As Hajj 2022 draws closer, Saudi diplomat cites efforts to provide the best possible service to all pilgrims

The Indonesian pilgrims were presented flowers, dates and Zamzam water bottles upon arrival. (SPA)
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The Indonesian pilgrims were presented flowers, dates and Zamzam water bottles upon arrival. (SPA)
As Hajj 2022 draws closer, Saudi diplomat cites efforts to provide the best possible service to all pilgrims
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Indonesian pilgrims were presented flowers, dates and Zamzam water bottles upon arrival. (Supplied)
As Hajj 2022 draws closer, Saudi diplomat cites efforts to provide the best possible service to all pilgrims
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Indonesia had the highest share of hajj permits reaching to 100,051 permits. (Supplied)
As Hajj 2022 draws closer, Saudi diplomat cites efforts to provide the best possible service to all pilgrims
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Al-Thaqafi explained that the Indonesian people, in general, are known for being calm and respectful in their everyday lives, and this was reflected in their Hajj and Umrah trips. (Supplied)
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Updated 08 June 2022

As Hajj 2022 draws closer, Saudi diplomat cites efforts to provide the best possible service to all pilgrims

The Indonesian pilgrims were presented flowers, dates and Zamzam water bottles upon arrival. (SPA)
  • The first group of pilgrims to arrive ahead of this year’s pilgrimage was from Indonesia, which has been allocated 100,051 Hajj permits, the largest number granted to any single country
  • 1 million pilgrims will take part in this year’s Hajj, which begins next month and is the first that foreign pilgrims have been able to attend since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.

MAKKAH: With the start of this year’s Hajj just a month away, the Saudi ambassador to Indonesia, Essam Al-Thaqafi, said the Saudi government is working hard to ensure it provides the best possible service to pilgrims from all over the world. This year’s Hajj is the first that foreign pilgrims have been able to attend since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020.

The envoy added that preparations by staff at the Saudi embassy in Jakarta have also been top notch. It was previously announced that Indonesia has been allocated 100,051 Hajj permits, the largest number granted to any single country.




Saudi ambassador to Indonesia Essam Al-Thaqafi stressed that the Hajj preparations made by the Saudi embassy in Jakarta were top-notch. (Supplied)

Saudi Authorities announced in April that after two years of strict pandemic restrictions, 1 million pilgrims will be able to join the Hajj pilgrimage this year. This is a big increase over last year, when it was restricted to 60,000 pilgrims, all of whom resided within the Kingdom, but still well below the pre-pandemic total of 2.5 million in 2019.

Al-Thaqafi said the people of Indonesia were overjoyed when the Kingdom announced the expansion of Hajj numbers this year as the pandemic recedes. His embassy is coordinating with the Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, he added, to ensure that the journey is as easy as possible for Indonesian pilgrims. Last weekend, he noted, the first group of foreign pilgrims to arrive in Saudi Arabia for Hajj came from Indonesia.




Indonesian pilgrims were presented flowers, dates and Zamzam water bottles upon arrival. (Supplied)

Al-Thaqafi also praised the Makkah Route initiative, and the assistance provided to it by the Saudi embassy in Jakarta. The initiative was launched by the Saudi Ministry of Interior in 2019 in five countries — Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Morocco and Bangladesh — to make it as easy as possible for pilgrims to complete the required checks and procedures, and make the journey from their home countries to their Hajj accommodation. More than 60 Saudi officials are working at Soekarno-Hatta Airport in Indonesia to provide services for pilgrims, the envoy said.

Some Indonesians have to wait for more than 30 years to get a permit for Hajj, said Al-Thaqafi, which means the pilgrimage is truly the journey of a lifetime. He added that the Indonesian people are generally known for being calm and respectful, and this is reflected in the way they conduct themselves during Hajj and Umrah trips.




Indonesian pilgrims were presented flowers, dates and Zamzam water bottles upon arrival. (Supplied)

“We all saw the arrival of the first batch of Indonesian pilgrims to Madinah a few days ago, and how wonderfully organized they were,” he said. Al-Thaqafi also commended the Saudi workers who will serve pilgrims during Hajj.

The flight carrying the first batch of 358 Indonesian pilgrims arrived on June 4, carrying 358 pilgrims. They were greeted by Mohammed Al-Bijawe, the undersecretary for visit affairs at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, Abdul Aziz Ahmed, the Indonesian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and other officials. Upon arrival the pilgrims were presented with flowers, dates and bottles of Zamzam water.

 


Bahrain tourism minister discusses opportunities in Saudi Arabia with officials

Bahrain tourism minister discusses opportunities in Saudi Arabia with officials
Updated 15 sec ago

Bahrain tourism minister discusses opportunities in Saudi Arabia with officials

Bahrain tourism minister discusses opportunities in Saudi Arabia with officials
  • Both officials agreed to explore investment opportunities in the tourism sector in both countries

RIYADH: Bahrain’s tourism minister discussed expanding cooperation with Saudi Arabia in the tourism sector during an official visit to the Kingdom, Bahrain News Agency (BNA) reported.

Fatima Jaafar Al-Sairafi met with Qusai bin Abdulla Al-Fakhri, CEO of Saudi Tourism Development Fund, in Riyadh where both reviewed ways to create diverse business opportunities in the tourism sector and promote sustainability in line with international developments.

“They agreed to explore the future prospects of tourism projects undertaken by the private sector in both countries, in addition to tapping into investment opportunities in this vital sector,” the BNA statement read.

The officials praised the deep-rooted historic relations between both kingdoms, highlighting efforts to strengthen the steadily growing ties.
 
Al-Sairafi highlighted Bahrain’s 2022-2025 tourism strategy, which aims to increase cooperation with other countries to boost investment in tourism infrastructure.


Saudi charity KSrelief launches medical program combatting blindness in Bangladesh

Saudi charity KSrelief launches medical program combatting blindness in Bangladesh
Updated 10 min 57 sec ago

Saudi charity KSrelief launches medical program combatting blindness in Bangladesh

Saudi charity KSrelief launches medical program combatting blindness in Bangladesh
  • Thousands of people were examined in the new scheme

RIYADH: A new scheme combatting blindness and its causes in Bangladesh was launched on Monday by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief).

The KSrelief voluntary medical team examined 6,600 cases, and performed 150 successful cataract procedures.
This latest scheme serves as an extension of projects combating blindness by the Saudi charity, for families with low incomes in a number of countries.


All you need to know about Saudi Arabia’s new social media influencer permit

All you need to know about Saudi Arabia’s new social media influencer permit
Updated 11 August 2022

All you need to know about Saudi Arabia’s new social media influencer permit

All you need to know about Saudi Arabia’s new social media influencer permit
  • Kingdom’s media regulator says new law to take effect from October, with all social media influencers affected

LONDON: As more Saudis connect through their social media profiles and even begin to profit from these platforms, the Kingdom has launched a new licensing system to properly monitor the influencer industry.

From early October, every Saudi and non-Saudi content creator in the Kingdom who earns revenue through advertising on social media must first apply for an official permit from the General Commission for Audiovisual Media (GCAM).

For a fee of SR15,000 (roughly $4,000), content creators will receive a permit lasting three years, during which time they can work with as many private entities as they wish and promote any product or service, as long as it does not violate the Kingdom’s laws or values.
 

The incoming influencer license “is not a permit to censor or to block,” Esra Assery, CEO at GCAM, told Arab News. “It’s more of a permit to enable the maturity of the sector. We want to help those individuals grow, but grow in a professional way so they can make a career out of (social media revenue).”

The new regulations are being touted as legal protections, both for influencers and businesses wishing to advertise with them, so that rates and contractual obligations are standardized across the industry.

“The market is so unregulated,” said Assery. “We’re not against influencers or those individuals. Actually, we want to enable them. If you check out the new bylaw, it protects them also, because the bylaw regulates their relationship with the advertisers.”
 

Esra Assery, CEO at Saudi Arabia's General Commission for Audiovisual Media. (Supplied)

Currently, anyone in Saudi Arabia is able to advertise on social media and earn money from deals with private entities — with payments per post climbing into the thousands of riyals, depending on the number of followers an influencer can reach.

Concern has been expressed that introducing permits and regulations will undermine how much money influencers can make and might even constitute censorship. However, GCAM insists the permits are designed to ensure transparency between influencers and their clients.

Saudi influencers, whether based in the Kingdom or abroad, must apply for the permit if they wish to work with a brand — local or international. However, non-Saudi residents in the country must follow a different track.

After applying to the Ministry of Investment for a permit to work in the country, they can then apply for an influencer permit through GCAM. However, non-Saudi residents must be represented by specific advertising agencies.

“While some influencers may focus on the short-term loss of paying the license fee, there is a huge benefit to licensing coming in as it legitimizes the sector on a national level,” Jamal Al-Mawed, founder and managing director of Gambit Communications, told Arab News.

“This is crucial in the influencer industry as it has been a bit of a wild west for marketing in the past, with no clear benchmarking for rates or contracts.”

Al-Mawed said that the new measures can protect brands that are susceptible to fraud “when they pay huge budgets to influencers who are buying fake followers and fake engagements. This creates a vicious circle, as hard-working content creators are undermined by the bad apples.”

Although the new license is unlikely to solve every issue overnight, “it does create a foundation for more professionalism and accountability,” Al-Mawed added.

Under new rules, non-Saudi residents and visitors to the Kingdom are prohibited from posting ads on social media without a license. (Shutterstock image)

In June, non-Saudi residents and visitors to the Kingdom were prohibited from posting ads on social media without a license. Those who ignore the ruling face a possible five-year prison sentence and fines of up to SR5 million.

GCAM announced the ban after finding “violations by numerous non-Saudi advertisers, both residents and visitors, on social media platforms.”

“After checking their data, it was found that they had committed systemic violations, including lack of commercial registrations and legal licenses, and they are not working under any commercial entity or foreign investment license,” the commission said at the time.

Now, with a regulated license, such violations will be easier to monitor and the sector will be better regulated to ensure full transparency.
 

Businesses such as bakeries or hair salons that hold social media accounts and advertise their own products or services are not covered by the prohibition. (Shutterstock image)

Although Saudi influencers will be able to hold full-time jobs while earning on the side through promotional campaigns on their social media profiles, the law states that non-Saudis can work only in one specific role while residing in the Kingdom.

However, the system does not apply to businesses and entities — such as bakeries or hair salons — that hold social media accounts and advertise their own products or services on these platforms. Only individuals are affected by the new law.

There are certain exceptions, however, such as individuals who have been invited to the country by a ministry or government entity in order to perform, including musicians and entertainers.

With the rise of social media over the past decade, content creators and so-called influencers with thousands of followers on Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and other platforms have drawn audiences away from traditional outlets, such as television, newspapers and magazines, to new and largely unregulated media.
 

Sensing the shift in content consumption, advertisers have followed the herd. Crystal-blue waters caressing white, sandy beaches at luxury resorts and scrumptious feasts at the finest restaurants are now commonplace on influencer profiles as businesses rush to take advantage of more “natural-feeling” product placement.

However, regulators have struggled to keep up with this rapid transformation, leaving the process open to legal disputes, exploitation and abuse. That is why authorities elsewhere in the world have also been exploring influencer permits.

Dubai, widely seen as the influencer hub of the Middle East, is among them.

In 2018, the UAE’s National Media Council launched a new electronic media regulation system, which required social media influencers to obtain a license to operate in the country.

The cost of the annual license is 15,000 AED (roughly $4,000). Those who fail to obtain or renew the license can face penalties including a fine of up to 5,000 AED, a verbal or official warning, and even closure of their social media accounts.

The rules apply to influencers visiting the UAE as well. They must either have a license or be signed up with an NMC-registered influencer agency to operate in the country.

With Saudi Arabia progressing in the entertainment and creative industries, the introduction of the license is viewed as a step in the right direction.

“It’s great news for the industry,” said Al-Mawed. “When someone is licensed by the government to offer their services, that gives them a level of safety and trust and can help filter out the scammers who prefer to fly under the radar.”

 

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4,291 Saudi health security trainees graduate   

4,291 Saudi health security trainees graduate   
Updated 11 August 2022

4,291 Saudi health security trainees graduate   

4,291 Saudi health security trainees graduate   

RIYADH: A fourth group of health security trainees graduated from the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties in a virtual ceremony on Wednesday. 

A total of 4,291 male and female graduates will join the job market. 

Dr. Aws Al-Shamsan, secretary-general of the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties, said that health security plays an important role in improving healthcare services.

The program includes practical and theoretical training for three months, in addition to two weeks of field training in one of the health sectors, allowing trainees to benefit from hands-on experience.

Health security graduates receive a diploma allowing them to work in the Kingdom’s health sector.


Umbrellas raise Makkah pilgrims’ spirits

Umbrellas raise Makkah pilgrims’ spirits
Updated 11 August 2022

Umbrellas raise Makkah pilgrims’ spirits

Umbrellas raise Makkah pilgrims’ spirits

JEDDAH: Pilgrims sheltering from heavy rain in Makkah on Tuesday received a helping hand when the General Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques handed out umbrellas to visitors at the Grand Mosque.

Khaled bin Fahd Al-Shalwi, assistant for the general president for social, voluntary and humanitarian services agency, said that the “Umbrella of Mu’tamer” initiative is part of a range of services designed to help visitors perform their rituals. 

Programs and services come under the direction of the President for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, Abdulrahman Al-Sudais, who strives to provide a safe environment to allow visitors to the Grand Mosque to complete their rituals with ease, he added. 

According to the presidency’s website, the presidency has also employed more than 200 supervisors, 4,000 female and male workers, and utilized more than 500 items of equipment to deal with the rain at the Grand Mosque through its environmental protection agency. 

Ahmed bin Omar Bilaamash, assistant to the general president for services and achievement of the environmental protection agency, said that prayer areas, entrances and exits, and the mataf — the circumambulation space around the Kaaba — are equipped to handle the rainfall.