Culture takes center stage in Kingdom’s national award initiative

Culture takes center stage in Kingdom’s national award initiative
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Culture takes center stage in Kingdom’s national award initiative
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Culture takes center stage in Kingdom’s national award initiative
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Updated 16 February 2022

Culture takes center stage in Kingdom’s national award initiative

Culture takes center stage in Kingdom’s national award initiative

JEDDAH: The National Cultural Awards initiative, which was launched in February, celebrates the achievements and productions of individuals, groups and institutions.

It aims to encourage cultural content and production, in addition to providing material and moral support to the winners, and seeks to to achieve the cultural aspirations of the Kingdom's Vision 2030.

There are 16 award categories and one of them is for theater and the performing arts. 

Arab News spoke to 35-year-old Saudi theater actor Ahmed Al-Hamdan, who has worked in the cultural sector for 20 years. He said that while theater in the Kingdom had existed for many decades, it did not always have traction.

“The theater audience at that time were the playwrights themselves, with very few interested in the outcome. The cultural status of theater was not at the required level despite the achievements that Saudi theater achieved locally and abroad,” Al-Hamdan said.

“But, in the recent period, theater began to recover, especially after the rise of several theater groups in several regions in the Kingdom and their efforts to advance theater and spread theatrical culture and, because of this revival, it is expected that the next generation will be very influenced by theatrical culture.”

He said that one of the biggest changes that had taken place since he started out is the inclusion of actresses performing on stage. “In my early days this was not allowed and male actors were the ones who played the role of women to fill this big void, and I personally played this role several times.”

Al-Hamdan described the Gulf region as a “connoisseur” of art in all its forms, including the performing arts, which has become widespread in recent times. 

“And the interest in it by officials has also become clear, and the evidence is the establishment of the Theater and Performing Arts Commission in the Kingdom, and there is also the Sharjah Performing Arts Academy, and we hope to see more of these bodies and academies.”

Saudi theater actress Aghadeer Al-Saeed has been working on stage since 2006, and has appeared in the play “Akheeran Odna” (“We Are Finally Back”).

She said that Saudi theater was a step forward to educating future generations. “This theater is so important. We know that theater has the ability to educate people and help them grow,” Al-Saeed told Arab News.

She has also witnessed many changes in Saudi Arabia’s theater industry, such as the care shown by the General Entertainment Authority toward the local scene “and including it in Riyadh Season, which was the biggest successful step,” she said.  “We are so happy and thrilled to see stages being built and promoted.”

There are fixed-venue theaters all over the Kingdom represented by culture and art associations. In addition to university theaters, there are theaters in the King Abdulaziz Cultural Center (Ithra) and in the King Fahd Cultural Center in Riyadh.

Registration for the National Cultural Awards runs through to March 22, while judging and the announcement of winners will take place between May and September.


Concern in Lebanon as mobile data rates surge

A Lebanese woman checks her phone in the capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
A Lebanese woman checks her phone in the capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
Updated 1 min 13 sec ago

Concern in Lebanon as mobile data rates surge

A Lebanese woman checks her phone in the capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
  • National currency has lost 95 percent of its value

BEIRUT: The adoption of new tariffs for phone services and subscriptions in Lebanon has caused concern.

Pricing will now follow the dollar exchange rate on the Sayrafa platform, which is about LBP25,200. Prices used to be calculated according to the official exchange rate of LBP1,515.

The tariff raise came into force on Friday.

People woke up on Friday to text messages sent by telecom operators calculating their balances according to the Sayrafa exchange rate, surprised by the value of their balance tumbling to below $1.

In May, the Cabinet approved the decision to increase the tariffs and fees for landline, mobile calls, and the internet starting July 1.

They will be calculated by dividing the previous dollar bill by three and then paying it in Lebanese pounds per the Sayrafa platform rate.

But people are struggling to accept the new prices, despite the help offered to students and security services by telecom companies Touch and Alfa.

Rabih, a 17-year-old student, said: “I had LBP75,000 in my balance, which used to amount to $49 according to the official rate. The amount shrank today to 30 (US) cents.”

Based on comparison tables between the prices in dollars and the prices adopted now, prices have fallen by about 300 percent in dollars, while their calculation according to the Lebanese pound rate shows a significant increase ranging from 500 to 700 percent.

The Lebanese currency has lost more than 95 percent of its value, leading to significant price differences.

The price table circulated by telecom companies shows that a 30-day prepaid card which used to cost $22.7 — equivalent to about LBP34,000 per the official dollar exchange rate — now costs $7.58.

But, if calculated based on the Sayrafa rate, its cost rises to LBP191,000, which means an increase of about 560 percent.

The telecom companies confirmed that the step came in response to the “necessity to maintain the continuity of the telecom sector and the provided services, amid the economic and financial crisis and the increase of the high cost of power insurance for plants, and since this sector is one of the most important pillars of the national economy.”

Activists warned that “audio messages and videos should not be sent when using the 4G service because they will consume all phone data.”

Young people’s phones fell silent, with some preferring to stay at home because the cost of home internet services remains the same.

The Lebanese are thinking twice before downloading a video or picture using the 3G or 4G service.

People relying on this service hesitate before opening any video received. Sending morning flowers and evening greetings has decreased significantly in recent days.

Abbas, a private internet service distributor, said: “We raised our prices but all distributors agreed to calculate their prices according to the rate of LBP10,000 for the dollar instead of the Sayrafa rate of about LBP25,000 to compete with the Ogero service affiliated to the Ministry of Telecommunications and maintain our subscribers. Our prices took into consideration the costs of transportation, generator subscriptions, and employees. I don’t deny that some subscribers decided to opt for the Ogero service because it is cheaper than ours by LBP60,000.

“But they forgot that Ogero is suffering from fuel shortage, preventing it from securing the service around-the-clock. Many operators are forced to turn off their machines as a result of their inability to secure dollars to buy diesel and operate the generators.

“Moreover, Ogero faces problems in installing new internet cables because of the high transportation cost of employees who have to move around between the clients’ houses to offer their services.”

The lifestyle of the Lebanese is undergoing major changes, especially young people who now have to reconsider the time they allocate for talking on the phone and internet use.

Abbas said that coffee shops offering free internet had “significantly raised” their food and beverage prices to provide their customers with this service. “If they start incurring losses, they might start slowing down the internet to reduce its use.”

Rabih said that he and his friends had decided to stay at home to use the home internet for their phone calls and chats, even though the home internet bill had increased from LBP100,000 to more than LBP400,000.

He feared the lifestyle they had become used to might change, and he worried about the state of their education next year if they returned to remote learning.

Telecom services are the only ones falling under the official dollar rate. Other services are priced based on the black market exchange rate, while the remaining subsidized medicines are in line with the Sayrafa platform rate.

But the tariff increases have not triggered any reaction in the streets as happened in 2019 when the Ministry of Telecommunications discussed the possibility of imposing a $6 fee on WhatsApp.

It backtracked on this plan in response to public pressure.


Saranghae KSA festival unites K-pop fans in Jeddah

Performing on the festival's opening day, EPEX and Ateez greeted the audience in Arabic and Korean. (Supplied)
Performing on the festival's opening day, EPEX and Ateez greeted the audience in Arabic and Korean. (Supplied)
Updated 53 min 28 sec ago

Saranghae KSA festival unites K-pop fans in Jeddah

Performing on the festival's opening day, EPEX and Ateez greeted the audience in Arabic and Korean. (Supplied)
  • The Consulate General of Korea in Jeddah delievered a one-of-kind Korean experience, offering to photograph fans wearing traditional Korean outfits, as well as providing cooking demonstrations

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia's first K-pop festival, Saranghae KSA 22, brought fans from a wide range of backgrounds together under the roof of the Jeddah Superdome for a three-day celebration of Korean music and culture.

K-pop installations, an Umbrella Boulevard and a Cherry Blossoms Avenue provided picture-perfect backgrounds for fans, who were also given a taste of Korean cuisine at stalls selling a range of Korean favorites.

One audience member, Ghazal Mazen, 16, said that she grew up listening to Korean songs because of her older sisters, and has been a fan of Ateez since early 2020.

“I really can’t describe how I feel now. It feels like a dream I have been waiting to live in real life,” she said.

High-quality screens ensured fans were able to see their favorite performers, while a screen suspended from the middle of the dome displayed images taken by audience members at the photo booth, as well as short clips of the bands.

The Consulate General of Korea in Jeddah delievered a one-of-kind Korean experience, offering to photograph fans wearing traditional Korean outfits, as well as providing cooking demonstrations.

Performing on the festival's opening day, EPEX and Ateez greeted the audience in Arabic and Korean.

Both bands took a break to meet the audience and answer questions from fans.

On Wednesday, EPEX enjoyed the festive vibe of Jeddah Season by visiting the Historical Jeddah zone, walking through museums and the house of horror, playing games, and winning prizes.

Fans of Ateez spotted the band members shopping at the Red Sea Mall on the same day.

Saturday will mark the last day of the festival with Monsta X and Verivery.

 


Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island

Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island
Updated 13 min 48 sec ago

Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island

Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island
  • Russian air force SU-30 planes twice conducted strikes with phosphorus bombs on Zmiinyi island
  • The Russian defence ministry on Thursday described the retreat as "a gesture of goodwill"

KYIV: Ukraine’s army accused Russia of carrying out strikes using incendiary phosphorus munitions on Snake Island Friday, just a day after Moscow withdrew its forces from the rocky outcrop in the Black Sea.
“Today at around 18:00... Russian air force SU-30 planes twice conducted strikes with phosphorus bombs on Zmiinyi island,” it said in a statement, using another name for Snake Island.
The Russian defense ministry on Thursday described the retreat as “a gesture of goodwill” meant to demonstrate that Moscow will not interfere with UN efforts to organize protected grain exports from Ukraine.
The Ukrainian army on Friday accused the Russians of being unable to “respect even their own declarations.”
Its statement was accompanied by a video that showed a plane drop munitions at least twice on the island, and what appeared to be white streaks rising above it.
Phosphorus weapons, which leave a signature white trail in the sky, are incendiary weapons whose use against civilians is banned under an international convention but allowed for military targets.
Ukraine has accused Russia of using them several times since it invaded its neighbor in late February, including on civilian areas, allegations Moscow has denied.
Ukraine claimed the Russians were forced to retreat from the island after coming under a barrage of artillery and missile fire.
Snake Island became famous after a radio exchange went viral at the start of the war, in which Ukrainian soldiers respond using bad words to a Russian warship that called on them to surrender.


Formula E returns to Morocco for season eight, round 10 at Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan

Formula E returns to Morocco for season eight, round 10 at Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan
Updated 17 min 3 sec ago

Formula E returns to Morocco for season eight, round 10 at Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan

Formula E returns to Morocco for season eight, round 10 at Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan
  • Mercedes-EQ’s Stoffel Vandoorne leads the way in the Drivers’ World Championship with a five-point advantage over nearest challenger and double champion Jean-Eric Vergne of DS TECHEETAH

SAUDI ARABIA: The ABB FIA Formula E World Championship returns to Marrakesh on Saturday for round 10 in the 16-race season, with four drivers pulling ahead in the battle for the drivers’ title.

Going into the Marrakesh E-Prix at the Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan, Mercedes-EQ’s Stoffel Vandoorne leads the way in the Drivers’ World Championship with a five-point advantage over nearest challenger and double champion Jean-Eric Vergne (DS TECHEETAH).

Edoardo Mortara (ROKiT Venturi Racing) is two points back in third place, while Mitch Evans (Jaguar TCS Racing), who won last time out in Jakarta, sits fourth, but only 12 points back from the standings lead.

With a maximum of 29 points on offer in Marrakesh, any one of those four drivers could lead the championship come the chequered flag on Saturday,

Evans’ win in Indonesia squeezed the margins splitting the top four, with Mortara and Vergne also making the podium last time around to pile the pressure on points pacesetter Vandoorne.

Consistency is key in Formula E if any driver is to assemble a run at the World Championship. The Belgian has finished outside the top five just twice in nine rounds, though both Evans and Mortara have scored in all but two races this season, while Vergne has never failed to tally.

The Atlas mountains provide the backdrop for Formula E’s fifth trip to the city’s centuries-old Agdal district, with the first Marrakesh E-Prix taking place in 2016. The track follows the Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan — named after the crown prince of Morocco — before spilling out onto the streets of Marrakesh’s hotel district.

Renowned for being an energy-zapping circuit, this fast and highly technical track features 12 turns, three straights and a series of bends completing a track length of 2.971 kilometers.

Last time out in Morocco was magic for Antonio Felix da Costa and DS TECHEETAH who dominated proceedings, with victory setting in motion a run to the 2019-20 championship trophy.

Sebastien Buemi (Nissan e.dams) sealed the win on Formula E’s inaugural visit in 2016, with Felix Rosenqvist and Jerome D’Ambrosio taking back-to-back victories for Mahindra Racing in 2018 and 2019 before da Costa fired his season six title charge into life a year later here.


In rare animal rights push, Pakistan to work with PETA on ‘critical’ reforms

Pakistani veterinarians give treatment to a dog at the Animal Care Center in Karachi on Aug. 16, 2016. (AFP)
Pakistani veterinarians give treatment to a dog at the Animal Care Center in Karachi on Aug. 16, 2016. (AFP)
Updated 34 min 20 sec ago

In rare animal rights push, Pakistan to work with PETA on ‘critical’ reforms

Pakistani veterinarians give treatment to a dog at the Animal Care Center in Karachi on Aug. 16, 2016. (AFP)
  • Government on Thursday banned testing, surgeries on live animals at veterinary schools in Islamabad
  • Country says it will amend British-era regulations with ‘Pakistan’s first comprehensive animal welfare law’

ISLAMABAD: Shalin Gala, vice president at global animal rights advocacy group PETA, on Friday hailed “landmark” reforms in Pakistan that banned tests and surgeries on live animals for veterinary education, and said the organization would be working with the government on more critical reforms in training that would spare the lives of animals.

In a rare move to ensure animal rights in Pakistan, the government on Thursday banned testing and surgeries on live animals at veterinary schools and industrial complexes in the federal capital, Islamabad, and announced a 15,000 rupee ($74) fine and jail term for animal cruelty offenders.

The decision came after widespread outrage in Pakistan over videos that went viral in May showing animals in various states of distress after allegedly being operated upon by veterinary students. Activists and members of the public have widely condemned the practices and called for action.

At veterinary schools around the world, the practice of using live animals to teach surgery has been on the decline in the last decade, but an Arab News investigation published on June 10 quoted students and university management saying live animals were being used to teach surgical skills, though they added proper procedures were followed.

“Pakistan’s landmark reforms will ban tests and surgeries on live animals for veterinary education and shift to sophisticated humane methods,” Gala told Arab News.

He said PETA was “delighted” to have shared recommendations for improving veterinary training with Salman Sufi, head of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s Strategic Reforms Unit.

“We look forward to our upcoming meeting with him to discuss further critical reforms in biomedical research and training that will spare animals’ lives and benefit patients, alike,” Gala added.

As Sufi introduced the ban on live testing of animals in Islamabad, he announced the government would introduce “Pakistan’s first comprehensive animal welfare law,” amending British colonial era regulations.

“Amendments for national level law are ready ... The bill will be tabled in the National Assembly during the next session (for debate and approval),” he said.

Citizens will be able to report any acts of animal cruelty through a hotline. A standard set of guidelines will also be announced to regulate pet markets across the country, Sufi said, adding that violators would be fined and their shops closed.

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