Saudi Arabia’s Hajj and Umrah Ministry fines 10 companies for bad services 

Saudi Arabia’s Hajj and Umrah Ministry fines 10 companies for bad services 
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has fined 10 Umrah companies $13,000 each for failing to provide adequate services to pilgrims. (File/Shutterstock)
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Updated 26 April 2022

Saudi Arabia’s Hajj and Umrah Ministry fines 10 companies for bad services 

Saudi Arabia’s Hajj and Umrah Ministry fines 10 companies for bad services 
  • The companies were fined for negligence, breach of duties, and failure to fulfill their obligations to pilgrims

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has fined 10 Umrah companies $13,000 each for failing to provide adequate services to pilgrims. 

The companies were fined for negligence, breach of duties, and failure to fulfill their obligations to pilgrims in terms of transportation and housing, the ministry said in a statement on Monday. 

The ministry holds regular inspections and monitors all pilgrimage service providers to prevent any breaches, the statement added. 

All pilgrims – whether traveling from outside or within the Kingdom – must use licensed Umrah service providers to guarantee their rights, according to the ministry. 

Thousands of pilgrims have flocked to Makkah to perform Umrah during the holy month of Ramadan after Saudi authorities announced that COVID-19 precautionary measures would be lifted, and the courtyards of the Grand Mosque would operate at full capacity last month.


Saudi artists shed light on the resurgence of analog photography

Analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers. (Supplied)
Analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers. (Supplied)
Updated 31 sec ago

Saudi artists shed light on the resurgence of analog photography

Analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers. (Supplied)
  • While analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers, there is still a shortage of labs and studios accessible to the public

RIYADH: At a time when one might view analog photography as an outdated craft, it is, in fact, becoming increasingly popular across the world, including in Saudi Arabia.

“Photos are the closest humanity has gotten to time travel,” said photographer Abdullah Al-Azzaz, whose has followed in the footsteps of his father, Saleh, who was also a photographer.

The newly established Bayt Al-Malaz — a creative space in the heart of Riyadh’s Malaz District — recently hosted an intriguing conversation about the significance and popularity of analog photography between Al-Azzaz and Princess Reem Al-Faisal, moderated by Sarah Assiri. The event was part of Bayt Al-Malaz’s “Moflmeen” discussion series.

The two photographers addressed the issue of why — when digital cameras are so ubiquitous and easy to use — analog is making a comeback.

“My photography revolves around permanence, praise, eternality, and the spiritual side of us. The individual is a soul and not a body,” said Al-Faisal. “For us, film represents the soul. We are all born with natural instincts, and film, in its natural form, is untouched. It represents the soul that transforms after birth in dealing with life, accumulations, and memories — bad and good. It’s a way of expressing humanity.”

Al-Azzaz said that, for him, it was more about the technique than the philosophy of it all. “The experience of developing in a darkroom is so enriching. It separates you from the world, totally quiet and dark. It’s just you and the photo. It allows you to reflect on the photo more and gives you more freedom in reimagining it,” he said.

Photo manipulation, he explained, is not exclusive to digital photography. Before the existence of Photoshop, images could be manipulated in the darkroom using retouching techniques and tools, including cropping, brushing, dodging, burning and masking.

To really understand the true art of photography, some would argue, it is important to learn its history. Digital photography is not a replacement for film, but another medium entirely. “In any art, not just photography, we have to have a cultural, historical, and technical awareness… we are all an accumulation,” said Al-Faisal. “We are a product of our society and a product of our time. We cannot claim we aren’t affected [by these things]. Whoever claims otherwise is delusional.”

While analog photography is becoming more and more popular amongst Saudi and regional photographers, there is still a shortage of labs and studios accessible to the public. In Riyadh, the number of studios where film can be developed has fallen from four to just a single space — Haitham Studios. This is largely due to the financial cost of establishing such a studio and the turnaround time for film development.

The founder of the studio, Haitham Al-Sharif, explained the immersive nature of analog photography. “I chose film photography because I hated having no connection with my photos. With film photography, I take a max of 40 photos in a session. I can’t see them; I have to live in the moment, I have to listen and smell the streets, I have to talk to my subject if I’m taking their portraits, I have to listen to the music if I’m at a concert,” he told Arab News. “To me, that is art. That is the beauty of film.”

The lengthy process involved in analog photography can be intimidating and off-putting to amateur photographers. That’s why the development of the first digital camera in 1975 was so groundbreaking. Now, in an economy driven by content creation and visual media, content production is easier — and quicker — than ever before. But to some, the key difference lies in the creative experience itself. Some analog photographers suggest it is a way to truly connect with the moment, even if the results are not always what society deems ‘Insta-worthy.’

“When you can’t see the photo you aren’t forced to change it to make it the same as what the media thinks is good or what a magazine thinks is good. Film forces you to be patient and slow. It forces you to live in the (moment),” said Al-Sharif. “As a film photographer, you live in front of the lens as much as at the back of the lens. You become more connected to what you are photographing.”


Special fun-filled activities lined up for young Jeddah Season visitors

The Blippi- branded activity corner allows kids to learn and explore new concepts followed by a photo session. (Supplied)
The Blippi- branded activity corner allows kids to learn and explore new concepts followed by a photo session. (Supplied)
Updated 3 min 28 sec ago

Special fun-filled activities lined up for young Jeddah Season visitors

The Blippi- branded activity corner allows kids to learn and explore new concepts followed by a photo session. (Supplied)
  • Little Village zones feature favorite characters Peppa Pig, Blippi, L.O.L Surprise!

JEDDAH: A fun-filled agenda awaits children at the Jeddah Pier amusement park, one of the entertainment attractions at this year’s Jeddah Season festival of activities.

The specially created Little Village large play area offers games and events for youngsters through to June 28 in three activity zones featuring children’s characters Peppa Pig, Blippi, and L.O.L Surprise!

The Blippi-branded activity corner allows kids to learn and explore new concepts, and the iconic Blippi appeared for a soft opening of the Little Village during which visitors took part in a meet and greet, followed by a photo session.

The L.O.L Surprise! activity corner gives girls the opportunity to wear their favorite dresses, enjoy hair and makeup sessions, and try out cooking, singing, and dancing, and special fashion shows let little fashionistas take a ramp walk.

Meanwhile, the Peppa Pig activity corner has a range of activities including painting classes and the chance to play in the cartoon character’s grocery store.

Fadi Yousuf, site manager of Hwadi Events, Jeddah Pier’s organizing company, said: “Packed with wonderful and imaginative activities, we aim to create memories that will turn the Jeddah Season into a world of unforgettable stories for children.

“With the help of Spacetoon, we were delighted to bring the much-loved character Blippi to Jeddah and receive an amazing response from the fans.

“Apart from enjoying the activities, kids will be able to purchase Blippi, L.O.L Surprise!, and Peppa Pig products onsite.”

Jeddah Pier, open daily from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., offers 39 entertainment attractions, seven diverse international experiences, and a roller coaster, among a host of other events.

And musical parades including acrobats, and people dressed as trees, zombies, and track-suited monkeys are an integral part of the zone’s events.

Jeddah Season will also be hosting a toy festival running until May 23 at Jeddah Superdome, the world’s largest geodesic dome without pillars, and kids who missed meeting Blippi at Jeddah Pier will get another chance at the festival.

More than 40 international toy brands are attending the event that will include stands and exhibitions, live shows, and performances of the Smurfs, Sonic, Peppa Pig, and other character favorites.

The annual Jeddah Season festival aims to highlight the city’s rich heritage and culture through a total of 2,800 activities in nine zones over the event period.

Being held under the slogan, Our Lovely Days, the second Jeddah Season follows on from the success of Riyadh Season that recorded more than 15 million visits over five months.

The festival season offers 70 interactive experiences, more than 60 recreational activities, seven Arab and two international plays, marine events, a circus, four international exhibitions, and a host of other services for families.


Saudi crown prince, France’s Macron discuss Ukraine war during call

Saudi crown prince, France’s Macron discuss Ukraine war during call
Updated 20 May 2022

Saudi crown prince, France’s Macron discuss Ukraine war during call

Saudi crown prince, France’s Macron discuss Ukraine war during call

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday held a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss the repercussions of the Russia-Ukraine war.
Prince Mohammed discussed with Macron way to calm the tension, as well as ways of strengthening bilateral relations, the Elysee palace said.
More to follow...


Saudi Shoura delegation visits UK for first time in years to boost relations and investment

A Saudi Shoura Council delegation participated in an event hosted by the Arab British Chamber of Commerce in London. (AN Photo/H
A Saudi Shoura Council delegation participated in an event hosted by the Arab British Chamber of Commerce in London. (AN Photo/H
Updated 52 min 21 sec ago

Saudi Shoura delegation visits UK for first time in years to boost relations and investment

A Saudi Shoura Council delegation participated in an event hosted by the Arab British Chamber of Commerce in London. (AN Photo/H
  • The visit aims ‘to highlight the huge changes taking place in the Kingdom as part of Vision 2030, and the opportunities they bring,” said Ghazi Binzagr, who heads the delegation
  • During the week-long visit, Saudi delegates have met government ministers, representatives of the British Defense Committee, MPs and members of political subcommittees and business organizations

LONDON: A high-level delegation from Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council is visiting the UK for the first time in years, to share the Kingdom’s latest development and investment plans, enhance relations and exchange expertise.

“Our visit (aims) to highlight the huge changes taking place in the Kingdom as part of Vision 2030, and the opportunities they bring, and also to underscore the importance and the significance of the umbrella strategic agreement between Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom, with all the various areas that it intends to build,” Ghazi Binzagr, a member of the Shoura Council, told Arab News.

Binzagr, who is heading the delegation and is the chairman of the Shoura Council’s Saudi-British Parliamentary Friendship Committee, said an objective of the visit is to deepen and widen the bilateral relationship, specifically in the fields of investment and commerce, to provide more opportunities for British companies and organizations to participate in Vision 2030 initiatives.

“We are underscoring the importance of the Vision in bringing new directions to areas that are going to be important to both countries, things such as health, financial services, tourism, energy, culture, sports,” he said. “These are all new opportunities that we believe will be important for joint ventures to emerge (and) joint investments.”

He added that they also hope to gain from the “benefit of the many years of knowledge and expertise that British society has had in many of these areas, some of which are now new to the Kingdom.”

The members of the Saudi delegation, who arrived in the UK on Sunday, have held meetings with Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Kwasi Kwarteng and members of the British Defense Committee, along with MPs and members of various subcommittees during their week-long visit.

“In the area of defense, we explored the strong relationship that has always been there between Saudi Arabia and the UK, and dialogue over issues of mutual concern with the shared commitment to a stable region, and the importance of that for stable trade, investment and prosperity, not just for the region, but the globe at large,” Binzagr said.

He added that the “response has been great” and both sides agree on the need to increase the frequency of mutual visits because they recognize that such face-to-face meetings and engagement creates a form of bilateral friendship that is very difficult to develop without in-person exchanges. They are now discussing dates for a British parliamentary delegation to visit the Kingdom after the summer recess in the UK, with more to follow.

“We were able to learn more deeply about how the British Parliament works, and there is a keenness and eagerness from the British side to also learn about how the Shoura Council works and to see how both bodies can help enable and support the efforts of both governments, which are quite strong in strengthening their relationship with each other,” said Binzagr.

The visit has also included tours of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, in which the delegation observed parliamentary sessions. It also met former sports ministers Lord Moynihan and Tracey Crouch to learn about the sports ecosystem overseen by the UK parliament and how its best practices might be applied to the expanding sports sector in the Kingdom, Binzagr said.

On Tuesday delegates took part in a roundtable discussion, organized by the Arab British Chamber of Commerce, with British executives and investors during which they talked about the transformation of the Kingdom’s commercial environment and introduced the Invest in Saudi initiative launched by the Ministry of Investment.

“We both believe that these visits are vital, not just for our own individual understandings, but we both play a role in the oversight of the performance of the government, we can both … better follow the development of the components of the strategic agreement between both countries,” Binzagr said.

Another important development highlighted by the visit is the recent easing of visa requirements for travel between the two countries, which authorities say will contribute to the strengthening of the bilateral relationship.

Alia Aldahlawi, a member of the Shoura Council and the friendship committee, said it was important for the members of the Saudi delegation to learn about the nature of legislation within the British Parliament and that they had benefited from the meetings that have taken place. A common topic that was raised, she added, was the role of women in the Kingdom.

“We addressed the woman issue in several meetings, especially the empowerment of women and how women now have become engaged in the political decision making and in higher positions in Saudi Arabia, and also the increased participation of women in the labor market, because it’s one of the major objectives of Vision 2030,” Aldahlawi said.

The government and private sectors have been working to increase female participation in the labor force, she added, and already have not only achieved but surpassed the percentage targets set for 2030.

For example, 30 members of the 150-person Shoura Council — 20 percent — are women, she said, which is a larger proportion than in many other regional and international parliaments.

The empowerment of women in Saudi Arabia is a clear and obvious goal, Aldahlawi said, and the Kingdom has always offered equal opportunities in terms of education and scholarships to men and women. She herself obtained a doctorate from King’s College London many years ago, she added.

“We (women) are qualified to engage in our economy, we are human capital that is educated and have full experience,” she said.

“So this empowerment (leads to more) females in the labor market, in higher positions, and a lot of diverse types of job opportunities.”


Saudi dialogue sessions to stimulate creativity and innovation in Hajj and Umrah

Saudi dialogue sessions to stimulate creativity and innovation in Hajj and Umrah
Updated 20 May 2022

Saudi dialogue sessions to stimulate creativity and innovation in Hajj and Umrah

Saudi dialogue sessions to stimulate creativity and innovation in Hajj and Umrah
  • Challenges faced by the Hajj and Umrah sector were discussed

MAKKAH: Saudi Arabia hosted a two-day session of virtual dialogue this week, aimed at “stimulating creativity and innovation in the field of Hajj and Umrah.”

The discussions addressed the challenges faced by the Hajj and Umrah sector, pioneering ideas in this field, and ways of promoting innovation within the sector.

Hisham Saeed, spokesman and undersecretary for Hajj and Umrah services at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, stressed that creativity and innovation are key pillars of Saudi Vision 2030.

“We aspire to impress the pilgrim throughout his journey, thanks to a creative and innovative work system in the field of Hajj and Umrah,” he said.

“If we want to innovate, we must have an ambitious vision founded on excellence and quality,” said Mohammed Saati, spokesman for the Hajj Smart Card Project. “The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah hopes to make the Hajj smart card a key tool in all pilgrims’ journey in the Kingdom.”

Dr. Naeem Al-Bihani, associate professor of entrepreneurship and head of business administration at Umm Al-Qura University, said the best ideas are generated in a stimulating culture and environment. “Innovation is not just about techniques and systems, it’s a way of life for individuals and institutions in all disciplines,” he noted.

Sami Sarhan, head of industrial partnerships at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, said it is vital to develop services provided to pilgrims from their arrival in the Kingdom until their safe return home.

Dr. Ammar Attar, CEO of Manaafi Consulting, stressed that a culture of innovation is essential for the Hajj and Umrah system.