MAKKAH: Saudi authorities on Monday warned worshippers looking to make Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages to Makkah to be alert to online registration scams.
Ministry of Hajj and Umrah officials urged pilgrims to only use official ministry accounts.
In the latest incident, fraudsters have been duping people in Pakistan into parting with personal information and money by encouraging them to follow a link to a fake website.
Hisham Saeed, ministry undersecretary, told Arab News: “The ministry does not know the source of the link, which has spread recently, but it certainly does not belong to the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah. All pilgrims should avoid such links.”
He pointed out that pilgrims were selected through the official channels of Hajj mission offices in their own country and said where no such offices existed applications should be submitted via the Hajj platform.
Ahmed Saleh Halabi, Hajj and Umrah services adviser, said pilgrims were often targeted by cybercriminals, with some claiming to represent the Saudi non-profit Misk Foundation.
However, he pointed out that Misk would not independently organize trips for Umrah pilgrims from outside the Kingdom without working closely with the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah and relevant Saudi embassies.
Mohsin Tutla, chairman of the World Hajj and Umrah Care Foundation, said: “Digital technology offers sophisticated advantages if used with the right intentions and ethically; but it can be detrimental for preyed-upon pilgrims who are deceived each year with fake websites designed to entice pilgrims into purchasing packages that they (scammers) have no intention to honor.”
Every year, the Saudi reigning monarch welcomes selected members from the Muslim community throughout the world to perform Hajj as special guests of the Kingdom, but some online fraudsters send out false invitations to Hajj.
Frankly Speaking: How do US Jews feel about a Saudi-Israel deal?
Rabbi Marc Schneier says Jewish American community is “ecstatic” about the prospect of normalization of ties
Expects to see Israel, KSA, US Congress ‘on the same page’ on US arms sales to Kingdom, help with civilian nuclear progam
Explains his rationale for supporting Arab News’ “Why Riyadh?” campaign backing Saudi bid to host Expo 2030
Updated 02 October 2023
DUBAI: The Jewish American community was “ecstatic” over a potential deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, according to Marc Schneier, a well-known American rabbi and an adviser to several Arab Gulf states.
Appearing in the first episode of a new season of the Arab News current affairs show “Frankly Speaking,” he said such a deal may be a step toward resolving the Israel Palestine conflict.
“I think we are very close. I believe we are on the cusp of seeing this rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” he added.
Schneier praised the efforts of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who he said “represented himself in a very human, very personal way” in a recent much-talked-about interview with Fox News.
Speaking to Bret Baier of the US TV network, the crown prince revealed among other things that “every day we get closer” toward normalization of Saudi Israel relations.
“Very few people had the opportunity to really hear from him, particularly in English. And that connected with the audience,” Schneier said.
He noted that the crown prince’s comments on the future of Saudi Israel relations not only struck a chord with American Jews, but also with 16 million evangelical Christians in the US, many of whom had a strong positive opinion of Israel.
“I heard from some of my evangelical friends who are in the leadership of this group, how refreshing it is to hear from the great leader of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia his genuine desire and a dream to see a peace not only with Israel, but for a peaceful coexistence for the entire region,” he added.
However, Schneier felt that the purported demands from the Saudi side — removal of US restrictions on the sale of weapons, assistance with the creation of a civilian nuclear program in the Kingdom, and the creation of a written security pact — could present difficult but not insurmountable hurdles.
“Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the US — be it the administration or Congress — would be on the same page,” he told Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking.”
During the Fox News interview, the crown prince emphasized that a solution to the Middle East conflict would be a necessary component of any Saudi Israel deal.
“For us, the Palestinian issue is very important. We need to solve that part,” he said when asked what it would take to get a normalization agreement.
Schneier said: “That’s the only hurdle that’s left on the table — not a very easy hurdle to overcome.”
He considered Jews not only in the US but around the world, including in Israel, as “being a bit naive and not appreciative of the importance of resolving this Israel Palestinian conflict once and for all.”
Schneier acknowledged that some within Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s increasingly right-wing government may reject any type of peace deal in favor of further expanding Jewish settlements in Palestine. But he pointed out that right-wing leaders had a record of making peace.
He cited former American President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China, ex-US President Ronald Reagan’s summits with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s peace treaty with Egypt as examples of diplomatic success achieved by more conservative political leaders.
“Often when it comes to these negotiations, when it comes to concessions, you need the people who are more to the right to lend credibility and legitimacy and authenticity to what would be a genuine and real peace. So, I’m not concerned about that.
“If the (Israeli) coalition agrees to the peace, I know that Prime Minister Netanyahu will be able to deliver on that peace.
“My question is, will the Palestinian leadership have that same credibility in terms of being able to deliver on that peace? Does the current Palestinian leadership have the support of the Palestinian people?” Schneier added.
For there to be “a genuine, real, authentic peace,” he said, “the question one has is whether or not the current Palestinian leadership can actually bring many of these promises and guarantees to fruition. These are some very, very difficult questions.”
Schneier suggested that Arab Gulf states could, and should, play a major role in ending the Palestine Israel conflict.
He said: “I don’t think that the Palestinian leadership could possibly arrive at some kind of resolution with the Israelis without the participation of countries like Saudi Arabia, like the UAE, like Bahrain, Qatar, and others.
“And Israel will need the assistance, particularly of the crown prince and Saudi Arabia, to deliver on this peace.”
In mid-September, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told Israel’s Army Radio that “there is certainly a likelihood” of details of a deal for forging Saudi Israel relations being “finalized” in the first quarter of 2024.
While Saudis were critical to the peace process, Schneier believed that the Kingdom may adopt an approach different from those taken by Arab countries that have normalized relations with Israel.
“Maybe Saudi Arabia will take the UAE approach — an operating approach — ‘we’ll make peace now, then we’ll deal with the Palestinians later.’ I don’t believe that is the approach of the crown prince,” he added.
Saudi Arabia and Israel have never had formal diplomatic relations, though ties between Israel and several Arab countries have warmed in recent years. The signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020 saw the UAE and Bahrain normalize ties with Israel, followed by Morocco and Sudan.
The Abraham Accords have met with their own share of criticism. In an appearance on “Frankly Speaking” in May last year, former Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, said there was “no evidence” that normalization had led to Israel being any more lenient on Palestinians.
Violence by Israeli settlers has been on the rise this year, with the UN recording 591 attacks by setters in the first six months of this year as opposed to 358 in the whole of 2020.
Schneier said: “It takes time for things to settle in. But I know people to people in Bahrain, in the UAE, in Morocco, in Israel, that there’s a very, very genuine and heartfelt feeling in terms of reaching out to the other.”
He described the Abraham Accords as “revolutionary” and “a natural progression for Muslims and Jews to be coming back together.”
Schneier has taken on an active role in Middle Eastern diplomacy, having facilitated a rapprochement between the presidents of Turkiye and Israel, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Izaac Herzog, respectively.
“Before March 2022, the state of relations with Israel and Turkiye was one of conflict. Today is it one of great cooperation. So, yes, I’m very, very proud of the role that I played and looking forward to playing similar roles with other countries in terms of bringing the Muslim world closer to the state of Israel,” he added.
Schneier, a native New Yorker, is the president and co-founder of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which was established in 1989 with the aim of improving Muslim Jewish relations and Black Jewish relations.
“My preoccupation is to find the path to narrow the gap, the chasm, the divide between 1.6 billion Muslims and 16 million Jews,” he said.
“At the end of the day, Muslims and Jews, we are family, we’re cousins. We may have had a few family disagreements, but there are no two other religions that have more in common and have that historic bond than Islam and Judaism.
“So, for me, it’s a natural progression for Muslims and Jews to be coming back together.”
And Schneier reaffirmed his support for Arab News’ campaign to back the Saudi bid to host World Expo 2030.
“I think people don’t appreciate what the Kingdom has done from an interreligious point of view.
“We know about all the changes, all the reforms, politically, economically, but you should know that Saudi Arabia was the first of the Gulf states to reach out to other states, reach out to the West from an interreligious point of view.”
In particular, he lauded the role of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, founded in 2012 by the late King Abdullah.
“It was the King Abdullah Center that was the first interfaith religious center ever championed, ever founded, by a Gulf country,” he said.
Before agreeing to serve as the 2022 football World Cup’s interfaith adviser, Schneier called for direct flights between Tel Aviv and Doha and the provision of kosher food at the world’s largest sporting event to ensure “Israelis were made to feel welcome there.”
He added: “I call it my bagel diplomacy. We brought the first bagels ever to Doha, to Qatar.”
Experts discuss how industry can help boost national economy
Updated 01 October 2023
RIYADH: The Saudi Film Confex opened on Sunday at the Riyadh Front Exhibition and Convention Center.
The four-day event, hosted by the Saudi Film Commission, seeks to promote the social, cultural and economic value of cinema and brings together industry experts, executives and investors from around the world.
During a discussion titled “Film as a Catalyst for National Economic Growth: Aspects and Features,” the panel explored ways to extend the influence of the film industry on other economic sectors, such as tourism, entertainment, technology and innovation.
Jason Cloth, the founder of film and TV financing company Creative Wealth Media, said the movie industry underwent significant changes during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people increasingly turned to streaming platforms.
“The pandemic changed people’s viewing habits,” he said. “We see box office numbers dropping a bit and transactional numbers increasing quite a bit. The bigger issue with the studio releases is the budget sizes.”
If box office numbers failed to improve, it would be difficult to release some large-budget films, he said.
Tariq Bin Ammar, a Tunisian-French film producer and founder of Quinta Communications, was also on the panel.
“For Tunisia, I spent a billion dollars in foreign currency with never any local finance, because we knew we didn’t have the money,” he said.
“As for Saudi Arabia, it does not need foreign consultants anymore. With all due respect for our American and English friends, Saudi Arabia is capable, and in a very few years it will be totally independent.”
He added: “When Italian, French, English or American producers and directors make movies they make them for themselves, for their people.”
In contrast, Saudi Arabia produced films for both local and international audiences, he said.
Nabeel Koshak, CEO of Saudi Venture Capital Co., said: “I would say the filmmaking movement in Saudi Arabia definitely has funding as a crucial component of this ecosystem.”
Over the past five years, the government had provided $2 billion in funding for the industry, he said.
The Saudi Coffee Festival 2023 provides visitors with a cultural experience showcasing the growth of the coffee industry in Saudi Arabia
Updated 01 October 2023
RIYADH: Oct. 1 is International Coffee Day, a celebration aimed at promoting awareness and support for coffee lovers and farmers, particularly highlighting the quality and passion behind this beloved beverage.
In Saudi Arabia, local coffee shops can be found in every neighborhood, catering to the high demand for the drink in all its variations, from V60 to traditional Saudi coffee.
Badr Khashogji, the owner of the local coffee shop Mariam, said that International Coffee Day was a special occasion to appreciate the cultural significance of coffee.
He said that it brought together coffee enthusiasts from around the world to acknowledge the importance of the beverage.
Khashogji said: “International Coffee Day offers a platform to showcase the rich history, diverse flavors and social impact of coffee. Whether you prefer an espresso, cappuccino or a simple black coffee, this day is a perfect opportunity to savor and celebrate the magical essence of coffee. So, grab your favorite mug, take a moment to indulge in the aroma and taste of coffee, and join the worldwide celebration of International Coffee Day.”
The Saudi Coffee Festival 2023, organized by the Culinary Arts Commission in Riyadh since Sept. 28, provides visitors with a cultural experience showcasing the growth of the coffee industry in Saudi Arabia. It highlights the beverage’s deep-rooted significance in Saudi culture as a symbol of hospitality, warmth and authentic traditions.
Mohammed Al-Amer, a Saudi coffee server, frequently travels worldwide with Saudi businesses hosting events to emphasize the significance of serving Saudi coffee on Saudi occasions.
“I travel to several countries, such as the UK, China, India and more, for work, and one of my responsibilities is serving Saudi coffee and dates to the guests,” Al-Amer told Arab News.
“Saudi coffee is an essential part of our tradition, and we have unique standards for making it.”
According to local farmer Ahmed Al-Malki, the techniques for cultivating and harvesting coffee have been passed down from generation to generation in Jazan for more than 800 years.
“The ancient tradition of transferring knowledge from one generation to another has preserved the legacy of Arabica coffee within our Kingdom. We deeply appreciate this knowledge and are committed to preserving its value as we strive to establish the Kingdom as a global leader in Arabica coffee production,” Al-Malki said.
On International Coffee Day, coffee companies in Saudi Arabia, including Starbucks, Tim Hortons, Urth Cafe, Krispy Kreme, Dunkin Donuts, Overdose and LEFT cafe, offered promotions to encourage coffee purchases. These included free coffee at select locations and discounts of up to 50 percent. LEFT cafe offered coffee for SR1.
Saudi Arabia, one of the top coffee-consuming countries, is focused on increasing coffee cultivation to achieve self-sufficiency and boost the domestic economy. The Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture is working toward this goal in alignment with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.
Event will feature industry experts showcasing innovations in cybersecurity, fire safety, surveillance, emergency response
Updated 01 October 2023
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s leading event for security, fire protection and safety will get underway on Tuesday in Riyadh.
The fifth edition of the Intersec Saudi Arabia 2023 International Exhibition will be staged at the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Sunday.
Held over three days, the event will feature industry experts from 25 countries showcasing the latest products, services, and technology in cybersecurity, fire safety, surveillance, and emergency response.
Representatives from government agencies and organizations in the fire, emergency, security, and safety industry, will also be present.