Saudi Arabia is becoming a global leader in marine conservation

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Saudi Arabia is becoming a global leader in marine conservation

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The release on Netflix of the documentary “Horizon” showcasing the Kingdom’s wildlife is a landmark event in raising awareness about the country’s unique biodiversity.

While terrestrial wildlife has been the focus of conservation efforts in Saudi Arabia for decades, there has been less attention paid to marine wildlife. However, under Vision 2030, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is rapidly becoming a global leader in marine conservation.

These efforts are now guided by the many discoveries made by the Red Sea Decade Expedition — a collaborative involving the National Center for Wildlife, King Abdulaziz University, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, NEOM, Red Sea Global and OceanX.

On Feb. 10 and 11, the NCW hosted the Red Sea Decade Expedition Symposium in Riyadh, marking a milestone in marine conservation. Led by the NCW, the Red Sea Decade Expedition surveyed Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea waters, from the shoreline to the greatest depths, and from south to north.

This was done with two research vessels, OceanXplorer and KAU’s Al-Azzizi, equipped with submersibles, deep-sea robots, a helicopter and advanced technologies and laboratories.

The Red Sea Decade Expedition used advanced DNA sequencing technologies to establish an end-to-end catalog of the Red Sea’s biodiversity, from bacteria to whales, to inform the Kingdom’s commitment to conserve 30 percent of the Red Sea.  

The expedition discovered many new species and even new families of corals and other marine species of interest never reported before.

It gathered the first images of living lantern fish, the most abundant fish on the planet, which, hidden in the depths of the ocean, had never been filmed alive before. It also retrieved the first footage of living specimens of delicate gelatinous animals that are extremely rare in the ocean.  

We are building a bright future for our natural heritage, which the Kingdom is committed to conserve for generations to come.

Carlos Duarte

We assessed the abundance of sea turtles, dolphins, whales and other marine wildlife of conservation interest, and discovered a range of amazing ecosystems, particularly the blue holes and sunken lagoons north of Jazan.

These remarkable ecosystems, not even known to local fishermen, who do not venture into these shallow reefs and deep holes, are major targets for conservation and ecotourism and are of global significance.

We unveiled how the efficient operation of the microbial food web in the Red Sea sustains one of the largest stocks of deep-water fish in the world, despite its low nutrient input.

Our teams assessed the levels of litter and plastic across the Red Sea, which identified shipping as a major source of the waste found on the seafloor, demonstrating the need for operators to improve their compliance with existing policies to avoid marine pollution.

Furthermore, we assessed coral health and identified the best-preserved coral reefs as well as those that should be the focus of restoration efforts, and identified the most important habitats for juvenile sea turtles and discovered for the first time that great whales reproduce in the Red Sea.

We also retrieved samples off the seafloor using technology deployed for the first time anywhere in the ocean.

This was unique because it used advanced chemical and DNA sequencing technologies to determine changes in the Red Sea and its biodiversity since 1800, thereby providing targets to regenerate wildlife to its former abundance.

I had the honor of serving as scientific coordinator for the expedition. Among the many discoveries we brought to land, I discovered the power of collaboration in expanding the horizon of our knowledge of the Red Sea, as well as the power of leadership, exerted by the CEO of the NWC, Dr. Mohammad Qurban, a renowned marine scientist, to forge such a collaborative environment.

Together, as brothers and sisters, we are building a bright future for our natural heritage, which the Kingdom is committed to conserve for generations to come.

• Carlos Duarte is a Ibn Sina distinguished professor of marine science at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Tarek Ahmed Juffali research chair in Red Sea ecology, and executive director of the Global Coral research and development accelerator platform. He has spent 40 years researching ocean ecosystems.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view

UN committee unable to agree on Palestinian bid for full membership

UN committee unable to agree on Palestinian bid for full membership
Updated 52 sec ago
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UN committee unable to agree on Palestinian bid for full membership

UN committee unable to agree on Palestinian bid for full membership
  • An application to become a full UN member needs to be approved by the Security Council, where Israel ally the United States can block it
UNITED NATIONS: A United Nations Security Council committee considering an application by the Palestinian Authority to become a full UN member “was unable to make a unanimous recommendation” on whether it met the criteria, according to the committee report seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
The Palestinian Authority is still expected to push the 15-member Security Council to vote — as early as this week — on a draft resolution recommending it become a full member of the world body, diplomats said.
Such membership would effectively recognize a Palestinian state. The Palestinians are currently a non-member observer state, a de facto recognition of statehood that was granted by the 193-member UN General Assembly in 2012.
But an application to become a full UN member needs to be approved by the Security Council, where Israel ally the United States can block it, and then at least two-thirds of the General Assembly.
The United States said earlier this month that establishing an independent Palestinian state should happen through direct negotiations between the parties and not at the United Nations.
The UN Security Council has long endorsed a vision of two states living side by side within secure and recognized borders. Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, all territory captured by Israel in 1967.
Little progress has been made on achieving Palestinian statehood since the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the early 1990s.
The Palestinian push for full UN membership comes six months into a war between Israel and Palestinian Hamas militants in Gaza, and as Israel is expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The Security Council committee on the admission of new members — made up of all 15 council members — agreed to its report on Tuesday after meeting twice last week to discuss the Palestinian application.
“Regarding the issue of whether the application met all the criteria for membership ... the Committee was unable to make a unanimous recommendation to the Security Council,” the report said, adding that “differing views were expressed.”
UN membership is open to “peace-loving states” that accept the obligations in the founding UN Charter and are able and willing to carry them out.

Assange extradition moves closer as US provides UK court with assurances

Assange extradition moves closer as US provides UK court with assurances
Updated 8 min 16 sec ago
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Assange extradition moves closer as US provides UK court with assurances

Assange extradition moves closer as US provides UK court with assurances
  • Extradition sought over release of classified information
  • Australia has urged US to drop charges against Assange

LONDON: The United States has provided assurances requested by the High Court in London which could finally pave the way for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to be extradited from Britain.
Last month, the High Court ruled that, without certain US guarantees, Assange, 52, would be allowed to launch a new appeal against being extradited to face 18 charges, all bar one under the Espionage Act, over WikiLeaks’ release of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables.
Those assurances — that in a US trial he could seek a First Amendment right to free speech and that there was no prospect of new charges which could see the death penalty being imposed — have now been submitted by a deadline which fell on Tuesday.
The document, seen by Reuters, states that Assange “will have the ability to raise and seek to rely upon at trial the rights and protections given under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.” However it adds that a decision on the “applicability of the First Amendment is exclusively within the purview of the US courts.”
The document also says that a sentence of death will neither be sought nor imposed.
“These assurances are binding on any and all present or subsequent individuals to whom authority has been delegated to decide the matters,” it said.
There will now be a further court hearing in London on May 20, but his lawyers have previously described US assurances given in other cases as not “worth the paper they’re written on,” echoing similar criticism from human rights group Amnesty International.

’EXTREME DISTRESS’
Assange’s wife Stella, whom he married while in prison in London, said the guarantees did not satisfy their concerns, describing them as “blatant weasel words.”
“The United States has issued a non-assurance in relation to the First Amendment, and a standard assurance in relation to the death penalty,” she said in a statement.
“The diplomatic note does nothing to relieve our family’s extreme distress about his future — his grim expectation of spending the rest of his life in isolation in US prison for publishing award-winning journalism.”
There was no immediate comment from the US Department of Justice or a High Court spokesperson.
Last week, US President Joe Biden said he was considering a request from Australia to drop the prosecution, which Assange’s US lawyer described as “encouraging.”
It was not clear what influence, if any, Biden could exert on a criminal case, but the Wall Street Journal has also reported that discussions are underway about a potential plea bargaining deal.
Assange, who is an Australian citizen, has spent more than 13 years in various legal battles in the English courts since he was first arrested in November 2010.
To his many supporters, he is an anti-establishment hero who is being persecuted for exposing US wrongdoing and details of alleged war crimes in secret, classified files.
The US authorities argue he is not being prosecuted for the publication of the leaked materials, but for the criminal act of conspiring with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to unlawfully obtain them.
“The Biden administration must drop this dangerous prosecution before it is too late,” Stella Assange said.


Saudi Arabia prepares for inaugural Umrah and Ziyarah Forum

Saudi Arabia prepares for inaugural Umrah and Ziyarah Forum
Updated 9 min 46 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia prepares for inaugural Umrah and Ziyarah Forum

Saudi Arabia prepares for inaugural Umrah and Ziyarah Forum
  • Forum to showcase services aimed at enriching experiences of Umrah pilgrims, visitors to Kingdom
  • Event will include dialogue sessions, discussion groups, interactive workshops and an exhibition

RIYADH: The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah is in the final stages of preparation for the launch of the inaugural Umrah and Ziyarah Forum, scheduled to convene in Madinah on Monday, April 22, for three days.
Under the patronage of Prince Salman bin Sultan, the governor of Madinah region, the forum will be held at the King Salman International Convention Center.
Developing Hajj and Umrah services in the Kingdom is a key priority of the Saudi government and an extension of the country’s historic role in serving Muslims and Islam worldwide.
The forum will showcase initiatives and services aimed at enriching the experience of Umrah performers and visitors from within and outside the Kingdom. It is part of achieving the goals of Saudi Vision 2030, aiming to enable a larger number of Umrah performers to visit Makkah and Madinah and have the best experience they can.
The forum is held in partnership with the Pilgrim Experience Program, one of the programs of Vision 2030.
The event will include dialogue sessions, discussion groups, interactive workshops and an exhibition displaying the latest advancements in the sector.
It will feature participation from government officials and private sector stakeholders, including travel agencies, pilgrimage and tourism companies, and innovators spanning the insurance, health care, transportation, and technology industries.
The forum will address opportunities in the Umrah and tourism sectors, and will focus on the quality of projects, services, and products.
Participants in the general sessions and accompanying workshops of the Umrah and Ziyarah Forum will showcase their experiences, services and products. During the forum, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah will announce new opportunities and innovative work domains.
Moreover, several partnerships and agreements will be signed to enhance services in Makkah, Madinah, and various Islamic, historical, archaeological, and other cultural sites.


How the life and death of Walid Daqqah in an Israeli jail encapsulates Palestinian Prisoners’ Day

How the life and death of Walid Daqqah in an Israeli jail encapsulates Palestinian Prisoners’ Day
Updated 10 min 11 sec ago
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How the life and death of Walid Daqqah in an Israeli jail encapsulates Palestinian Prisoners’ Day

How the life and death of Walid Daqqah in an Israeli jail encapsulates Palestinian Prisoners’ Day
  • Palestinian detainees and prisoners have been subjected to gruesome levels of inhumane treatment, says Amnesty
  • Daqqah is the 251st Palestinian to have died in Israeli custody since 1967 — and the 14th since the Gaza war began

LONDON: When he was arrested by Israeli forces on March 25, 1986, Walid Daqqah was just 24 years old. When he died of cancer on April 7 this year, aged 62 and still a prisoner, he had spent all of the intervening 38 years in Israeli custody.

In the process Daqqah earned the dubious distinction of becoming Israel’s longest-serving Palestinian prisoner and was one of only a handful of inmates who had been in prison since before the Oslo Accords in the 1990s.

On Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, the story of Daqqah’s life and death has profound significance for every Palestinian jailed by Israel — and especially for the record number thrown behind bars since Oct. 7.

According to the Palestinian Commission of Detainee Affairs, Daqqah is the 251st Palestinian to have died in Israeli custody since 1967 and the 14th since the Hamas attack on Israel last year.

Daqqah was sentenced to life in prison in March 1987, following the abduction and killing of an Israeli soldier by a unit of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 1984.

He was not found guilty of killing the soldier but of commanding the unit, a charge he consistently denied. Furthermore, Amnesty International said “his conviction was based on British emergency regulations dating back to 1945, which require a much lower standard of proof for conviction than Israeli criminal law.”

What happened next, said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty’s senior director for research, advocacy, policy and campaigns, was “a cruel reminder of Israel’s disregard of Palestinians’ right to life.”

Daqqah’s original 37-year sentence had been due to expire in March 2023, but in 2018 was extended by two years after he was implicated in a scheme to smuggle mobile phones to prisoners desperate to contact their families.

He was, in effect, sentenced to die in prison.

In 2022 Daqqah had been diagnosed with terminal bone marrow cancer, but his appeal for parole on humanitarian grounds was rejected, even after he had served his original sentence.

“It is heart-wrenching that Walid Daqqah has died in Israeli custody despite the many calls for his urgent release on humanitarian grounds,” Guevara-Rosas said.

“For Daqqah and his family, the last six months in particular were an endless nightmare, during which he was subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, including beatings and humiliation by the Israeli Prison Service, according to his lawyer.

“He was not permitted a phone call with his wife since Oct. 7. His final appeal for parole on humanitarian grounds was rejected by the Israeli Supreme Court, effectively sentencing him to die behind bars.”

Even when Daqqah was on his deathbed, “Israeli authorities continued to display chilling levels of cruelty … not only denying him adequate medical treatment and suitable food, but also preventing him from saying a final goodbye to his wife Sanaa Salameh and their 4-year-old daughter Milad,” Guevara-Rosas said.

Milad was the couple’s small miracle. When they were denied the privilege of conjugal rights, their child was conceived after a unique prison “breakout” — her father’s sperm was smuggled out of prison.

He was, however, only allowed to see his daughter once in person, in October 2022, and even then only after “a daunting legal battle.”

Worse, his wife, Sanaa Salameh, “who tirelessly campaigned for his release, could not embrace her dying husband one last time before he passed,” Guevara-Rosas said.

In death, Daqqah will live on in the collective memory of his people as one of the million or more Arab citizens imprisoned by Israel since 1948 and whose incarceration has been commemorated every year since 1974 on April 17 as Palestinian Prisoners’ Day.

This year, there are more Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons than ever before.

According to figures released by the Israel Prison Service, as of this month, Israel is holding 9,312 “security inmates” in jails under its jurisdiction, including Ofer Prison in the West Bank.

That figure does not include the thousands of Palestinians detained by the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip, who are believed to be held incommunicado in military camps, including the Sde Teiman base in the desert.

On April 4 a group of nongovernmental organizations including the Committee Against Torture wrote to Israel’s Military Advocate General demanding the immediate closure of the facility. They cited the testimonies of innocent Palestinians who had been released from the camp who painted “a horrifying picture of inhumane prison conditions, humiliation and torture.”

The detainees, they said, “are held in a kind of cage, crowded, sitting on their knees in a painful position for many hours every day. They are handcuffed at all hours of the day and blindfolded. This is how they eat, relieve themselves and receive medical care.”

Even without this unknown number of detainees, the 9,312 prisoners acknowledged by the IPS is a record, beating even the previous highest number, established during the Gaza War of 2008-09.

Of these, just 2,071 have been tried and sentenced. A further 3,661 are what are euphemistically termed “administrative detainees” who have not been charged, tried or found guilty of any offense.

According to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, administrative detention is when “a person is held without trial, without having committed an offense, on the grounds that he or she plans to break the law in the future.”

The tactic is disturbingly reminiscent of the 2002 science fiction film “Minority Report,” in which police arrest people for crimes that psychic “precogs” predict they might commit.

Amnesty said it was a particularly invidious legal device under which military authorities “may place individuals in administrative detention for up to six months at a time, if the commander has ‘reasonable grounds to believe that reasons of regional security or public security require that a certain person be held in detention.’”

The order may be extended for an additional six-month period “from time to time” and there is no time limit to administrative detention.

“The person is detained without legal proceedings, by order of the regional military commander, based on classified evidence that is not revealed to them.

“This leaves the detainees helpless — facing unknown allegations with no way to disprove them, not knowing when they will be released and without being charged, tried or convicted.”

A smaller but significant number of residents from the Gaza Strip — 849 — are being held under Israel’s controversial Incarceration of Unlawful Combatants Law, which was introduced in 2002 and also allows arbitrary detention without trial.

Amnesty said the official figure was doubtless wide of the mark.

“We know there are thousands of Palestinians from Gaza held arbitrarily under said unlawful law for weeks and months on end,” a spokesperson told Arab News.

For many, incarceration is just the beginning of the nightmare.

“Palestinian detainees and prisoners have been subjected to gruesome levels of inhumane treatment that reached unprecedented levels of cruelty as part of the Israeli authorities’ retaliation campaign against Palestinians following Oct. 7,” Waed Abbas, a research and campaigns officer at Amnesty’s regional office in Ramallah and Jerusalem, told Arab News.

Drawing on the testimonies of Palestinians who have been released from prison and detention, and evidence gleaned through rarely allowed visits by lawyers, Amnesty said “a chilling image of a terrifying reality” was emerging.

“They’ve been tortured, starved, denied adequate medical care, cut off from the outside world, including from their families, put in solitary confinement, humiliated and degraded,” Abbas said.

The use of torture, she said, “has witnessed a spine-chilling spike and at least 40 Palestinian prisoners and detainees have died in Israeli custody over the past six months, either in military detention centers or in prisons run by the Israel Prison Service.”

And this is only the number of deaths officially acknowledged by the Israeli authorities. “The actual death toll may yet be higher,” Abbas said.

In many cases, the imprisonment of individuals has continued even after their death. “Families have been denied the right to mourn them with peace and dignity as Israel continues to withhold their bodies.”

Noa Sattath, executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said the deteriorating conditions facing Palestinians in Israeli prisons was of “grave concern.”

Recent policy changes instigated by the IPS following an order by Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s right-wing minister of national security, “have resulted in the arbitrary denial of basic rights, including access to medical care and legal counsel,” he told Arab News.

ACRI had petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court, protesting against “the policy of starving security prisoners, highlighting testimonies of extreme hunger and poor food quality among detainees,” and also called for the immediate resumption of Red Cross visits to Palestinian detainees.

“Even, and perhaps especially, amid conflicts and hostage situations, upholding detainees’ rights remains imperative for ensuring justice and dignity for all,” Sattah said.

For Miriam Azem, international advocacy and communications associate at Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the extent to which the wider world is turning a blind eye to Israel’s abuse of human rights and legal norms is shocking.

“To be frank, this has gone under the radar, in terms of both the mainstream global media and most of the Western world, including the UN,” she said.

In a bid to put the issue on the global agenda, on Feb. 19, four NGOs, including Adalah and Physicians for Human Rights Israel, submitted a joint plea for action to Dr Alice Edwards, the UN special rapporteur on torture, drawing her attention to the “marked and severe escalation in the abuse of Palestinian detainees and prisoners incarcerated in Israeli prisons and detention facilities” since Oct. 7.

Among other things, the signatories urged Edwards to “call on Israel to immediately halt the systematic abuse, torture and ill-treatment inflicted upon Palestinian prisoners and detainees,” to ensure that “all persons deprived of liberty are afforded all legal safeguards from the very outset” and guarantee adequate medical care generally and “specifically for victims of abuse, torture and ill-treatment.”

As part of the appeal the NGOs documented 19 “very concrete” cases backed by “substantive evidence and testimonies of torture and ill treatment.”

The dossier makes for disturbing reading.

“Prisoner A,” released from Gilboa Prison, and other inmates “were subjected to beatings in their cells (and) were forced to curse themselves and to crawl while carrying an Israeli flag on their back and were threatened with beatings if they failed to do so.”

Throughout Detainee E’s detention in the Russian Compound Detention Center in Jerusalem between Oct. 29 and Nov. 12, 2023, “he was beaten on four occasions by wardens, including kicking, punching and the use of batons.”

In a hearing at Judea Military Court on Nov. 13, “female detainee A’s attorney reported that A had sustained repeated abuse; among other incidents, wardens had beaten A in her cell, without cameras, while she was naked.”

Two days later, at a hearing at Haifa District Court, it was reported that another female detainee from Hasharon Prison “had been threatened with rape and bodily assault.”

Several of the highlighted cases documented in distressing detail incidents of sexual abuse and daily violence suffered by male prisoners in Ketziot Prison.

Azem said that given the difficulties of collecting evidence, the 19 submitted cases were merely a representative sample of a far larger problem.

“One of the themes we have highlighted in the document is that prisoners face extreme threats of reprisals for speaking out.”

On March 8, the UN rapporteur said she was investigating the allegations of torture and mistreatment of Palestinian detainees in Israel and was in talks to visit the country.

In a statement to Reuters, the UN human rights office said it had received “numerous reports of mass detention, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance of Palestinians in northern Gaza by the Israeli military and has recorded the arrests of thousands in the West Bank.”

Responding to the allegations in a statement to AFP, a spokesperson for the Israel Prison Service said: “All prisoners are detained according to the law.”

It said the service was “not aware of the claims” against it, but stressed that any complaints filed by detainees “will be fully examined and addressed by official authorities.”

In many ways the life and death of Walid Daqqah symbolizes the wider suffering of the tens of thousands of men, women and children who have followed him into Israeli custody over the almost four decades since he was first incarcerated.

How he lived his limited life behind bars, however, lives on as an example of how hope can survive in even the most seemingly hopeless of circumstances.

In an obituary published on April 8, the day after his death, Amnesty said that while behind bars Daqqah “wrote extensively about the Palestinian experience in Israeli prisons.”

“He acted as a mentor and educator for generations of young Palestinian prisoners, including children,” it said.

“His writings, which included letters, essays, a celebrated play and a novel for young adults, were an act of resistance against the dehumanization of Palestinian prisoners.”

A line he once wrote shines as a beacon of hope for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who since 1986 have followed him into captivity: “Love is my modest and only victory against my jailer.”

The children in Israel’s prisons
Ongoing hostage-for-prisoners exchange opens the world’s eyes to arrests, interrogations, and even abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities
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TikTok launches awards scheme for best ad campaigns on the platform in Middle East

TikTok launches awards scheme for best ad campaigns on the platform in Middle East
Updated 19 min 16 sec ago
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TikTok launches awards scheme for best ad campaigns on the platform in Middle East

TikTok launches awards scheme for best ad campaigns on the platform in Middle East
  • The awards cover six categories designed to recognize different aspects of campaigns
  • The winners will be announced during a ceremony in November

DUBAI: Short-form video app TikTok has launched an inaugural awards program to recognize and honor the best advertising campaigns on the platform in the Middle East, Turkey, South Africa and Pakistan, based on their creativity and performance.

“We have seen how creative talents from different backgrounds leverage digital platforms such as TikTok to push creative boundaries and set new benchmarks for advertising,” said Shadi Kandil, the company’s general manager of global business solutions in the Middle East, Turkey, Africa, Central and South Asia.

“This is exactly why it is important to celebrate the role brands and agencies play in promoting this dynamism. Through the TikTok Ad Awards, we aim to not only recognize their innovative efforts but also amplify the unique cultural narratives of communities within this region.”

Similar TikTok awards programs are already established in other markets but this year marks the first time they have been open to advertisers in the four listed territories. They cover six categories designed to recognize different aspects of ad campaigns.

“It’s the Creative for Me” celebrates campaigns with strong ideas and strategies specifically designed for the platform, while “Bougie on a Budget” honors those crafted on modest budgets that combine paid and organic content.

“The Trendsetter” category aims to recognize brands and agencies that harness the platform’s advertising products in innovative and effective ways.

Music and audio effects, and the influencers who operate in related spaces, are pivotal for TikTok. With that in mind, the “Sound On Please!” category will reward campaigns in which sound is a key element.

“Community Core” is for advertisers that leverage the talent of TikTok creators, while the audience at the awards ceremony in November will vote on the finalists in all the categories to choose a “People’s Choice” winner.

The TikTok Ad Awards are now open to submissions from brands and agencies in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Egypt, Turkey, South Africa and Pakistan. The deadline is Sept. 6.