RIYADH: The decades-long strategic relationship between Saudi Arabia and the US remains strong and is going through a period of “increasing convergence,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday.
During an official trip to Saudi Arabia, Washington’s top diplomat told Hiba Nasr of Asharq News that the Kingdom and the US are successfully working together despite “a difference in views” over the decision by OPEC+ nations last October to cut oil-production targets.
“We’ve had a partnership together for decades that was grounded in security, in cooperation, energy and, in recent years, counterterrorism, and that foundation remains,” Blinken said.
“But what we’re also seeing — and what this visit reconfirms — is that there are important opportunities for our two countries to work together to advance some very positive issues, very positive trends.”
Blinken, who attended a Global Coalition Against Daesh conference in Riyadh this week, said the deescalation of tensions in the Middle East was a priority for both countries, but that the Kingdom and the US have also been working together well on a “positive trajectory based on interests we share” in other arenas.
This includes “collaboration between our countries in addressing some of the challenges that not only are of concern to our people but to people around the world, from health security to climate security to energy security to food security and, of course, the transition to clean energy, working on emerging technologies,” he added.
Blinken said the US is not abandoning the Middle East in the face of growing Chinese and Russian influence and is “here to stay” in the region.
“Day-in, day-out, we’re working with partners throughout the region and what I hear in almost all of my engagements is the US remains the No. 1 partner of choice; that is clear in what I hear, what we hear from all of our partners,” he added.
“And we’re engaging with them, working with them both to deal with many of the challenges (that you just talked about), which are real and urgent and acute, but also — and this is so important — on an affirmative agenda for the future; not just dealing with the crisis but actually trying, together, to build a better future for our people in the US and for people throughout this region.
“So, yes, we’re dealing with crises, we’re dealing with security challenges, but we’re also dealing with an affirmative agenda. And across the board on all of that, as I said, what I hear again and again is the US is our preferred partner. We are a partner and we’re here.”
On the issue of the recent Beijing-brokered agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Blinken said any and all contributions by countries, including China, to the advancement of peace in the region is a positive step.
“We applaud what happened,” he said. “Anything that deescalates tensions, that takes at least one problem off of the agenda, and in this case also may have the additional benefit of helping to advance a peace in Yemen, we think is a good thing.
“Of course, the Saudis and Iranians have been talking together for at least a couple of years to get to this place. We’ll see what happens now.
“If countries — including China — can play a positive role, wherever it is, in helping to advance peace, to reduce tensions then, again, I think that’s positive, that’s what we should all be trying to do.”
Blinken also praised Saudi Arabia for its role in joint humanitarian efforts and its attempts to help end the conflict in Sudan.
“We had, by the way in very close partnership with Saudi Arabia, some success in getting very limited ceasefires that were highly imperfect but did allow more humanitarian assistance to get in (to Sudan) and reach about 2 million people that otherwise would not have had this assistance provided to them,” he said.
With both sides in the conflict increasingly ignoring truce commitments, Blinked added that if neither side was serious about the ceasefire process, Washington has “tools at its disposal” to help bring about a lasting peace.
Saudi crown prince offers condolences to Bahrain king over military deaths
Two Bahraini military personnel were killed near the southern Saudi border with Yemen
Updated 6 sec ago
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made a phone call to Bahrain King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the Saudi Press Agency reported early Wednesday.
The crown prince offered condolences over the two Bahraini military personnel killed near the southern Saudi border with Yemen and wished the injured a speedy recovery.
King Hamad expressed his thanks and appreciation for the crown prince and affirmed that Bahrain is proud of the two soldiers, who were carrying out their national duties.
The bodies of the fallen servicemen Lieutenant Mubarak Hashel Zayed Al-Kubaisi and Corporal Yaqoub Rahmat Moulai Mohammed arrived on Monday at the Isa Air Base on board a Royal Bahraini Air Force aircraft, the Bahrain New Agency said.
Bahrain’s military command said a drone attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels killed the two Bahraini soldiers — one of them an officer — at Saudi Arabia’s southern border early Monday. The soldiers had been patrolling the area.
Earlier, Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry voiced its “condemnation and denunciation” of the “treacherous attack on the defense force of the Kingdom of Bahrain stationed on the southern border of the Kingdom, which resulted in the martyrdom of a number of its brave soldiers and the injury of others.”
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stands by Bahrain and renews its stance of rejection to the continued flow of weapons to the terrorist Houthi militia as well as calls to ban arms export to Yemeni territories,” it said.
Saudi historian calls for using historical oases in the Kingdom to attract tourists
Updated 26 September 2023
MAKKAH: A Saudi historian has said the Kingdom’s rich archaeological and natural heritage should be used to entice more foreign tourists to come and visit the country.
Dr. Khalil Al-Muaiqil, a researcher in the antiquities of the Arabian Peninsula, said the area is the oldest known habitat of ancient man, with Al-Shuwaihatiya site in Al-Jawf, which is 1.3 million years old, recorded as the oldest archaeological site in West Asia.
Al-Muaiqil said most of the historical oases in the Arabian Peninsula still exist today outside areas such as Dumat al-Jandal, Taima, AlUla, and Khaybar, and that other oases disappeared a long time ago such as at Al-Faw and Al-Jarha.
He told Arab News that due to their historical, archaeological, and environmental components, the ancient oasis should be a significant tourism destination.
“Man settled in various regions of the Arabian Peninsula during prehistoric eras. Thousands of sites dating back to the paleolithic and mesolithic periods have been recorded,” he said.
Al-Muaiqil noted that during these periods, the region was characterized by dense vegetation and high rainfall. “This explains the recording of large numbers of Stone Age sites in the Empty Quarter and the Great Nafud Desert, which confirms that these deserts were covered by trees and vegetation before they turned into deserts due to major climate changes in the neolithic era, which dates back to the period between the tenth millennium and the sixth millennium BC.”
According to Al-Muaiqil, the pattern of settlement shifted from one of hunters seeking food to one of settled people making their own food. Digging wells, constructing reservoirs, water tanks, and crude dams allowed man to shift to agriculture, food production, and the establishment of agricultural towns and villages.
“This climate change, which led to the formation of the great deserts in the Empty Quarter, the Nafud, and the Dahna, prompted ancient humans to search for suitable settlement sites, in which sources of groundwater close to the surface and fertile lands suitable for agriculture were available. Some researchers believe that the period of the third and second millenniums BC was the period of the formation of oases in most regions of the Arabian Peninsula.”
He pointed out that the work of settlers and the network of roads they built over time “turned into routes for trade caravans starting at the end of the second millennium BC. These areas later became centers for Arab Kingdoms in the south, center, north and east of the Arabian Peninsula.”
According to Al-Muaiqil, the kingdom of Duma appeared in the north of the Arabian Peninsula, and the kingdoms of Dedan and Lihyan appeared in AlUla, with the kingdom of Taima in the north of AlUla, among others.
“These kingdoms contributed to the development of ancient Arab civilization and provided cultural products that contributed to influencing the regions located to the north of them, especially in Mesopotamia and the Levant,” he said.
“These influences appear clearly in the early periods that coincided with the human migrations that emerged from the various regions of the peninsula to those areas, carrying with them their culture. This is what happened when the Islamic armies went out to spread the call to Islam. The inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula carried all their cultural reserves, which contributed to the crystallization of Islamic architecture and arts and the planning of Islamic cities.”
‘People, planet and prosperity’ top the agenda as Saudi Arabia hosts World Tourism Day celebration
More than 500 government officials and industry leaders from 120 countries are in Riyadh from September 27 to 28
Saudi Arabia is the chair of the UNWTO Executive Council for 2023 and host of its Middle East headquarters
Updated 26 September 2023
Rebecca Anne Proctor
RIYADH: Since it fully opened its borders to visitors, launched a flexible e-visa system, and began developing a wide range of luxury, heritage and adventure-holiday attractions, Saudi Arabia has reinvented itself in just a few short years into a major emerging tourism market.
The Kingdom is therefore seen by many as the natural choice to host a number of events to mark World Tourism Day 2023, an international day (Sept. 27) that was established by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) to celebrate the power of the sector to help bridge cultures.
This year’s meetings and discussions, which will be hosted by Riyadh on Sept. 27 and 28, will address the challenges and opportunities for the industry, under the organization’s core themes of “people, planet and prosperity.”
Saudi Arabia is chairing the organization’s executive council this year, and Riyadh is home to its first regional office in the Middle East, which positions the Kingdom as an important ambassador for tourism in the region.
More than 500 government officials will join experts and industry leaders from 120 countries at the events, which will examine the ways in which the sector is recovering from the economic blows of the COVID-19 pandemic, and responding to calls for greater environmental and social sustainability.
“We have a historic opportunity to chart a new course for the global tourism sector, centered on sustainable development, job creation and economic resilience,” said Ahmed Al-Khateeb, the Saudi minister of tourism.
“Tourism — as a catalyst for change — fosters mutual understanding, builds bridges, and safeguards cultural heritage and environmental conservation, contributing to a more harmonious world.
“World Tourism Day 2023 is an important platform for the world to celebrate the sector’s successes and explore solutions to its challenges. Saudi Arabia is honored to host this esteemed occasion and we look forward to welcoming tourism leaders from the public and private sectors to Riyadh.”
According to organizers, this year’s event is set to be the biggest and most impactful World Tourism Day in the 43-year history of the event.
In addition to Al-Khateeb, other speakers will include UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, Saudi Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih, Vice Minister of Tourism Princess Haifa bint Mohammed, Spain’s Secretary of State for Industry, Trade and Tourism Rosa Ana Morillo Rodriguez, South Africa’s Minister of Tourism Patricia de Lille, Croatia’s Minister of Tourism and Sports Nikolina Brnjac, and Turkiye’s Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Ersoy.
The list of speakers also includes Pansy Ho, the secretary-general of the Global Tourism Economy Forum, and the CEOs of a number of companies and organizations, including Ibrahim Koshy of Saudi Arabian Airlines, Pierfrancesco Vago of MSC Cruises, Greg Webb of Travelport, Ritesh Agarwal of OYO, Julia Simpson of the World Travel and Tourism Council, and Matthew Upchurch of Virtuoso.
“This World Tourism Day, we focus on the vital need to invest in building a more sustainable sector for people, planet and prosperity,” said Pololikashvili.
“The day also makes clear why UNWTO underscores the need for investment in education and for greater innovation as the foundations for long-term growth and transformation. This year’s official celebration in Saudi Arabia reflects how tourism is being embraced to diversify economies and generate opportunities for all.”
The rapidly growing Saudi tourism industry is driven by the government’s Vision 2030 social reform and economic diversification agenda. The sector is expected to account for 10 percent of the Kingdom’s gross domestic product by 2030, creating 1.6 million jobs.
Tourism is one of the biggest drivers of economic growth worldwide and is forecast to contribute $9.5 trillion to global GDP this year alone, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
This is in line with UNWTO forecasts that tourism is on track to recover to between 80 and 95 percent of pre-pandemic levels this year, and to exceed 2019 levels in 2024.
This is very good news for national economies in both traditional and emerging tourism markets, as the sector not only provides a wealth of employment and business opportunities, it also plays an important soft-power role in promoting cross-cultural understanding.
“Tourism is a powerful force for progress and mutual understanding,” said Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general. “But to deliver its full benefits, this force must be protected and nurtured.
“On this World Tourism Day, we recognize the vital need for green investments to build a tourism sector that delivers for people and planet. So let us all do more to harness the full potential of sustainable tourism. Because investing in sustainable tourism is investing in a better future for all.”
• Riyadh hosted World Tourism Day for the first time in 2019.
• Kingdom chairs UN World Tourism Organization this year and hosts its Middle East HQ.
The two-day event in Riyadh will focus on three subthemes: mutual understanding, economic sustainability and social prosperity.
Day one, during which delegates will explore “Tourism and Green Investments,” will include panels on the power of tourism in building bridges, investing in human capabilities, the potential of less-visited destinations, the challenges in achieving a sustainable future and the potential solutions, bridging the innovation gap, and powering entrepreneurship.
In the evening, Saudi Arabia’s UNESCO World Heritage Site of Diriyah, north of Riyadh, will host a gala dinner in celebration of World Tourism Day.
The second day will include the “Tourism Leaders Forum,” under the theme “Tourism for People, Prosperity and Intercultural Dialogue,” and a session focusing on the public-sector that will explore options for a sustainable and green future for the industry.
In addition, a private-sector session will look at “seamless end-to-end travel,” with a view to developing the infrastructure, legislation and services needed for mass-transit networks worldwide that promote ease and comfort of travel.
There will also be a handover session during which Saudi Arabia will pass the baton to next year’s host nation, Georgia.
The wider aim of the event, organizers say, is to foster global collaborations, explore opportunities, strengthen the resilience of the tourism sector, and work toward an investment-led and sustainably focused future for the industry.
Delegates will have the opportunity to explore innovative approaches to tourism, consider success stories and best practices that integrate tourism with green investment, and learn how the sector can be promoted as a means of bridging cultures.
Investment in tourism and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia has grown rapidly since the country opened its borders more widely to foreign tourists in 2019 and introduced its e-visa system.
The Kingdom’s Ministry of Tourism was established in 2020 to bring the sector to the forefront of the Vision 2030 agenda, with the aim of creating 1 million jobs for citizens, and enabling and accelerating sustainable growth through future-focused policies.
Authorities in the Kingdom say that, guided by data, they are pursuing investments and talent-development programs to attract industry-leading partners. They have set a target of welcoming 100 million foreign visitors by 2030 and boosting the contribution of the sector to GDP from 3 percent to 10 percent during that time.
Tourism projects are under development or construction in several parts of the country, including a chain of luxury resorts along the country’s western coast known as the Red Sea project, and the island of Umluj, which is known as “the Maldives of Saudi Arabia” thanks to its crystal-clear waters and white sand beaches.
Other areas being targeted include the mountainous Asir region, a prime location for outdoor sports and adventure activities, and the ancient desert region of AlUla, site of many archaeological treasures including the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hegra and the “Journey Through Time” master plan, a living, breathing museum and cultural-heritage hub.
On Monday, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched the masterplan to develop a new project in Soudah to present a new face of luxury mountain tourism. Soudah Peaks will see a luxury mountain tourism destination set 3,015 meters being created above sea level on Saudi Arabia’s highest peak.
The project will be executed by Soudah Development, a company owned by Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, that is driving the development of Soudah and parts of Rijal Almaa in Asir.
The growing investment in tourism and the resulting increase in visitors is good news for key players in the Saudi hospitality industry, who have been working to expand their offerings to meet booming demand for accommodation, dining, activities and relaxation.
“The Kingdom’s identity as the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds, its leading investment capabilities, and its strategic geographical position all play a significant role in supporting Saudi Arabia on its journey to become a global tourism destination,” Richard Johnson, the general manager of Al-Faisaliah Hotel in Riyadh, told Arab News.
“World Tourism Day, held in Riyadh, will offer a prime opportunity to showcase the Kingdom’s progress to this end, where travel and tourism industry leaders from around the world will gather and witness how the nation proactively connects Saudis with the world, builds bridges between cultures, nurtures hospitality talent, and creates investment opportunities for the international community.”
Royal Commission for Riyadh City seminar in Paris highlights Saudi World Expo themes
Titled “Prosperity for All,” the meeting was attended by delegates from the member countries of the Bureau International des Expositions
Saudi delegation included Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb and DGDA CEO Jerry Inzerillo
Updated 26 September 2023
RIYADH: The Royal Commission for Riyadh City, the Saudi government agency leading the Kingdom’s bid to host World Expo 2030, recently held a seminar in Paris on the country’s expo themes.
Titled “Prosperity for All,” the meeting was attended by delegates from the member countries of the Bureau International des Expositions, an inter-governmental organization that regulates World Expo.
During the seminar, Saudi Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb, Diriyah Gate Development Authority CEO Jerry Inzerillo, and senior adviser Daniel Sobel, addressed the BIE delegates and highlighted the Kingdom’s expo vision.
Al-Khateeb said the Riyadh Expo 2030 theme, “The Era of Change: Together for a Foresighted Tomorrow,” aligned with the country’s commitment to, “fostering international collaboration and addressing global disparities toward a more inclusive and sustainable world.”
The minister added: “Saudi Arabia is committed as a host and as an equal partner to working with all of you to create a world where prosperity is more than a vision but a collective reality.”
Inzerillo said: “The Kingdom is undergoing unprecedented development in various fields and in openness in various sectors, including investment, culture, and tourism, which will contribute to delivering an exceptional edition of the Riyadh Expo 2030.”
He noted the significant developmental initiatives and major projects which he felt would contribute to making Saudi Arabia the ideal destination for hosting the event.
“We do not want to win the Expo for the sake of wining the Expo, we want to use it to show a rich genuine welcoming culture,” Inzerillo added.
The Paris seminar formed part of a series of gatherings organized by the Royal Commission for Riyadh City to establish connections with participating countries and gather ideas and opinions from delegates regarding the suitability of the themes for their respective nations.
Sobel said: “The sub-theme ‘Prosperity for All’ points to the importance of inclusive education in providing equal opportunities for all segments of society.
“One of the things which is exciting about Saudi Arabia more than any other country that I found is the thirst for excellence in education, which will contribute to achieving ‘Prosperity for All,’” he added.
RIYADH: A key part of Saudi Arabia’s visionary social and economic plan has been to build a creative economy.
Public and private institutions are spearheading the Kingdom’s move away from reliance on hydrocarbons by encouraging the country’s majority youth population to engage in creative activities.
Among them is the Saudi Aramco-sponsored King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) — meaning enrichment in Arabic. The term reflects the company’s stated vision to create a cultural institution for, “social progress through education and cross-cultural exchange.”
In 2008, on Aramco’s 75th anniversary, the late King Abdulaziz spoke of his wish to establish a world-class center that would present the arts, culture, science, and technology to inspire creativity and push the country into a new knowledge economy.
The monarch’s son, as King Abdullah, progressed his father’s vision and in 2016 the late rulers’ ambitions came to fruition.
Situated in Dhahran on the site of the first commercial Saudi oil field, Ithra opened in 2016. Since then, it has built on Saudi Aramco’s long patronage of the arts — the Saudi petroleum and natural gas company for decades staged art exhibitions on its premises — to promote creative thinking.
The center aims to encourage aspiring young artists in Saud Arabia and throughout the Arab world through its exhibitions, the most recent concentrated on sustainability and the natural environment.
The “From Earth” exhibition, which opened on Sept. 26, features work by emerging and established Saudi artists, while “Net Zero” has been displaying pieces by two Saudi and 17 international artists since Sept. 16.
The former shows a collection of 32 specially commissioned items including paintings, digital and sound art, installations, and works incorporating physical elements from the country’s natural landscape.
The exhibition was staged in collaboration with the Dammam Culture and Arts Association to further encourage artistic development and diversity in the Kingdom.
Ithra’s head of museums, Farah Abushullaih, told Arab News that as well as serving as a platform for art production, the center had become a hub for empowering talents.
She said: “It promotes art and culture in Saudi Arabia, builds bridges of communication with emerging and professional artists, and in addition provides a base for communication, and establishes common grounds for future partnerships, which contributes to the development of the art sector as a whole.”
While the works on display in “Net Zero” express the spirit of sustainability, those featured in “From Earth” focus specifically on Saudi artists’ relationship to their natural heritage and their love for their land, depicting a range of tangible and intangible perspectives.
Yousef Al-Harbi, director of Dammam Culture and Arts Association, said: “The exhibition carries many concepts, symbols, and connotations that have influential and motivational aspects.
“Earth is the concept, idea, and symbol, which artists choose to explore as it encourages them to passionately excel creatively, as well as pay tribute to their own roots to progress forward.
“The artists use the earth as an inspiration to promote a sense of belonging to the land and its details which are reflected within, and which they carry wherever they go.”
One piece, “The Sound of the Earth” by Moath Al-Hazmi, aims to capture the sound that emanates from diverse natural landscapes in the Kingdom by placing a recording in designated boxes, with descriptive aluminium plates, that visitors can listen to with headphones.
The plate “Earth Sound,” for example, has recordings of the sound of the sea at Saihat in Al-Qatif.
Al-Hazmi told Arab News: “My work deals with the sound fingerprints of various elements and this work concerns the sound fingerprints of terrains throughout Saudi Arabia by recording their sounds at different times to reflect the nature of a specific place.
“Many of us live in large cities and perhaps some have never been able to travel to the eastern and western parts of the Arabian Peninsula. It was from here that the question arose about the sounds of these places.
“The work is an invitation to deal with the land — a medium we are all familiar with — a bit like street painting but using the earth in a new and innovative way by making audio content from five selected Saudi terrains,” he said.
Saudi artist Bader Al-Essa uses photography, video, writing, and installation to explore and document the history of people on the Arabian Peninsula.
His exhibit, “Maqam,” features two black-and-white photographs reflecting the mihrab or Islamic praying niche in the wall of a mosque or religious school. Shade and shadow are incorporated to explore the abstract historical depth of the architectural structure, and its importance to society and to the land.
“‘Maqam’ embodies an image of the old mihrabs in the Najd region, representing the deep spiritual connection of local communities with their environment through the use of sustainable natural components to move to the worlds of supplication and closeness to God,” Al-Essa told Arab News.
Other elements of the artist’s photographs include a prayer mat and the triangle motifs found in old architectural designs to evoke a feeling of connection and familiarity.
Mohammed Al-Faraj, from Al-Ahsa, and Zahra Al-Gamdi, are taking part in “Net Zero” with works based around Saudi nature and heritage to raise awareness of environmental issues.
Abushullaih said: “We want to build a new generation of artists. Hopefully with the newcomers that are being exhibited for the first time here in Ithra, some of them are established already, there’s a nice blend between emerging and established artists.
“The journey has been rewarding and inspiring as has the community development and education surrounding such shows.”