RIYADH: Mehdi Khalil is something of a legend in Qatif fish market, the biggest in the region and second-largest in Asia.
He has devoted his life to fishing in the Arabian Gulf and, to mark World Fisheries Day, he spoke to Arab News about his life at sea.
It began when he went fishing for the first time in 1981, when he was a secondary school student.
“My life was from school to the sea. I was enlightened by sea more than school. My life began when I bought my first boat,” he said.
After his father’s death, it fell to Khalil as the eldest child to fulfil his dad’s wishes and support the family by becoming a fisherman.
“I’m the oldest of my siblings. I did not want anyone to hold a single riyal over their head,” he added.
• World Fisheries Day is observed on Nov. 21 and was designated by the UN to raise awareness of sustainable fishing practices and the need to end overfishing.
• Saudi Arabia initiated the National Fisheries Development Program in 2015 with the aim of enhancing the growth of the fisheries industry.
Khalil began fishing and pearling under his uncle’s tutelage. Now, he focuses on big game fishing.
His expeditions start with him, “first fueling my boat with gasoline and preparing the fridge with ice. Then I bring all the tools necessary, and I go to the sea. In 30 minutes, the fridge is full.”
His goal is always to fill 10 fridges that each hold around 16 kg of fish, giving him 160 kg to sell each time.
Khalil catches local favorites such as hamour (grouper), kanad (kingfish), safi (rabbitfish) and many types of shrimp. He noted that the best time to fish for kanad was at the end of the year, which coincided with the shrimp season. During that period, fishermen are only allowed to catch a single species.
When he was younger, Khalil’s daily routine was simply to go fishing to make a living. However, advances in technology have made the process far more efficient.
He said: “In the past, during hamour season, we used to catch the fish with a rod and a string. The hamour fish used to be SR40 ($10) to SR45, but today there is a shortage. The price is higher, and it has switched to dollars.”
Similar to many fishermen, Khalil operates in shallow waters using a qarqoor (fish trap), a device consisting of metal rods, wires, and net. He places many of these in an area and, on returning the next day, will find them teeming with his catch.
He pointed out that bread was ideal fish bait and should be used instead of more traditional lures such as dried fish, liquid bait, and smaller fish.
“For years, we used to use ooma (dried fish). With time the methods have changed. We use bread because it attracts the fish much better than dried fish,” he added.
But life as a fisherman can be dangerous. Khalil said: “I almost lost my life three times. I encountered danger when I was pearling. It was during a time when we would dive with just goggles and no other safety gear. I remember that day my uncle had warned me. He had said, ‘my intuition says don’t go today.’
“When I went down that day, I saw a baby shark. Luckily, he just passed by, and nothing happened. This happened to me three different times.”
World Fisheries Day is observed on Nov. 21 and was designated by the UN to raise awareness of sustainable fishing practices and the need to end overfishing.
Saudi Arabia initiated the National Fisheries Development Program in 2015 with the aim of enhancing the growth of the fisheries industry.
Mansour Al-Mushaiti, Saudi deputy minister of environment, water and agriculture, said the nation’s aquaculture output surpassed 120,000 tons in 2022. The Kingdom aims to raise its fish aquaculture output to about 500,000 tons in the future.
At the MedFish4Ever conference in Malta last month, Saudi Arabia announced its commitment to protecting sustainable fish stocks and the livelihoods of fishermen, as well as investing in aquaculture projects. The Kingdom also vowed to establish regulatory frameworks and management plans for its fishing industry.
Al-Mushaiti noted that Saudi Arabia had launched several initiatives to promote sustainable fishing practices. He added that the Kingdom was responsible for coordinating efforts to manage natural resources in the Red Sea as it had the largest coastal area among its neighbors.
Saudi aviation strategy boosts global connectivity, official says
Updated 04 December 2023
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Transport and Logistics Saleh Al-Jasser highlighted the success of the national aviation strategy in making Saudi Arabia more globally connected during the 15th International Conference on Air Services Negotiations in Riyadh.
Al-Jasser, who also chairs the General Authority of Civil Aviation, said that the strategy encompasses plans to swiftly advance the country’s air transport sector, including expanding the flight network of Saudi airports.
Speaking at a ministerial session titled “The Impact of Air Transport on Economic Development” at the ICAN 2023 of the International Civil Aviation Organization, Al-Jasser noted the development of airport infrastructure across the Kingdom. This includes the construction of new airports, such as the King Salman Airport in Riyadh, and enhancing air service levels at all airports. The focus is also on transforming the King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah into a global air service hub and increasing aircraft numbers.
He said that the ministry’s goal is to boost the transport and logistics sector’s contribution to GDP to 10 percent, viewing civil aviation as a key driver.
The session also featured discussions with Indonesian Minister of Transport Budi Karya Sumadi, the Ministry of External Affairs, International Trade and Civil Aviation of Saint Lucia’s Alva Romanus Baptiste, and Minister of Transport of the Republic of Seychelles Anthony Gerard D’Offay. They shared insights on the role of civil aviation in economic development and global connectivity.
Al-Jasser inaugurated the 15th ICAN conference on Sunday, which was attended by key figures in international aviation. The inauguration was attended by notable figures including GACA President Abdulaziz Al-Duailej and ICAO Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano.
Al-Jasser also signed a cooperation agreement in air transport services with Minister of Transport and Aviation of Sierra Leone Fanday Turay on the sidelines of the event, which will continue until Thursday.
The agreement complements the Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention, signed in 1944, aiming to regulate safe and efficient air transport between the two countries and enhance airline competition, safety and civil aviation security standards.
The bilateral agreement is part of Saudi Arabia’s broader strategy to establish international partnerships, sign new bilateral agreements and achieve ambitious goals in enhancing global air connectivity, with plans to become a global logistics hub and handle 330 million passengers annually by 2030.
The agreement also focuses on supporting the mutual economic interests of national airlines, enhancing their role in the air transport market of both countries, and embracing modern approaches to market entry and air transport.
This is part of a broader strategy in the civil aviation sector to forge international partnerships and sign new bilateral agreements. These initiatives are geared toward expanding the Kingdom’s global air network to 250 destinations.
First Saudi at-sea restaurant, Irth Cafe, will spotlight local cuisine
Updated 22 min 38 sec ago
RIYADH: Cruise Saudi has partnered with the Culinary Arts Commission to launch the Kingdom’s first at-sea restaurant, Irth Cafe, aboard the AROYA Cruises ship.
Cruise Saudi, a company owned by the Public Investment Fund and specialized in developing the cruise sector in the Kingdom, announced its partnership with the aim of showcasing the authentic cuisine on board that will offer a unique experience using locally sourced and high-quality Saudi products.
CEO of Cruise Saudi Lars Clasen said: “We are proud to cooperate with the Culinary Arts Commission. The launch of the Irth Cafe and boutique on board the AROYA Cruises ship is one of the important steps to ensure that we showcase the Kingdom’s heritage and provide the best services to our guests.”
AROYA Cruises, the first-ever Saudi domestic cruise line, will make history as the first homegrown cruise brand in the Arab region.
The partnership will push the envelope further by highlighting its vision to provide exceptional and innovative tourism experiences to its passengers on board the vessel, which was specially designed to suit Arab tastes.
The Kingdom is distinguished by its authentic hospitality as well as its rich heritage and ancient history, which are all values to be embodied in the Irth Cafe experience.
The Culinary Arts Commission will provide training to restaurant staff to ensure the provision of luxurious and authentic experiences to the ship’s passengers.
The Culinary Arts Commission will provide training to restaurant staff to ensure the provision of luxurious and authentic experiences to the ship’s passengers.
Mayada Badr, CEO of the Culinary Arts Commission, confirmed that Irth Cafe, named after the Arabic word for “heritage,” will highlight the culture behind local cuisine, noting that the existing cooperation with AROYA Cruises, a subsidiary of Cruise Saudi, is consistent with the commission’s ambitious vision of celebrating the Kingdom’s heritage and rich culture.
The commission was established in 2020 and works to platform the distinctive traditional Saudi culinary arts locally and internationally, consolidate the culture of Saudi gastronomy, transform the Kingdom into a home for distinctive experiences and advance it as a leading food destination.
Launched in 2023, AROYA Cruises is distinguished by a unique design that is in line with Arab market standards, focusing on what citizens, residents and regional tourists are looking for when selecting their next vacation destination.
The vessel promises to provide exceptional stays, from the meticulous attention within the cabins and suites to the meals and drinks that will be served during the voyage, reflecting the spirit of innovation and authentic Arab hospitality that distinguishes the Kingdom.
‘We’re going to develop local culture, local talent, build the emerging film industry of Saudi Arabia,’ says Hollywood producer Taren Ben Ammar
Arab producer who put Tunisia on Hollywood movie map tells The Mayman Show of plans to attract foreign films, develop local talent
Veteran filmmaker says creation of more foreign-language TV news channels will help bolster the Kingdom’s international image
Updated 6 sec ago
RIYADH: For decades, Tunisian film producer Tarak Ben Ammar transported moviegoers into magical desert landscapes, from Tatooine in “Star Wars” to the shifting sands of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Now, the veteran filmmaker has set his sights on what he says could be one of the film world’s next big locales: Saudi Arabia.
With a filmography stretching back to the early 1970s, Ben Ammar has been a part of blockbusters such as “Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones,” “Scream,” “Equalizer 3,” and “The Passion of the Christ.”
The dozens of films he worked on employed one million people, and established Tunisia as a player in the film industry.
Aside from film, Ben Ammar also managed Michael Jackson’s HIStory World Tour in the 1990s, has served as an adviser to Rupert Murdoch and Silvio Berlusconi, and is the head of Italy’s top independent film distribution and production company Eagle Pictures.
Ben Ammar said he saw the potential of Saudi Arabia as a film hub on noticing the success of his movies, particularly “Equalizer 3,” in the Kingdom.
“I did the research on the box office of that movie,” he told The Mayman Show, the Arab News podcast that features personal conversations between my host and my guests.
“You had England, UK, Germany, France, Australia, and then Saudi Arabia. So outside of the US, Saudi Arabia is becoming the place to be for my industry.
“That’s why ... I will be involved. To attract, of course, foreign films to come into Saudi Arabia but also to develop local Saudi culture, to develop local Saudi talent.”
More specifically, Ben Ammar said: “If a ‘Star Wars’ comes here, we will help you with tax credits. You have to employ locals.
“I employed a million people in my country by imposing in every department a technician. So, when they leave, they leave behind their knowhow so that those young people will know what a big film is.”
Speaking of Saudi Arabia, he said the country “has 38 million people; it has its own market. It has a youth that is hungry to be entertained, to create. Because, you know, there was a moment when if you were a young 18-year-old girl or boy and you want to be a painter, a musician, a writer, a singer, a director, or an actor, what did you do? You had to go to London, to Paris, to America.”
He added: “You are blessed by having a young population. And that’s why I said to myself — wait, this is a great market. I have to come here and invest.
“Usually, people come to Saudi Arabia to take your money. I am coming to invest in your country. Invest my knowhow, my knowledge, my name, my credentials, and bringing with me people who say, ‘This is what we’re going to be doing.’ We’re going to build the emerging industry of Saudi Arabia.”
Though potential tax incentives and rebates for filmmakers are certainly a reason for its allure, Ben Ammar says his plans for the Saudi film industry may be different to what he has done in Tunisia or elsewhere.
“The rebates are not enough,” he said on the Arab News podcast The Mayman Show. “First and foremost, I am not obsessed with bringing Hollywood to Saudi Arabia. That’s a very small part.
He pointed out that in Saudi Arabia, and indeed the entire Middle East region, American and Egyptian movies dominate the market.
“Today, you have, let’s say, 50-50, American and Egyptian movies. If we can lower that and make it 40 percent American, 40 percent Egyptian and 20 percent Saudi, then you have new filmmakers, new actors, new musicians, new directors, new writers, that then will sell Saudi Arabia more than just to come here and make movies.”
A burgeoning Saudi film industry may also address the issue of Arab representation in Hollywood, he said, explaining that at a certain point in film history, Arabs became classic villain archetypes.
“It was always the Arabs with the Palestinian keffiyeh. Well, of course, because of the Six-Day War, the ’73 War, and Hollywood being very pro-Israel — it still is — so the terrorist was an Arab,” he said.
“We are the ones that need to help films get made where the story is different. The narrative of my cousins, my Arab cousins and brothers, in stories should be different. But it’s happening. We’re seeing different stories about Arabs. I have made a few movies of that myself. So, I’m optimistic that we’re not in the category still of the bad guys, I think.
“And if we become partners in this market — you want to come to our market, you treat us well.”
Ben Ammar said that the creation of more foreign-language news channels, such as many other countries have done with Russia Today, BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera, will also help bolster the Kingdom’s international image.
“The Kingdom just won Expo and the World Cup,” he said, referring to the 2030 World Expo and the men’s football 2034 World Cup.
“Of course, you would want television to reflect why you won the Expo, why you won the World Cup. There’s people here that know what they’re doing and are selling the Kingdom and its culture and its evolution.”
Ben Ammar’s dream as a young, up-and-coming filmmaker has a personal and emotional connection to the Kingdom through his uncle, the first president of Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba.
“And Tunisia owed a lot to Saudi Arabia, because when he was in exile and fighting the French for independence, the Kingdom’s founder Ibn Saud (King Abdulaziz) helped us; helped him. The Saudi culture was very much in my heart,” he said.
He said one of the first films he wanted to make was about King Abdulaziz.
“It was the early 1970s, and Saudi Arabia certainly was not the Saudi Arabia I had discovered, but the shock was starting in 2016 when I saw what it was becoming. I was privileged to have met the crown prince and to see the vision,” he said.
Ben Ammar’s determination to help further develop culture in the Middle East was sparked by an event in 2009, when he traveled to the Abu Dhabi Film Conference to be its keynote speaker.
“As I was landing, I read an article that disturbed me greatly. It said: ‘The Middle East will be acquiring hundreds of billions of dollars of armaments in the next 20 years.’”
He went on to give a speech, saying: “A nation without a culture is nothing more than a supermarket of consumers. A nation without a past really has no future.”
In 2018, Ben Ammar said, he was approached by Saudi Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, who asked him to lend his expertise to the strengthening of the Saudi film industry.
“In coming here, I saw the evolution of the multiplexes, the films, and last month I was here for a conference on the film commission,” he said.
Ben Ammar also spoke about his experience in bringing feature films such as “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” to his home country, and how that experience could be applied to Saudi Arabia.
“When I started my career in Tunisia, we didn’t have a market,” he said.
“You, here, have an advantage, if I may compare, the Saudi model should be exactly what South Korea did. Look at South Korea. They created their own business, their own music, their own directors, their own TV series. And then they started exporting because they trained their people.”
The Korean film industry has been increasingly successful in recent years, with series such as “Squid Game” becoming international smash hits. In 2019, the Korean film “Parasite” made history by being the first non-English language film to win an Oscar for Best Picture.
“It wasn’t made to be exported. It was a Korean movie, a beautiful one that conquered the world,” Ben Ammar said.
“Maybe in my lifetime I will see a Saudi movie do the same, to make us Arabs proud as the Koreans were proud of ‘Parasite.’”
Saudi border guards thwart qat smuggling operation
Updated 04 December 2023
RIYADH: Saudi border guards in the Jazan region have thwarted an attempt to smuggle 180 kg of qat.
The illegal substance was confiscated, and several people arrested.
Qat is a flowering shrub native to the Arabian Peninsula, the leaves of which act as a stimulant when chewed.
Saudi security agencies have urged the public to report any information about drug smuggling or trafficking by calling 911 in Makkah, Riyadh, and the eastern regions, and 999 in the rest of the Kingdom.
They can also contact the General Directorate of Narcotics Control by calling 995 or emailing [email protected]. All reports are treated with confidentiality.
RIYADH: Saudi aid for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip affected by the Israel-Hamas war continues to be dispatched.
So far, the Saudi aid agency KSrelief has delivered 573 tons of supplies via El-Arish International Airport in Egypt.
The help has included 24 planes carrying food baskets, shelter bags, tents, blankets, mattresses, winter clothing bags, dried baby food, dates, and medical materials.
The center has also sent ambulances, with 14 out of 20 having already arrived in the Strip.
KSrelief also sent three ships from Jeddah Islamic Port to Port Said in Egypt carrying 401 containers, 258 containing medical supplies for hospitals there, and 143 stocked with food and shelter, to be transported to Gaza.
Meanwhile, KSrelief official Ahmed bin Ali Al-Baiz on Sunday met for talks in Riyadh with UN resident coordinator in Yemen, David Gressly. During the meeting, they discussed issues related to relief and humanitarian affairs in Yemen.
Also on Sunday, officials from KSrelief and the Norwegian Refugee Council in Somalia signed a cooperation agreement to provide support worth $1.5 million for the Burao Technical Institute in Somalia.