JEDDAH: While 2022 was a year of stagnation and setbacks for many countries, for Saudi Arabia it was a time of achievements and optimism.
Saudis breathed a collective sigh of relief early in the year as many of the remaining COVID-19 restrictions were eased. In March, social distancing and the wearing of face masks outdoors was made no longer mandatory.
Then, in July, the Kingdom reopened its borders to allow hundreds of thousands of Hajj pilgrims to visit the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah for the first time in two years.
Although the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic were felt in the Kingdom, as elsewhere, the Saudi government’s early and robust interventions allowed sectors such as tourism and entertainment to bounce back quickly.
Now the stage is set for the Saudi economy to expand rapidly in 2023 and its giga- and mega-projects to make headway toward completion.
Economy and trade deals
In contrast with the public-finance challenges that confronted other governments, Saudi Arabia witnessed a stronger-than-expected recovery in 2021, which turned into a remarkable economic rebound in 2022.
The International Monetary Fund forecast that Saudi Arabia would be the fastest-growing economy among the Group of Twenty nations in 2022 with a gross domestic product expansion of 7.6 percent, making it an especially attractive investment destination.
In March, Saudi Arabia signed 14 deals worth $7 billion with Egypt, covering renewables, pharmaceuticals, and infrastructure. In October, it signed agreements worth $15 billion with South Africa, and in early December inked investment deals with China totalling $50 billion.
The Kingdom has also signed cooperation accords with the US, Greece, Kenya, Uzbekistan, and other countries during a series of official visits over the course of the year.
Tourism and entertainment
Saudi Arabia’s tourism and entertainment sectors raised the bar higher in 2022 with the launch of the Jeddah Season, Riyadh Season, Diriyah Season, the upcoming Winter at Tantora festival, and the Saudi winter seasons.
The General Entertainment Authority organized numerous tourism and entertainment projects, including festivals, parties, and seasons from MDLBEAST Riyadh to Al-Balad Beast.
Sports fans flocked to the country to witness events including the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix 2022, WWE’s Crown Jewel, the Saudi International pro golf tournament, the Diriyah Tennis Cup, and NEOM Beach Games 2022.
Since the launch of a new tourism strategy in 2019, the sector has seen rapid growth. Tourist numbers in the second half of the year saw a 575.4 percent increase on the same period last year.
According to the Ministry of Investment, 3.6 million people visited Saudi Arabia, while domestic tourism grew by 42.3 percent, reaching 21.4 million, putting the country on the path to welcoming 100 million tourists by the end of the decade, in line with Vision 2030 targets.
In fact, Saudi Arabia has risen 10 ranks in the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Development Index, published in May, and now sits at 34th among more than 100 countries for industry development, sustainability, and resilience.
Speaking at this year’s WEF Summit in Davos, Saudi Vice Minister of Tourism Princess Haifa bint Mohammed, said: “The prioritization of the travel and tourism industry from the government perspective is why we managed to do so well during the pandemic and recover.”
Projects and investment
Saudi Arabia’s mega-projects, including the $500 billion NEOM smart city, are positioning the Kingdom as a major regional and global tourist destination in the years to come.
More than 15 large-scale projects have been launched in recent years to transform and diversify the country’s economy.
Earlier this year, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched The Line, a revolutionary 170-kilometer-long urban development that will mesh with the natural landscape and run entirely on renewables with zero emissions.
Red Sea Global recently announced it would be ready to welcome visitors by early 2023 as two world-class coastal resorts are set to open.
In the central region, the Diriyah Gate Development Authority unveiled the UNESCO World Heritage sites of At-Turaif and the Bujairi Terrace. The $50 billion project features some of the world’s most luxurious restaurants and hotels built in the traditional Najdi architectural style.
The Kingdom also forged ahead with its environmentally friendly mega-projects, with construction continuing on a $5 billion green hydrogen project in NEOM.
During the UN Climate Change Conference (COP27), held in Egypt in November, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman announced the inauguration of climate-action projects designed to reduce carbon emissions and plans to host MENA Climate Week 2023.
Art and culture
Saudi Arabia hosted several major artistic and cultural events over the course of the year, exhibiting works by Saudi and internationally renowned artists.
During the 17-day Noor Al-Riyadh art festival in November, the skies over the Saudi capital were lit by drones, while exhibitions were held throughout the city. The festival’s light displays broke six Guinness World Records.
Meanwhile, the Royal Commission for AlUla launched its Valley of Arts Project, designating 25 square miles to include permanent art installations by Saudi and foreign artists to promote art and culture in the region.
AlUla also hosted the second edition of the Desert X exhibition, featuring contemporary artworks by 15 Saudi and international artists, exploring the themes of mirage and oasis, both intrinsic to desert culture and history.
The Saudi Ministry of Culture declared 2022 the Year of Saudi Coffee, hosting festivals throughout the country to promote the Kingdom’s homegrown blends. Earlier this year, the Saudi Culinary Arts Commission also took part in the Agora Festival in Paris, which featured seven pavilions celebrating Saudi coffee.
The year also saw several major concerts, including a set by DJ Khaled, who paid his first visit to the Kingdom to perform for 700,000 music fans at MDLBEAST Soundstorm in Riyadh.
Saudi singer Abdulmajeed Abdullah also debuted in his hometown of Jeddah, and Canadian singer Justin Bieber performed at the Saudi Grand Prix.
Jeddah also rolled out the red carpet for the second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival in December, where big-name movie directors and actors Sharon Stone, Spike Lee, Jessica Alba, Oliver Stone, Guy Ritchie, Shah Rukh Khan, and Ranbir Kapoor mingled with Arab stars.
This year’s festival included 131 feature films and shorts from 61 countries in 41 languages, including seven feature films and 24 short flicks by Saudi filmmakers.
RIYADH: Researchers from Saudi Arabia and Yemen won the Hamdan Award for Distinguished Educational Research at its 25th session in Tunis.
The Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization announced on Wednesday that four research papers were awarded in 2022.
A statement issued by ALECSO from its headquarters in Tunis stated that the first winning research paper belongs to Ali bin Hassan Shawkan Najmi. The paper is titled: “The effect of using flipped classes based on game stimuli in developing organized learning skills, self-sufficiency and educational resilience among third-intermediate students in the English language course.”
Another winning research paper from Saudi Arabia was conducted by Mohammed bin Ali Al-Kherezi. The paper is titled: “A proposed normative framework for developing performance indicators in secondary schools in the Kingdom.”
The third research paper, by Saudi researcher Maryam Yahya Mohammed Atif, is titled: “Awareness of cybersecurity and its relationship to digital transformation among male and female supervisors of the education administration in the Jazan region.”
The research paper by Yemeni researcher Khaled Hassan Ali Al-Hariri, titled, “A proposed vision for employing digital media for Arab universities in spreading and consolidating the values of coexistence and tolerance among university youth,” also won an award.
On the occasion, ALECSO Director-General Mohammed Walad Amar emphasized the need for research to contribute to educational decision-making in order to strengthen the efforts of governments and organizations in the Arab world that are aimed at improving education.
Walad Amar said that the ALECSO Hamdan Award has succeeded in discovering successful research practices in the field of education in the Arab world, which will increase opportunities for development and improve education in the region.
ALECSO is a Tunis-based specialized institution working under the umbrella of the Arab League. It was established with the aim of promoting Arab intellectual unity and enhancing education, culture and science in the Arab World.
RIYADH: The National Waste Management Center on Wednesday launched its second awareness campaign nationwide.
Held under the slogan “Reduce-Repeat-Recycle,” it was launched simultaneously in Riyadh, Makkah, Jeddah, Taif, Madinah, Jazan, Abha and Baha.
The first campaign was held on Dec. 29, 2022, for three days in Riyadh, Najran, Eastern Province, Qassim, Northern Borders, Hail, Tabuk and Jouf.
The program includes interactive educational stalls in each city to provide information on ways to save energy, reduce waste, and use of effective recycling methods, said Sultan Al-Harthi, general manager of the center.
The center is a Saudi government entity established in April 2019 for the management of all types of waste including from construction, demolitions, agriculture, medical facilities and sewage systems. It also oversees the removal of hazardous industrial, radioactive and nuclear waste.
JAZAN: Jazan province this winter is a hotbed of tourists searching for relaxation, walks through beautiful scenery, the chance to sample the region’s famous coffee — and even scouting investment opportunities in an expanding leisure industry.
A plan to build the province’s tourism economy was approved by Prince Mohammed bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz, who is in charge of the Tourism Development Council in the Jazan region. Since then, the Jazan City Track and the Farasan Islands Track were approved as tourist hiking routes.
The Heritage Village, meanwhile, is an important tourist attraction. During a tour of the site by an Arab News team, the village’s Director Mohammed Ali said that it was popular due to its architectural style and its cultural heritage.
There are several historic buildings made of stone and mud that detail the historical way of life.
• The Jazan City Track and the Farasan Islands Track have been approved as tourist hiking routes.
• Women of Jazan sell traditional and handmade products at the Heritage Village.
• Visitors can take a ferry to the Farasan Islands, whose reserve was included in UNESCO’s ‘Man and the Biosphere Program.’
“The Jazan region has established a name for itself globally in every sphere, be it business, development, or tourism. In the Al-Raith governorate of the Global Islands, for example, there is one of the biggest model gardens in the world,” Ali said.
“In the mountainous governorates, coffee is grown, which UNESCO has called one of the best products in the world.”
According to Ali, the village, which spans 7,000 acres, is where the customs and traditions of the mountains, Tihama, and maritime environments come together in one location.
In the village marketplace, local resident Hamouda Hussain is one of a number of women selling traditional products.
“I have loved sewing since I was a child, and I am here selling my products, which are popular traditional clothes,” she told Arab News. “I also make oud mixtures and incense for the body. I see many tourists who come from everywhere to the heritage village and buy my products.
“Tourists flock more in the winter, spring break, founding day, and national day,” she added.
After visiting the village, visitors can take a ferry to the Farasan Islands, whose reserve is known for its diverse ecosystems and rare wildlife was included in the “Man and the Biosphere Program,” a UNESCO initiative.
The ferry captain’s assistant, Yousef Al-Seeni, said that nothing makes him happier than seeing visitors from all over the world come to the islands.
“We have received many tourists from around the world, and they are pleased with us because the sailing time is only an hour,” Al-Seeni said. As a result, they enjoy us as well as the view of the island and dolphins, as well as the opportunity to indulge in their favorite pastimes like diving, fishing, and a variety of sports like hiking and tasting the delectable seafood.”
Jazan and Farasan are famous for the trade in fish and pearls that are sold and exported to countries around the world due to the abundance of coastal beaches, which are rich in fish, shellfish, and seashells.
JEDDAH: A new Saudi choral group has been established to create and present Saudi and Arab classical songs.
The group, called Choralla — comprising six women and four men and led by Egyptian composer Dr. Karim Abdelaziz — recently performed its first concert at Al-Shallal Park Theater in Jeddah, attended by 350 people.
According to the choir’s chairman, Dr. Bander Arab, the young group of singers together possess the ability to perform ensemble pieces to a professional standard.
“We have brought together an amazing group of singers who have passion for great music. We’re already well into preparation for the inaugural program of concerts which we are sure will be very special occasions for us,” he said.
The band gathered a group of amateurs who are passionate about music and singing, and its goal is to present Arabic singing in a public concert every month. The group adopts the scientific method in its training, and promises its audience that they will leave the concert happy.
Bander Arab, Chairman, Choralla
“Since I was a child, I used to hum beautiful songs with myself, and I was fascinated by many musical instruments. At the same time, I learned to play and read musical notes. Despite my preoccupation over the past two decades with many leadership positions in the private and governmental sectors, I did not forget, even for a moment, this great passion that fascinated and controlled me.”
Arab told Arab News that the choir forms a unified, integrated sound texture, with dimensions that the solo voice cannot reach, so that listeners feels more pleasure when hearing performances of popular songs.
“Choral music is very different from solo singing. In choral music, you kind of have to agree that you’re going to work together,” explains Arab.
“The band gathered a group of amateurs who are passionate about music and singing, and its goal is to present Arabic singing in a public concert every month. The group adopts the scientific method in its training, and promises its audience that they will leave the concert happy,” he added.
Abdelaziz, who is also professor of music at the University of Alexandria, said: “I was struck by how the Saudi youth, who are amateurs, have a great spirit of challenge in executing one of the most difficult Arabic songs, such as ‘My Time of Time’ by Mohammed Abdel-Wahhab, which requires a great effort of training to unify the sound.”
RIYADH: Prince Faisal bin Bandar, governor of Riyadh and chairman of the board of directors of the Charitable Society for Orphan Care in the region, Insan, on Tuesday received a certificate granting the association the practice of humanitarian activity outside the Kingdom by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center.
This came during his meeting with KSrelief Supervisor General Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah and Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Suwailem, vice chairman of the executive committee of Insan, and other key officials.
Prince Faisal listened to a brief about the certificate, confirming the excellence of Insan in its activities, after it received the National Award for Voluntary Work in 2022.
The governor also received a report on the work and achievements of KSrelief. He praised its global role in humanitarian relief and volunteer efforts, stressing the importance of work and cooperation in achieving the aspirations of the Saudi leadership.