Meet Capt. Afrah, the first Saudi woman to pilot a hot-air balloon

Hot-air balloon pilot Afrah Al-Harbi is inspiring young women to reach for the skies in their career and hobby. (Supplied)
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Hot-air balloon pilot Afrah Al-Harbi is inspiring young women to reach for the skies in their career and hobby. (Supplied)
Meet Capt. Afrah, the first Saudi woman to pilot a hot-air balloon
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Hot-air balloon pilot Afrah Al-Harbi is inspiring young women to reach for the skies in their career and hobby. (Supplied)
Meet Capt. Afrah, the first Saudi woman to pilot a hot-air balloon
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Hot-air balloon pilot Afrah Al-Harbi is inspiring young women to reach for the skies in their career and hobby. (Supplied)
Meet Capt. Afrah, the first Saudi woman to pilot a hot-air balloon
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Hot-air balloon pilot Afrah Al-Harbi is inspiring young women to reach for the skies in their career and hobby. (Supplied)
Meet Capt. Afrah, the first Saudi woman to pilot a hot-air balloon
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Hot-air balloon pilot Afrah Al-Harbi is inspiring young women to reach for the skies in their career and hobby. (Supplied)
Meet Capt. Afrah, the first Saudi woman to pilot a hot-air balloon
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Hot-air balloon pilot Afrah Al-Harbi is inspiring young women to reach for the skies in their career and hobby. (Supplied)
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Updated 16 May 2023
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Meet Capt. Afrah, the first Saudi woman to pilot a hot-air balloon

Hot-air balloon pilot Afrah Al-Harbi is inspiring young women to reach for the skies in their career and hobby. (Supplied)
  • Flown 55 times including at AlUla’s Skies Festival
  • 22-year-old hopes to make it a full time profession

RIYADH: Meet Capt. Afrah Al-Harbi, a 22-year-old AlUla native, who has piloted hot-air balloons 55 times in Saudi Arabia, after becoming the first Saudi woman to obtain a license to navigate these aircraft.

Al-Harbi was trained by the Saudi Arabian Hot-Air Ballooning Federation while pursuing an education in Hotels and Tourism at Taibah University in AlUla.




Hot-air balloon pilot Afrah Al-Harbi is inspiring young women to reach for the skies in their career and hobby. (Supplied)

The federation officially opened its headquarters in AlUla in May 2019, a few months after the success of the inaugural Hot-Air Balloon Festival during the Winter at Tantora Festival earlier that year, when 100 balloons lit up the skies on several nights. The festival presented a blueprint for adventure tourism in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Harbi’s story began at this festival.

There is no better way to experience, enjoy and appreciate AlUla’s majestic landscape and natural beauty than from the air.

Afrah Al-Harbi, Hot-air balloon pilot

“When hot-air ballooning started in AlUla, I saw the balloons but I never thought I would be able to fly one of them,” Al-Harbi told Arab News recently.

When the opportunity to learn arose, Al-Harbi asked herself: “Why not me?” After an initial interview, she was accepted into the training program.




Hot-air balloon pilot Afrah Al-Harbi is inspiring young women to reach for the skies in their career and hobby. (Supplied)

Al-Harbi, one of eight children, said her family has been supportive throughout her journey to make history and become the first Saudi woman to be granted a pilot’s license.

“I have no fear inside me,” she added.

FASTFACT

Afrah Al-Harbi is the first Saudi woman to gain a license to fly hot-air balloons from the Saudi Arabian Hot Air Ballooning Federation in AlUla.

With more than 55 flights to date, Al-Harbi said she would not mind pursuing it as a fulltime career but for now ballooning is a hobby.




Hot-air balloon pilot Afrah Al-Harbi is inspiring young women to reach for the skies in their career and hobby. (Supplied)

Fellow captains Abdulrahman Al-Wohaibi and Hussain Makkawi, who trained at the federation with Al-Harbi, are also amongst the first licensed Saudi hot-air balloon pilots.

Al-Harbi is one of the Saudi pilots designated to fly guests at the AlUla Skies Festival. This is an annual celebration that includes hot-air balloon rides, helicopter tours and other outdoor adventures and attractions near the historic Hegra monument.

“There is no better way to experience, enjoy and appreciate AlUla’s majestic landscape and natural beauty than from the air,” she said.

 


Najdi Ardah — a testament to vibrant Saudi history

The most popular Ardah style in the Kingdom is the Najdi Ardah. (Supplied)
The most popular Ardah style in the Kingdom is the Najdi Ardah. (Supplied)
Updated 3 min 32 sec ago
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Najdi Ardah — a testament to vibrant Saudi history

The most popular Ardah style in the Kingdom is the Najdi Ardah. (Supplied)
  • Saleh Nasser Al-Abdulwahed, leader of the Saudi Ardah group, told Arab News that the Najdi ardah “stands as a testament to Saudi history”

MAKKAH: Saudi Arabia is home to a rich tapestry of folkloric arts, each with its own distinct features, but all with the same purpose: to express the Kingdom’s history, culture, and heroism.

Over time, these artistic traditions have become essential components of a variety of events and holidays. They predominantly take the form of ardah — group war dances which were originally intended to terrify enemies by showcasing the performers’ military prowess and the power and courage rooted in their past.

Of the many types of ardah, the most popular style in the Kingdom is the Najdi ardah, also known as the Saudi ardah.

The most popular Ardah style in the Kingdom is the Najdi Ardah. (Supplied)

Saleh Nasser Al-Abdulwahed, leader of the Saudi Ardah group, told Arab News that the Najdi ardah “stands as a testament to Saudi history.”

The Najdi Ardah begins with the recital of a poem, after which the drummers begin, establishing the rhythm for the dancers to follow. The group leader then takes the stage, wielding a blade and demonstrating well-practiced movements that match those of warriors in battle. He expertly maneuvers the sword, occasionally laying it on his shoulder, lifting it high, or holding it on its side. He also uses precise finger movements to move the blade in a circular motion, demonstrating his expertise.

Usually, the dancers will be dressed in their finest military outfits.

FASTFACT

The Najdi Ardah begins with the recital of a poem, after which the drummers begin, establishing the rhythm for the dancers to follow.

“Ardah performers don Al-Murawden military uniform, featuring long sleeves. They complement it with Al-Zaboun, a finely crafted wooden cashmere fabric adorned with a cashmere shawl, meticulously made by hand, resembling the ‘dagla’ gown,” Al-Abdulwahed explained. “Additionally, the performers may opt for Al-Saya, a tailored white summer fabric, or the Jokha, which is usually reserved for dignitaries such as kings, princes, and knights.”

He noted that warriors typically choose red clothing, though the shades could vary from a bright, blood-like tone to a more muted burgundy.

The performers will also typically be heavily armed, wearing a dagger, a gun holster, a bullet holder known as mujannad, and a sword. When wearing the uniform, the participant positions his pistol holster to the left and mujannad to the right. Various types of sword are used, each with its own sheath.

The Najdi ardah is a cultural touchstone for many Saudi nationals, and remains widely practiced today, not only in the central part of the Kingdom, but all over the country. It is frequently showcased at weddings. Its involvement in such ceremonies creates a sense of joy and delight, enthralling both older and younger generations.

Folk arts in other regions

The Hejaz region is one of the Kingdom’s most diverse in terms of folk arts. It is renowned for the Majrour art form, characterized by two facing rows of performers wearing tied and belted headbands. Each individual holds a daf in hand, contributing to the performance with special tunes and melodies.

The Yanbawi tarab is a form of collective musical expression, featuring the use of a stringed instrument called a simsimiyya, which is closely tied to maritime culture.

In Taif, the ardah Al-Zir takes center stage during special occasions and holidays. This dance involves the use of swords, guns, and daggers, and is a significant element of cultural festivities.

In the northern region, the traditional arts of Al-Samari and Al-Dahha come to life with two opposing rows of performers creating harmonious rhythms, playing melodies such as Al-Mashoub, Al-Zubai, and Al-Hajini.

 


Guests of Riyadh forum visit marvels of AlUla

Guests of Riyadh forum visit marvels of AlUla
Updated 24 February 2024
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Guests of Riyadh forum visit marvels of AlUla

Guests of Riyadh forum visit marvels of AlUla
  • The guests were taken on a tour of several archaeological sites
  • The forum organized the visit in partnership with the Royal Commission for AlUla

RIYADH: Guests at the Saudi Media Forum had the opportunity to visit AlUla Governorate over the weekend on a fascinating journey through time.
The guests were taken on a tour of several archaeological sites, including the city of Al-Hijr, the first Saudi site to be included in the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s list of World Heritage Sites.
They listened to an introductory explanation of the sites and saw each monument’s impressive and intricate details.
The forum organized the visit in partnership with the Royal Commission for AlUla and the Saudi Broadcasting Authority.
Its purpose was to give guests a unique opportunity to discover the Kingdom’s landmarks. They learned about the area’s history and the various civilizations that left their mark on the region.
The beauty and cultural significance of AlUla have made it a focal point for visitors from around the world.
The third edition of the Saudi Media Forum convened last week to address the evolving landscape of global media. Against the backdrop of rapidly changing trends and challenges, participants delved into discussions surrounding innovative media management strategies and the pursuit of sustainable approaches in the sector.
The forum’s agenda included dialogues on re-evaluating media flow sources and harnessing innovative solutions to meet evolving audience expectations.
Amid accelerated efforts in media modernization and incentives, AlUla has emerged as a pivotal partner in fostering productive cooperation and knowledge-sharing within the media sector.


Resilient plant inspires Saudi artist’s Jeddah exhibition

Resilient plant inspires Saudi artist’s Jeddah exhibition
Updated 24 February 2024
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Resilient plant inspires Saudi artist’s Jeddah exhibition

Resilient plant inspires Saudi artist’s Jeddah exhibition
  • Sara Al-Abdali explores life, death and transformation in her solo show at Hafez Gallery
  • The exhibition explores her personal experiences of loss, drawing inspiration from the plant as a symbol of renewal

JEDDAH: Contemporary Saudi artist Sara Al-Abdali is presenting her second solo exhibition, “Growing Vines of Sodom,” at Hafez Gallery in Jeddah, marking a significant milestone in her artistic career.
In her second solo show, Al-Abdali delves into the intricate relationship between life and death, skilfully using artistic juxtaposition as a medium to explore this profound interplay. The collection showcases a series of paintings and multidisciplinary artworks that prompt viewers to reflect on the delicate balance between existence and departure.
Speaking to Arab News about the inspiration behind her works, Al-Abdali said: “The main inspiration was driven from a personal encounter with a plant that suddenly grew in front of my house, symbolizing resilience and life. The Apple of Sodom plant became a powerful symbol for loss and rebirth, encapsulating the transformative journey I wanted to convey.”
Al-Abdali’s choice to focus on the plant and incorporate motifs like the moth, symbolic of death and transformation, reflects her deep exploration of life’s complexities.
“The exhibition works around metaphors and symbolism surrounding life, death, and transformation, with mediums like hand-prepared pigments emphasizing the theme of new life emerging from death,” she said.
The exhibition explores her personal experiences of loss, drawing inspiration from the plant as a symbol of renewal. Transitioning into a deeply introspective body of work, the collection centers on her three-year exploration of self-portraiture, capturing emotions of loss and despair following her father’s battle with cancer.
Reflecting on her hopes for the audience, she added: “I hope viewers will see the raw and daring nature of my work, delving into themes of mourning and loss often overlooked in society. By normalizing discussions around pain and suffering, I aim to provide a space for contemplation on both life and death.”
Regarding her artistic evolution since her first solo exhibition, Al-Abdali discussed the shift from traditional techniques to experimental approaches in “Growing Vines of Sodom”: “I challenged myself to break from tradition, experimenting with scale and medium, such as charcoal and oil, alongside gouache paintings. This departure from traditional techniques allowed me to delve deeper into personal concepts and work on a larger scale, symbolizing growth and rebirth.”
Her unique perspective continues to shape her creative vision, pushing boundaries and exploring new artistic territories, while staying true to her personal truths as a painter.
“Looking ahead, I am excited for future projects, aiming to expand on the themes explored in my current exhibition. I envision my work evolving into series and larger works, emphasizing the power of painting as a medium of artistic expression,” she said.
Contemplating on art as a full-time career, the Saudi artist added: “Despite the challenges of pursuing art as a full-time career, I remain dedicated to my craft, finding motivation in building a supportive community of fellow painters and maintaining a dedicated studio space. Perseverance and trust in the artistic process are key, and I find the journey of overcoming challenges and painting my truth to be truly rewarding.”
Qaswra Hafez, founder of Hafez Gallery, said: “We’re very happy to host Sara’s second solo. Sara is an exceptional visual instigator and no one captures the soul of this region of Saudi quite like she does.”
The exhibition is open to visitors until the end of Ramadan.


Who’s Who: Ahmed Al-Sohaily, group head of technology at Red Sea Global

Dr. Ahmed Ali Alsohaily
Dr. Ahmed Ali Alsohaily
Updated 3 sec ago
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Who’s Who: Ahmed Al-Sohaily, group head of technology at Red Sea Global

Dr. Ahmed Ali Alsohaily

Ahmed Ali Al-Sohaily has been group head of technology at Red Sea Global since September 2022.

Al-Sohaily has extensive professional experience in the field of technology. Before joining Red Sea Global, he served as chief technologist and chief adviser to the governor of the Communications and Information Technology Commission.

During his five-year tenure, he facilitated the development and launch of 5G services in the Kingdom, one of the fastest and highest-performing networks globally.

In addition, he also played a key role in the development of the commission’s National Spectrum Strategy 2025 to unlock the potential of radio spectrum in Saudi Arabia.

As part this initiative, under the “Spectrum Outlook for Commercial and Innovative Use 2021-2023,” he championed the launch of WiFi 6E and made Saudi Arabia the country with the largest amount of license-exempt spectrum globally.

Before joining the commission, Al-Sohaily was a senior member of the technology strategy team at Telus Corporation, where he contributed to the development of end-to-end technology vision that made the Telus network the fastest in North America and the world.

In conjunction with his role at Telus, he served as an adjunct professor and the assistant director of the Wireless Lab at the University of Toronto, where he led technical research, obtained three patents related to communication technologies and published over 20 academic and industrial papers.

Today, he continues to contribute to the research and innovation field as adjunct professor at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique at the University of Quebec in Canada, and is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Al-Sohaily also contributed to the development of 5G requirements and standards at the International Telecommunications Union, 3rd Generation Partnership Project, and Next Generation Mobile Networks.

He is a licensed professional engineer in Ontario, Canada, and also has extensive leadership credentials that include the program for leadership development from Harvard University, the Stanford LEAD corporate innovation certificate and the executive certificate in management and leadership from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Al-Sohaily earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering from King Saud University, and obtained his master’s in engineering and Ph.D. from the University of Toronto.

 

 


Mawhiba prepares 35 young innovators for global science fair

Mawhiba prepares 35 young innovators for global science fair
Updated 24 February 2024
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Mawhiba prepares 35 young innovators for global science fair

Mawhiba prepares 35 young innovators for global science fair
  • Mawhiba said that the selected students will join more than 1,800 peers worldwide specializing in science and engineering
  • Mawhiba said that the selected students will join more than 1,800 peers worldwide specializing in science and engineering

JEDDAH: In collaboration with the Ministry of Education, the King Abdulaziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity (Mawhiba) has inaugurated the qualifying program for the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair 2024.
The program, held at the Mishkat Interactive Center in King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy in Riyadh, seeks to identify and prepare 35 outstanding individuals from a pool of 45 talented participants. The selected students are poised to represent the Kingdom at the prestigious Regeneron ISEF 2024 in Los Angeles in May.
Mawhiba said that the selected students will join more than 1,800 peers worldwide specializing in science and engineering. They will not only compete for ISEF awards, but also participate in international innovation exhibitions, such as ITEX in Malaysia and TISF in Taiwan.
As part of the program, mentors will review the students’ projects, developing work plans to strengthen and enhance each project before the final submission deadline to ISEF.
Workshops on presentation skills, project display, and understanding the judging mechanism at ISEF are also included in the agenda for participants.
Additionally, the Scientific Ethics Committee will have a crucial role in reviewing specific forms related to scientific ethics followed during experiments for each project. Statistical analysis of selected projects will be conducted to ensure accuracy, with specialists overseeing the development plans for each student.
Toward the end of the workshop, an independent judging committee will make the crucial decision of selecting candidates to join the Saudi science and engineering team. These chosen individuals will then proudly represent the Kingdom at ISEF 2024, competing for its coveted awards.
Mawhiba emphasized the success of previous efforts in fostering a culture of scientific research and innovation in education. This has led to the Kingdom achieving commendable global positions in international participation.
Earlier this month, Mawhiba hosted the National Olympiad for Scientific Creativity, Ibdaa 2024, to select students for the Regeneron ISEF 2024 event.
Mawhiba said that the number of students participated in this year’s Ibdaa 2024 has surged by 40 percent, reaching 210,000 compared to 146,000 students last year, who submitted projects in 21 scientific fields.
The foundation selected 180 projects from a pool of 210,000 submissions
The projects included 30 in the energy sector, 26 in materials science, 24 in chemistry, 17 in environmental engineering, 11 in biomedicine and health sciences, and nine in plant sciences.
The Ibdaa 2024 Olympiad aims to discover and support Saudi Arabia’s talented students, fostering their skills and advancing scientific projects.
The annual event provides an innovative environment for collaboration between educational supervisors, education departments and researchers, with a goal to support students.