MAKKAH: For the benefit of elderly pilgrims, a program called Ijlal has been implemented to provide guidance on rituals, facilitate services and direct them toward designated prayer halls.
The program is an initiative of the Field Awareness Affairs Agency, represented by the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques.
Director of the Grand Mosque Authority Sheikh Mohammed bin Ahmed Shehithi explained that the Shariah urges Muslims to be kind and gentle, especially toward the elderly.
Shehithi told Arab News that the initiative came at the directive of the head of the general presidency, Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Sudais.
Regular follow-ups are conducted by the agency’s Undersecretary Majid Al-Saeedi to ensure all services are being efficiently implemented.
Rania Shoudry, a volunteer at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, said: “Volunteer work reinforces many moral and humanitarian concepts that Islam urges us to follow…(such as) serving pilgrims by honoring and respecting the elderly who have traveled to perform their rituals.
“It is our duty, as volunteers, to provide all the necessary services to ensure that visitors spend a wonderful time in the Kingdom.”
She stressed that serving pilgrims, particularly the elderly, is an honor volunteers are eager to fulfill throughout the year, especially during the month of Ramadan.
Providing such services has a positive impact that leaves a lasting memory in the hearts of pilgrims, said Shoudry.
Investigators clear Saudi-led military alliance of alleged human rights violations in Yemen
The JIAT conducted an inquiry into four allegations of so-called operational misbehavior made against the alliance
Updated 13 sec ago
RIYADH: Investigators have cleared a Saudi-led military alliance of alleged human rights violations in Yemen.
The Joint Incident Assessment Team on Monday said it had dismissed claims by human rights organizations and media outlets that the coalition had carried out airstrikes, including one on Sanaa airport in 2020.
The JIAT conducted an inquiry into four allegations of so-called operational misbehavior made against the alliance.
Medical care charity Doctors Without Borders had reported the coalition for what it described as an air mission on Sanaa airport on Dec. 8, 2020. But team spokesman, Mansour Al-Mansour, said that an investigation had concluded that the coalition’s nearest military target on that date was in Amran governorate, 22 kilometers away.
Another claim — made by the Panel of Experts on Yemen in January 2020 — related to an alleged airstrike on a water truck in As Sawadiya district of Al-Bayda governorate in April 2019.
Al-Mansour pointed out that on the day in question, the closest coalition forces had been operating was 158 km away in Sanaa governorate.
The JIAT also exonerated the coalition over an alleged human rights breach relating to a detention center in Saada city, northwest Yemen, reported by the UN secretary-general’s spokesman in January 2022.
The team found that the site targeted had been the Central Security located in Saada, approximately 2,400 meters south of Saada airport.
And separately, Physicians for Human Rights had accused coalition forces of carrying out an airstrike on Al-Karama Hospital in Taiz in March 2020 that resulted in severe damage to the building and the death of a civilian.
JIAT specialists discovered that the hospital was on a coalition list of sites banned from being targeted by its forces and that no air missions had taken place in Taiz governorate on the date.
Al-Mansour noted that the team’s investigations had shown that “procedures were safe, following the rules of international humanitarian laws.”
JIAT officials, he added, had met with relevant military personnel and individuals inside Yemen and field units, and had taken into consideration the rules and values of international humanitarian law in arriving at its conclusions.
JEDDAH: The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah held an annual ceremony on Monday in Jeddah to celebrate the first group of graduates from the business accelerator program, which comes in partnership with the Saudi National Bank.
The program aims to enable entrepreneurial projects in the Hajj and Umrah sector and develop existing services and products to improve pilgrims’ experience, from transportation and accommodation to assistance for travelers who do not speak Arabic or who have special needs.
The ceremony was held under the theme, “Change, impact, and sustainability,” in line with the ministry’s efforts to promote a culture of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship and raise the level of competitiveness between Hajj and Umrah companies in providing services and products to pilgrims.
The ceremony showcased 20 startups and creative projects, offering investors the chance to review them.
Maryam Kutob, director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, told Arab News: “Today, we celebrate the graduation of the Hajj and Umrah business accelerator participants. Ten startups were incubated by the business accelerator in partnership with the Saudi National Bank.
“We are also celebrating another 10 creative projects from the Ambassadors of Creativity program that deal with challenges from the Hajj and Umrah sector.”
Kutob added that the program’s graduates developed several distinct products that can be implemented during this Hajj season.
The first-place winner of the Ambassador of Creativity program was the project Muyassar, which in Arabic means “in ease.”
Muyassar is a website that provides a virtual-reality, pre-Hajj experience, where pilgrims can enter the holy sites and visit their actual camp to check all the details in advance.
Shahd Nasreddin, a team member of the winning project, told Arab News: “Most of the pilgrims do not have an idea of ... (what) they will experience upon their arrival. Our project aims to prepare pilgrims mentally and physically by providing them with the correct image so their expectations meet reality.”
She added: “The trainers and lecturers provided by the ministry through the program helped us greatly to reflect our ideas well.”
A panel discussion was held to highlight the importance of facilitating Hajj and Umrah travels, especially for international pilgrims and those with special needs, and consolidating services.
The discussion featured four keynote speakers: Hajj and Umrah Minister Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah; Abdulrahman Tarabzouni, CEO of STV, the largest technology investment firm in the Middle East; Amr Al-Maddah, deputy minister of Hajj and Umrah services; and Bandar Al-Rayhan, assistant governor of the General Authority of Awqaf.
Regarding the role of creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation in improving the experience of pilgrims, which is one of the most important goals of Vision 2030, Al-Rabiah that the “private sector is an essential partner.”
There are several opportunities to improve upon the services offered to pilgrims and overcome challenges, Al-Rabiah said, citing electronic payment systems as an example: “Some pilgrims from around the world deal with special payment systems and do not use the credit cards we are familiar with. There is a huge opportunity to link the systems of payments in their country with the ones in the Kingdom, especially since the number of pilgrims is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years.
“We support creative ideas to provide the best services to the pilgrims,” he said.
Saudi authorities seize large haul of narcotics across the Kingdom
The busts took place in the Asir region, Jazan, Duba port, Al Haditha and Riyadh
Updated 43 min 24 sec ago
RIYADH: Saudi authorities seized a large haul of narcotics in five locations across the Kingdom on Tuesday.
The busts took place in the Asir region, Jazan, Duba port, Al Haditha and Riyadh.
Three attempts to smuggle 651,909 captagon pills were stopped by the Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority.
The drugs were smuggled in during three different attempts in Duba port and Al Haditha.
Authorities found the pills hidden in a consignment in the first two attempts and hidden in the floor cavities of a truck in the third attempt. The seven involved were arrested.
The Saudi General Directorate for Narcotics Control arrested three residents of Palestinian and Sudanese nationalities in Riyadh for selling 133,008 tablets of amphetamine and hashish.
The estimated street value of the pills seized in the various smuggling attempts ranged between $7.8 million and $19.5 million, according to research published in the International Addiction Review Journal, based on assumptions that users pay in the range of $10-$25 a pill.
Border guards in the Asir region stopped an attempt to smuggle 100 kg of khat – a leaf that is chewed for its effects.
In another operation at Aldair governorate of Jazan, a security patrol thwarted an attempt to smuggle khat by three Ethiopian nationals. The quantity of the substance was not disclosed.
Saudi Arabia has lately intensified its crackdown on drug smuggling operations.
In May, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif vowed that the Kingdom will “remain resolute and not leave room for smugglers or dealers to target our youth or tamper with security in any way.”
The Saudi government has urged anyone with information related to suspected smuggling operations or customs violations to call the confidential hotline 1910, the international number 00 966 114208417, or email [email protected]
Tips received by the authority related to smuggling crimes and breaches of common customs law are treated with strict confidentiality. Financial rewards are offered for valid tips.
The Kingdom vs Captagon
Inside Saudi Arabia's war against the drug destroying lives across the Arab world
Saudis review options for studying abroad as US gun violence spirals
Safety and security ‘may not be the most important factor but among the highest priorities’
High cost of tuition also discouraging parents from sending children abroad
Updated 06 June 2023
DUBAI: Seeing their children receive the best possible education is every parent’s dream, and having a high number of international students is a goal for every world-renowned tertiary institution. However, in today’s changing world, various factors complicate the decision-making process for students and parents.
Parents have to take many issues into account, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the wave of shootings on school campuses in the US. As the education landscape shifts, some Western institutions have opened branches in foreign countries, including the Gulf region, appealing to students who do not wish to, or cannot afford study abroad.
These days a growing number of Arab parents, including Saudis, deliberate thoroughly before sending their children to pursue their higher studies in the US — home to some of the most prestigious education institutions and research centers in the world. Analysts and experts say that the rose-colored dream of studying in the US has started to change slightly owing to a confluence of academic, social, economic and security factors.
“If you look at it (number of students from Saudi and the rest of the Gulf region) in the span of the last … for example, 10 years, yes it has changed. If you look at it since COVID, yes it has changed. There isn’t a (hugely) significant decrease in the numbers, but there is a decrease,” Dala Kakos, an education strategy specialist, told Arab News.
Kakos, who has worked with the World Bank and the Executive Council in Abu Dhabi, and Knowledge and Human Development Authority in Dubai, says that while a sense of safety and security is not the most important factor for students and parents, it is among the highest priorities.
Saudi columnist Tariq Al-Maeena also believes the number of Saudi students in the US has decreased. “The impression of the numbers had been gleaned by what I had been following over the recent years as well as discussions with a wide group of friends and acquaintances,” he told Arab News.
“Already some Saudi students (unfortunately) met a tragic end in the US at the hands of criminals.”
In January this year, 25-year-old computer science student Al-Waleed Al-Gheraibi was stabbed to death in his accommodation in Philadelphia. This was only the latest incident in which a Saudi student was murdered in the US. In 2018, 23-year-old architecture student Yasser Abualfaraj was found murdered in his apartment in Florida.
• The increasing number of violent incidents in the US and high cost of tuition are two factors that could stop parents from sending their children abroad.
• Some Western institutions have opened branches in foreign countries, including the Gulf region, appealing to students who do not wish to, or cannot afford to study abroad.
• Saudi Arabia is one of the top countries from the Middle East and North Africa region in terms of number of students studying in the US, while China and India lead on the global level.
And two years prior, 24-year-old business administration student Hussain Saeed Alnahdi was beaten to death in Wisconsin. Other murders of Saudi students in the past decade were reported in Australia, Canada, the UK and Malaysia, according to a press report by Al Arabiya.
The increasing number of violent incidents in the US is a worry for prospective students and parents. From 1966 to 2022, 12 mass shootings took place on US college campuses. During the same period, there were 300 shooting incidents on college campuses, resulting in 94 deaths and 215 injuries, according to American press reports.
Some Europe-based websites are currently posting short videos advising European students abroad on what to do during a shooting.
Al-Maeena believes this is good advice for all students. “We live in a relatively safe society; we are not conditioned to be wary and alert, and sometimes we fall prey to those wishing us harm,” he told Arab News.
Prestige is a very heavy factor when someone is an international student and they want to go abroad. This is a big thing because you are making a big effort to leave, you will be representing your country when you are there, and you also will be representing the university when you come back home.
Dala Kakos, Education strategy specialist
“That is why it is imperative that any student going overseas must attend some kind of awareness seminar to alert them (to) all possible scams that may do them harm,” he said.
The exact number of Saudis currently pursuing their higher education in the US is unknown, but it is estimated in the tens of thousands. There has been an increase in the past, with the number of Saudis studying in the US rising from 10,000 in 2007 to 120,000 in 2015, with 600 taking up medicine.
Saudi Arabia is one of the top countries from the Middle East and North Africa region in terms of number of students studying in the US, while China and India lead on the global level. But even this is changing.
According to the Institute of International Education, the number of international students at US colleges grew by just 0.5 percent in the 2018-2019 academic year, “bringing an end to a decade of expansion.”
The results, posted on the website of Foreign Policy, were due to a “slowdown” in the number of Chinese students, who accounted for nearly one-third of all non-American students in the country. Other countries, including South Korea, Japan, Iran, the UK and Saudi Arabia, also “sent fewer students to the US” that year compared to the previous one.
The number of Saudi students in the US has gone down after the Saudi government decided in 2016 to “reevaluate” its scholarship program that covers many countries in the world, including the US. New guidelines were introduced limiting participants to top-100 universities, or top-50-rated programs in their fields.
The high cost of tuition is another factor that could stop parents from sending their children abroad, according to Kakos.
According to her, other factors include tuition, location, proximity of relatives living abroad, having alumni parents, and prestige.
“Prestige is a very heavy factor when someone is an international student and they want to go abroad. This is a big thing because you are making a big effort to leave, you will be representing your country when you are there, and you also will be representing the university when you come back home,” Kakos said.
Owing to its many renowned universities, the UK is always an option for parents. By offering English-language degrees, the US and UK are ideal destinations for those seeking to study abroad.
“Interestingly, there is an upward trend of European universities offering English-speaking degrees,” Kakos said. “Already, many of them are constantly increasing their postgraduate and master’s and doctoral programs. But now, they (have) started to pay attention to undergraduate programs. For example, Greece just announced that their national universities have put forth at least 12 new majors in English.”
At the same time, the UK has made attracting foreign students part of its national strategy. The country recently organized official academic visits to both Saudi Arabia and the UAE to draw in more students and increase their “market share,” Kakos said.
“They know the true value that they could bring, which is financial, but also need more presentation in their international students. They are focusing much more on gaining more international students, specifically from Saudi Arabia. They voiced that and they are pursuing that currently.”
Other options include Germany, Australia, and even Japan, despite the language barrier.
Al-Maeena said “options are unlimited” when it comes to education. Usually, the decisions “will be influenced by the student’s family and past historical experiences. I know of one parent who graduated from Japan some decades ago, and now has influenced his children to obtain their higher studies there.”
The UK, which is the second-most popular study destination after the US and home to the prestigious Oxford and Cambridge universities, is receiving an increasing number of Saudi students, said Abigail Davenport, head of Strathclyde Business School’s branch in the UAE.
“Over the years, leaders of GCC countries have strived for knowledge-based economies, and have made great strides in developing social, economic and education infrastructures … Strathclyde has excellent relations with Saudi Arabia, in particular across public and private sectors, as well as a long history of welcoming Saudi students to the main campus in Glasgow,” she said.
“The UK is incredibly diverse, and international students will get the chance to experience a multicultural environment whilst still maintaining strong ties to their own culture,” she told Arab News in a statement.
According to recent available figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, during the 2020-2021 academic year, there were 3,310 new Saudi students studying in the UK, of which 1,045 were undergraduates, 1,620 postgraduates, and 645 doctoral students.
In total, the number of Saudi students studying at UK institutions almost doubled from the 2019-2020 to 2020-2021 academic years, according to British Council figures. Of the 14,070 current Saudi students connected with UK higher education, 11,850 are studying at institutions, 2,000 are enrolled in distance, flexible or distributed learning, and a minority are studying at overseas branch campuses.
The opening of overseas branch campuses is “definitely needed” and “a good strategy,” Kakos said, as it caters to students who cannot or do not want to travel abroad. She added that a “blended learning” experience, where studies are divided between physical classes and online learning, is also becoming a huge trend.
Studying abroad, according to Kakos, has many benefits, including new experiences, research potential, and access to extracurricular activities that may not be available in one’s home country.
The students “stand to gain a lot but, at the same time, branch campuses coming into the country would also be able to give a lot more value to the overall educational landscape and the options available to students in Saudi Arabia and the GCC in general.”