Frankly Speaking: Senior EU aid official denies Europe is selective on refugees, says Syrians were treated same as Ukrainians

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Updated 16 May 2022

Frankly Speaking: Senior EU aid official denies Europe is selective on refugees, says Syrians were treated same as Ukrainians

Frankly Speaking: Senior EU aid official denies Europe is selective on refugees, says Syrians were treated same as Ukrainians
  • Michael Koehler, deputy director general of ECHO, tells Arab News that Assad regime atrocities ‘have not been forgotten’
  • Claims EU takes principled position on Palestine but explains cuts in EU development assistance to Palestinian Authority
  • Koehler names and shames EU member countries that did not pay their share of promised aid

JEDDAH: Denying that the European Union discriminates between refugees Michael Koehler, the deputy director general of the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), has claimed that Syrians were welcomed in the same way as Ukrainians and that the crimes of the Bashar Assad regime will not be forgotten.

In a wide-ranging interview with Arab News, Koehler also reiterated Europe’s commitment to supporting Palestinian humanitarian needs, stating that any cut in EU aid relates solely to financial transfers for development assistance, not humanitarian aid.

Koehler denied that Europe’s treatment of Ukrainians fleeing their country because of the war with Russia and those from the Middle East has revealed racism, double standards and hypocrisy. “The only difference that I see is that refugees from Ukraine have, on the basis of a decision of the European ministers of interior, immediately been granted work permits,” he told the host of Arab News’ “Frankly Speaking” interview show, Katie Jensen. “But apart from that, the treatment is not different from refugees from other parts of the world.”

“Frankly Speaking” features in-depth discussions with leading policymakers and business leaders, diving deep into the biggest news-making headlines across the Middle East and around the world. During his appearance on the show, Koehler spoke on a number of issues, including what the future holds for displaced Ukrainians and whether the EU plans to pull funding from Middle East crisis zones to make up for the humanitarian aid gap. 

Koehler said one needs to look back at the arrival of the Syrians and Iraqis in 2015 and 2016 when slightly more comparable numbers of refugees were pouring into Europe. “The million Syrians that poured into (Germany) were very much welcomed,” he said. “It is not quite fair in a way to compare the welcome that now Ukrainians are receiving two months into the crisis, with the situation of other refugees that have been in Europe for four years, five years, six years or seven years, and where certain problems have arisen.”

“We are absolutely not yet there in the Ukraine crisis, but it’s a very general phenomenon. Structurally, this is a very well-known phenomenon,” he said, pointing to instances where the initial warm welcome given to refugees by the host population gave way to problems that “led sometimes to populist reactions.”

Still, Koehler expressed regret at comments such as those made by Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov (“These are not the refugees we are used to, these people are Europeans, intelligent, educated people”), and the implication that countries have the right to choose refugees based on race, religion or politics.

“No, absolutely not. Absolutely not,” he said. “It is, however, of course, normal that if you are a direct neighbor of a country that is in the situation Ukraine finds itself in, then of course there is perhaps a slightly bigger emotion. There’s a slightly bigger readiness of private persons to help, but we’ve seen the same thing in other scenarios.”

Alluding to the insensitive remarks of European politicians, Koehler said: “We shouldn’t take the statements of this or that individual politician as the kind of policy line of European member states and of the EU. Politicians can voice their personal opinions, but this doesn’t mean that the legal order that settles the way refugees are welcomed, the support they receive and so forth, that this would be changed.”

Koehler disagreed with the notion that with the Ukrainian humanitarian crisis holding the spotlight, the atrocities committed by the Assad regime in Syria, where 6.2 million people remain internally displaced, have been forgotten. “No, they have not been forgotten,” he responded. “In fact, I shared via Twitter part of the ministerial meeting on Syria in the region that we are hosting here at Brussels for the sixth time. This is the annual meeting of the international community.

“The international community has put together a record pledge: €6.4 billion for 2022-2023, which is half a billion more than the equivalent pledge of last year. So, what this tells us is that there is no fatigue in the international community when it comes to assisting Syrians. The donors are there, there is no donor fatigue and the international organizations are mobilized.”

But what about all the complaints of humanitarian agencies that they are running out of money? Koehler says he does not deny there is a problem of “donor insufficiency.”

“If you look at the amount of money that’s mobilized every year for humanitarian aid, you see an increase of money. This is totally outpaced by the needs, because every year we have more crises. The existing crises unfortunately don’t go away and the number of people that are suffering keeps increasing.”

Asked how the humanitarian funding gap could be filled, Koehler said the solution is a mixture of elements, starting with more donors, especially those in the EU. “Look at the clubs of rich countries. There are 38 members of OECD or the G20,” he said. “Not all of these countries have already started to deliver humanitarian aid. Some do, but not very consistently. There may be a year where they may put a lot of money on the table, and in other years they are a bit more (tight-fisted) with their resources.”

Among the many ways the Middle East is exposed to the vagaries of the Ukraine war, Russia has hinted at vetoing the renewing of the mandate that allows the UN to use the Bab Al-Hawa crossing in northern Syria when it expires on July 9. This means that EU aid might have to go through Damascus and thus be under the control of the Assad regime. “If Bab Al-Hawa was closed, there would be a huge supply problem and we have seen what it means already in the northeast of Syria,” Koehler said.

“However, we are also very much in favor of cross-line cooperation, so we have no problem with bringing aid from Damascus to the northeast, for example, or the northwest. Unfortunately, this is happening only on a small scale, which has to do with political but also logistical problems.”

According to Koehler, there is a new system by which aid is always delivered through specialized partners, never through governments, “so delivering aid, for example in the part of Syria that is controlled by the authorities in Damascus, does not mean to give money to the Assad government.

“It is implemented through specialized owned organizations, NGOs, UN agencies and so forth. For that we have monitoring, we have audits, we have independent audits by third parties,” he said. “We have our offices on the ground. ECHO has an office in Damascus that can monitor what’s going on, and as soon as there is some kind of suspicion of diversion of aid, we stop. We stop, we enquire and we only resume aid once we are sufficiently, let’s say, reassured about the way the aid is implemented.”

Koehler said ECHO was using the same modus operandi in Afghanistan. “As I said earlier, we never work through governments. So, we work with the local NGOs. We work with the Red Crescent, we work, for example, with UNICEF and other organizations and we make sure that this money comes to the benefit directly of the population concerned,” he said.

However, he acknowledged that with more restrictions announced by the Taliban, many of them targeted at women, “we are frankly disappointed with the way things are developing in Afghanistan.”

Last April the EU pledged €525 million of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, and according to Koehler, as a consequence of the developments in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover of the country last year, the international community, in particular the EU, have stepped up humanitarian funding.

“The Taliban came up with a number of assurances, concerning, for example, girls’ education and women’s rights. However, we now see that many of these assurances have proved questionable or even formally revoked. and this of course creates major problems.”

Moving on to another humanitarian hotspot, Koehler played down fears that humanitarian aid funding will stop despite a UN warning this month that more than five and a half million Palestinian refugees may no longer have access to basic services such as food, education and health care due to a drop in contributions from member states, the EU in particular.

“We support UNRWA and we continue our assistance,” he said, referring to the UN agency that supports the relief and human development of Palestinian refugees.

With regard to the EU’s contribution, he said this is “not a cut in funding. This is about negotiating the conditions for the 2021-2022 installments.”

He added: “What has stopped for a short while is not humanitarian aid but direct financial transfers that EU development assistance is making available for the benefit of the Palestinian National Authority. And this is not a stop for good, but this is about agreeing to a certain number of conditions, under which this money would be made available.”

But amid concerns over possible closure of UNRWA, what is the EU’s position on the right of return? “The EU has a principled position in this regard and we stand still behind the two-state solution. We want a negotiated solution between the parties,” Koehler said. “We see the occupation of Palestine as something that has to be brought to an end, in accordance with relevant UN resolutions on the basis of bilateral negotiations that we are ready to incentivize and support as much as possible.”

Koehler concluded by saying that aid agencies and donors must unite and “speak with one voice” for effective humanitarian relief efforts in crisis zones. “Wherever the international community, the donors from the US to the UK, to the EU, to Sweden, to Germany, to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, wherever the donors speak with one voice, this one voice has an effect,” he said, citing the example of the failed attempt in 2020 by the Iran-backed Houthi militia to impose a 2 percent tax on humanitarian aid deliveries in Yemen.

“The international community said ‘no way.’ Also, the World Food Programme said ‘no way.’ We said, ‘If that is what you want to do, we will simply discontinue our operations in the territory that you have control over.’”

The changing landscape of the Saudi design industry

The initiative aims to encourage up-and-coming designers to highlight the role of design in resolving global issues. (Supplied)
The initiative aims to encourage up-and-coming designers to highlight the role of design in resolving global issues. (Supplied)
Updated 16 min 57 sec ago

The changing landscape of the Saudi design industry

The initiative aims to encourage up-and-coming designers to highlight the role of design in resolving global issues. (Supplied)
  • Designathon competition encourages designers to consider modern challenges

RIYADH: The first Designathon competition was recently held in Riyadh, gathering 500 designers and specialists to solve key issues facing the design industry, including social impact, health and sustainability.

Organized by the Architecture and Design Commission on Feb. 2-3, it brought together local creators to compete for awards collectively worth more than SR500,000 ($133,000).

Sumayah Al-Solaiman, CEO of the commission, said: “It is the designer’s role to really advocate for not just themselves but also society and the planet. We made sure that we have that responsibility reflected within the three tracks.”

CEO of the Architecture and Design Commission, Dr. Sumayah Al-Solaiman, at the opening remarks of Desginathon's first edition launch in Riyadh. The competition brings together 500 global participants in search of solutions to wellbeing, social impact, and sustainability design challenges from Feb. 2-4. (Supplied)

Coming in first place in the wellness track was team “Sabeel,” followed by team “Mumtir” in second place, and team “Khutwah bi Khutwah” in third.

The sustainability design track’s winning teams were “Wasm” in first place, “Table Mo1” in second place, and team “Waste No More” in third place.


• Coming in first place in the wellness track was team ‘Sabeel,’ followed by team ‘Mumtir’ in second place, and team ‘Khutwah bi Khutwah’ in third.

• The sustainability design track’s winning teams were ‘Wasm’ in first place, ‘Table Mo1’ in second place, and team ‘Waste No More’ in third place.

• Finally, the social impact track awarded first place to team ‘Dreams,’ second to ‘Rans Team,’ and the third winning spot to ‘Hayyak.’

Finally, the social impact track awarded first place to team “Dreams,” second to “Rans Team,” and the third winning spot to “Hayyak.”

The initiative aims to encourage up-and-coming designers to consider real-life modern design challenges that truly impact community members, create awareness around participatory design concepts, and highlight the role of design in resolving global issues. Participatory design is a cooperative method that looks at solutions that involve all stakeholders, with a focus on the procedure of design rather than the style itself.

“This time, we will be learning from everything that happens. We want to use that design methodology and hear from all the participants (regarding) their experience…and how we can improve it for next editions,” Al-Solaiman explained.

One of the participants, Huda Al-Qahtani, is a senior architecture student at Prince Sultan University who is interested in the art behind design and its role in enhancing the microclimate.

“I actually was interested in the well-being track and the social impact track. For well-being here in Saudi specifically, we don’t have any chances for walkability or cycling. It’s very hard, whether you’re considering the width of the streets or the climate,” she told Arab News.

Al-Qahtani expressed her excitement at the new initiatives that cater to the growth of the local design scene. “I feel very proud. Now I’m seeing more opportunities in Saudi than...abroad,” she said. “It’s (expanding) very fast, which makes me relieved…Even the architecture here in Saudi is gaining its identity back.”

Raghad Fathaddin, one of the sustainability track mentors, told Arab News: “What (the Designathon) is telling us all as citizens of this nation is that there (are) new ways of thinking, and that’s what we’re calling upon in order to achieve the Saudi Vision 2030 and sustainable development goals.

“I’m very impressed by the ideas I’m hearing…Our nation shouldn’t be underestimated. I’m excited for our future.”

Al-Solaiman noted the possibility of expanding on the three tracks in the future, increasing the number of participants, or even venturing into a different city.

The Designathon is one of 33 initiatives undertaken by the commission, most of which look at enhancing education and job opportunities, incentivizing the design sector, highlighting the economic value of design and content development, and fostering community engagement and support.


Bollywood singer Kumar Sanu delights fans in Jeddah

Kumar Sanu was the star of the show for the two-day music festival at the Equestrian Club in Jeddah. (Supplied)
Kumar Sanu was the star of the show for the two-day music festival at the Equestrian Club in Jeddah. (Supplied)
Updated 45 min 31 sec ago

Bollywood singer Kumar Sanu delights fans in Jeddah

Kumar Sanu was the star of the show for the two-day music festival at the Equestrian Club in Jeddah. (Supplied)
  • Making his first ever appearance in the Kingdom, Sanu thrilled the audience of mostly Indian expats, serving up renditions of more than 20 songs

JEDDAH: Bollywood singer Kumar Sanu wowed the crowds on Friday night as the latest celebration of Indian culture drew to a close.

Sanu was the star of the show for the two-day music festival at the Equestrian Club in Jeddah’s Al-Frosyah district, which was organized by Good Hope Events in cooperation with the General Entertainment Authority.

Making his first ever appearance in the Kingdom, Sanu thrilled the audience of mostly Indian expats, serving up renditions of more than 20 songs.

“I have been waiting to perform in Saudi Arabia and here we are in Jeddah for the first time,” he told his adoring fans from the stage.

“We have a great crowd and I am happy to see you enjoying the night.”

Also on the bill were Rachna Chopra, Biplab and Afsal, who helped ramp up the crowds with a host of Bollywood numbers.

“I am amazed by the energy that flowed from you guys,” Chopra told the crowd.

Fan Nadia Azmi, who went to the gig with friends, said: “We all are privileged to have Sanu among us in Jeddah today. We all have grown up listening to his songs since the ’80s and ’90s.

“It is wonderful to listen to him live today. I want to thank Saudi Arabia and the organizers for their efforts in making this possible.”

Junaise Babu, chairman of Good Hope Events, said the festival had been a huge success.

“It was a great feeling to see so many men, women, young and old, not only Indian expatriates but also other Asians enjoying the various musicians we brought.”

Amrina Qaiser, who introduced Sanu on stage, said: “It was an amazing experience hosting such a mega event in Jeddah for the first time.

“I felt overwhelmed and I was lucky enough to interact with the king of melody from Bollywood, Kumar Sanu.”


Egypt cancels World Youth Forum in light of global challenges

Egypt cancels World Youth Forum in light of global challenges
Updated 6 min 34 sec ago

Egypt cancels World Youth Forum in light of global challenges

Egypt cancels World Youth Forum in light of global challenges
  • Budget for event will instead be used to fund development initiatives
  • Event was set to start later this month

CAIRO: In response to a host of global economic challenges, this year’s World Youth Forum, which was set to start later this month, has been canceled, its organizers said on Saturday.

Instead, the budget for the event, which was to be held in the Egyptian town of Sharm El-Sheikh, will be used to fund the implementation of five development initiatives aimed at young people in Egypt and beyond.

This year would have marked the fifth edition of the forum, with the fourth being held in January last year. The event is organized by the Presidential Program for Qualifying Youth for Leadership.

It said the decision to cancel this year's conference was an acknowledgment of the multiple crises facing the world that have put huge humanitarian and economic pressures on nations and governments.

Among the beneficiaries of the redirected funding is a series of international exchange programs for young people. These will be arranged in cooperation with the Decent Life Foundation, National Alliance for Civil Development Action, Arab Union for Volunteering and UN Volunteers Program.

Parliamentary Counselor Issam Hilal Afifi told Arab News that the proceeds from the sponsorship rights to this year’s forum would be redirected toward a large package of initiatives.

Dr. Muhammad Mahmoud Mahran, secretary-general of the International Committee for the Defense of Water Resources, said the move would also enable recommendations made at the previous forum to be implemented.

The planned initiatives would have a positive impact at the local, African and global level, he said.

Republicans criticize Biden for waiting to shoot down Chinese balloon

Republicans criticize Biden for waiting to shoot down Chinese balloon
Updated 7 min 26 sec ago

Republicans criticize Biden for waiting to shoot down Chinese balloon

Republicans criticize Biden for waiting to shoot down Chinese balloon
  • “China had too much respect for ‘TRUMP’ for this to have happened, and it NEVER did,” Trump wrote on social media

WASHINGTON: Republican US lawmakers on Sunday criticized President Joe Biden for waiting days to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon as it floated over the United States, accusing him of showing weakness toward China and initially trying to keep the breach of US airspace undisclosed.
A US Air Force fighter jet on Saturday shot down the balloon off the coast of South Carolina, a week after it first entered US airspace near Alaska, triggering a dramatic spying saga that has further strained American-Chinese relations.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Saturday the US military was able to collect “valuable” intelligence by studying the balloon, and that three other Chinese surveillance balloons had transited the United States during Donald Trump’s administration — a disclosure the Republican former president denied.
“We should have shot this balloon down over the Aleutian Islands. We should never have allowed it to transit the entire continental United States,” said Republican Senator Tom Cotton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, referring to the chain of small islands that arc off the coast of mainland Alaska.
Cotton told the “Fox News Sunday” program that he believed Biden had waited to disclose the penetration of US airspace because he wanted to salvage Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned diplomatic trip to Beijing, which ultimately was postponed.
“I think part of it is the president’s reluctance to take any action that would be viewed as provocative or confrontational toward the Chinese communists,” Cotton added.
Biden said on Saturday he issued an order on Wednesday to down the balloon after it crossed into Montana, but the Pentagon had recommended waiting until it could be done over open water to protect civilians from debris crashing to Earth from nearly twice the altitude of commercial air traffic.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, said of the Republican criticisms: “they are premature and they are political.”
The Defense Department in the coming week will brief the Senate on the suspected Chinese spy balloon and Chinese surveillance, Schumer told a news conference on Sunday.
Republican Representative Mike Turner, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said the panel also was set to receive a briefing on the spy balloon this week, though the exact timing has not been determined.
Turner said the balloon traveled unhindered over sensitive US nuclear missile sites, and that he believed China was using it “to gain information on how to defeat the command and control of our nuclear weapons systems and our missile defense systems.”
“The president has allowed this to go across our most sensitive sites and wasn’t even going to tell the American public if you hadn’t broken the story,” Turner told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “There was no attempt to notify Congress, no attempt to put together the Gang of Eight (a bipartisan group of congressional leaders). I think this administration lacks urgency.”
Republican US Senator Marco Rubio, vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the ABC News program “This Week” that he would ask administration officials what future preparations have been made to prevent such an incident.
Rubio also said China was trying to send a message that it could enter US airspace, adding that he doubted that the balloon’s debris would be of much intelligence value.
Trump on Sunday disputed Austin’s statement that Chinese government surveillance balloons transited the continental United States briefly three times during his presidency.
“China had too much respect for ‘TRUMP’ for this to have happened, and it NEVER did,” Trump wrote on social media.
Speaking on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures” show, Trump’s former director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, also denied such balloon incidents.
China on Sunday condemned the US action against what Beijing called an airship used for meteorological and other scientific purposes that had strayed into US airspace “completely accidentally” — claims rejected by US officials.
“China had clearly asked the US to handle this properly in a calm, professional and restrained manner,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement. “The US had insisted on using force, obviously overreacting.”

LEAP conference set to showcase Kingdom’s tech and entrepreneurial ambitions

LEAP conference set to showcase Kingdom’s tech and entrepreneurial ambitions
Updated 13 min 32 sec ago

LEAP conference set to showcase Kingdom’s tech and entrepreneurial ambitions

LEAP conference set to showcase Kingdom’s tech and entrepreneurial ambitions
  • Over 100,000 innovators, investors and experts from around the world descending on Riyadh for four-day event 
  • LEAP will be co-located with DeepFest, an AI event organized by Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence

RIYADH: Artificial intelligence, digital economy, and digital metaverses may be terms the average technology aficionado expects to hear at a conference in Seoul or Silicon Valley. This week, however, all things tech will be the talk of the town in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

From Feb. 6 to 9, over 100,000 tech innovators and leading experts will gather for the second LEAP conference, a global platform for tech professionals from around the world.

Held alongside LEAP will be DeepFest, the inaugural AI event powered by the Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence. Both events demonstrate the Kingdom’s aim to take its place among the world’s most technologically advanced nations.

The Kingdom is projected to spend over $24 billion on various technologies by 2025 — the highest in the world, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

At last year’s LEAP conference, Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology Abdullah Al-Swaha announced that the country would be investing $6.4 billion in future technologies and entrepreneurship to further solidify the Kingdom’s position as the Middle East and North Africa region’s largest digital economy.

The growth of the Saudi tech industry, in line with the goals of Saudi Vision 2030, is a way for the Kingdom to diversify its economy away from oil and gas revenues.

According to a 2022 Economist Intelligence report, Saudi Arabia was the world’s fastest-growing major economy in 2022, “outperforming the dynamic Asian giants of China, India, Indonesia and South Korea, as well as the struggling G7 and other major emerging economies.”

LEAP broke records last year when its inaugural conference became the world’s largest tech event ever held. This year looks to be just as big, if not bigger, than last, with top professionals in the tech industry traveling to Riyadh from across the world.

“Saudi Arabia’s recent investments in its digital economy, as well as its information and communications technology sector, helped consolidate its position as the leading information and communication technology market in the Middle East and North Africa,” Imad Abuizz, digital and technology platform Llader at the business management consultant firm PwC Middle East, told Arab News.

Since the announcement of Saudi Vision 2030 seven years ago, the Kingdom has launched a series of initiatives that emphasize technology as a tool for social and economic reform.

Strategic agendas under Vision 2030 focus on regenerating the country’s digital infrastructure to boost economic growth, knowledge and enhance daily life. To this end, Saudi Arabia has committed to an annual investment of 2.5 percent of GDP in the sectors of development, research and innovation by 2040.

The Kingdom’s technological plans are supported by SDAIA, which was launched by royal decree in August 2019.

The same year, the Saudi government launched Absher, a smartphone application which enables citizens and residents of Saudi Arabia to access a variety of government services.

“Government spending demonstrates a big focus on digitalization,” Fadi Komati, a digital government consulting leader at PwC Middle East, told Arab News. “Why the sector is moving so quickly is because the majority of the population is young and eager to move forward and advance in cutting-edge technologies.

“The government’s digital transformation and continued investment in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and innovation lay the groundwork for a lot of opportunities, both for the private and public sector.”

Komati underlines how government investment in tech is “encouraging the private sector to become more mature, thus also stimulating and incentivising international companies to visit and open in Saudi Arabia.”

“The increased progress in the private tech sector within Saudi Arabia is a result of government investment in the sector,” he said.

In the same vein, Saudi tech entrepreneur Hussein Attar, CEO at private investment firm Tech Invest Com, told Arab News: “In terms of Saudi Arabia, all the giga projects being launched, such as NEOM, have placed a strong focus on technological innovation. Every giga project has a funding side that is investing in tech. Saudi Aramco also has its own investment fund for technology.”

At last year’s LEAP conference, Saudi Aramco unveiled a billion dollars’ worth of investments in developing start-ups through entrepreneurship support fund Prosperity 7 Ventures. NEOM Tech & Digital Holding Co. stated it was investing $1 billion in future technologies and launching the new M3LD AI engine as well as the XVRS digital twin metaverse.

Technological investment in Saudi Arabia is also paramount to the country’s environmental goals. In October 2022, at the sixth edition of the Future Investment Initiative, Aramco unveiled a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, one of the world’s largest sustainability-focused venture capital funds.

Recent data demonstrates the rise of Saudi Arabia as a growing global center, both regionally and internationally, in both the private and public sectors. According to the 2022 Saudi Arabia Venture Capital Report produced by Magnitt, the Kingdom was one of the emerging markets that recorded year on year growth nearing the $1 billion mark.

Saudi Arabia’s tech evolution is a way for the country to connect with the wider region and the world. AI, which was a recent focus at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is paramount to the Kingdom’s growth in the field of tech.

In September 2022, the Saudi Public Investment Fund’s Saudi Company for Artificial Intelligence announced an investment of $776 million in a joint venture with China’s SenseTime to develop the AI ecosystem in Saudi Arabia.

A scene from LEAP 2022. (File photo Supplied)

“The Kingdom’s advanced technological infrastructure, high-caliber developments in the field of AI, and high standards designed by government authorities encourage AI businesses to plug in and grow in a regionally leading market,” Dr. Turki Almugaiteeb, a Saudi expert in technological development and innovation, told Arab News.

Saudi Arabia has also signed a number of partnerships with global AI providers to find practical solutions to everyday problems, Komati said, adding: “AI is very high on the agenda in Saudi Arabia because it is considered a mechanism by which technology can provide much bigger benefits.”

Technological investment and the Kingdom’s numerous avenues being explored for technological growth and innovation are also about education and offering a better life for its citizens, residents, and all visitors to Saudi Arabia.

In the words of Almugaiteeb, the key ingredients in Saudi Arabia’s rise to tech giant status are “the great human resources being developed in the Kingdom, combined with educated young Saudis in the field, many of whom have gained experience abroad.”