Reema Juffali — Saudi racing car driver

Reema Juffali — Saudi racing car driver
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Updated 21 December 2023
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Reema Juffali — Saudi racing car driver

Reema Juffali — Saudi racing car driver

RIYADH: Reema Juffali, the first female Saudi racing car driver, says that Saudi Arabia has the potential to excel on the international racing stage.

Appearing as the first guest in the latest season of the “Mayman Show,” Juffali shared her global ambitions with Arab News. Beyond her individual aims, she discussed her commitment to helping the racing community in the Kingdom. As the founder of Theeba Motorsport, she aims to use it as a platform for enthusiasts to engage, learn, and actively participate in the motorsports industry.

Despite her relatively brief five-year journey in the racing realm, Juffali now seeks to launch training initiatives, mentorship programs, and elevate her team to international acclaim, moving beyond their Saudi roots.

It was during a trip to the UK, while she was at university, that she stumbled upon Formula One.

She said: “I love cars, I’ve always loved cars, and this (motorsport) connects both my passions of cars and sports.

“So, let me see what it’s about. I was watching Formula One and didn’t understand a thing. I was taking notes while I was watching.”

Juffali disclosed her interest to no one before participating in a race in the UAE. She surprised herself by coming in second and third in two races.

People were supportive so she decided to take racing more seriously. Thinking back on important moments, she remembers the 24-hour endurance race at Le Mans, which still inspires her. Getting second place in the 24-hour endurance race in Dubai in 2022 was a big accomplishment for her and the team, making her even more committed.

As a predominantly male-driven sport with high financial demands, her journey was far from easy, she says. She attributes her success to the steadfast support of her family and the space they provided for her to explore new things.

She said: “I kind of threw myself into the deep end, learned as I went, you know, as I was going, whether I was on track or whether I was just understanding the whole industry, everything was new to me.

“So, I was probably overwhelmed for a whole year, initially, getting into it and understanding (it).”

Thanks to her aspirations and taking up new experiences, Juffali has established herself as an inspiration and role model for racing drivers all over the world.

She said: “Initially it was a personal thing, and now I’m looking to share the experience and really bring everyone along on the journey.”

In an industry where drivers start in early childhood, entering the sport at a later stage only intensifies competitiveness, Juffali says. Viewing herself as realistic — and as someone who started the sport at the age of 26 — she emphasizes the need for a disciplined training schedule to navigate the challenges.

She said: “Growing up in Saudi, when you wanted something … you really had to believe in it in order to continue to do it. And that confidence that I had from that young age helped me in this world of racing. I unfortunately still do stand out and that didn’t feel so unnatural because I felt like it’s something I experienced growing up here.”

She added that she must maintain peak physical and mental fitness to endure the demands of the race season. The races involve dealing with high g-forces, extreme temperatures, and the mental strain of split-second decision-making. To prepare for this, she does two to three strength sessions and four cardio sessions weekly, mixing it up with running, cycling, and swimming. She also stresses the importance of training in concentration and focus.

But the complexities go beyond the race itself, and she says that the racing world is also one of publicity, scrutiny, and media coverage.

She added: “It probably took me a few years to understand what it takes to be a racing driver, to go racing and just to be comfortable in that setting.”

Consequently, she advises her interested public: “Do things that sometimes make you feel a little bit uncomfortable, experience new things, put yourself out there. It doesn’t hurt to try, and you have the answer if you do try it.”


Swizz Beatz gearing up for second round of AlUla Camel Cup

Swizz Beatz gearing up for second round of AlUla Camel Cup
Updated 23 April 2024
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Swizz Beatz gearing up for second round of AlUla Camel Cup

Swizz Beatz gearing up for second round of AlUla Camel Cup
  • Swizz Beatz: I feel like they might not know my music, but they definitely know the Saudi Bronx and it’s kind of amazing that I had a new identity in a whole new field in a whole new country
  • Swizz Beatz: To be the first outside of the GCC to own a team in the entire federation … that will forever be in history; you cannot erase that

DHAHRAN: The “ships of the desert” will start racing on Wednesday, April 24, when the second AlUla Camel Cup takes off. At the race this year will be a familiar face: Swizz Beatz, the first and only American owner of a camel racing team in Saudi Arabia. He will, once again, be participating in what is deemed the “world’s most prestigious camel racing event,” which ends on April 27.

Born Kasseem Daoud Dean and known professionally as “Swizz Beatz,” the American record producer and rapper joined the camel-racing world five years ago and hasn’t looked back. His team’s name, Saudi Bronx, which is also a brand offering clothing and accessories, is inspired by his hometown in New York’s South Bronx and Saudi Arabia.

“I'm having fun with it,” Swizz Beatz told Arab News ahead of the race. “Anything that I’m having fun with is easy for me to do. And then on top of that, we got over 20-something trophies.

“The fact that we’re even in the AlUla Cup is major because that means that we have four chances to do some big things.”

Wanting to participate in the race does not grant one an automatic shoo-in, celeb or not. There is a rigorous process and strict criteria to qualify.

“We can’t just apply for this race; they have to pick camels based on speed and based on rankings and things like that,” he explained.

This year, the UN and the Ministry of Culture both designated 2024 as The Year of the Camel, highlighting the cultural and civilizational significance of the majestic animal. 

This special focus adds a new cultural dimension to the event, marking AlUla as a must-visit destination to celebrate and honor the camel. It will showcase the best of the best as the animals race for speed, the jockeys demonstrate skill and everyone honors tradition.

“The journey has been very educational, very humbling. It’s a glimpse into something that has been such a pillar in (Saudi) heritage that it’s just awesome to see,” Swizz Beatz continued.

As with the previous edition, this year’s event will also be organized by the Royal Commission for AlUla in partnership with the Saudi Camel Racing Federation.

“The AlUla Camel Cup stands proudly as the pinnacle of camel racing and has assumed a starring role in elevating AlUla’s regional and global standing as a premier heritage sports destination,” Ziad Al-Suhaibini, RCU’s chief sports officer, said.

Taking place at AlUla’s Mughayra Heritage Sports Village, the four-day event will feature the region’s fastest camels and most talented riders across several rounds of competition. There will be substantial prize pots and AlUla Camel Cup champion trophies up for grabs.

Camel racing, which dates to the 7th century, is an ancient heritage sport woven into the fabric of the local culture. 

“There’s nothing that I need to change with them; they’ve been bringing home the magic,” Swizz Beatz said of his camel racing trainer, Hamed, and his team.

When asked what was different this time around, he replied: “I just think that we’re more prepared this time.”

The Saudi Bronx merch store will also be stocked with fresh drops.

“We just wanted to have something for the brand (so) that even if people can’t come to the race, they can represent,” he said. “People go crazy over the Saudi Bronx hoodies and stuff like that. Last year was a very small setup, which was cool because everybody was just starting,” he said.

This year’s AlUla Camel Cup is expected to be the most spectator-friendly race, thanks to the freshly formed Royal Pavilion and the expansive Heritage Village. 

Workshop sessions will be available throughout the four days, with enriching sessions centered on calligraphy, traditional pottery-making, Sadu weaving, and bakhour, or incense. Children will be able to ride camels, create camel origami and clay models, and use augmented reality to bring their imaginative camel creations to life.

Last year, the races attracted 2,550 visitors and created a flurry of posts on social media.

“My kids are very into culture — period. We travel and they’ve been here (to the Kingdom),” Swizz Beatz shared.

He credits his children with motivating him to pursue his goals. They influence his moves, he said, but he also aims to do the same for them.

“I teach them to believe in their vision. Even if no one is able to comprehend it at that moment, you might be ahead of your time. I also am influenced to show them different things and to step outside of the box because a lot of people were laughing at me (for owning a camel racing team) … The same people (now) want to come to a race,” he said.

He sees being part of the camel-racing world as a way to “give back to the people,” pay homage to the locals, and combine all of his passions; family, fun, music, movement, culture, and a fresh experience steeped in history and nostalgic vibes.

Swizz Beatz, who usually brings his family along, will come solo this time. His wife, superstar Alicia Keys, will stay behind in New York to tend to the recent opening of her Broadway show based on her life, “Hell’s Kitchen.”

He has been adamant about showcasing his trips to the Kingdom on his social media platforms. Unlike many American stars who have only recently parachuted into AlUla either for work or pleasure, his family has a long history with the Kingdom.

“The journey (into Saudi Arabia) for me has been very natural. My grandfather went to Makkah in the 1970s. Back then, my grandfather also managed (boxing legend and cultural icon) Muhammad Ali,” Swizz Beatz told Arab News. 

He hopes to take that same trip alongside his grandfather soon.

“I haven’t been to Makkah. I’m planning on taking my grandfather because he’s been with me about it and because I didn’t want to do the trip without him. Inshallah, we have to do that this year. He’s not getting younger,” he said.

After earning recognition for his other projects, which granted him celeb status in the US and even within the Kingdom, Swizz Beatz is excited about this new chapter in his life.

In AlUla, the camel-racing community knows him as one of them.

“They call me Abu Nasser. I feel like they might not know my music, but they definitely know the Saudi Bronx and it’s kind of amazing that I had a new identity in a whole new field in a whole new country — and it has nothing to do with music,” he said.

Nonetheless, he will still use his musical talents while at AlUla.

The Grammy winner will be spinning at AlUla on Wheels II to DJ on two of the nights at his AlUla on Wheels spot. 

He hopes to expand his skating energy with live DJs into places like Jeddah and Riyadh, but for now, is happy to continue to spin in AlUla.

But the priority of his current trip will be the camels. He said that his first interaction with a camel was many years ago, perhaps at Disney World. Since then, he has studied the scene and has worked hard to be part of the community.

He hopes his participation at the Camel Cup will continue to raise awareness. While mindful of the obstacles ahead, he is grateful for the overall journey.

“You know, even if everything was to stop today, we’ve made history. To be the first outside of the GCC to own a team in the entire federation … that will forever be in history; you cannot erase that,” he said.

He concluded, saying he hopes camel racing will become as popular and well-known as Formula One.


Al-Sudais praises Saudi leadership’s dedication to Islamic values

Al-Sudais praises Saudi leadership’s dedication to Islamic values
Updated 23 April 2024
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Al-Sudais praises Saudi leadership’s dedication to Islamic values

Al-Sudais praises Saudi leadership’s dedication to Islamic values
  • Al-Sudais acknowledged the grand mufti’s efforts in addressing contemporary issues facing Muslims
  • He praised the Muslim World League’s commitment to fostering moderation and moderate thinking

RIYADH: Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Sudais, head of the Presidency of Religious Affairs at the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque, praised King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their dedication to the message of Islam.
He commended their promotion of tolerance and moderation, service of Islam, Muslims and the broader Islamic community, and advocation for Islamic world issues in international forums.
In his speech at the Muslim World League meeting in Riyadh on Tuesday, Al-Sudais expressed his gratitude to the grand mufti of the Kingdom, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Asheikh, for his role in supporting the Islamic Fiqh Council’s mission.
Al-Sudais acknowledged the grand mufti’s efforts in addressing contemporary issues facing Muslims, encouraging inter-civilizational dialogue and promoting the values of tolerance.
He also highlighted the role and contributions of Muslim World League Secretary-General Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa in promoting the values of moderation and inclusivity, encouraging interfaith dialogue and serving the league’s mission.
Al-Sudais praised the Muslim World League’s commitment to fostering moderation and moderate thinking, fulfilling Islam’s mission to spread peace and justice, and encouraging familiarity and cooperation among peoples.
He acknowledged the league’s efforts in organizing international conferences and awareness programs, and its role in combating religious extremism.
Al-Sudais highlighted the importance of combating misguided ideologies and terrorist organizations, focusing on the youth, supporting Islamic minorities, combating fanaticism, factionalism and moral decay, and upholding the values of tolerance and moderation.


Madinah forum targets improved pilgrim experience

Madinah forum targets improved pilgrim experience
Updated 23 April 2024
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Madinah forum targets improved pilgrim experience

Madinah forum targets improved pilgrim experience
  • The 3-day event explores new opportunities for Hajj and Umrah services

JEDDAH: The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, in collaboration with the Pilgrim Experience Program, organized the inaugural Umrah and Ziyarah Forum at the King Salman International Convention Center in Madinah.

The three-day event, taking place from April 22-24, is being held under the patronage of Prince Salman bin Sultan, the governor of the Madinah region.

Prince Salman said that the leadership has prioritized the enhancement of Hajj and Umrah services during the prosperous era of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

He said: “The great honor bestowed by God on this country is a source of pride for all of us and motivates us to improve the level of services provided to the guests of God, to search for ideas, and to conduct studies that would advance the Umrah and visit sector.”

Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq Al-Rabiah and Governor of Madinah region Prince Salman bin Sultan attend the Umrah and Ziyarah Forum in Madinah. (SPA)

The forum is an opportunity for specialists to communicate and exchange experiences during dialogue sessions and discussion panels, and to develop recommendations that contribute to enriching visitors’ experience, he added.

He also expressed hope that the forum would yield positive outcomes and thanked the minister of Hajj and Umrah, Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, as well as the ministry’s employees, for organizing the forum.

Prince Salman visited the exhibition held in parallel with the forum. It houses more than 100 pavilions showcasing the services offered by tourism and travel companies, Umrah agencies, academic and research institutions, small and medium enterprises and service developers, as well as companies from related sectors such as hospitality, catering, transportation, healthcare, technology, communications, artificial intelligence, banking and insurance.

A documentary about Madinah, an essential component of the Umrah experience, was screened at the forum.

A group of experts and specialists attended, with discussions focused on enriching the Umrah and Hajj experience and aligning with the goals of Vision 2030.

Al-Rabiah also delivered a speech at the forum, highlighting the special attention given by the leadership to the Two Holy Mosques and visitors to the sites.

One of the most important factors in the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, Al-Rabiah said, is the Pilgrim Experience Program, as the Two Holy Mosques are expected to witness the influx of millions of worshippers and visitors, requiring management by security personnel from the Ministry of Interior, and from the General Authority for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque.

One of the program’s primary goals, he added, is to enrich the visitors’ experience. The forum serves as a comprehensive platform where 180 speakers from the Kingdom and abroad can discuss strategies to improve the experience.

Al-Rabiah highlighted the involvement of 28 government entities and more than 3,000 local and international companies, with more than 1,500 agreements expected to be signed over the course of the event.

Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq Al-Rabiah and Governor of Madinah region Prince Salman bin Sultan attend the Umrah and Ziyarah Forum in Madinah. (SPA)

He noted that visits were made to 24 countries to address challenges faced by pilgrims and visitors, and to introduce them to the facilities provided by the Kingdom.

Al-Rabiah said that over the past two years, more than 19 million people have visited Al-Rawda Al-Sharifa, along with a significant number of unique historical sites connected to the life of the Prophet Muhammad in Makkah and Madinah, with many of the historical sites having been rehabilitated.

He highlighted the ministry’s commitment to providing quality services throughout pilgrim journeys, describing the Grand Mosque as a globally significant destination. Additionally, he announced the launch of the 1966 contact center in nine languages for pilgrim inquiries, catering to both domestic and international audiences.

Fahd bin Mayouf Al-Ruwaili, the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to France and Monaco, and the permanent representative of the Kingdom to UNESCO, also gave a speech highlighting the role of historical and cultural sites in enriching the visitor experience.

During his address, Al-Ruwaili referenced remarks made by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the previous Hajj season, emphasizing the Kingdom’s honor in serving the Two Holy Mosques and making it a top priority.

The crown prince’s comments demonstrate the Kingdom’s leadership goals toward serving pilgrims, enabling them to perform their worship rituals and achieve the purposes of Hajj, Umrah, or visitation with ease and peace of mind, he added.

The Umrah and Ziyarah Forum in Madinah is taking place from April 22-24. (SPA)

Four significant agreements were signed during the opening ceremony.

The first, between the General Authority for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque and Nusuk, aimed to establish and operate an awareness center for pilgrims.

The second, with the Prince Mutaib bin Abdulaziz Charitable Foundation, created a fund of SR100 million ($26 million) for water supply.

The third agreement, between the General Authority for Awqaf and the Madinah Region Development Authority, focused on repairing and renovating water facilities at the Meeqat of Dhul-Hulayfah.

The fourth agreement, between the General Authority for Awqaf and the Taybah Mosques Association, addressed support for the Quba Mosque’s needs.

The forum consists of six dialogue sessions and 24 workshops, in which 29 experts and specialists will take part. It also includes several competitions, including the Artificial Intelligence Competition in Umrah and a hackathon on historical sites related to the Prophet Muhammad’s life.


Riyadh to host first National Afforestation Forum

Riyadh to host first National Afforestation Forum
Updated 23 April 2024
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Riyadh to host first National Afforestation Forum

Riyadh to host first National Afforestation Forum
  • Forum aims to unify national efforts across various sectors
  • It will address the complexities of nursery development, international afforestation initiatives, challenges confronting seed banks

RIYADH: Saudi authorities are preparing for the inaugural National Afforestation Forum on May 6 in Riyadh.

The event, organized by the National Center for Vegetation Development and Combating Desertification under the theme “Towards a Green Future,” seeks to consolidate national efforts across the public, private and non-profit sectors, and integrate strategies to help meet the objectives of the Saudi Green Initiative, including the target of planting 10 billion trees across the Kingdom.

Organizers said their aim is to engage with a diverse audience of all ages that includes sector-specific professionals, environmental activists, and the general public to help promote afforestation efforts in the Kingdom, encourage participation from all sectors, facilitate the sharing of information, foster collaborative efforts, and showcase investment opportunities within the environmental sector.

The forum will include sessions designed to support efforts to expand green spaces and develop vegetation, covering topics such as the benefits of the National Afforestation Program, environmental sustainability, economic growth, and nature-based solutions. Participants will review significant local and international afforestation projects, explore the latest developments in seed banks and nurseries, and consider the challenges in these areas.

Organizers added that the ultimate aim is to enhance community engagement through improved stakeholder collaboration and effective management of the seed and tree supply chain to optimize planting outcomes.


Cairns continue to be silent guides in the desert 

Cairns continue to be silent guides in the desert 
Updated 23 April 2024
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Cairns continue to be silent guides in the desert 

Cairns continue to be silent guides in the desert 
  • Used as resting spots, mark water sources for Bedouins, travelers
  • Some documented including for Hajj route from Kufa to Makkah 

RIYADH: Cairns, known as “rjum” in Arabic, are more than just heaps of stones scattered throughout the desert but have served as important landmarks and silent guides for Bedouins and travelers through the years, and will continue to do so, according to a local heritage researcher and archeologist. 

Shaped as pyramidal or circular heaps of stones, cairns mark valleys, ravines and deserts across the region. Their strategic placement atop hills or elevated ground provides a vantage point for hidden landscapes, said Abdulrahman Mohammed Al-Tuwayjiri, from the Rafha governorate, in an interview published by the Saudi Press Agency on Tuesday.

Bedouins revere cairns, which aid in visual exploration and have served as places of contemplation for lovers and poets over the years, said Al-Tuwayjiri.

Each cairn has its unique features, with some bearing names, possibly attributed to their builders or reflective of specific geographical locations. The care and preservation of cairns remain a priority for the Bedouin community, ensuring that their legacy endures for generations to come. 

Al-Tuwayjiri said these landmarks are constructed using stones of varying sizes with diameter, as well as height, between 2 and 3 meters. However, over time many have deteriorated and now measure about 1 to 2 meters in height. Some cairns have become mere piles of fallen stones along the roadside.

Abu Ishaq Ibrahim Al-Harbi, an early geographer, documented the landmarks and mile markers that guided Hajj pilgrims from Kufa to Makkah. These landmarks were spaced approximately 2 km apart, with closer intervals at road intersections and divergences to ensure that travelers maintained their direction.

Cairns were typically built on natural hills and elevations to ensure they were visible from a distance.

Cairns serve a variety of purposes beyond just guiding travelers. These silent stone structures are often designated resting areas for weary explorers on long journeys, function as gathering points for nomadic tribes, and can indicate the presence of water.