RIYADH: One of the greatest dangers posed by the development and growing use of artificial intelligence in society is that it diminishes the role of humans, according to Abdulrahman Al-Thabiti, a researcher in public administration. To illustrate his point, he talked about the detrimental effect AI could have on the job market.
His warning came at the Saudi Media Forum in Riyadh on Monday, during a session titled “Media and the Ethical and Practical Implications of Artificial Intelligence.” The discussion centered on the ways in which AI might affect the ability of people to create and communicate.
Al-Thabiti, who is studying for a doctorate and is an op-ed writer for the Jeddah-based Okaz newspaper, contrasted AI-generated content with the creative and supervisory value that is provided by human capabilities, arguing that AI systems lack transparency and accountability in this regard.
He said AI cannot replace humans but expressed concern that it could nevertheless threaten the labor market by pushing down wages or eliminating some jobs altogether.
Saudi, Iranian FMs set meeting on reopening of embassies, consulates
Updated 23 March 2023
RIYADH: The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Iran will meet soon to pave the way for reopening embassies and consulates in the two countries, Saudi state media said early Thursday.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amirabdollahian, arrived at the agreement during a phone call, the Saudi Press Agency and Al-Ekhbariyah said in separate reports.
The diplomats also exchanged greetings on the advent of the holy month of Ramadan.
The Kingdom and Iran agreed on March 10 to reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen their embassies within two months following years of tensions.
Amirabdollahian said on Sunday that three locations have been proposed for the meeting.
Saudi development fund and UNDP discuss developing cooperation
Updated 23 March 2023
RIYADH: The CEO of the Saudi Fund for Development, Sultan Al-Marshad, met with Nahid Hussein, the resident representative of the UN Development Programme for the Kingdom, and her accompanying delegation in the capital, Riyadh, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday.
During the meeting, the two sides discussed development projects and programs financed by SFD in developing countries.
They also reviewed issues of mutual interest, including means to enhance development cooperation between the two sides, address challenges, and develop sustainable solutions.
The SFD has been working for nearly 50 years to support development projects in developing countries, which come in various vital sectors to help achieve basic development services in those countries and improve the standard of living of societies to support the least developed and poorest countries.
The fund works to finance these projects to achieve sustainable development goals and enhance the effectiveness of development aid through partnership and cooperation with regional and international organizations and institutions.
Saudis welcome Ramadan, a time of reflection and blessings for the Muslim world
The world’s 2 billion plus Muslims believe daytime fasting and nighttime prayers energize the faithful to lead a new life
Saudi Ministry of Culture has launched Ramadan Season, a series of festive events in 14 cities across the Kingdom
Updated 23 March 2023
JEDDAH: Every year ahead of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, 2 billion plus Muslims around the world prepare to welcome the holy month of Ramadan. While Ramadan is commonly known for its fast, for Muslims it is more than just a month of fasting; it symbolizes reward, reflection, devotion, generosity and sacrifice.
Daytime fasting and nighttime prayers spiritually energize the faithful to lead a new life, benefiting the whole of humanity and opening a new chapter of peace and progress.
A hadith says Abu Huraira reported: “The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said whoever fasts the month of Ramadan out of faith and in the hope of earning reward, all his previous sins will be forgiven, and whoever stays up during Laylat Al-Qadr out of faith and in the hope of earning reward, all his previous sins will be forgiven.”
On Wednesday, the Saudi Press Agency reported that King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman exchanged messages of congratulations with “leaders of Islamic countries on the advent of blessed month.”
Ramadan, besides being a month of fasting, is also a month of happiness, an Islamic form of worship known as dhikr, Qur’an recital, good deeds and charity.
The rewards of giving zakat or sadaqah — an Islamic form of almsgiving that is a central pillar of the Muslim faith — during Ramadan are doubled, and thus Muslims make sure give even more to those in need during the holy month.
Last year in Saudi Arabia, the Ehsan national campaign for charitable work received more than SR300 million ($79 million) in donations. During the first Ramadan campaign in 2021, the king and the crown prince made multiple donations through Ehsan that pushed the platform’s total funds past the SR1 billion mark.
In the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, philanthropists commonly provide iftar (breakfast) meals to worshippers at specific locations in the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque.
Generosity extends far beyond the provision of iftar meals by the wealthy; 29-year-old Anas Al-Ghamdi from Jeddah distributes cold bottles of water and dates to people in rush hour traffic.
Al-Ghamdi and his brother have been doing this for seven years, “because Ramadan is the month of feeding the poor, and it is a chance to offer help and gain rewards.”
While fasting is one of Ramadan’s main characteristics, what happens after the fast is broken every day is just as important. Those who celebrate rejoice in the food served during gatherings with relatives and loved ones, as it represents the month’s prominent rituals.
Though generosity and togetherness are hallmarks of Ramadan, so too is spending.
It has become a habit to prepare for Ramadan with a feeling of newness; families go into a cleaning frenzy, decorating their houses, reorganizing furniture, giving some goods to the poor, and, of course, buying new items.
Neama Fadhel, a housewife and mother of five children, said that she likes to plan her Ramadan shopping for kitchen products, accessories and clothes, as the experience brings her joy.
Fadhel also loves buying new items for her household, especially her kitchen, as it “gives me a boost for the daily cooking routine in the holy month that differs from other normal days of the year.”
Competition is rife as entrepreneurs vie to produce new, trending goods each year to attract customers, who look forward to decorating their homes to welcome the holy month with fervor.
Sufyan Raya, senior digital marketing specialist at Al-Hadaya Center, told Arab News how demand for decorations skyrockets around Ramadan.
Al-Hadaya Center, one of the biggest gift shops and decoration retailers in the Kingdom, distributes products to other shops in the region. For retailers, the season usually begins two months before to the holy month and continues until the middle of Ramadan.
“So far, our Ramadan-only sales represented 7.6 percent of the company’s sales, with Jeddah at the forefront of sales, followed by Makkah and Riyadh. We have imported lanterns and Ramadan decoration items worth SR30 million from Egypt, India, Turkey, and China for Ramadan 2023,” Raya said, adding that more than 70 containers arrived through sea ports and airports to meet the demand.
Besides fasting, Ramadan is a month of happiness, an Islamic form of worship known as dhikr, Qur’an recital, good deeds and charity.
In a highly competitive market, Raya said, products are kept highly confidential. “We made sure that these products are well kept until they are distributed and unpacked in the stores, as some competitors copy special items and offer them at a lower quality.”
The most popular Ramadan-themed items are lanterns in various sizes and colors, twinkling lights, crescent moons and some distinctive textile-made products like “shkaly,” a printed fabric with a bright pink rose, and “khayamiya,” another popular printed fabric bearing geometric patterns.
Lanterns, an iconic symbol of the holy month, are always in high demand.
“This year, handmade Egyptian and Indian lanterns and ornamented copper, bronze and gold-plated lanterns are trending the most, and this category has achieved the highest rate of sales compared to other items,” Raya added.
Prices of lanterns vary in terms of material, shape and size, ranging from about SR1.88 to more than SR975. Mass-produced types are the cheapest, while handcrafted varieties fetch the highest prices.
While modern shopping centers and malls are replete with Ramadan merchandise, nothing beats shopping in Al-Balad, Jeddah’s historical district, where vendors and kiosks put up lights and decorations, creating a special old-meets-new Ramadan vibe.
Saleh Baeshen, one of the oldest traders in the area, told Arab News that shoppers from across the region, especially from Gulf countries, come to enjoy the “unique Ramadan vibes in the historic Al-Balad.”
Baeshen said: “Loads of vintage decoration items and huge lanterns that are usually hung in big buildings and shops” can be found in Al-Balad. Special exhibitions, which usually begin two weeks before Ramadan and continue until the first week of the holy month, are held annually to promote local products and bring joy to visitors and residents alike.
One such exhibition is being held at Al-Harthi Exhibition Center in Jeddah, with more than 200 local and regional brands taking part.
Khidr Ismael, who came all the way from Egypt to take part in the exhibition, said that he inherited the trade of making lanterns from his ancestors. At the exhibition, he offers Ramadan decorations, such as Ramadan-themed printed fabrics, utensils with Arabic and Islamic inscriptions, furnishings, lighting and tents.
“The crescent-shaped lanterns are trending this year; it is available in the two-meter size … and this year we are offering stainless steel lanterns that have better quality and longevity,” he said.
The Culinary Arts Commission has also launched the Ramadan Market in Jeddah, which will run until March 22. The market displays local culinary and Ramadan products, including baked goods, sweets, dates, spices, coffee, nuts, honey, toys, clothes and antiques.
For families coming to enjoy the holiday, the market hosts spaces such as a children’s area and activities including drawing, photography and henna. It will also serve as an opportunity for local vendors to display their products.
The Kingdom’s Ministry of Culture has launched Ramadan Season, a series of events that will take place in 14 cities across Saudi Arabia and will be held in more than 38 locations. Ramadan Season offers a variety of experiences, including cultural, educational and entertainment events with a distinct Ramadan look.
Saudi king, crown prince exchange Ramadan cables with Islamic leaders
Updated 23 March 2023
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday received cables of congratulations from the leaders of Islamic countries on the advent of the Muslim month of Ramadan, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
The king and crown prince also sent reply cables thanking them for their best wishes and sincere sentiments, and called for permanent security and stability for the Islamic nation.
Saudi Arabia strongly condemns Israel’s decision to allow re-settlement in northern West Bank
Updated 23 March 2023
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Wednesday strongly condemned a decision taken by the occupying Israeli authorities to allow re-settlement in the areas of the northern West Bank in Palestine.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed the Kingdom’s strong condemnation of this decision, which is a flagrant violation of all international laws, contributes to undermining regional and international peace efforts, obstructs political solutions based on the Arab Peace Initiative, and guarantees the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital,” it said in a statement.
The settler movement scored a victory Tuesday in the Israeli parliament, which rolled back law banning Israelis from an area in the northern West Bank from which Jewish residents were evacuated in 2005.
UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland said he does “remain deeply troubled by continued Israeli settlement expansion,” including the recent authorization of nine settlements in the occupied West Bank and the construction of thousands of new housing units in existing settlements.
The UN considers such settlement activity illegal under international law.