RIYADH: In a significant move to boost Saudi-Russian relations, Russian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sergey G. Kozlov recently announced the appointment of Tarik bin Abdul Hadi Al-Qahtani as honorary consul of the Russian Federation in the Eastern Province.
The announcement was made after the approval of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the approval of Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan.
Al-Qahtani, who is also chairman of the Saudi-Russian Business Council, will serve as honorary consul of the Russian Federation in Dammam.
The Russian envoy said the decision to appoint Al-Qahtani is “a symbolic step in light of the celebrations of the 95th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two friendly countries.”
Russia was the first foreign country to recognize Saudi Arabia officially in 1926, he added.
Kozlov said: “This step reflects the level and nature of the distinguished relations between the two countries, which are progressing towards a strategic partnership under the leadership of King Salman and President Vladimir Putin, in the interest of the two great countries, the region and the world at large.”
The ambassador added: “The joining of our brother and friend Tariq Al-Qahtani to the diplomatic team at the Russian Embassy in Riyadh will enhance and develop fraternal relations.”
Al-Qahtani thanked King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for “the development and the greater heights that Saudi-Russian relations have reached in all fields.” He also thanked the Russian government and the friendly Russian people for giving him the honor by appointing him an honorary consul of Russia in the Kingdom.
Al-Qahtani said: “This position is an honor and a precious trust,” praising the growing Saudi-Russian economic and investment relations.
He added that there are many investment opportunities, which have attracted keen interest among investors from both sides, especially in the light of the political stability and economic boom that the Kingdom is enjoying.
Saudi foreign minister meets former German chancellor in Riyadh
Updated 23 January 2022
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan held talks with the former German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, in the capital Riyadh, the Kingdom’s foreign ministry said on Sunday.
During the meeting, they “reviewed the historical and distinguished relations between the Kingdom and Germany,” and ways of developing them in different fields.
They also discussed ways of strengthening joint coordination to serve both countries, as well as regional and international developments.
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has presented Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen, the former secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Order of King Abdulaziz of the second class, for his efforts in promoting joint Islamic action in many fields.
The sash was handed to Al-Othaimeen by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, in implementation of the king’s order, Saudi Press Agency reported on Sunday.
Prince Faisal held a meeting with Al-Othaimeen in Riyadh, where he praised his efforts in serving the issues of the Islamic nation at all levels, and wished him further success.
23 million people used Saudi Arabia’s electronic Absher services last year
The “Absher Individuals” interactive guide was set up to offer easy access to services, providing explanations to more than 300 services
Updated 23 January 2022
RIYADH: Absher, the interactive online platform provided by the Saudi Interior Ministry, announced that the platform served 23 million users who carried out more than 85 million operations last year. The platform’s technical support received more than 1.5 million calls over the year.
In 2021, Absher contributed to raising the quality of life of citizens, residents and visitors, facilitated access to more than 330 services and linked viewers with more than 80 government and private entities.
Moreover, 1.5 billion transactions were carried out via the “Absher Individuals” platform, with more than 50 million logins to the “Absher Business” and more than 1.3 million logins to “Absher Government.”
The platform’s operators launched 36 new services and expanded the provision of the automated responder “Masroor” to answer beneficiaries’ queries more quickly.
The “Absher Individuals” interactive guide was set up to offer easy access to services, providing explanations to more than 300 services.
One of the most prominent services launched in 2021 was the Online Plate Auction service, the digital wallet service. The platform’s portfolio contains more than 25 million digital identities.
The shift from paper to electronic transactions has saved more than 599 million sheets of papers. This shift also reduced CO2 dioxide emissions by 1.6 billion metric tons and saved more than SR17.3 billion ($5 billion).
The online Absher service was introduced to increase productivity and promote more efficient work practices within government departments, while raising customer satisfaction levels. A smartphone app was added in 2015.
Grammy-award winner Joshua Bell dazzles in first Saudi concert
Ithra hosted violist Bell alongside pianist Alessio Bax for 2 nights of classical music
“Music can bring us all together,” Bell told the crowd
Updated 23 January 2022
DHAHRAN: On a chilly Dhahran night, Joshua Bell’s violin serenaded a full audience at Ithra’s Theater. Although everyone was wearing a mask, you could see excitement in their eyes.
“When I was growing up, Saudi Arabia was a very exotic place that was far away, and now I am here. Music made this happen. Music can bring us all together,” Bell told the crowd.
On plush red chairs, with social distancing stickers urging people to skip a seat, time stood still. The auditorium filled with the reverberations of strings and keys as US Grammy-award winner Joshua Bell took to the violin, with Italian classical pianist Alessio Bax playing in unison.
The violin and piano were in equal partnership; with the gentle stroking of violin strings and graceful glide of the piano, it pulled at our heartstrings. We each had the luxury to create our own individual interpretation as we collectively sat down and let the two instruments take us on a journey. We let our minds wander and stumble, and falter with the rhythm. Unlike a movie, we did not need to follow a plot or read subtitles — the concert provided a full journey through Europe without saying a single word. The pace went from fast to faster to slower at the end, because not only were Bell’s hands tired by then, but it helped ease us back into the pace of the current world.
The night started with arguably the most famous composer, Mozart, and then went on to Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, one of the most prominent composers of the Romantic era. The sound was raw, passionate, and at times, sounded like the composer ripped his heart out with his bare hands. Bach, to me, was an unraveling love story. At one point, Bell took out a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped beads of sweat, then continued with a calmness only found in still water. The violin seemed to weep then sigh as it told a story of love from the depths of despair and purest of joy. I would argue that the almost two hours of music took the audience on an emotional ride, swinging between youthful wonder and deep melancholy.
The energy was palpable.
Dhahran resident Faris Mahdi works in finance during the day but dabbles in art at night. He said that before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, he used to frequently travel to Europe to attend live opera and ballet, and was pleasantly surprised to see it offered in his own backyard.
“I’ve attended other concerts at Ithra, but this is so nice. I didn’t know Joshua Bell, but I saw a post on Instagram and did a search and decided, why not? This is the type of concert that I’d normally travel abroad for, but now I can take my own car and just come,” he told Arab News.
Mahdi was surprised to find such a good turnout at the concert. He said he understood if pop music brought in the crowds, but did not expect classical music to attract people.
“I like to listen to classical music. It seems that even the radio favors fast-paced music, but the ear sometimes needs to be cleansed with calm sounds. I prefer to listen to something gentle and, let’s say, elevated. Tonight’s event might open up people’s horizons and allow the audience to seek a different flavor of sound. I was honestly very surprised to see such a big audience tonight,” he said.
The tiny booklets marking the program were in such high demand — and will likely become valuable keepsakes from the two-day event — that only a handful of audience members got to take one home on closing night.
In that program guide, Majed Z. Samman, head of performing arts and cinema at Ithra, wrote: “As part of our commitment to cross-culture exchange, we are privileged to be able to present some of the world’s most acclaimed artists to perform live here in Saudi Arabia. On this occasion, we are proud to present our audience with an unforgettable musical performance by world renowned violinist, Joshua Bell.”
Lamees Saad Almesfer, a 17-year-old high school senior, decided to take a chance and attend the concert. “None of my sisters or brothers really appreciate classical music, so I decided to come alone,” she told Arab News.
“I tried to make a story out of the music while it was playing. The first piece that he played, Mozart’s sonata for violin and piano No. 32 in B-flat major, was like the piano and the violin were speaking with each other — like a conversation. He was just repeating whatever the violin was saying. Music is like this; it’s words conveyed in a way that is nonverbal,” Almesfer said.
While many famous pieces were played, some were lesser known to Almesfer, and she appreciated all of the hard work, dedication, and practice it took for the music to sound so crisp and clear.
“Two chords can make 64 moods. The minute Joshua Bell walked in, my eyes started to cry — but I held it together. Each composer has a piece of their soul in the pieces, and we got to listen. It was just mind blowing because I never expected this world-renowned violinist to just be here in Saudi Arabia. I’m in shock,” she said.
Call of the wild puts historic Saudi village on tourist trail
Winter festival offerings range from wildlife sightings to poetry evenings
Over 60 young male and female volunteers are overseeing festival activities, including interactive games
Updated 23 January 2022
Hebshi Alshammari and Tareq Althaqafi
LAYNAH/MAKKAH: Desert tourists are heading to Saudi Arabia’s historic Laynah village as the first edition of the Zubaida Trail Winter Festival attracts visitors from the region and beyond with the promise of everything from poetry readings to rare wildlife sightings.
The nine-week festival, which will continue until Feb. 26, 2022, promises a seasonal escape and the chance to enjoy winter activities, as well as glimpse one of the more than 60 animal species in the region, including the Arabian bustard, Arabian wolf and spiny-tailed lizard.
More than 120 plant species, including acacia and sidr trees, and rare shrubs, such as awsaj, arfaj and ramth, can also be found in the area.
The festival is organized by the Imam Turki bin Abdullah Royal Reserve Development Authority, which is known for launching a wide range of environmental initiatives.
“The festival has become a great escape for locals and visitors to the area because of its appealing winter atmosphere. The festival’s numerous events are ideal for families, young people, the elderly and children, ” said Menahi Mite’eb, editor-in-chief of Rafha Today, an electronic-based newspaper.
Moneef Ali, who lives in Aewe, about 30 kilometers from Laynah, has taken his family to the festival twice in recent weeks to enjoy the winter activities, as well as a break from PlayStation and VR games.
Ali said that he hoped to see the King Abdul Aziz Historical Palace and the vintage cars on display.
“This is the best time to go to the festival,” he said.
Crafts, food and drinks made by productive families attracted a large crowd of visitors who came to buy gifts for their loved ones and friends.
Over 60 young male and female volunteers are overseeing festival activities, including folklore segments, poetry nights, a museum and interactive games.
Abdulsalam Alowaijan said that volunteering is helping reshape his skills and will assist him in his future career.
The 18-year-old said that he is learning how to deal with people and understand their needs.
Visitors to the festival can visit the historic palace, wells, routes and monuments via designated trips and paths.
“The festival has revitalized the region’s economy and tourism,” Mite’eb said, adding that the poetry nights have drawn large numbers of people because of well-known poets taking part.
Laynah, one of the oldest settlements in the Arabian Peninsula, is situated on a route that was part of the Zubaida Trail used by Iraqi pilgrims during their Hajj and Umrah journeys to Makkah.
The area is known for the abundance of waters and wells, as well as its historical significance. Historic sites include King Abdul Aziz Palace, built in 1935, and the old market or “souk,” named after Iraqi merchants who used to exchange goods with the people of Najd.
The Zubaida Trail, or Al-Kufi pilgrimage route, runs from Kufa in Iraq to Makkah, passing through the north and center of the Kingdom.
It was named after Zubaida bin Jafar, wife of the Abbasid Caliph Harun Al-Rashid, in recognition of her charitable work, in addition to the number of stops she ordered to be established along the trail.
The trail functioned as a trade route in the pre-Islamic era, but its importance later increased and it flourished during the time of the early caliphate. The trail reached its peak during the Abbasid era between 750 and 1258 when it became a properly paved road.
Stations, wells, pools and dams were established, and houses built along the trail leading to Makkah. Twenty-seven major stations have been identified, including Al-Sheihiyat, Al-Jumaima, Faid, Al-Rabadha, That-Erq and Khuraba.
With the increase in the number of Muslims in the early Islamic time, especially the Umayyad and Abbasid eras, the lack of water sources in Makkah and the holy sites posing a serious problem for residents, especially during the Hajj season.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sharif, a researcher into the history of the Makkah region, said that water scarcity was a problem, and a challenge for the people of Makkah and the pilgrims. At times, the price of Al-Badrah (a small bagpipe) was 10 dirhams or more, a very high price for most pilgrims.
When Zubaida learned about the water shortages the pilgrims had been facing, she ordered the digging of Ayn Zubaida, or Zubaida springs, in 810. This helped to ease water scarcity at the holy sites and surrounding villages for hundreds of years.
Al-Sharif told Arab News that Zubaida commissioned and paid for construction of Ayn Zubaida. She called on architects and engineers to address the problem.
The springs are an enduring symbol of the golden era of Arab culture, Al-Sharif said.
“It constituted a great example of Islamic heritage and a masterpiece of engineering that embodies the greatness of the people who lived in the vicinity of the two holy mosques. It is a testament to their determination to adapt to the difficult terrain and to build a great human civilization,” he said.