Saudi Arabia’s hackathons seek solutions to pilgrimage challenges

This year in April, to enrich the cultural and religious experience of pilgrims, Umm Al-Qura University and the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah conducted the Historic and Enrichment Sites Hackathon. (Supplied)
This year in April, to enrich the cultural and religious experience of pilgrims, Umm Al-Qura University and the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah conducted the Historic and Enrichment Sites Hackathon. (Supplied)
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Updated 15 June 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s hackathons seek solutions to pilgrimage challenges

Saudi Arabia’s hackathons seek solutions to pilgrimage challenges
  • Dania Moayad, an Iraqi pilgrim who performed Hajj in 2021, told Arab News: “Using the Eatmarna application made my pilgrimage journey incredibly smooth and efficient

JEDDAH: Every year, more than 2 million people visit Saudi Arabia to perform the sacred ritual of Hajj, leading to challenges in transportation, crowd management and communication. In response, Saudi Arabia has leveraged hackathons and adopted innovative technological solutions to tackle these obstacles.

A hackathon is a collaborative event, typically a multi-day challenge, in which programmers, designers and project managers work intensively on software projects.




Participants including Saudi women attend a hackathon in Jeddah on August 1, 2018, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah. (AFP file photo)

These events might focus on a variety of topics, such as developing new software, devising inventive solutions to specific difficulties or exploring cutting-edge technologies. Participants form teams to brainstorm ideas, build prototypes and create working software or hardware projects within a set time window.

Hackathons are commonly organized to foster creativity, innovation and teamwork, often leading to the creation of new products, services or tools.




The first-place team of the Hajj and Umrah Challenge won SR50,0000 ($13000) for their creative application titled: Makkah Story in 2023. (Supplied)

In 2018, Jeddah hosted Hajj Hackathon, the largest hackathon in the Middle East with thousands of developers and 18,000 enthusiasts participating. Organized by the Saudi Federation for Cyber Security, Programming and Drones, the event set a Guinness World Record for the largest number of participants.

The first Hajj Hackathon in the region attracted top programmers to innovate technical solutions, improving pilgrims’ experience and fostering profitable projects. It reflects Saudi Arabia’s commitment to innovation, aiming for regional and global tech leadership, supporting young talents and achieving Vision 2030 goals.

FASTFACTS

• The Historic and Enrichment Sites Hackathon in April this year attracted about 700 participants from 15 cities across the Kingdom, with a panel of 12 judges, 16 trainers and 10 guides overseeing the innovative projects.

• The event included 20 training courses, six educational trips, 10 lectures and 12 guidance sessions.

Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder, was appointed as the Saudi TechHub platform ambassador at the time.




Women attend a hackathon in Jeddah on July 31, 2018, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah. (AFP file photo)

In the first season of the Hajj Hackathon, the Turjuman app achieved first place, winning the coveted SR1 million ($266,000) prize pot. Developed by a group of Saudi women, the app offers translation of signs and guide boards in Makkah and the holy sites without the use of the Internet. The Hajj Wallet app took second place, winning SR500,000, and the Ru’ya app came third, winning SR350,000.

Turjuman assists pilgrims in their own languages, created by five Saudi women united by a common goal: Samaher Al-Hadhli, Raghda Qadhi, Bayan Al-Ghamdi, Rawan Al-Matrafi and Reham Marghalani.

By the next Hajj season in 2019, Turjuman became a helpful tool supporting 10 languages — Indonesian, Malay, Filipino, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, French, Russian, Turkish and English — and featuring more than 400 signboards distributed across Mina, Muzdalifa, Arafat and the Grand Mosque.




People attend a hackathon in Jeddah on July 31, 2018, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca. (AFP file photo)

During the challenging years of 2020 and 2021, the Kingdom leaned heavily on modern technologies, especially facing the challenge of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2020 Hajj season stood out due to the government’s extensive measures to prioritize pilgrim safety and curb the spread of the virus. Pilgrim numbers were significantly reduced and restricted to individuals within the Kingdom.

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah introduced the Eatmarna application during this critical period. The application simplified Umrah and visitation procedures over two years, where it issued 43,432,985 Umrah permits. Drawing users from 213 nationalities, it also facilitated 6,363,288 permits for prayer in the Rawdah Sharifah at the Prophet’s Mosque.

In 2022, Eatmarna was replaced by the Nusuk, which eased the process for pilgrims worldwide, simplified electronic visa procedures and enhanced pilgrims’ experiences. Nusuk remains the primary application for these purposes.

The effects of technological innovations on the cultural and spiritual aspects of the Hajj refer to how new technologies developed during these hackathons impact the experience of pilgrims. These innovations can enhance various aspects of the Hajj journey, such as improving safety, providing better access to information and facilitating smoother logistics.

Dania Moayad, an Iraqi pilgrim who performed Hajj in 2021, told Arab News: “Using the Eatmarna application made my pilgrimage journey incredibly smooth and efficient. It provided real-time updates, guidance and essential information that enhanced my overall experience.”

Asia Ahmad, a pilgrim from Sudan who performed Hajj in 2021, said: “Eatmarna revolutionized the way I performed my pilgrimage. It simplified complex procedures, helped me navigate crowded areas, and ensured I didn’t miss any important rituals. Truly a modern marvel for pilgrims.”

As COVID-19 restrictions eased and pilgrims returned to full capacity to perform their rituals by 2022, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, in collaboration with the Guests of God Service Program, a part of Saudi Vision 2030, launched the second Hajj Hackathon, rebranded as the “Hajj and Umrah Challenge” initiative. This event attracted 1,500 participants and aimed to gather and implement creative ideas to enhance the pilgrim experience through innovative solutions.

The goal was to enable innovators and entrepreneurs to develop technological solutions to improve services for pilgrims. The challenge gathered 40 participants, both in-person and remotely, across six tracks: crowd management, waste management, housing, catering, health, and transportation.

Submissions were narrowed down to 13 by a jury of ministry and tech experts, then to 10 final ideas, with prizes totaling about SR150,000.

Participants attended introductory meetings and workshops to help solve key challenges. The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah adopted the top five winning entries and turned them into business accelerators for real-world implementation.

The Ma’alam team from the Technical College for Girls in Makkah won first place in the challenge. Their application guided pilgrims to the holy sites, with plans to expand services to guide tourists, citizens and residents to the Kingdom’s prominent landmarks.

The app introduces pilgrims to historical landmarks by gathering information, converting it into text, recording it as audio and mapping it to coordinates. Pilgrims receive voice notifications about landmarks based on their location, with options for language and voice commentators.

The second Hajj and Umrah Challenge was held in 2023 during the Hajj and Umra Expo, with 300 teams from around the world participating. This challenge aimed to develop technical projects to serve pilgrims, bringing together programmers and innovators to create solutions for the challenges facing the Hajj and Umrah systems.

The focus was on providing innovative solutions in six tracks: providing information related to the pilgrimage journey, food and hospitality, services for people with disabilities, waste recycling, baggage transportation, and guiding the lost.

The first stage involved about 800 contestants, with 11 teams qualifying for the final stage, from which five winning teams were selected for their innovative ideas. The Makkah Story application won the first-place prize pot of SR50,0000.

Raghad Al-Shareef, the leader of the team consisting of three participants and a graduate of business administration from Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah, told Arab News: “Makkah Story application focuses on highlighting Makkah’s archaeological landmarks and historical stories, as well as providing tourist guidance for the pilgrim and visitor to offer them an enriching experience.”

“We worked day and night over four days … winning feels indescribably amazing,” she said.

The second-placed team, Mataie, won the SR40,000 prize, while the third-placed team, Ehtiwa, which translates to “contain,” received the SR30,000 award.

The team leader, Jumana Al-Wafi, 22, also from Umm Al-Qura University, told Arab News: “Our idea is about the path of waste accumulation in the holy sites. We came up with the idea of relying on the Haram cameras to support artificial intelligence by detecting waste on the streets or containers by notifying the competent authorities that area A has an 80 percent waste piling, and that action should be taken.”

This year in April, aiming at enriching the cultural and religious experience of pilgrims, Umm Al-Qura University and the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah conducted the Historic and Enrichment Sites Hackathon, a groundbreaking event that attracted about 700 participants from 15 cities across the Kingdom, with a panel of 12 judges, 16 trainers and 10 guides overseeing the innovative projects.

The event, which included 20 training courses, six educational trips, 10 lectures and 12 guidance sessions, showcased cutting-edge solutions to enhance the pilgrimage experience.

The winning projects were announced, with the Guide project clinching the top spot for its innovative approach. The “Development of Al-Dira Mosque” project secured second place, while Maalim claimed third in the design and creative thinking category.

In the enrichment, marketing and awareness track, Jawlaty emerged as the winner, followed by Trahalkom in second place and Wasl in third.

In the digitization of the historical heritage category, Ma’alem took the lead, with Nafezat Al-Haramain and DMaps securing second and third place respectively.

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah emphasized the importance of the challenge in developing the Kingdom’s youth’s digital capabilities by employing their capabilities and relying on their promising talents.    

 

 


Chills and thrills as City Walk horror house opens its doors in Jeddah

Chills and thrills as City Walk horror house opens its doors in Jeddah
Updated 8 sec ago
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Chills and thrills as City Walk horror house opens its doors in Jeddah

Chills and thrills as City Walk horror house opens its doors in Jeddah

JEDDAH: A new attraction at City Walk, part of this year’s Jeddah Season, promises to fascinate and terrify in equal measure.

The spine-chilling Horror House of Raya and Skena takes visitors back in time to a rural Egyptian village steeped in evil, horror, and mystery.

Raya and Skena, Egypt’s most infamous serial killers, left a grisly legacy that has fascinated and horrified for over a century.

In late 1919 and throughout 1920, the sisters led a fearsome gang in Alexandria, targeting mainly women, and committing a string of murders and robberies. Their reign of terror sparked widespread panic and left an indelible mark on Egyptian crime history.

The siblings were arrested along with their husbands and other gang members after police found a number of corpses buried beneath one of their houses. They were charged with the murder of 17 people and later sentenced to death.

The horror house experience begins as visitors step into the recreated house of Raya and Skena. As they leave the courtyard, they find themselves transported back in time to a foreboding rural Egyptian village. The atmosphere is thick with a sense of impending doom, as evil forces seem to lurk in every shadowy corner.

Visitors navigate this frightening setting, where they are besieged by wicked presences, leading to a confrontation fraught with danger and confusion. The attention to detail and historical accuracy, combined with modern horror elements, give this experience a magical touch of horror and excitement.

“This was the most thrilling experience of my life,” said Syeda Sarah, a Jeddah resident. “It felt like stepping into a real-life horror story. The atmosphere, the details — everything was spot on.

“They give you a lamp at the door, which you carry inside as you walk through the dark rooms, encountering horrifying characters in Egyptian attire. The sight of Skena sitting in the corner, screaming, was terrifying. The realism in recreating Egypt is incredible.”

Another resident, Jumana, who visited the attraction with a group of friends, shared a similar sentiment.

“The Horror House of Raya and Skena is truly a unique concept," she said.

“My friends and I were on edge the entire time, and the historical aspect made it even more fascinating. I am from Egypt, and often heard this story from our relatives when we visited.

“This horror house brought those stories to life. There were many unexpected elements, like a fake head falling from the ceiling or a dead body wrapped in a white cloth. The banging of utensils by characters in Egyptian attire was incredibly creepy. It’s a must-visit for anyone coming to City Walk, especially to experience the Cairo zone and this horror house.”

The City Walk attraction has become a must-see for thrill-seekers, offering a blend of fear, fascination, and a sense of stepping into a dark chapter of Egypt’s past.

Visitors can book tickets at the zone or through the Saudi Events app to avoid queues.


Saudi deputy foreign minister discusses Sudan crisis with UN, EU delegates

Saudi deputy foreign minister discusses Sudan crisis with UN, EU delegates
Updated 5 min 25 sec ago
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Saudi deputy foreign minister discusses Sudan crisis with UN, EU delegates

Saudi deputy foreign minister discusses Sudan crisis with UN, EU delegates

DJIBOUTI: Saudi Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Waleed Al-Khuraiji met with EU Special Representative for the Horn of Africa, Annette Weber, on the sidelines of the Second Consultative Meeting on Enhancing Coordination of Peace Initiatives and Efforts in Sudan, held in Djibouti.

In separate meetings, he also met with the UN Envoy for Sudan, Ramtane Lamamra, and US Special Envoy for Sudan, Tom Perriello.

During these meetings, they reviewed the latest developments in Sudan, explored ways to strengthen bilateral cooperation, and discussed topics of mutual interest.
 


Fishermen of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province gear up for shrimp season

Fishermen of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province gear up for shrimp season
Updated 5 min 53 sec ago
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Fishermen of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province gear up for shrimp season

Fishermen of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province gear up for shrimp season
  • For the 2024 season, 710 fishing boats have been authorized, including large and small fishing boats

RIYADH: Fishermen in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province are preparing for this year’s shrimp season, which begins on Aug. 1 and lasts six months.

Shrimp fishing will take place along the Arabian Gulf coasts of the Eastern Province, stretching some 1,000 km from Khafji Governorate in the north to Uqair Governorate in the south.

For the 2024 season, 710 fishing boats have been authorized, including large and small fishing boats.

These are distributed as follows: 30 fishing boats at the Manifa port, 20 fishing boats at the Safaniya port, 330 fishing boats at the Jubail port, 160 fishing boats at the Qatif port and 170 fishing boats at the Darin Island port.

The director of the Eastern Province Branch of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, Fahd bin Ahmed Al-Hamzi, told the Saudi Press Agency that the ministry is providing top-quality services to the Kingdom’s fishermen.

The ministry has reduced the time required to issue shrimp fishing permits and opened online applications, he added.

The region will also see the development of new fishing ports as part of a ministry project, as well as a scheme to supply and install engines and emergency radios for fishing boats.

Saudi Arabia has affirmed its commitment to protecting sustainable fish stocks and the livelihoods of fishermen, and investing in aquaculture projects.


Djibouti PM receives Saudi deputy foreign minister

Djibouti’s Prime Minister Abdoulkader Kamil Mohamed receives Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji on Thursday. (SPA)
Djibouti’s Prime Minister Abdoulkader Kamil Mohamed receives Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji on Thursday. (SPA)
Updated 25 July 2024
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Djibouti PM receives Saudi deputy foreign minister

Djibouti’s Prime Minister Abdoulkader Kamil Mohamed receives Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji on Thursday. (SPA)
  • During the meeting with Mohamed, Al-Khuraiji reviewed relations between Djibouti and Saudi Arabia
  • Topics of common interest were also discussed

RIYADH: Djibouti’s Prime Minister Abdoulkader Kamil Mohamed received the Kingdom’s Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji on Thursday, Saudi Press Agency reported.

During the meeting, the officials reviewed relations between the two countries and discussed topics of common interest.

Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji meets with Djibouti’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Mahmoud Ali Youssef on Thursday. (SPA)Caption

Al-Khuraiji was also received by Djibouti’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Mahmoud Ali Youssef on Thursday.

The minister is in the country to attend the second consultative meeting on enhancing the coordination of peace initiatives and efforts in Sudan.

Al-Khuraiji later met with Minister of State at the UAE Foreign Ministry Sheikh Shakhboot bin Nahyan Al-Nahyan on the sidelines of the meeting. 

Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji meets with Minister of State at the UAE Foreign Ministry Sheikh Shakhboot bin Nahyan Al-Nahyan. (SPA)

 


Chinese Embassy celebrates 97th anniversary of People’s Liberation Army

Chinese Embassy celebrates 97th anniversary of People’s Liberation Army
Updated 25 July 2024
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Chinese Embassy celebrates 97th anniversary of People’s Liberation Army

Chinese Embassy celebrates 97th anniversary of People’s Liberation Army

RIYADH: The Chinese Embassy in Saudi Arabia hosted a reception on Wednesday in Riyadh’s Cultural Palace to mark the 97th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army.

“We would like to use this opportunity to celebrate not only our history, but also the history of military and security cooperation between Saudi Arabia and China,” said Zhu Je, the armed defense attache at the Chinese Embassy.

In an interview with Arab News, Zhu recalled Saudi Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman’s June visit to Beijing, where he met his Chinese counterpart, Dong Jun.

Zhu described the meeting between the two ministers as “a milestone in the new era.”

He told Arab News: “This is the first time that he visited China to meet with the Chinese minister of defense and also the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission.

“The ministers decided to continue to deepen bilateral cooperation in defense and military areas, strengthen strategic communication between the leaderships, and to elevate the relationship to a higher level.”

The defense attache highlighted the importance of the meeting, in which Prince Khalid and his Chinese counterpart reviewed Saudi-Chinese relations and ways to strengthen ties.

The People’s Liberation Army anniversary reception welcomed defense officials and ambassadors based in the Kingdom.

Chinese Ambassador Chang Hua hosted the event alongside Zhu and welcomed guests to the reception.

Zhu delivered the opening remarks and highlighted the “strategic friendly cooperation” between the Kingdom and China’s defense ministries.

“China firmly supports Saudi Arabia to strengthen its strategic capacities for safeguarding its national security, and resolutely opposes any external interference in the Kingdom’s internal affairs,” he said.

China aims to “facilitate the reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as the unity between Palestinian parties, to support Saudi Arabia’s efforts to maintain stability, restore peace and protect civilians in the region and in the world,” he added.

Zhu thanked the Kingdom for its support, saying: “I once again express our sincerest gratitude and respects to the leaders, government, armed forces, security forces and people of Saudi Arabia.”

He also praised the Saudi ministries of defense, interior and National Guard, as well as his embassy colleagues.