Civilian sites, including Abu Dhabi’s International Airport, were targeted with missiles and drones. At least three civilians were killed, and a handful of others injured in the UAE capital.

“The Secretary condemned the January 17 Houthi attack on both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that struck civilian sites in the UAE, including Abu Dhabi’s international airport, and killed and wounded civilians,” Price said in the statement.