Frankly Speaking: Is the US still important for Saudi Arabia?

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Updated 12 June 2023
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Frankly Speaking: Is the US still important for Saudi Arabia?

Frankly Speaking: Is the US still important for Saudi Arabia?
  • Saudi Embassy Spokesperson Fahad Nazer says relations have been “on solid ground for many years” and, contrary to speculation, “continues to strengthen, broaden and deepen on multiple levels”
  • He answers questions on recent Blinken visit results, whether Chinese-brokered Iran deal was a snub to Washington, how Riyadh balances its historic US ties with new partnerships

DUBAI: The regional politics of the Middle East are in a state of constant flux — something made evident by China’s negotiation of a peace deal between longtime rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran in March this year. With this deal giving China peacemaker status, and China and India topping the list of countries importing Saudi oil, is the US still an important partner for the Gulf nation?

Fahad Nazer, chief spokesman of the Saudi Embassy in Washington, says that despite skepticism, the ties between the two countries are stronger than ever.

“This is a relationship that has not only endured, but has really continued to broaden and to deepen over the years,” Nazer told Katie Jensen, host of “Frankly Speaking,” the Arab News talk show that features interviews with leading policymakers.

Nazer added that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Saudi Arabia “really reinforced the pillars of the relationship … if it has changed, it has changed for the better in the sense that it’s gotten broader and deeper and stronger.




Frankly Speaking host Katie Jensen interviewing Fahad Nazer, spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C. (Supplied)

“Much like President Biden’s visit back in July these visits have reinforced that the pillars which include political cooperation, security cooperation, military cooperation and trade; at the same time in many ways, they have also outlined the new contours of a more expanded relationship that does include cooperation on a number of new fronts, including cybersecurity, mitigating the impact of climate change, food security and even space exploration,” he said.

While some analysts have described the past two years of Saudi-US ties as some of the worst in recent history, primarily due to actions taken in the early days of the Biden administration, Nazer disagrees with the popular “animosity to reconciliation” narrative.

“I think the relationship has been on solid ground for many years, even if you’re referring to the past two years, our relationship and cooperation and coordination on multiple fronts has continued,” Nazer said, referencing the US and the Kingdom’s regularly joint military exercises, the thousands of Saudis pursuing higher education in the US, and thousands of Americans living in the Kingdom.

“I think it’s important to note that in any relationship, you are bound to have a difference of opinion over certain policies. However, that does not detract from the fact that when it comes to Saudi Arabia and the US, in particular, our policies align much more broadly than we have differences,” he said.

Far more than just military and educational exchange, though, Saudi-US business ties are at the forefront of the relationship between the two countries, says Nazer, who said that the estimated $40 billion in bilateral annual trade value supports 165,000 American jobs.

In March, two of Saudi Arabia’s major carriers, the new Riyadh Air and flagship Saudia, signed $37 billion in deals to purchase 121 Boeing Dreamliner aircraft for their fleets.




Saudia alone is one of the world's biggest customer of Boeing aircraft, providing tens of thousands of jobs for Americans. (AFP file photo)

“This deal was important. I do believe it was important for both countries. So, one of the many goals that Saudi Arabia has as part of Vision 2030 is to transform the Kingdom into a global logistics hub, but also a global tourism destination. We believe that we have a lot to offer to tourists and certainly businesses around the world,” Nazer said. He added that in addition to making the Kingdom more accessible to foreign tourists, the deal will also create an estimated 110,000 jobs in the US.

According to Nazer, the Kingdom’s rapid transformation in recent years has convinced even the harshest of critics to reevaluate the Saudi-US relationship. US Senator Lindsey Graham has pivoted away significantly from many of his previous criticisms of the Kingdom, visiting Saudi Arabia in April to congratulate the government on the Boeing deal.

“People who visit Saudi Arabia … even seven years ago or five years ago, and come back and visit now, cannot help but notice the dramatic changes that have taken place in the Kingdom. You see it as soon as you land at the airport in Riyadh or Jeddah,” Nazer said, adding that both Republican and Democratic administrations in the US have maintained strong ties with the Kingdom.

“Whether it’s Senator Graham or others, I’ve had the pleasure of actually accompanying a number of American delegations over the past couple of years. And again, I hear the same feedback from business leaders, from civil society leaders, (and) think tank leaders. People are literally amazed at how much the country has changed, how it looks different. It feels different. It’s certainly opened up. And I’m not surprised to hear people come back with a very positive impression, you know, following these visits.”




US Senator Lindsey Graham, left, meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah on April 13, 2023. (SPA)

While Nazer stressed that bilateral relations have been robust and are only continuing to strengthen, the recent Chinese-brokered peace agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran has some critics calling the deal “a slap in the face to the US.” Later, the White House did state that they were briefed on the deal, and Nazer added that Saudi Arabia has “ongoing conversations with our American partners on a number of fronts.

“When it comes to Iran specifically, we have said all along and going back several years at this point, that Iran is obviously our neighbor. They have great potential. They have a predominantly young population. They have a great history and culture. And so, over the past two years, we’ve had a number of talks in different places. And that culminated in this agreement as was announced in Beijing back in March, where we did announce the restoration of diplomatic relations and opening our embassies,” he said.

This does not signify, Nazer said, the end of all problems between Iran and Saudi Arabia, particularly when it comes to concerns that the Kingdom has over Iran’s nuclear program. He added, however, that the potential stability brought about by the Saudi-Iran peace deal will have positive effects both within Saudi Arabia and regionally.


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“Things like transforming the Kingdom into a tourism destination, into a logistics hub, combating climate change, these are challenges that are in many ways global in nature and require the region to enjoy some peace and stability. And so, this is what we’re doing, and through our engagements, whether with Iran or some of our other, you know, regional partners, but also partners in other regions of the world, we believe that we need peace and prosperity,” he said.

The increasingly stronger ties between the US and Saudi Arabia, despite their differences in opinion on regional issues, is a testament to their stability and endurance. Normalization of ties with Syria, which recently re-entered the Arab League and has been restoring relations with a number of Arab countries, was a point of disagreement for the US and the Kingdom.

“Our leadership has concluded correctly that the status quo was simply not sustainable. So, the efforts to isolate Syria and the Syrian government, indefinitely, were not helping stabilize Syria. They were certainly not helping in terms of allowing the provision and the delivery of humanitarian assistance. And they certainly were not helping return the millions of people, who have been displaced and who are now refugees in other countries, return to Syria,” Nazer said.

In May, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke with Syrian President Bashar Assad on the sidelines of the Arab League summit in Jeddah, the first such meeting which included Syria since the start of the Syrian Civil War. The US State Department has pushed back against such normalization, opposing the restoration of diplomacy between Assad and Arab countries.




Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) meeting with Syria's President Bashar Assad on the sidelines of the Arab Summit meeting in Jeddah on May 19, 2023. (Bandar Al-Jaloud / Saudi Royal Palace)

“What we are seeking to promote is a political resolution to the conflict there that preserves Syria’s independence, that preserves its territorial integrity and unity, and allows people who have been displaced to return to their homes safely. And also, to allow the delivery of badly needed humanitarian assistance to reach the people who need it most,” Nazer said.

Though China has certainly presented itself as a peacemaker, the Saudi-US relationship has shown that the Kingdom and the US are prepared to act as harbingers of peace together. Before his arrival in Saudi Arabia, Secretary Blinken expressed his country’s desire to play a role in Saudi-Israeli normalization.

“Saudi Arabia’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been clear and has been consistent for many years. In fact, it was the late King Abdullah, who, way back in 2002, introduced what is now known as the Arab Peace Initiative at the Arab League Summit in Beirut in that year. And the proposal, the initiative, does offer Israel normalization with all members of the Arab states in return for a just and comprehensive peace with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution,” Nazer said.




US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, attends a joint news conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan at the Intercontinental Hotel in Riyadh on June 8, 2023. (REUTERS/Pool)

While Nazer added that “that offer really still remains on the table,” the core issue of Palestinian rights is still a must before normalization can truly continue.

The most recent successful collaborative effort between the US and the Kingdom was carried out at the end of May, when the two countries brokered a ceasefire in war-torn Sudan. Though the temporary ceasefire expired and was subject to violations, the two mediators have worked to negotiate more ceasefire deals between the warring Sudanese Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces.

Nazer said: “Saudi Arabia and the US have been working very closely on trying to advance or help restore peace and stability in Sudan. We are both facilitators of some of the talks that have been taking place that have allowed some of the humanitarian aid to be delivered to Sudan and have decreased tensions a little bit. So, we believe that these are steps in the right direction.”

Far, far beyond regional politics — or even international politics — the final frontier awaits what Saudi-US cooperation can bring. Late last month, the two nations made history when American companies SpaceX and Axiom Space launched the first-ever female Arab astronaut into space. Rayyanah Barnawi and fellow Saudi astronaut Ali Al-Qarni were the first Saudis to ever visit the International Space Station, where Barnawi carried out multiple scientific experiments.

“In some ways, this was a different experience. It was almost an immersive experience for the rest of the Kingdom because the astronauts … were able to share much of their experience with people back in the Kingdom,” Nazer said.

“It was a very exciting and a very proud moment for us.”

 


AlUla’s shannah dates nurture, preserve heritage

Shannah is crafted from the skin of sheep or goats and is a crucial element in the date storage process in AlUla. (Supplied)
Shannah is crafted from the skin of sheep or goats and is a crucial element in the date storage process in AlUla. (Supplied)
Updated 02 March 2024
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AlUla’s shannah dates nurture, preserve heritage

Shannah is crafted from the skin of sheep or goats and is a crucial element in the date storage process in AlUla. (Supplied)
  • In alignment with the goals of Saudi Vision 2030, the Royal Commission for AlUla is supporting tourism development in the governorate

JEDDAH: In AlUla and the wider Arabian Peninsula, an ancient method of storing and preserving dates, known as shannah, stands as testament to people’s commitment to the preservation of their cultural and culinary heritage.

Shannah not only showcases the ingenuity of the past but also plays a significant role in the region’s economic and agricultural landscape.

Shannah is crafted from the skin of sheep or goats and is a crucial element in the date storage process in AlUla.

Shannah is crafted from the skin of sheep or goats and is a crucial element in the date storage process in AlUla. (Supplied)

Harvested dates are cleaned, dried, and stuffed into the animal skin, which is then sewn together with palm fronds. The shannah is then left outside to soak up the sun for a period ranging from a few months to five years. The meticulous shannah process ensures the dates’ high quality is maintained throughout.

The demonstration of the shannah process is a highlight of the annual AlUla Dates Festival, providing visitors with firsthand experience of preserving dates in this unique manner.

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$400

Their unique taste and cultural significance make these dates highly sought after, and a single shannah of dates can fetch up to SR1,500 ($400).

In alignment with the goals of Saudi Vision 2030, the Royal Commission for AlUla is supporting tourism development in the governorate. This includes the revival of ancient industries such as the shannah, involving the local community in achieving the commission’s goals.

Shannah is crafted from the skin of sheep or goats and is a crucial element in the date storage process in AlUla. (Supplied)

Abdulhadi Suqeer, a Saudi expert in the cultivation and preservation of dates and date palms, told Arab News: “Shannah has a rich history dating back approximately 400 years. This ancient method served as a means for the residents of AlUla to ensure food security throughout the year.

“In recent times, recognizing its cultural significance, the Royal Commission for AlUla has taken steps to revive this heritage, introducing the new generation to the ancient ways of preserving dates,” he added.

FASTFACTS

• Harvested dates are cleaned, dried, and stuffed into the animal skin, which is then sewn together with palm fronds.

• Shannah is primarily used to store one specific type of date known as Al-Helwa Al-Hamra.

Shannah is intricately linked to the geography and culture of AlUla.

Shannah is crafted from the skin of sheep or goats and is a crucial element in the date storage process in AlUla. (Supplied)

“Crafted from goat or sheep skins, the shannah undergoes a meticulous process of cleaning, tanning, and preparation, using materials like lime to maintain flexibility,” Saqeer explained.

In the past, the people of AlUla stored their harvest in a variety of containers, including Al-Jassah — made from lime or gypsum — and Al-Majlad, which is made from green palm fronds.

However, Saqeer said, “The ‘shannah’ method imparts a unique taste and flavor to the dates, avoiding any unnatural substances. Some even add flavors like mint, orange leaves, or basil to enhance the aromatic experience.”

The 'Shannah' is primarily used to store one specific type of date known as Al-Helwa Al-Hamra, which translates to sweet red dates. (Supplied)

The shannah is primarily used to store one specific type of date known as Al-Helwa Al-Hamra, (sweet red dates), which have a low molasses and sugar content, giving the dates their distinct red color. The natural storage process ensures that shannah dates maintain their original taste, flavor, and fragrant smell, particularly when consumed with natural sheep butter or ghee.

Their unique taste and cultural significance make these dates highly sought after, and a single shannah of dates can fetch up to SR1,500 ($400).

“There are individual efforts by some farmers in AlUla to promote the shannah throughout the year, but we need to have a marketing platform adopted by the commission or any of the entities interested in this type of food,” Suqeer concluded.

 

 


Saudi artist reimagines Kingdom’s capital in vibrant pixels

Saudi artist reimagines Kingdom’s capital in vibrant pixels
Updated 03 March 2024
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Saudi artist reimagines Kingdom’s capital in vibrant pixels

Saudi artist reimagines Kingdom’s capital in vibrant pixels
  • Khaled Makshoush’s creativity is sparked by Saudi Arabia’s era of transformation

RIYADH: Saudi artist Khaled Makshoush has mastered pixel designs to reimagine Saudi Arabian scenes in a form of art that is personal, soothing and contemporary.

Indie and retro-style video games use pixel designs to create a colorful and visual design, but with his tablet and stylus the Riyadh-based artist captures a variety of sights, from construction sites with cranes to the iconic streets of the capital and the serene terracotta-coloured desert.

Makshoush told Arab News that he is energized by the transformation of the Kingdom and its complexity: “I’m inspired by the urban landscapes of Riyadh and the industrial scape and the desert scenery of Saudi Arabia in general.”

Saudi artist Khaled Makshoush captures a variety of sights from the Kingdom’s capital, from construction sites with cranes to the iconic streets of the capital and the serene terracotta-coloured desert. (Pixel Art by Khaled Makshoush)

There is a transportive power in his art that emerges from his creative process. He explained: “In my art I explore the atmosphere of place. For example, if a place makes me feel something, I ask myself what is it about that place that makes me feel these emotions and ways. And I create an imaginary place that expresses these feelings.”

Colors are a big subject in Makshoush’s art; he mixes a vibrant palette, resulting in a bold and eye-catching drawing.   

“Usually, I start with just a few colors that indicate the feel or the atmosphere of the painting, and after that I try to find relationships with other colors that add on or complement that feeling.”

Khaled Makshoush, Saudi artist

Makshoush’s art is inspired by the rapid development of Riyadh, showcasing the bustling city life of the Kingdom’s capital. “I try to let my life and my culture come out organically through chasing my personal sense of the world,” he said.

His forays into the city’s urban landscape spark his creative imagination and the scenes and moments he comes across become the subjects of his work: “Walking and driving in Riyadh always gives me inspiration and an idea for my artwork. It’s interesting to see how the city is changing very fast and also still has its own unique feel that I always like to express.

When everything is moving and changing so fast, it’s important to see and understand what people felt like during a specific time.

Khaled Makshoush, Saudi artist

“My first art Riyadh artwork, ‘Early Evening,’ is about seeing the last phase of sunset in the city and my last Riyadh artwork, ‘Cranes,’ is inspired by the huge and tall cranes I see in Riyadh and how they almost glow during nighttime. Very different subject matters but one city and that’s what I like about it.”

Saudi artist Khaled Makshoush captures a variety of sights from the Kingdom’s capital, from construction sites with cranes to the iconic streets of the capital and the serene terracotta-coloured desert. (Pixel Art by Khaled Makshoush)

Makshoush creates new worlds of his own, inspired by existing ones. His artwork does not simply replicate what he sees in Riyadh — he adds layers of his own interpretation to it while capturing its Saudi essence: “Most of these paintings are imaginary. All these Saudi Arabian scenes don’t really exist but it makes me happy that people still find familiarity with them.”

He says that he has received encouraging feedback from the local community: “I’d say it’s always amusing when I draw a scene of Riyadh and get some people telling me they almost recognize the location, but they don’t (know) where exactly.”

According to Makshoush, art is important for society because it teaches us about ourselves: “Especially now when everything is moving and changing so fast, it’s important to see and understand what people felt like during a specific time. What things looked like, what people felt like, what was the mood, how people saw things … art is the best way to answer these questions.”

 


Tabuk visual arts forum highlights Arab creativity

The two-day event featured over 100 artworks ranging from realism to abstraction to contemporary expressionism. (SPA)
The two-day event featured over 100 artworks ranging from realism to abstraction to contemporary expressionism. (SPA)
Updated 02 March 2024
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Tabuk visual arts forum highlights Arab creativity

The two-day event featured over 100 artworks ranging from realism to abstraction to contemporary expressionism. (SPA)
  • The forum’s primary objective was to highlight the talents of Arab artists, and foster a “dynamic exchange of ideas and skills between international participants and local artists in Tabuk”

RIYADH: The inaugural Tabuk International Forum for Visual Arts, hosted by the Colors of Art club, a division of the national hobby portal, Hawi, presented a diverse array of creative endeavors from 30 artists from across the Arab world.

The two-day event, which ended March 2, showcased more than 100 artworks in genres ranging from realism to abstraction and contemporary expressionism, and attracted participants from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Iraq, Oman, and the UAE.

The two-day event featured over 100 artworks ranging from realism to abstraction to contemporary expressionism. (SPA)

The forum’s primary objective, according to the organizers, was to highlight the talents of Arab artists, and foster a “dynamic exchange of ideas and skills between international participants and local artists in Tabuk.”

Additionally, the forum, which includes workshops and discussions, was intended to “bolster the status of the arts within the GCC and wider Arab region.”

The two-day event featured over 100 artworks ranging from realism to abstraction to contemporary expressionism. (SPA)

Club president Thanawa Al-Qurani underscored the forum’s emphasis on fostering cross-cultural exchange and praised the engagement among attendees and participants, positioning the event as a pivotal moment in shaping public appreciation for visual arts in Tabuk.

“The exhibition stands as a testament to the evolving artistic landscape, reflecting the burgeoning cultural dynamism in the realm of visual arts,” Al-Qurani said, according to a report from the Saudi Press Agency.

The two-day event featured over 100 artworks ranging from realism to abstraction to contemporary expressionism. (SPA)

“Featuring a diverse array of works spanning realism, impressionism, and abstraction, it bears witness to the artistic renaissance underway … underscoring the region’s vibrant and cohesive artistic vision,” she added.

Meanwhile, Omani artist Jamal Al-Jassasi, the SPA said, expressed his enthusiasm for the forum’s overarching goal of “promoting and elevating visual arts while nurturing cultural ties” in the Arab world.

 


Who’s Who: Abdulaziz Al-Osaimi, board member of National Customer Experience Academy

Abdulaziz Al-Osaimi
Abdulaziz Al-Osaimi
Updated 02 March 2024
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Who’s Who: Abdulaziz Al-Osaimi, board member of National Customer Experience Academy

Abdulaziz Al-Osaimi

Abdulaziz Al-Osaimi has been a board member of the National Customer Experience Academy since January 2024.

He has been deputy chairman of the board at the Customer Experience Association since May 2021.

Al-Osaimi also founded Right Decision for Customer Experience Consulting in December 2019 and has been a consultant since then.

He has more than 20 years of professional experience in management and business development in the Saudi ‎market.

His core strengths include strategic thinking, planning, identifying and maximizing potential opportunities, and motivating and leading a cross-cultural workforce to consistent levels of growth.  

Previously, Al-Osaimi served in many important positions, including as member of the International Contact Centers Association.

Between May and December of 2021, Al-Osaimi worked at the Ministry of Interior as a customer experience consultant to design customer journeys for services in traffic, civil defense, passports and borders to improve service and to grow non-oil revenues.

He was director of program to enhance communication between citizens and the government at the Ministry of Education from December 2017 to November 2019.

Al-Osaimi has published two books and multiple articles on customer experience, spoken at several conferences, and served as a judge at international customer experience awards‎.

He has over eight years of experience in customer experience consulting, strategy planning, performance measurement, and project management, working with various government entities and private organizations in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Osaimi hold a master’s degree in business information systems from the University of Bedfordshire and several professional certifications, including CXAC, PMP, KPI, and CGPM.

 


Thousands hit streets of historic Jeddah for half-marathon

Thousands hit streets of historic Jeddah for half-marathon
Updated 02 March 2024
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Thousands hit streets of historic Jeddah for half-marathon

Thousands hit streets of historic Jeddah for half-marathon
  • Runners embrace race challenge and enjoy beauty of Al-Balad’s landmarks

JEDDAH: The historic district of Al-Balad was the scene of a remarkable spectacle on Saturday as thousands of runners, both male and female, from Saudi Arabia and other countries took part in the Jeddah half-marathon 2024.

This event, a major highlight in Saudi Arabia’s running calendar, was the first of its kind held through the scenic streets and landmarks of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. It showcased the grit, determination and enthusiasm of Jeddah’s runners.

More than 3,000 participants from national and international backgrounds joined the event, competing in the 21 km, 10 km, and 1 km categories across different age groups.

The 21.1 km route began at 6 a.m. in front of Al-Balad’s historical gate, Bab Jadid, taking participants past iconic landmarks such as Nassif House, Al-Matbouli Museum and Al-Juffali Mosque.

Other races included a 10 km run for participants aged 12 and above, attracting enthusiastic runners of all ages, including children and the elderly. Additionally, a 1 km walk was open to participants of all ages, including those with special needs or disabilities, receiving maximum cheers from the crowd.

Runners gathered early in the historical area. Marathon arrangements included facilities such as medical points, hydration stations, food trucks and entertainment programs within the race village.

Enthusiasm was palpable as top runners from more than 15 countries enjoyed the scenic beauty of the city’s sights while competing.

Organized by the Saudi Sports for All Federation and Historic Jeddah Program, the half-marathon aimed to provide a fun and accessible way for amateur athletes and families to experience Al-Balad’s rich culture and history through sports.

Anwar Algoz, from Morocco, clinched the first prize worth SR18,000 ($4,800) in this year’s half-marathon, covering the 21 km category and crossing the finish line in 1 hour and 6 minutes.

Afterwards, Algoz, who recently secured third place in the Riyadh Marathon, told Arab News: “It’s not my first half-marathon in Saudi Arabia. Despite the intense heat today, I pushed myself. Halfway through, I felt I could make a move, and in the end, I increased the pace, securing the win. I’m thrilled to have won this race today following my third-place finish in Riyadh.”

Getting to the starting line was a new challenge for Prince Sultan bin Khalid Al-Faisal. Speaking to Arab News after finishing the 10 km race, he said: “Actually, it is a great experience in old Jeddah, and what makes it more exciting is seeing all those people involved in this marathon. For me, it is the first experience, and I found it very thrilling and exciting.”

Prince Saud bin Turki Al-Faisal said: “I’ve done it before, and just watching all these enthusiastic amateurs and professional athletes running together is so wonderful. I believe all of them are winners.”

He added: “It was a very interesting experience, and the location itself added an exciting atmosphere to go through these historical monuments located in the historical area.”

Ola Altaib, a medical student, expressed her happiness at participating in this marathon. “Running through the streets of old Jeddah is an incredibly invigorating experience that is unmatched,” she said.

At the end of the race, runners were greeted by cheering crowds, and the most thrilling moment for them was crossing the finish line.

“Tired but super happy,” said one of the oldest runners, Hamid Al-Ahmri, who came all the way from the southern side of the Kingdom after completing the 10 km category. “I am so glad I made it, and it feels great to cross the finish line.”

Hatoon Kadi, a YouTuber, said: “Experiencing the marathon was wonderful. Old, young, male and female runners were there; it was so nice to see them joining the marathon for their own health. I will repeat it again, and it is going to be a yearly habit.”

The event concluded with the distribution of prizes and medals to the winners and participants.