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


Saudis are natural-born storytellers, says Saudi Film Commission CEO

Saudi Film Commission CEO Abdullah Al-Eyaf held several discussions with international industry professionals. (Supplied)
Saudi Film Commission CEO Abdullah Al-Eyaf held several discussions with international industry professionals. (Supplied)
Updated 22 May 2022

Saudis are natural-born storytellers, says Saudi Film Commission CEO

Saudi Film Commission CEO Abdullah Al-Eyaf held several discussions with international industry professionals. (Supplied)
  • Abdullah Al-Eyaf discusses the importance of Saudi talent during the 75th Cannes Film Festival

CANNES: Abdullah Al-Eyaf, the CEO of the Saudi Film Commission, aims to drive the Saudi film industry by fostering an environment for young Saudi filmmakers to develop their passions and talents.

During a panel discussion hosted on Sunday in the March du Film pavilion in Cannes, Al-Eyaf expressed his vision for Saudi youth filmmakers and the important role they play in the industry.

“We in the commission strongly believe in the filmmakers in Saudi, actually they are the reason behind all that we do,” Al-Eyaf said.

The Kingdom’s film industry is bursting with talent and passion from Saudi filmmakers, writers, and artisans. What is needed now is the strong support from an entity to facilitate that growth. This is where the Saudi Film Commission plans to come into play.

The Saudi Film Commission, under the Ministry of Culture, has conducted numerous outreach and education programs to help Saudi filmmakers in the industry through masterclasses, workshops and training.

According to the CEO, Saudis play a pivotal role in the industry’s growth on a global and local level.

“These young filmmakers started before the commission was established and they will continue with or without the film commission that’s why we think the industry will not be built in Saudi without these filmmakers,” Al-Eyaf said.

HIGHLIGHT

With many blockbusters films showing an interest in shooting in the Kingdom, doors are opening for Saudi production teams, special effects artists, actors and many more talents to contribute to the industry.

Therefore the commission is striving to establish a wider creative opportunity for Saudi talent through partnerships and representation in global film festivals such as the Cannes festival.

Through the organizations and initiatives of the Saudi Film Commission, the Saudi presence during the Cannes Film Festival has only grown stronger since the 74th Cannes film festival held in 2021.

It is known that Saudi Arabia has a wealth of locations through its 13 diverse provinces. During the initial days of the festival, this is what attracted many producers and filmmakers to the Saudi pavilion to learn more.

With many blockbusters films showing an interest in shooting in the Kingdom, doors are opening for Saudi production teams, special effects artists, actors and many more talents to contribute to the industry.

Al-Eyaf said that Saudis are natural-born storytellers; what is needed now is to support and empower them throughout the film sector.

“We really appreciate what they are doing and our only role is to support them and to have Saudi Arabia as a friendly environment for filmmakers to create their films and tell their stories to the world and to Saudi,” Al-Eyaf said.

The Saudi Film Commission aims to expand and strengthen the Saudi film industry on a local and global level through partnerships, investment and educational empowerment.

During the 75th Cannes Film Festival, the Saudi pavilion welcomed some of the biggest global names in the film industry — producers, directors and actors — to partner on Saudi film projects.

The commission’s role isn’t only to support Saudi talents but it’s also to foster a community where directors explore collaborative initiatives from filming in Saudi to creating films with some of the many Saudi talents in the sector.

In January the commission launched the third phase of the “Film Makers” program that took students through sets of comprehensive training workshops that were spread throughout the Kingdom.

“We have already contacted hundreds (of Saudi filmmakers) via either training programs, grants or the fund that we launched a couple of years ago,” the CEO said.

The commission has developed an incentive package for local and international filmmakers to establish the Kingdom as a global hub for film, creative production and industry talent.


People vaccinated against smallpox likely safe from monkeypox, says specialist‏‏

People vaccinated against smallpox likely safe from monkeypox, says specialist‏‏
Updated 23 May 2022

People vaccinated against smallpox likely safe from monkeypox, says specialist‏‏

People vaccinated against smallpox likely safe from monkeypox, says specialist‏‏
  • Saudi Ministry of Health has also confirmed that no cases of monkeypox have been detected in the Kingdom

JEDDAH: People who have received a vaccination against smallpox are “highly likely” to be safe from getting infected with monkeypox, a Saudi health specialist has said.

Dr. Nizar Bahabri, an infectious disease consultant, said in a video on his Twitter account, that the disease has been a well-known virus since 1950 and added the first case outside Africa was registered in 1970.

The Saudi Ministry of Health has also confirmed that no cases of monkeypox have been detected in the Kingdom, following reports that it has recently begun to appear in some European and North American countries.

“Since the disease is caused by a virus, no antibiotic can be used to cure the disease, some viruses and bacteria can be transmitted through air,” Bahabri said.

He also said that monkeypox is like smallpox in that it can be transmitted via droplets.

“It is difficult that one can get infected if they are two meters away from an infected person. Monkeypox can even only be transmitted from a shorter distance,” he said.

Cases being recorded in Europe are due to parties where people gather close to other infected people, he added.

“Those who have been vaccinated against smallpox are not likely to get infected by monkeypox, and here lies the importance of taking the vaccine,” Bahabri said.

The consultant pointed out that some people in Europe refused in the past to give anti-smallpox vaccines to their children, which has caused the virus to attack again.

Bahabri said that symptoms of monkeypox normally appear 12 days after coming into contact with an infected person. He added that an infected person normally recovers without any medication.

“Five percent of infected people get complications, while less than three percent die of the disease,” he said. “However, no deaths were reported in the countries with advanced health systems, with most of the deaths in Africa.”

The health ministry added in a post on Twitter that the disease can be transmitted by direct contact with blood or mucous of an infected animal.

It added that it can also be transmitted in humans through droplets, touching the blisters on an infected person’s skin or a hand touching contaminated surfaces.

The health ministry noted that the virus has an incubation period of 7-14 days, and that cannot extend to 21 days.

As for the symptoms, the ministry included high temperature, backache, skin rashes, lymphadenopathy, fatigue and muscle pain.

The ministry recommended people to avoid getting in contact with infected people, wearing gloves and face masks when close to patients, washing hands regularly and avoiding touching infected animals.


Saudi Arabia re-elected president of ALECSO’s executive council

Saudi Arabia re-elected president of ALECSO’s executive council. (SPA)
Saudi Arabia re-elected president of ALECSO’s executive council. (SPA)
Updated 23 May 2022

Saudi Arabia re-elected president of ALECSO’s executive council

Saudi Arabia re-elected president of ALECSO’s executive council. (SPA)
  • Members agreed on importance of maintaining council’s new and advanced vision

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has been unanimously re-elected to chair the executive council of the Tunis-based Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization until 2024.

The decision was made by members of ALECSO’s executive council after the 26th session of the general conference, which concluded its activities on Saturday.

Council members expressed their appreciation for the positive results achieved and the complementary work of the executive council during the past 10 months.

They unanimously agreed on the importance of maintaining the council’s new and advanced vision and reiterated that the accomplishments represented an important shift in the council's history toward strengthening its role in supporting the organization and its programs to serve its orientation in the Arab world, as it had worked on several initiatives that strengthened joint Arab action.

The decision to re-elect the Kingdom came after the appreciation of the general conference for the efforts made by the executive council under the Kingdom’s stewardship, which executed its tasks according to a clear methodology and spirit based on integrated work between the executive board and administration of ALECSO.

The Arab ministers praised the initiative of the Saudi representative and chairman of ALECSO's executive council, Hani Al-Moqbil, to develop the council’s road map, which was put together with a transparent methodology based on the involvement of countries in building a common Arab vision to support and enable the organization to achieve its goals.

Al-Moqbil extended his appreciation to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their constant support, empowerment, and care, which was reflected in the Saudi role and its presidency of the executive council to contribute to a beneficial impact and supportive action for the development of ALECSO.

He also thanked Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, who is also the chairman of the National Committee for Education, Culture, and Science, for his support, guidance, supervision, and harnessing of capabilities which gave direct and significant support throughout the Saudi presidency which helped it in serving its goals with all Arab countries.

Al-Moqbil also thanked the Arab countries and members of the ALECSO executive council for their re-election of the Kingdom and for renewing their confidence in the results that had been achieved during the past 10 months.

He added that this could only have been achieved through the spirit of teamwork and keenness to develop the organization's activities and constructive participation in adopting decisions and organizing tracks of action to reach the best possible results to contribute to achieving the goals of the organization, and to promote building dialogue and cooperation thus serving the organization’s joint work among the countries.

Al-Moqbil said: “Saudi Arabia, in its presidency of the executive council, worked to oversee the interests of the countries by listening to their proposals, observations, and visions to ensure that they are reflected on the ground and implemented in stages. The countries will work with greater effort and higher interest in taking care of the organization's interests."


New Saudi academy to train nationals in military sector

New Saudi academy to train nationals in military sector. (SPA)
New Saudi academy to train nationals in military sector. (SPA)
Updated 23 May 2022

New Saudi academy to train nationals in military sector

New Saudi academy to train nationals in military sector. (SPA)
  • Al-Ohali said the authority was committed to supporting national personnel and that the Kingdom’s military industries sector had witnessed qualitative leaps during the past five years

RIYADH: Saudi nationals are to be trained to work in the military and defense industries sector following an announcement from the General Authority for Military Industries to establish a new academy.

GAMI Gov. Ahmed Al-Ohali said it was an extension of the military industry sector’s strategy that was approved by the Cabinet in April last year.

The National Academy of Military Industries would be the largest supporter of the sector’s strategy of backing the country’s human resources, he added.

The launch ceremony was held at the academy’s headquarters in Riyadh and attended by more than 35 local and international companies and government institutions. The academy's board of directors was formed at the event and the establishment license was handed over to the academy's chairman Walid Abu Khalid and other founding partners.

Al-Ohali said the authority was committed to supporting national personnel and that the Kingdom's military industries sector had witnessed qualitative leaps during the past five years.

He praised the special care, interest, and support that the military and defense industries sector received from the government of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to embody the ambitious vision toward enhancing the strategic independence of Saudi Arabia and building a local and sustainable military industries sector.

The Saudi Arabian Military Industries CEO and academy chairman Abu Khalid said the new institution was considered a strategic tool to ensure the success of the supply chain project in the military industries sector through developing and refining people's knowledge and capabilities in specialist technological, engineering, and scientific fields and specialists concerned with the military, defense, and security industries.

He stressed that developing, rehabilitating, and enabling national personnel, creating innovative and new industries and technologies, enhancing the strategic independence of Saudi Arabia, and seeking to localize this promising sector were all considered strategic goals that supported realizing the sector’s targets of localizing more than 50 percent of military expenditure by 2030.


Saudi minister hails KSA’s work in field of education 

Saudi minister hails KSA’s work in field of education. (SPA)
Saudi minister hails KSA’s work in field of education. (SPA)
Updated 22 May 2022

Saudi minister hails KSA’s work in field of education 

Saudi minister hails KSA’s work in field of education. (SPA)
  • Speaking at the conference Al-Sudairi praised ALECSO’s remarkable achievements in joint cooperation with member states, as well as the Kingdom’s adoption of many constructive programs

TUNIS: Saudi Deputy Minister of Education for Universities, Research and Innovation Mohammed Al-Sudairi headed the Kingdom’s delegation to the 26th session of the general conference of the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization and the meeting of its executive council at its 117th session in Tunis.

Speaking at the conference Al-Sudairi praised ALECSO’s remarkable achievements in joint cooperation with member states, as well as the Kingdom’s adoption of many constructive programs and initiatives with regional and international organizations that serve its Vision 2030.

He also hailed the Kingdom’s achievements in the field of education, culture, science and intelligence, most notably its first position in the Arab world in patents, with the registration of 1,871 international patents, and its second place in terms of quality of education for 2021.

Al-Sudairi also talked about 22 awards it had won in the International Science and Engineering Fair 2022, as well as the award for the best researcher and project scientist at a global level, noting that the Kingdom supports national, regional and international visions to develop innovative cultural policies.

He said that the Kingdom launched an interactive laboratory for cultural policies, as well as a cultural scholarship program and development fund to enable young people to join the creative field.

The deputy minister said that the Kingdom gave $30 million to the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas, in addition to launching an environment hackathon to support the objectives of the “Saudi Green Initiative” and to enhance the Kingdom’s digital role globally through a set of studies related to artificial intelligence.