Diriyah Gate Development Authority, the beating heart of Riyadh, celebrates its 5th anniversary

Special The historic seat of the nascent Saudi state, Diriyah’s At-Turaif district is again in the ascendency; a UNESCO World Heritage site attracting attention around the world and creating jobs at home. (Supplied)
The historic seat of the nascent Saudi state, Diriyah’s At-Turaif district is again in the ascendency; a UNESCO World Heritage site attracting attention around the world and creating jobs at home. (Supplied)
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Updated 05 August 2022

Diriyah Gate Development Authority, the beating heart of Riyadh, celebrates its 5th anniversary

Diriyah Gate Development Authority, the beating heart of Riyadh, celebrates its 5th anniversary
  • Newest Saudi destination eyes the title of world’s largest cultural and heritage city, with 30 million visitors annually
  • DGDA, in charge of the $50 billion project, was recently included on the Kingdom’s ‘Great Places To Work’ list

RIYADH: Imagine this: a historical city, home to the rulers of a G20 country, bringing together communities from all walks of life to network. A pedestrian city, which encourages interaction and friendly engagements, a much-needed revolution for humanity after a two-year lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is what Diriyah will become and represent.

Five years ago, the Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA) was tasked by the Saudi government with redeveloping the “birthplace of the Kingdom” into a world-class and sustainable tourism, entertainment and cultural destination.

Once complete, the $50 billion giga-project will feature some of the world’s most luxurious restaurants and hotels built in traditional Najdi architectural style, alongside conservation areas and cultural venues.

Curved along the outskirts of Riyadh, and formed on an oasis that split from the banks of Wadi Hanifa, Diriyah’s mud-brick walls once housed a thriving desert city that was a powerhouse of culture and commerce.

Its At-Turaif district, with its famous citadel, was the original seat of power for the Kingdom’s Al-Saud family. In 1727, the city was named the country’s capital, laying the foundations for what would later become a unified Saudi Arabia.




Situated just 15 minutes drive from Riyadh, and 25 minutes from King Khalid International Airport, Diriyah Gate is well placed to attract regional tourist footfall. (Supplied)

In 2010, almost three centuries later, the ruins of At-Turaif were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Then, in July 2017, the area became the subject of a painstaking restoration plan aimed at bringing its historical legacy back to life.

“Nestled around the Jewel of the Kingdom, the UNESCO World Heritage site At-Turaif, birthplace of the Kingdom and former home of the Al-Saud royal family, Diriyah holds an incredibly special place in the landscape of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said Jerry Inzerillo, group CEO of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority. “It will be an iconic tourist destination and be synonymous with where the Kingdom and wider Arabian Peninsula’s story began.”

One of the core aims of the development of Diriyah is to stimulate domestic, regional and international tourism by creating world-class leisure, hospitality and retail offerings in a setting that celebrates both the Kingdom’s distinctive natural beauty and its rich culture. “We know that tourists are educated, more skilled, savvier, and sharper than ever before, and are on the hunt for experiences that cannot be found anywhere else,” said Inzerillo.

“They want to be pioneers, not only visiting places that offer things that were not possible before, but also offer an authentic cultural experience. It is now more important than ever that our industry caters to these worldly, curious travelers by curating destinations that will satiate their appetite for the new and the authentic.”

Situated just 15 minutes drive from Riyadh, and 25 minutes from King Khalid International Airport, Diriyah Gate is well placed to attract regional tourist footfall.

Sitting at the intersection between Europe, Asia and Africa, it is also a mere 8-hour flight from 70 percent of the world’s population, and just 4 hours from 30 percent of the world’s population. The 11 sq. km mixed-use cultural, historic and lifestyle destination is set to become the world’s largest cultural and heritage city, which aims to attract some 30 million visitors annually by 2030.




Other cultural assets will include a grand mosque that can accommodate more than 10,000 worshippers, six museums focused on Saudi history, replete with a period village. (Supplied)

Once complete, the site will feature at least 28 luxury hotels and resorts, around 400 of the world’s finest luxury and lifestyle brands, and more than 150 fine-dining restaurants and premium cafes.

Outdoor activities will feature prominently in the tourism offering, focused around Wadi Hanifah, where visitors can discover local bee-keeping, enjoy 8 km of horse-riding trails, an historic camel caravan trade route that stretches for 7.5 km, and encounter the region’s unique fauna at the Bariri Diriyah Wildlife Conservation Center.

Tourists are not the only target market, however. There will be more than 3,000 residential units in the traditional Najdi design and another 300-plus luxury branded residences.

Some 180 million handmade mud bricks have been prepared as part of the Najdi architectural construction works and the authentic restoration of Diriyah, ensuring that each aspect correctly represents a sympathetic and accurate interpretation of Najdi living.

The site will also host a brand new academic institution, King Salman University, which will focus on heritage, culture and the arts, alongside several new cultural institutes specializing in Najdi architecture and mud-brick building, poetry, falconry, Qur’an recitation, local theater, dance, music and the culinary arts.

Other cultural assets will include a grand mosque that can accommodate more than 10,000 worshippers, six museums focused on Saudi history, replete with a period village, not to mention the Al-Turaif UNESCO World Heritage site itself, and the Al-Taleh Center, which explores the region’s farming heritage. There will be souks and bazaars distributed throughout Diriyah.




Once complete, the site will feature at least 28 luxury hotels and resorts, around 400 of the world’s finest luxury and lifestyle brands, and more than 150 fine-dining restaurants and premium cafes. (Supplied)

These offerings have not gone unnoticed in the wider region. Diriyah has been chosen to be the Capital of Arab Culture for 2030. It has already hosted the Jax Arts Festival and the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale, a platform that supports the artistic and creative movement and helps keep pace with the cultural transformation of the Kingdom. “Culture and heritage is at the foundation of all we do at Diriyah and is weaved into our strategy at every stage of the development,” said Inzerillo.

“Our starting point is always that Diriyah is, first and foremost, a place of culture. That is what sets us apart from any other mixed-use development or any other giga-project; the fact that we at DGDA are the custodians of this magnificent piece of Saudi heritage that we have the privilege of preserving, sharing, and celebrating with the world.”

Central to this restoration plan is environmental sustainability.

The project is a key contributor to Saudi Arabia’s sustainability goals and is aligned with the Saudi Green Initiative and the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 economic diversification and social reform agenda.

Native and drought-tolerant species have been used in the site’s landscaping, reducing irrigation demand and thereby saving water. Wadis and escarpments within the project are also being rehabilitated and protected, including Wadi Hanifah’s historic date palm farms.

Meanwhile, DGDA says it is contributing to the reduction of carbon emissions. These efforts already seem to be paying off. DGDA was recently awarded the LEED for Cities and Communities platinum precertification for the first phase of the Diriyah development, in recognition of its progress toward sustainability, net-zero and equity objectives.

Embracing its outdoor space, the development will feature an open-air square with more than 20 open-air event spaces, a 3-km escarpment walk overlooking Wadi Hanifah and At-Turaif, and more than 2 sq. km of Wadi Hanifah parkland, filled with original and newly planted palms and children’s playgrounds. With health, fitness and wellbeing in mind, planners are also building a sports and recreation center, and more than 9 km of cycling trails.

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Diriyah is also set to host many more major sporting events. With its distinct road network, it has been a popular choice to host this world-famous Formula E racing event over the years. Diriyah was also host to “Clash on the Dunes,” the first heavyweight boxing championship to be held in the Middle East. Sporting brands are not the only big names drawn to Diriyah. The site recently hosted an exhibition by Cartier, one of the world’s most prestigious jewelry houses.

Amid all this rapid development, planners have not lost sight of the local population. The Diriyah Graduates Development Program has already welcomed 70 graduates to enhance their skills and introduce them to work opportunities.

Planners have also established the Diriyah Town Hall to keep the community in the loop, launched a recycling scheme, and organized regular blood drives to support the local healthcare system.

“One thing I am particularly proud of is DGDA’s commitment to, and achievements in, enabling the people of Diriyah to achieve their goals,” said Inzerillo. “DGDA has and continues to celebrate the local community, showcasing social, cultural, and historical achievements, connecting with the roots of the Saudi state, and creating solid foundations on which to build the best possible future for the community.”

Job creation — prioritizing Saudi workers — has been particularly high on the agenda, in line with the government’s Saudization drive.

Around 85 percent of the DGDA workforce are Saudis, 36 percent of whom are women and 16 percent of whom are women in management positions. People from Diriyah itself make up 14 percent of the workforce.

READ MORE

The fifth anniversary of the launch of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority was an amazing milestone, Kiran Haslam, the organization’s chief marketing officer, told the Arab News podcast “The Mayman Show.” Click here.

The beating heart of the Kingdom celebrates unique individuals from all over the world, while still recognizing the locals and encouraging them to participate in the development of their beloved city.

Since September 2020, the DGDA has more than doubled its staffing headcount, today employing more than 1,000 people. It was included on the “Great Place To Work” list for Saudi Arabia — a global survey that recognizes organizations based on their work environments and employee satisfaction. For Inzerillo, an important measure of the project’s success will be its economic impact.

“Over the longer term, success will be once Diriyah positively contributes to the Kingdom’s GDP, creates an estimated 55,000 jobs, and attracts our target of 30 million visitors a year,” he said. However, imbuing a sense of national pride among ordinary Saudis is by far the biggest prize of all.

“Diriyah is more than a giga-project. Diriyah is critical, because it anchors the Kingdom on its identity and on its soul, and the soul cannot be measured with money,” he said.

“The soul is measured on its culture and its people. That’s why it’s very important.”

 

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Saudi-US military exercise ‘Outrageous Anger 22’ continues in the Kingdom

Saudi-US military exercise ‘Outrageous Anger 22’ continues in the Kingdom
Updated 16 sec ago

Saudi-US military exercise ‘Outrageous Anger 22’ continues in the Kingdom

Saudi-US military exercise ‘Outrageous Anger 22’ continues in the Kingdom
  • The exercise, involving the Royal Saudi Armed Forces and the US Marine Corps, began several days ago in the western city of Yanbu
  • It includes a number of scenarios and drills focusing on mobilization, deployment and logistics operations

RIYADH: Outrageous Anger 22, a military exercise in the Kingdom involving the Royal Saudi Armed Forces and the US Marine Corps that began several days ago in the western city of Yanbu, continued on Wednesday, the Saudi Ministry of Defense said.

It includes a number of scenarios and drills focusing on mobilization, deployment and logistics operations. It also includes communications, field medicine, a life-saving combat exercise, shooting with live ammunition, and supply and evacuation operations.

The exercise is hosted by the Kingdom with the participation and support of several ministries and other official organizations. The aim is to give personnel an opportunity to practice and train in the implementation of bilateral military, operational and logistical plans; strengthen Saudi and American military coordination and partnership; improve joint-working capabilities; and gain experience in the use of the Kingdom’s military bases and road networks, the ministry said.

“It also aims to train in the integrated government work to implement mixed military exercises,” it added.

Outrageous Anger 22 is one of several military exercises conducted by the Saudi Armed Forces throughout the year with allies to raise levels of combat efficiency, gain field experience, and work on standardizing military concepts and terminology among the participants.


INTERVIEW: Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan have ‘similar clear visions for progress,’ Uzbek Deputy FM Furqat Sidiqov tells Arab News

INTERVIEW: Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan have ‘similar clear visions for progress,’ Uzbek Deputy FM Furqat Sidiqov tells Arab News
Updated 35 min 24 sec ago

INTERVIEW: Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan have ‘similar clear visions for progress,’ Uzbek Deputy FM Furqat Sidiqov tells Arab News

INTERVIEW: Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan have ‘similar clear visions for progress,’ Uzbek Deputy FM Furqat Sidiqov tells Arab News
  • Saudi Vision 2030 plan and ‘New Uzbekistan’ road map have many similarities, says Furqat Sidiqov
  • Sidiqov spoke to Arab News in Jeddah ahead of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s state visit to Saudi Arabia 

JEDDAH: There are striking parallels between Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reforms agenda and the Uzbek government’s bold transformation plan, New Uzbekistan, according to Furqat Sidiqov, the Uzbek deputy foreign minister.

Speaking a day before the arrival on Wednesday of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in the Kingdom for a state visit — the first by a leader of the country since Islam Karimov’s visit in 1992 — he said that these shared visions augur well for the future of bilateral trade and cooperation.

“Saudi Arabia has the capabilities to achieve its Vision 2030 goals,” Sidiqov told Arab News ahead of Wednesday’s meeting of the Saudi-Uzbek Business Council, hosted by the Uzbek consulate in Jeddah.

Uzbek Deputy Foreign Minister Furqat Sidiqov being interviewed by Arab News' Rawan Radwan in Jeddah. (Photo by Sultan Baajajah)
​​​​​​

He added that the reforms and road maps the two nations have developed are similar, representing clear visions for progress, as are the young and dynamic populations of the countries.

“Both nations are working closely and moving forward in joint cooperation within the framework of our strategies,” Sidiqov said. “We are closely following the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 strategy and we support its bid for Expo 2030.”

Over the past five years, he explained, Uzbekistan has implemented a domestic development strategy aimed at easing its transition to a market economy, which has offered fertile ground for the growth of small- and medium-sized enterprises and a more diversified economy.

An Uzbek chef prepares plov — a dish known around the world as pilaf — at a small cafe in Tashkent.  Eager to diversify its sources of revenue, the country has opened up to foreign investment in agriculture, food security, energy, information technology and other sectors. (AFP)

He said the strategy echoes that of Saudi Vision 2030, which has opened up the Kingdom’s economy to capitalize on new sectors beyond hydrocarbons and actively encourages entrepreneurism, along with the development of technical skills and creativity among its young population.

For decades, Uzbekistan relied heavily on just a handful of staple exports, including cotton, gold, oil and gas. Eager to diversify its sources of revenue, the country has opened up to foreign investment in agriculture, food security, energy, information technology and other sectors.

On Wednesday, in keeping with their complementary visions, Uzbekistan and the Kingdom signed more than 10 investment agreements worth SR45 billion ($12 billion).

The Saudi and Uzbek delegations signed a number of agreements between private sector institutions in the two countries on Wednesday in Jeddah.  
(Photo by Sultan Baajajah)

Among them was a 25-year deal, worth $2.4 billion, for Saudi utility developer ACWA Power to build a 1,500-megawatt wind-power project in Uzbekistan, to help the country achieve its goal of sourcing 40 percent of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2031.

Uzbek officials said that in recent years, Saudi investments in various sectors of the Uzbek economy have increased significantly. There are now 38 joint ventures, 20 of which involve direct Saudi investors. Still, Sidiqov said, there is the potential for even closer business cooperation, particularly in food processing and distribution.

“The numbers don’t reflect the capabilities of the two countries,” he said. “We’re working with the Kingdom to raise the number of joint ventures. 

A woman works at a cotton plantation near Tashkent. Uzbekistan is diversifying its sources of revenue and has opened up to foreign investment in agriculture and other sectors. (AFP)

“Agriculture plays an important role in Uzbekistan’s economic development and we’re one of the top nations in food production, food security and we have the capabilities to export food products, organic fruits and vegetables to the Kingdom.

“The plan is to have the Kingdom become a midway station for food processing and packaging, to ready them for export to other countries.”

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Although they do not share a border, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan have been linked by religion, knowledge and culture for hundreds of years. Among the historical figures who traveled and studied across the Arab and Muslim worlds are four who hailed from places that are part of modern-day Uzbekistan: physician Ibn Sina, mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi, and Islamic scholars Imam Al-Bukhari and Imam Al-Tirmidhi.

Among Uzbekistan tourism attractions is the historic architecture of Itchan Kala, a walled inner town of the city of Khiva, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Shutterstock)

The exchange of ideas and cultures continues in the modern era thanks to the expansion of air travel between Uzbekistan and Arab countries, notably Saudi Arabia, and more flexible visa rules.

“To further boost the exchange of cultures, direct flights will begin in October, via Flynas and Uzbekistan Airways, and Saudis will be exempt from entry visas for a 30-day stay,” said Sidiqov.

A view of Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov Tashkent International Airport. (Shutterstock photo)

Present-day Saudi-Uzbek cooperation extends far beyond trade and cultural exchange into the diplomatic sphere, guided by shared interests in security and humanitarian efforts across the wider region.

In the year since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan following the US military withdrawal from the country, regional powers such as Uzbekistan have sought to engage with the new government in Kabul to assist the Afghan people in their time of hardship.

“The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is among the highest priorities and our government has set up various initiatives and programs to support Afghanistan,” said Sidiqov.

“In the spirit of neighborly solidarity, we ensured that our relationship is of continued support. By working closely with the government, we want not only to provide humanitarian assistance, but also help them provide job opportunities to their youth and to be a gateway for Central and South Asia.”

An Afghan businessman works on his aluminum cauldron workshop near Uzbekistan's southern city of Termez. Uzbekistan is playing a key role in helping deal with Afghanistan's humanitarian crisis. (AFP)

He added that in the southern Uzbek city of Termez, for example, the government has established centers to help young Afghans receive an education and develop their skills to prepare them for the job market.

“We’re working to help reconstruction programs and developing its economy to help turn it into a country of opportunities,” said Sidiqov. “Our allies are helping us and supporting us in this endeavor.”

Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi minister of foreign affairs, took part in an international conference titled Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity. Challenges and Opportunities in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, in July last year.

Saudi Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih leading a delegation on an official visit to Uzbekistan in 2021. (Reuters file photo)

In July this year, a Saudi delegation also attended the international Afghanistan: Security and Economic Development conference, also in Tashkent, during which the Kingdom reaffirmed its commitment to the promotion of regional cooperation.

In June, Saudi Arabia announced a $30 million grant to support the Afghanistan Humanitarian Trust Fund, which operates under the umbrella of the Islamic Development Bank in coordination with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, of which both the Kingdom and Uzbekistan are members.

“As a neighbor to Afghanistan, our main aim is to provide safe passage of aid to those in need in Afghanistan,” said Sidiqov.

“We are working closely with the Afghan government to develop a food-security road map and to provide youth job opportunities. We serve as a broker between the world and the Taliban, and as ‘the voice of Central Asia’ we have encouraged the Afghan government to commit to their promises.”

 


Saudi crown prince receives Uzbek president in Jeddah

Saudi crown prince receives Uzbek president in Jeddah
Updated 54 min 17 sec ago

Saudi crown prince receives Uzbek president in Jeddah

Saudi crown prince receives Uzbek president in Jeddah
  • The crown prince and Uzbek president then attended the exchange of various agreements between the two countries
  • The two nations inked a number a deals worth over SR45 billion ($12 billion) on Wednesday

RIYADH: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in Jeddah on Wednesday.

The pair held a meeting and discussed bilateral relations and cooperation in various fields, in addition to reviewing a number of issues of common interest, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The crown prince and Uzbek president then attended the exchange of various agreements between the two countries.

(SPA)

The two nations inked a number a deals worth over SR45 billion ($12 billion) on Wednesday, including a wind project in Uzbekistan by ACWA Power.“We want to make this relationship one of the most important for Saudi Arabia.

We are here to facilitate. We are here to serve,” said Saudi Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih.

(SPA)

The agreements cover a range of investment sectors, including air transport services, livestock, agriculture, sports, education, science, media, energy and technology.

They aim to explore investment opportunities, advance the partnership between the Saudi and Uzbek private sectors, encourage and enhance mutual investments in a number of target sectors.

Senior officials from both sides attended the meeting.


Who’s Who: Wael Al-Hazzani, CEO of  the Saudi Securities Clearing House

Who’s Who: Wael Al-Hazzani, CEO of  the Saudi Securities Clearing House
Updated 12 min 15 sec ago

Who’s Who: Wael Al-Hazzani, CEO of  the Saudi Securities Clearing House

Who’s Who: Wael Al-Hazzani, CEO of  the Saudi Securities Clearing House

Wael Al-Hazzani has been CEO of  the Saudi Securities Clearing House (Muqassa) since its establishment in 2018.

He has led the company in its drive to reduce counterparty risk, improve market efficiency and enable the introduction of new products and services.

Muqassa performs a critical role in the Saudi capital market’s development as one of Saudi Tadawul Group’s subsidiaries. It is the only authorized entity that can act as a central counterparty clearing center in the Kingdom.

The establishmnet of Muqassa was one of the critical initiatives of the Financial Sector Development Program and is reflective of the group’s commitment to Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.

Al-Hazzani has a breadth of knowledge about capital markets and risk management. Before he was appointed CEO of Muqassa, he held leading positions within the Saudi Tadawul Group across post-trade and risk-management specialties.

Al-Hazzani also holds three other positions, including as a member of the board of directors at the security depository center company (Edaa) since 2018, at Tadawul Advanced Solution Company (WAMID) since August 2020, and at the Saudi Exchange since April 2021.

In April 2022, Al-Hazzani successfully led the implementation of post-trade transformation on the Saudi capital market and introduced the largest bundle of enhancement in the history of the market.

The upgrades aim to strengthen post-trade infrastructure and increase efficiency by providing a more streamlined trading experience, supporting market participants to develop a wide range of products and services.

He also facilitated the first launch of the Repurchase Agreement clearing service, enabling Saudi financial entities to provide this service without contracting an international counterpart.

Al-Hazzani holds a master of business administration, which he gained in 2015, and a bachelor’s degree in computer science from King Saud University in Riyadh.

He has participated in many executive leadership and development programs at Harvard, INSEAD, and IMD Business Schools.


Saudi authorities urge caution amid thunderstorm warning until Sunday

Saudi authorities urge caution amid thunderstorm warning until Sunday
Updated 18 August 2022

Saudi authorities urge caution amid thunderstorm warning until Sunday

Saudi authorities urge caution amid thunderstorm warning until Sunday

RIYADH: Authorities in Saudi Arabia have urged the public to show caution after storm warnings were issued for areas of the Kingdom until Sunday.

The Civil Defense said that moderate to heavy rain is forecast for the Asir, Al-Baha, Najran, Jazan, Makkah, Madinah, Hail and Tabuk regions.

Parts of the capital Riyadh, Qassim and the Eastern Province may be affected by moderate rainfall, with a chance of heavier falls, it added in a statement.

The Civil Defense urged people to stay away from dams and places where torrents gather and follow the authority’s safety advice issued through various media and social networking sites.