LONDON: The UK was “one of the most important regions” for Saudi Arabia as the Kingdom embarked on a journey to enrich the experiences of Umrah pilgrims, the minister of Hajj and Umrah said on Sunday.
Speaking at the Umrah+ Connect event in London during his first visit to Britain in the ministerial role, Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah noted that the Kingdom was “now focused on creating seamless experiences for visitors to Saudi Arabia.”
He said: “It is this spirit which led to the design of Nusuk, launched (in September) by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.”
Nusuk is a unified government platform through which pilgrims can plan and book their visits to Makkah and Madinah, and is among the Saudi Vision 2030 objectives to better the quality of services provided and enrich the religious and cultural experience of pilgrims.
“The UK is home to more than 3 million Muslims and one of the most important regions for us as we embark on our journey to enrich and enable the spiritual and beautiful experience of Umrah for Muslims across the globe,” the minister told the Umrah+ Connect audience.
Umrah+ Connect is an annual business-to-business event, this year jointly hosted by the Council of British Hajjis (CBHUK) and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hajj and Umrah.
Al-Rabiah pointed out that serving pilgrims from around the world was an honor for the Kingdom that had witnessed an “unprecedented rise” in the number of people visiting Makkah and Madinah this year.
He said this was a “direct result” of efforts to strengthen digital infrastructure to enrich visitors’ experiences.
“We have a goal to continue advancing technological tools, or to use more advanced technological tools to provide solutions, services, and visas that will create seamless experiences to make the pilgrim visit easier than ever before,” he added.
The minister said that among steps taken to make the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah more accessible to pilgrims, COVID-19 and age restrictions had been lifted, the duration of Umrah visas had been extended from 30 to 90 days, and the need for a male guardian no longer existed.
“Saudi Arabia is eager to serve the Two Holy Mosques and pilgrims from all over the world and this is why we have also worked to digitize the process for all visa types,” Al-Rabiah added.
Chief executive officer of CBHUK, Rashid Mogradia, said it was an honor to host Al-Rabiah at the Umrah+ Connect event.
“We saw over 250 travel and tour operators and service providers from the Kingdom and around the world gather in the heart of London for a productive day of learning, networking, and providing solutions for challenges faced by the Umrah industry,” he added.
And he noted that the team at Umrah+ Connect was “ready to deliver on the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 in enriching and enhancing pilgrim experiences and numbers.”
During the event council officials signed memoranda of understanding with Shomukh Aviation, and the Saudi Company for Visa and Travel Solutions.
Mogradia said: “We are creating partnerships and connecting with partners in Saudi Arabia that can offer value and service for British pilgrims.
“We’re looking at ways to develop products and initiatives that will enhance the pilgrimage experience in line with Vision 2030.
“Today we got to learn more about the Nusuk brand, what it means, and how it is an enabler for both the business-to-consumer and business-to-business markets and complements traditional businesses who offer Umrah packages,” he added.
Music enthusiasts sport hoodies at MDLBEAST Soundstorm 2022 in Riyadh
“I have been here since it all started in 2019, and every year I am surprised by the changes, and this year we noticed a better organization in the parking area,” Nana, who was visiting the music festival with her friends, told Arab News
Updated 02 December 2022
RIYADH: As the mercury dropped in Riyadh, thousands of music enthusiasts flocked to MDLBEAST Soundstorm 2022 on Thursday in Riyadh sporting hoodies and jackets in a variety of colors and designs.
Nana, a 22-year-old, was spotted in the Dance Tent (one of MDLBEAST’s stages) wearing a colorful 70s style jacket with ripped jeans and glitter around her eyes.
“I have been here since it all started in 2019, and every year I am surprised by the changes, and this year we noticed a better organization in the parking area,” Nana, who was visiting the music festival with her friends, told Arab News.
Many clothing stores at the event focused on selling hoodies and comfortable streetwear.
MDLBEAST also has a customization station where visitors can have pictures or letters printed on their hoodies and T-shirts.
• Many clothing stores at the event focused on selling hoodies and comfortable streetwear.
• MDLBEAST also has a customization station where visitors can have pictures or letters printed on their hoodies and T-shirts.
• Another Saudi brand that took part in the festival was Rich/Anonymous.
Reshma Choudhary, manager of the MDLBEAST store, said that people like to buy souvenirs from the festival so that when they return home, they can treasure a piece of MDLBEAST.
“The MDLBEAST brand is growing now, and it’s really good for us to have personalized merchandise, especially for people here who come here to have fun; it’s good to take it as a souvenir now, and I think it’s a good collaboration with the Saudi artists to do something cool,” Choudhary said.
Another Saudi brand that took part in the festival was Rich/Anonymous.
Founder Abdullah Marwan said: “I think it’s important to participate in MDLBEAST as it gives exposure because there are thousands of people here, and it fits our niche in terms of consumers … and the Riyadh style has gone hardcore into hoodies in the last couple of years, so this is why we have special edition hoodies in our brand inspired by MDLBEAST.”
Fahad Al-Qahttani, an Emirati citizen who came all the way from Dubai to attend the festival, wore a leather jacket, sunglasses, bandana and 70s-style colored pants.
“I visit Riyadh often because of all the activities that I find here, and I didn’t miss the MDLBEAST last year … and I love what people are wearing tonight,” Al-Qahttani said.
Socrates Cafe founder stresses power of philosophy at Riyadh conference
During an interview with Arab News, Phillips discussed the power of philosophical thinking as well as the importance of listening to other people’s thoughts and beliefs
Updated 02 December 2022
RIYADH: The Riyadh Philosophy Conference on Thursday featured a powerful discussion on the power of philosophy to transform humanity by Socrates Cafe founder Christopher Phillips.
Socrates Cafe is an international gathering concept that encourages individuals to come together and explore timeless and timely questions as well as share their viewpoints on different topics. It can be held in any place, from cafes to meeting areas or any space that invites thinkers to share their thoughts.
“There is a beautiful window here (Saudi Arabia) of flourishing desire, almost a hunger for the discovering, cultivating the art of sort of questioning, to look at what speaks for and against a wide variety of views,” Phillips told Arab News.
“At a time when so many places around the world are building walls, not just literal walls, physical walls — walls between one another, existential walls — there are so many people in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East who truly want to build bridges. They want to be less impatient. And they understand that this form of philosophical inquiry is one way to hear somebody out,” he added.
The Saudi Literature, Publishing & Translation Commission is hosting the second edition of the three-day philosophy conference from Dec. 1-3 at the King Fahd National Library.
The second edition of the Riyadh Philosophy Conference has welcomed a wide variety of speakers and experts from around the world to hold lectures, discussions, seminars and workshops focused on philosophy as well as issues affecting humanity.
Speakers include scientists, writers, historians, professors and philosophers from around the world.
Phillips spoke during the first Riyadh Philosophy Conference and has returned for the second edition to host an in-person Socrates Cafe event that give people the opportunity to interact and explore ideas as well as different perspectives in a relaxed setting.
The Philosophers Cafe will explore questions surrounding the conference’s theme of “Knowledge and Exploration: Space, Time and Humanity.”
Phillips said: “It celebrates the right to inquire, the right to frame your own questions, and that’s a tradition of philosophy.
“What’s interesting is that lots of the discussions right now seem to be from a dark place — questions about whether are you born evil or is this something that you can become or is it something that’s innate. On the other hand, they are also asking ‘can I be the change that I want to see in the world?’”
During an interview with Arab News, Phillips discussed the power of philosophical thinking as well as the importance of listening to other people’s thoughts and beliefs.
The Socrates Cafe founder said that he has seen a growing will to proselytize in countries around the world. However, in the Kingdom, Phillips described the trend in thinking as “very much a breath of fresh air right now compared to so many other parts of the world where that tradition of careful listening, of inquiring together, of framing thoughtful questions has gone by the wayside.”
He added: “If you take that time to understand where another human being is coming from and why their story is different from yours, it’s something much more often than not to celebrate.”
Phillips said that many people no longer celebrate the idea of having differing opinions or viewpoints.
He added: “If somebody has a point of view that differs from our own, a person might just be ready to jump down from that other person. So why?”
Rather than pointing fingers and siloing ourselves and viewpoints, Phillips said “we can look at ourselves and say, well, what modest talent might I contribute to be more part of the solution than the problem.
“It’s about cultivating the art of listening at a time when people are screaming at one another, at a time when there’s too much holier than thou to cultivate the Socratic virtues of humility, the sense that ‘I may be wrong.’”
Phillips said he is unsurprised that people in the Kingdom are so willing to hold philosophical discussions and actively listen to opinions that differ from their own.
“I’m not surprised, and I will tell you why, because the Socratic tradition, the tradition originated by Socrates, it’s right on the cusp of the East and the West, the Middle East and the Western world. I think Socrates himself was influenced by Middle Eastern thinkers, and that this is something that comes naturally,” he said.
“There’s the receptivity here in Saudi Arabia that there was when I first started Socrates Cafe in 1996 in the US, and it’s no accident that there’s the spontaneous flourishing of Socrates Cafes and so many diverse types of communities, cities and groups all throughout Saudi Arabia,” Phillips added.
Through holding philosophical discussions and sparking curiosity, people can not only learn from other’s experiences and knowledge, but can also discover a lot within themselves.
“It’s about listening, truly asking why, especially when someone has a view that’s alien to your own, to want to know their story as a way of becoming more connected. It’s transformative when you really give someone that gift of listening to them, you’re going to be changed,” Phillips said.
The Socrates Cafe founder stressed that a lot can be learned from the way children philosophize. “I believe in breaking down categories of learning and knowledge — disciplines of thinking in colors like kids do.”
Phillips has a series of 10 children’s philosophy books. One of them, “Worlds of Difference,” has been translated into Arabic.
“It’s written by the kids. They are not yet cubbyholes; we haven’t yet tainted them so much with our adult-made very unimaginative categories. So they help me. They help me think more fully and deeply, and colorfully,” he said.
“And believe it or not, even though they’re fidgeting around, they really listen to one another until they’ve unlearned it from older folks,” he added.
Phillips is set to travel around the Kingdom, holding Socrates Cafes events throughout the week. He said that there are now 10 Socrates Cafe locations in Saudi Arabia, including in Jubai and Dammam. On Dec. 6 he is set to hold a Socrates Cafe event in Riyadh.
“I feel like this is almost a second home to have been back three times now, and not as a tourist, but as somebody who feels like these are fellow kindred spirits who want to engage in this beautiful thing called Socrates Cafe,” he said.
“It’s such an honor for me to be part of that and to know that there are still places on Spaceship Earth that celebrate the art and science of careful listening, and thinking and inquiry. We all are inquirers, but it tends to get shunted off as we get older.”
Saudi Arabia and Zanzibar have many development priorities in common, President Hussein Ali Mwinyi tells Arab News
Both nations have commonalities in tourism and economic diversification, says leader of Tanzanian province
Mwinyi says sustainability, heritage, renewable energy and agriculture are areas of potential cooperation
Updated 52 min 20 sec ago
MAKKAH: Saudi Arabia and Zanzibar have many priorities in common concerning economic diversification and investment in tourism, renewable energy, and agriculture, according to Hussein Ali Mwinyi, president of the semi-autonomous Tanzanian province, off the coast of East Africa.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News in Makkah on Wednesday, where he performed Umrah during a visit to the Kingdom, Mwinyi said Saudi Arabia and Zanzibar share a number of concerns over sustainable tourism and the promotion of heritage sites.
“In Zanzibar, we have two main types of tourism,” said Mwinyi. “We have beach tourism, because it’s an island with sandy beaches. But we also have old towns, such as Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Those are commonalities where we can learn from each other.
“But we also have differences. For example, I’m told the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a good number of tourists coming for sports tourism, like Formula One and such. So those are things that we can learn from the experience here.”
The tropical archipelago in the Indian Ocean is a veritable crossroads of cultural influence, where Africa meets Arabic history and Indian flavors; the fabled “spice islands” synonymous with abundant production of cloves, nutmeg, pepper and cinnamon.
Zanzibar united with Tanganyika in 1964 to form the United Republic of Tanzania, but has a culture, heritage and geography distinct from the mainland. It is also pursuing a strategy of economic diversification that takes into account its geographical advantages and multicultural strengths.
Zanzibar’s economy has traditionally been underwritten by tourism. Visitors from colder countries are drawn to its year-round tropical climate, stunning white-sand beaches, and many cultural and heritage sites.
The tourism industry directly employs around 60,000 people and contributes almost $900 million to Zanzibar’s gross domestic product each year.
However, like many nations and regions reliant on tourist traffic, Zanzibar’s economy has suffered as a result of lockdowns, closures and travel bans during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has underscored the necessity of rebuilding the tourism industry while diversifying the economy across other, more shock-resistant industries.
“The mainstay of the economy of Zanzibar depends very much on tourism,” said Mwinyi, who attended the 22nd World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit in Riyadh this week. “Tourism is contributing to about 30 percent of our GDP.
“We are looking forward to growing the sector following the pandemic and luckily the numbers are coming back. We are almost back to pre-pandemic numbers and we are hoping to have more visitors than we used to have before the pandemic.”
Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector is likewise enjoying a post-pandemic boom. The Kingdom’s investments in leisure and hospitality have created thousands of jobs, setting it on course to emerge as a global destination welcoming 100 million visitors per year by 2030.
Data published by the Saudi Tourism Authority shows that the Kingdom had already received 62 million tourist visitors by late August this year, placing it well on course to meet or even surpass its target by the end of the decade.
Heritage tourism forms a major part of the Kingdom’s strategy. The Diriyah Gate Development Authority’s At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace developments were officially unveiled on Monday at a gala event during the WTTC Global Summit.
Zanzibar is also promoting its heritage sites. Stone Town, its administrative capital, features distinctive architecture, much of it dating back to the 19th century, reflecting native Swahili culture and a unique mixture of Arab, Persian, Indian and European influences. For this reason, the town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000.
However, COVID-19 is not the only threat facing the tourism industry. Climate change is causing sea levels to rise, increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, and damaging valuable land and ocean habitats, especially in low-lying island regions.
During the UN Climate Change Conference — COP27 — held in Egypt’s coastal resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh last month, delegates from climate-vulnerable nations called on the international community to do more to help them mitigate the effects of global warming.
Several governments, including Zanzibar’s, have recognized the urgent need to make their economies more sustainable, resilient and diverse, and to accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources.
“Luckily, we haven’t been affected so much when it comes to climate change, but we are mitigating the effects by specific policies that were put in place,” said Mwinyi.
“For example, the tourism we are talking about in Zanzibar is high-value, low-volume tourism. So we want quality tourism, few numbers but high quality, as opposed to mass tourism, which is devastating to the environment.
“And we also have put down policies to mitigate the effects of climate change, including the use of renewable energy, the recycling of solid waste and such measures. So, in effect, we are hoping to make sure that we are not affected as other island nations have been affected by climate change.”
To avoid potential economic setbacks in the long run, Zanzibar is looking beyond tourism as a primary source of revenue, by embracing agriculture and the “blue” economy, which sustainably utilizes maritime and marine resources.
This includes the establishment of new fisheries, the development of seaports for travel and trade, off-shore renewable energy, seabed aquaculture, and other extractive activities, all under the umbrella of the Zanzibar Development Vision 2050.
Through its Blue Economy Policy, Zanzibar’s government has focused on strengthening the aquaculture sector with investments in seaweed farming, which offers local women economic empowerment and farming communities sustainable livelihoods.
“Since Zanzibar is made up of islands, we have to utilize ocean resources for economic development, but in a sustainable way,” said Mwinyi.
“So other than tourism, we are looking into fisheries. It’s an important industry for us — not only fishing but also fish farm aquaculture. We are looking at other sectors like seaweed farming. But we are also developing infrastructure like seaports so that we can have more maritime trade and transportation.”
After meeting with business leaders in Riyadh, Mwinyi is more confident than ever that Tanzania and the province of Zanzibar can enjoy reciprocal trade and cooperation in a wide range of industries.
“Tanzania and Saudi Arabia have had longstanding diplomatic relations. We have embassies on both sides. And now we are trying to strengthen that by encouraging investment from the Saudi side into Tanzania by sending some products from Tanzania to Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“I had a good conversation with the Federation of Saudi Chambers, where members discussed a lot about food security. And as you know, Tanzania is a huge country, we have almost 1 million sq km of fertile land.
“So, we are an agricultural nation. We can send in a lot of agricultural produce to Saudi Arabia, and we can also send livestock to Saudi Arabia. And it has started actually. We are hoping to increase that.
“On the other hand, Saudi Arabia can send Tanzania products from the hydrocarbon industry, from plastics and fertilizers, including oil and gas itself. So there’s a lot of room for cooperation and strengthening our economy.
“But on the investment side, I know there’s a lot of Saudi business people who would like to come and invest in tourism in Zanzibar, but also fisheries and livestock keeping. So, we had a good discussion. And I’m sure the cooperation will be further strengthened.”
Mwinyi believes Saudi expertise and interest in Zanzibar as an investment destination will benefit its environmental agenda and bodes well for future cooperation.
“There was a lot of interest to come and invest in Zanzibar in areas where they have already invested here and which have shown success. One of them is renewable energy. We are an island so we need to have renewable energy. And it has been done here to great success,” he said.
“Businessmen here are willing to come and share experiences with us and invest in Zanzibar, but that is only one sector. We spoke about a lot more sectors and I think we have huge potential for cooperation in different sectors.”
Graduates ready for next step after completing Misk Accelerator Program
Updated 02 December 2022
RIYADH: Nineteen entrepreneurs are taking the next step on their business journey after graduating from the Misk Accelerator Program, a partnership between Mohammed bin Salman Foundation and innovation specialists Plug and Play.
The new graduates are from Cohort 3 of the scheme, which offers emerging startups from around the MENA region the chance to turbocharge growth with a 12-week program of training, mentorship and business tools.
The entrepreneurs are from areas including technology, finance, aerospace, tourism, education and retail.
Demo Day, the final event in the accelerator program, ended yesterday. All graduates are now eligible for the accelerator alumni program.
Misk Director Nasser Almutairi and Plug and Play Saudi Arabia Director Henrik Baerentsen delivered welcoming speeches. The 19 participating startups then proceeded to pitch their businesses to investors.
The Misk Accelerator Program has become one of the region’s most productive. It has supported more than 60 startups that have created around 275 jobs, raised $40 million in funding and reached a combined market valuation of more than $300 million.
The program has also contributed to the objectives of the entrepreneurship arm of Misk, which seeks to enable the creation of 10,000 jobs.
“We are delighted to see so many aspirational entrepreneurs successfully conclude Cohort 3 of the Misk Accelerator Program,” said Almutairi.
“Through our strategic partnership with Plug and Play, we are moving further and faster to create a new generation of homegrown unicorn companies in Saudi Arabia that can contribute to Saudi Vision 2030 and to the Kingdom’s rapid economic growth.
Baerentsen said: “We are thrilled to continue our partnership with the Misk Foundation and to conclude successfully, our third edition of the Misk Accelerator Program.
“We are looking forward to continuing our support to all of the program alumni post program. This program generally has accelerated the growth of more than 60 unique talents and high-caliber startups who were selected in our cohorts.”
Misk and Plug and Play announced that applications have now opened for Cohort 4 of the accelerator program. The deadline is in January.