Frankly Speaking: How to explain the Saudi ‘diplomatic marathon’ in Asia?

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Updated 24 July 2023
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Frankly Speaking: How to explain the Saudi ‘diplomatic marathon’ in Asia?

Frankly Speaking: How to explain the Saudi ‘diplomatic marathon’ in Asia?
  • Saudi geopolitical analyst Salman Al-Ansari says Kingdom’s growing ties with Asian economies should not be viewed as a threat by US
  • Saudi Arabia has hosted several Asian leaders in recent weeks, including the Japanese prime minister, as it deepens engagement with the region

DUBAI: The “diplomatic marathon” underway between the Kingdom and its neighbors to the north and east represents a “Saudi-Asian moment,” according to Salman Al-Ansari, a Saudi geopolitical analyst.

The Kingdom is “having this kind of beautiful marathon, and I would love to call it the Saudi-Asian moment,” he said, following several rounds of diplomatic visits and agreements between Riyadh and Asian countries.

Appearing on the Arab News weekly current-affairs show “Frankly Speaking,” Al-Ansari also discussed the Kingdom’s motives for establishing closer ties with the Central Asian, Southeast Asian and Far East economies, and explained how burgeoning Saudi relations with China and Russia ought to be viewed by Washington, its traditional ally.




Salman Al-Ansari, a Saudi geopolitical analyst, speaks to Frankly Speaking host Katie Jensen. (AN photo)

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia became the 51st country to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations during Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan’s visit to Jakarta.

The TAC is a peace accord signed in 1976 to establish a set of guidelines to govern inter-state relations in the region based on mutual respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of one another.

Besides the 10 member states of ASEAN, which include influential members Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore, countries not located in Southeast Asia have also been entering into the agreement.




Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan (L), Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi (R), and ASEAN Secretary-General Kao Kim Hourn at the signing ceremony of Saudi Arabia's accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) in Jakarta on July 12, 2023. (AFP)

China and India were the first to accede to it in 2003, and the US and the EU joined in 2009. “This definitely will enhance the bilateral relations of the Kingdom with all the ASEAN members,” Al-Ansari said. “That’s why I call it the Saudi-Asian moment.”

Another diplomatic highlight of the past month was an official Middle East tour by Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida — his first since taking office in 2020. Between July 16 and 19, Kishida visited Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar.

Although energy security was high on Kishida’s agenda during his tour, green technology initiatives and cooperation in technology and infrastructure also featured prominently.

“It was a very important visit,” Al-Ansari told “Frankly Speaking” host Katie Jensen. “There were more than 26 agreements that have been signed between Japan and Saudi Arabia that involve so many different fields. And you can name energy, water, advanced industries, technologies and the health sector, and also the financial sector.

“So, there is a lot going on with regards to the Saudi-Asian relations. And we should not forget also the fact that the Central Asian-GCC meeting happened just a couple of days ago where, for the first time, the two blocs started to solidify their relationships.”




Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) meets with Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (2nd left) at Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah on July 16, 2023. (SPA)

On July 19, the Gulf Cooperation Council-Central Asia Countries (GCC-C5) Summit took place in the Saudi city of Jeddah, resulting in a further strengthening of ties between the two regional blocs.

“The Central Asian countries have never been on the Saudi radar like they are now,” said Al-Ansari referring to the C5, which includes Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.

“These five nations are among the countries that are considered to be very important also in OPEC+. And there are massive solar energy and electricity projects run by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, specifically through ACWA Power Company, especially in Uzbekistan.

“This summit of the five Central Asian countries and the six GCC countries will pave the way for more win-win cooperation and will definitely solidify the strategic and economic interest of both blocs.

“It’s the Saudi-Asian moment.”




Family photo of leaders of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the UAE, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan during the Gulf Cooperation Council-Central Asia Countries (GCC-C5) Summit in Jeddah on July 19, 2023. (SPA)

The Kingdom’s turn to the East is in part driven by the rise of China as a major energy importer and a global powerhouse for manufacturing and technology.

China is Saudi Arabia’s biggest trading partner, while the Kingdom is China’s biggest trading partner in the Middle East and North Africa, with bilateral trade in energy and a wide range of manufactured goods.

But Beijing is also increasingly taking a lead in the field of Middle East diplomacy.

The agreement reached by Saudi Arabia and Iran in March, which paved the way for the normalization of relations, was brokered by China. Was that the beginning of a broader role for China in the region?




Iran’s top security official Ali Shamkhani (L) and Saudi Arabia’s national security adviser Musaad bin Mohammed Al-Aiban (R) show the document they signed in Beijing, which top China official Wang Yi (C) helped broker. (SPA file photo)

“(Some years ago), I remember, I had a friend of mine, he is a diplomat, a GCC diplomat in Beijing, in China, and I actually asked him, why are we not pushing the Chinese to do something with regards to Iran?” Al-Ansari said.

“And he told me that they always raise this question (with their) Chinese counterparts, and they always speak about nothing but trade.

“So, it is a very important moment right now when we have the Chinese government (shifting) their focus, not only from a trade perspective, but also to look at security arrangements and political brokerage.

“I think it’s a big move for China. It’s a big move for Iran. It’s a big move for the GCC countries and Saudi Arabia, for sure.”

Saudi Arabia’s deeper engagement with non-Western powers has spurred speculation by politicians and commentators in Washington that Riyadh has chosen to side with the likes of China and Russia in place of its traditional US and Western allies.

Al-Ansari says it is only natural that Saudi Arabia, as a sovereign nation, should diversify its diplomatic and trade relations, but this does not mean the Kingdom has abandoned its vitally important strategic partnership with the US.

At the same time, he said, Washington should neither try to interfere in the relations of sovereign nations, nor impose a double standard, whereby it is permitted to have trade ties with China while blocking others from doing so.

“The US is the biggest trading partner with China. We should not be in a way where we dictate on how other nations should conduct their businesses and with whom they should conduct their businesses,” Al-Ansari said.




China is the biggest trading partner of the US and for Washington to hinder others from expanding trade with China would be tantamount to double standards, says Salman Al-Ansari. (AN infographic)

“Thirty years ago, China used to be the biggest trading partner for 20 countries. Right now, (that number is) more than 130 countries. So, it’s a reality on the ground. It’s the factory of the world. Let’s work with China.

“China is not, as it is perceived to be, an evil country. We don’t want that kind of double standards and also this kind of zero-sum kind of approach by the US.

“We want the world to live in harmony, and at the same time, we want to have a win-win agreement with everyone, whether it’s with China, whether it’s with Russia, whether it’s with our European friends, with the US, and that’s the role that Saudi Arabia wants to play, to be an equalizer, to be right in the middle and to make business with everyone.”

According to Al-Ansari, the importance that Saudi Arabia places on the idea of sovereignty is nothing new and the US has nothing to fear from Riyadh’s unilateral diplomatic dealings.

“Saudis have always had this idea that sovereignty is key to Saudi Arabia and to all the countries that are concerned to be friends with Saudi Arabia,” he said. “The Saudis have not changed course with regards to jumping from an ally to another. That’s not the practice and the style of the Kingdom.

The Saudis and the Americans fought communism together, they fought terrorism together and they stabilized the global energy and economy together. And the Saudis are actually, really, committed to this very strategic and important relationship.

Salman Al-Ansari

“The Saudis have been following their interests since their inception. So, in the very beginning, the Saudis have been working with the Americans to confront the major conflicts and the major adversaries in the world.

“The Saudis and the Americans fought communism together, they fought terrorism together and they stabilized the global energy and economy together. And the Saudis are actually, really, committed to this very strategic and important relationship.

“With regards to the US right now, it is considered to be the second trading partner for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is considered to be the major strategic partner of the Kingdom when it comes to security etc. But absolutely there are some differences, just like in any relationship.”

Nor should Washington be concerned about Saudi Arabia’s engagement with Russia on oil, said Al-Ansari — a move that is solely intended to help stabilize world energy markets in the wake of the war in Ukraine and Western sanctions targeting Russian hydrocarbons.

“Right now, maybe the Americans are upset that we are actually working with the Russians through OPEC+, but I don’t think they should be actually having any concern in that regard, because we’re not there to help a specific country against another,” Al-Ansari said.

“We are there to stabilize the energy market. And the one and only way to do so is through engagement and through having a unified kind of mechanism through which we can actually work on the demand and supply.”

Dismissing the notion of a geopolitical alignment against the US, he said: “I don’t think anyone buys the idea of Saudi Arabia siding with Russia through its decisions in OPEC. It’s just outdated information that has been thrown by the US administration at a time of anger. And then the media kept talking about it.” 

 


Saudi crown prince, Canadian prime minister discuss relations during call

Saudi crown prince, Canadian prime minister discuss relations during call
Updated 6 sec ago
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Saudi crown prince, Canadian prime minister discuss relations during call

Saudi crown prince, Canadian prime minister discuss relations during call

JEDDAH: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau spoke on the phone on Tuesday, Saudi Press Agency reported.

During the call, the development of relations between the two countries and ways to enhance them in various fields were reviewed.

A number of regional and international issues, their recent repercussions, and the efforts made regarding them to achieve security and stability were also discussed.


Makkah locals welcome blessings of the spiritual season

Makkah locals welcome blessings of the spiritual season
Updated 18 June 2024
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Makkah locals welcome blessings of the spiritual season

Makkah locals welcome blessings of the spiritual season
  • Hajj invites millions to the holy city where locals show deep-rooted Saudi hospitality

RIYADH: During the sacred days of Hajj, Makkah witnesses an influx of pilgrims and locals themselves engage more fervently in Islamic practices such as prayer and fasting.

Sami Al-Alwani, a local citizen, enjoys the spiritual aspects of the pilgrimage and says the Hajj season is unlike any other month.

“This annual tradition of welcoming, joy and enthusiasm with which we receive the pilgrims of the House of God is passed down from generation to generation,” he told Arab News.

Muttawwif Wejdan Buqas with Malaysian pilgrims after Hajj. (Supplied)

The arrival of pilgrims also means a peak in economic activity and boost for local employment.

Al-Alwani added: “One significant economic aspect we notice is the full occupancy of hotels, leading to a noticeable economic boost in restaurants and services.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Locals of Makkah, including young men and women, volunteer through available programs to assist and guide pilgrims.

• The sacred time of Hajj also brings forth the deep- rooted compassion and friendliness that are hallmarks of the people of Makkah.

“We have numerous job opportunities during Hajj to assist pilgrims and work with them in Mina, Arafat, Muzdalifah and the train station. We also serve as their supervisors and assist them in completing their Hajj obligations. Many volunteers, including young men and women from Makkah, participate voluntarily through available programs.”

Residents of Makkah have historically played a crucial role in hosting and supporting the millions of Muslims who come to perform Hajj. (Supplied)

Al-Alwani added pilgrimage routes and traffic patterns in recent years had had no negative effects for Makkah’s population.

Wejdan Buqas is a female mutawwif — someone who leads pilgrims in the traditional rites and prayers of Hajj and Umrah — who says she used to offer to drive people to Mount Hira and other holy locations.

“Back in the 1980s, we used to greet pilgrims, let them stay in our homes, and transport them to the Al-Tanaim Mosque, Al-Maala Cemeteries, and Hira Mountain. We used to also take them to private, tiny museums that highlighted Makkah inhabitants’ customs, such as telling them about our Eid celebrations,” she said, adding such activities were now streamlined by the government.

Due to the high volume of pilgrims, nearby companies and service providers were set up to meet their needs by providing lodgings, transportation, medical care, and guidance. The sacred time of Hajj also brings forth the deep-rooted compassion and friendliness that are hallmarks of the people of Makkah.

Bakur Hemdi is a Makkah native from a long lineage of muttawifs, including his grandfather and father. He followed in their footsteps and took up the role when he was 21 years old.

“As a mutawwif, my role goes beyond just guiding the pilgrims through the rituals and ceremonies of Hajj and Umrah,” he said.

“I’m a cultural ambassador, helping them navigate the intricacies of Makkah’s landscape and ensuring they can fully immerse themselves in the spiritual journey they’ve come to undertake.”

He added: “Through my interactions with pilgrims from diverse backgrounds, I've gained a deep appreciation for the richness of their traditions and the shared devotion that unites them in their pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. I take great pride in upholding the legacy of my ancestors, while also adapting to the evolving needs of modern-day pilgrims.”   

Hayat Eid, who also comes from a family of mutawwifs, said everyone in Makkah mostly worked during Hajj or, if not, they traveled.

“We make a profit of a whole year during Hajj season, so many people will not miss that opportunity,” she said. “We also remark to each other, ‘Hajj wala dajj?’ which translates to ‘Are you working in Hajj or are you fleeing?’ which is a humorous statement.”  

She added many women participated by preparing treats like maamoul cookies and date cakes to share during Eid.

Every activity contributes to the Hajj season, a time of great spiritual significance and community engagement for the residents of Makkah who play a crucial role in hosting and supporting the millions of Muslims who come to perform this important religious duty.

 


Hajj: An odyssey of faith and personal growth

Pilgrimage may strengthen family bonds as many perform Hajj with relatives, creating shared memories. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah
Pilgrimage may strengthen family bonds as many perform Hajj with relatives, creating shared memories. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah
Updated 18 June 2024
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Hajj: An odyssey of faith and personal growth

Pilgrimage may strengthen family bonds as many perform Hajj with relatives, creating shared memories. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah
  • Pilgrimage fosters spiritual renewal, community bonds, experts say

MAKKAH: The journey of Hajj, representing the fulfillment of the fifth pillar of Islam, is a chance for personal transformation, fostering patience, resilience, endurance, solidarity and cooperation.

These virtues can positively impact an individual’s life long after completing the pilgrimage.

Pilgrimage may strengthen family bonds as many perform Hajj with relatives, creating shared memories. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

Before arriving in Saudi Arabia, many pilgrims sell valuable possessions such as properties and homes to fulfill this obligatory act of worship, which Muslims must perform if they are able.

Abeer Al-Jasser, a Syrian pilgrim from Deir Ezzor, said that she has waited many years to perform Hajj. She highlighted her commitment to fulfilling all Hajj rituals meticulously, hoping to emerge with renewed vigor and a new outlook on life.

Pilgrimage may strengthen family bonds as many perform Hajj with relatives, creating shared memories. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

She described the pilgrimage as an exceptional spiritual opportunity that enhances closeness to God, increasing faith and providing tranquility and peace. “Performing the rituals is seen as a chance to purify oneself from sins, offering psychological relief and freedom from past burdens.

“The sight of Muslims in white attire, symbolizing equality and unity, brings comfort and peace. Witnessing this profound sense of brotherhood, with people from all over the world united for one purpose, is a deeply moving experience,” Al-Jasser said.

Witnessing this profound sense of brotherhood, with people from all over the world united for one purpose, is a deeply moving experience.

Abeer Al-Jasser, Syrian Hajj pilgrim

She added that Hajj has numerous positive effects on health, family and community, and it encourages self-assessment and goal-setting, aiding personal growth and decision-making.

Pilgrimage may strengthen family bonds as many perform Hajj with relatives, creating shared memories. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

“The pilgrimage also teaches the spirit of cooperation, helping others, and respecting and valuing others, fostering humility and discouraging selfishness,” she added.

Pilgrims may experience deep inner peace and satisfaction after completing the ritual — feelings that can last long after returning home, she said.

Pilgrimage may strengthen family bonds as many perform Hajj with relatives, creating shared memories. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

For many, Hajj is not just a religious duty, but a also psychological journey that restores balance and enhances well-being. Psychological consultant Abdulrahman Al-Zahrani told Arab News about the positive psychological impacts of Hajj, describing it as a road map for Muslims to reassess their relationships with God, their community and their families.

The pilgrimage offers a historical opportunity for “spiritual healing and conscience cleansing,” he said.

Pilgrimage may strengthen family bonds as many perform Hajj with relatives, creating shared memories. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

Although pilgrims may be physically exhausted from the journey, Hajj provides a form of “psychological cleansing that momentarily frees them from worldly concerns,” Al-Zahrani added.

“Facing the challenges of travel and performing rituals in potentially difficult conditions teaches patience and resilience, which positively influence daily life. Moreover, the values of cooperation and solidarity learned during Hajj are significant,” he said.

'This journey can also help heal emotional and psychological wounds, with sacred sites and religious rituals providing solace and healing'. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

Religious rituals such as standing at Arafat offer pilgrims a chance for deep reflection, potentially leading to fundamental changes in their mindset and life perspective,” Al-Zahrani said.

“Witnessing and appreciating the hardships faced by others can deepen the pilgrims’ gratitude for what they have, and participating in Hajj with a diverse group of Muslims fosters mutual understanding and cultural tolerance, building bridges of respect and brotherhood.

'This journey can also help heal emotional and psychological wounds, with sacred sites and religious rituals providing solace and healing'. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

“This journey can also help heal emotional and psychological wounds, with sacred sites and religious rituals providing solace and healing.”

Psychologist Ahmed Al-Zamel told Arab News that many pilgrims return from Hajj a strong intention to improve their behavior and align their lives more closely with religious and ethical teachings.

“The experience of standing in holy places and contemplating life and death instills deep humility and reverence for God, enhancing individual spirituality,” he said.

The Hajj pilgrimage may also strengthen family bonds, as many pilgrims perform Hajj with relatives, creating shared memories and strengthening family ties,” he added.

“Pilgrims often experience inner peace after completing the pilgrimage, learning forgiveness and compassion, and enhancing personal and social relationships.”

Mutawwif Nader Osama described Hajj as an inspirational spiritual journey. “Upon returning, pilgrims often have a positive impact on their communities, inspiring others with the positive changes they have made in their lives and encouraging them to improve their behavior and actions,” he said.

Many pilgrims turn to charitable work and helping others, driven by the values instilled during the pilgrimage, he added.

“Their experiences of equality and unity among people of different races and nationalities during the pilgrimage encourage them to appreciate and celebrate the human values consistently promoted by Islam,” Osama added.

 

 


Saudi pavilion at defense exhibition in Paris showcases achievements of Kingdom’s military sector

Saudi pavilion at defense exhibition in Paris showcases achievements of Kingdom’s military sector
Updated 18 June 2024
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Saudi pavilion at defense exhibition in Paris showcases achievements of Kingdom’s military sector

Saudi pavilion at defense exhibition in Paris showcases achievements of Kingdom’s military sector
  • The installation reflects commitment to advancement of national military capabilities and pursuit of international partnerships

RIYADH: The achievements of Saudi Arabia’s military sector are being celebrated this week by the country’s pavilion at Eurosatory 2024, an international defense and security event in Paris.

The installation reflects the Kingdom’s commitment to advancing its military capabilities and fostering international partnerships, officials said.

It was inaugurated by Ahmad Abdulaziz Al-Ohali, governor of the General Authority for Military Industries on Monday, the opening day of the five-day event in the French capital. Other Saudi dignitaries in attendance included the assistant minister of defense, Talal Al-Otaibi, and the ambassador to France, Fahd Al-Ruwaili.

Al-Ohali was briefed on the exhibitors at the Pavilion, including Saudi Arabian Military Industries, Saudia Technic, Life Shield for Military Industries, Scopa Industries, Arabian International Co. for Steel Structures, Saudi Leather Industries Co., Al-Esnad for Military Supplies, Khidmat Ray Manufacturing Co., and the biennial World Defense Show in Riyadh, which will next take place in February 2026.

He highlighted the strategic significance of the Saudi participation at an event described as the largest international exhibition devoted to land and air defense and security, and the Kingdom’s desire to attract investment and forge international partnerships.

Saudi authorities aim to localize more than half of their military spending by 2030, with the support of the General Authority for Military Industries and its partners from the public and private sectors.

 

 


Many Hajj pilgrims begin final rituals before returning home

Many Hajj pilgrims begin final rituals before returning home
Updated 18 June 2024
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Many Hajj pilgrims begin final rituals before returning home

Many Hajj pilgrims begin final rituals before returning home
  • More than 1.8m have performed Hajj this year

MINA: Hundreds of thousands of this year’s total of more than 1.8 million Hajj pilgrims began performing the final rituals of their pilgrimage early on Tuesday morning before preparing for the return home.

Many began stoning the pillars in Mina at noon on Tuesday and then headed to the Grand Mosque to perform the final ritual of circumambulating the Kaaba seven times, known as Tawaf Al-Wadaa, concluding their pilgrimage.

However, those who remain in Mina until sunset on the second day of Tashreeq are required by Islamic teachings to stay for a third day before leaving Makkah.

Speaking to Arab News, Aminatu Haruna, a Nigerian pilgrim, said she will be leaving Makkah on Tuesday to return to her homeland after completing Hajj with her two children.

A majority of this year's 1.8 million Hajj pilgrims began their final rituals early Tuesday morning in preparation for their return home. (AN photo Huda Bashatah)

Talking about the services provided to pilgrims, she said: “All I can say is Alhamdulillah (thank God).

“The Saudi government is really trained, and we have seen so many improvements. They introduced electric cars and scooters. Of course, all the officials, when I stopped to ask them, were always there to help.”

A majority of this year's 1.8 million Hajj pilgrims began their final rituals early Tuesday morning in preparation for their return home. (AN photo Huda Bashatah)

Doran Ahmed and Gina Amin, an Iraqi Kurd couple, were also planning to leave Mina on the same day after fulfilling the stoning ritual.

Ahmed and Amin expressed their gratitude to the Kingdom for preparing Hajj in a “great and seamless way, without any problems.”

They told Arab News: “Today, we bid farewell to this blessed land.”

A majority of this year's 1.8 million Hajj pilgrims began their final rituals early Tuesday morning in preparation for their return home. (AN photo Huda Bashatah)

Many pilgrims, after completing their farewell tawaf, journey to Madinah to pray at the Prophet’s Mosque and visit the city’s numerous Islamic landmarks.

Security staff and Hajj and health officials have confirmed that all their plans were successfully carried out, and no pandemic diseases were recorded.

A majority of this year's 1.8 million Hajj pilgrims began their final rituals early Tuesday morning in preparation for their return home. (AN photo Huda Bashatah)

According to the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, more than 170,000 personnel have served the 1,833,164 pilgrims who performed Hajj this year. Of these, more than 1.61 million came from over 200 countries worldwide.

About 40 million bottles of Zamzam water had been served to pilgrims up to Monday, while 300 food supply contractors had provided 9 million daily meals.

Caption

Meanwhile, the Presidency of Religious Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque had been preparing to welcome pilgrims arriving to perform the farewell tawaf to complete their Hajj rituals.

A comprehensive package of services had been prepared, including guidance, field awareness, educational lessons, initiatives, and enriching religious activities for pilgrims, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

A majority of this year's 1.8 million Hajj pilgrims began their final rituals early Tuesday morning in preparation for their return home. (AN photo Huda Bashatah)

The Haramain Presidency has painted white more than 11,000 sq. meters of the areas adjacent to the Grand Mosque, using materials which help to reduce the temperature at the site for pilgrims.

This fast-drying chemical can be used both indoors and outdoors, on asphalt or concrete surfaces. The paint used at the mosque reflects sunlight and mitigates the effects of climate change, helping to provide a more comfortable environment for waiting, walking, and gathering.

The temperature in Makkah and Mina reduced from nearly 49 C to 38 C on Tuesday morning, according to a report by the National Center for Meteorology.