News Updates

Saudi Arabia to turn 50 Red Sea islands into luxury tourism resorts ‘not subject to conservative kingdom’s rules’

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has announced it plans to turn a huge part of its pristine Red Sea coastline into a semi-autonomous luxury beach resort.

The 50 islands and 180km (110 miles) stretch of coastline – amounting to an area the size of Belgium –  will be developed to home luxury hotels and other necessary infrastructure which will exist under laws “on par with international standards” in an effort to draw tourists to the country, the government said Tuesday.

The plans are part of“Vision 2030”, Saudi Arabia’s long-term blueprint for weaning itself off its reliance on oil revenue. It involves investments to the tune of $20m (£15.6m) – including a shot in the arm for the kingdom’s nascent tourism industry.

While 18 million people visited Saudi Arabia from abroad in 2016, almost all foreigners came on pilgrimage to Mecca, rather than to spend time and money soaking up the country’s other sights.

Although the Kingdom is home to many archaeological sites, pristine beaches and excellent diving, it is not a holiday destination like Egypt’s Red Sea resorts or the city of Petra in Jordan. It currently does not offer tourist visas, making visiting difficult.

Conservative social rules, a lack of alcohol and restrictive dress codes coupled with blazing desert heat aren’t the usual ingredients Western holidaymakers look for.

Forms of recreation such as theatre and cinemas are banned, and despite tentative efforts at reform, Saudi Arabia is still widely criticised for its institutionalised discrimination against women.

It is not clear whether western women – or local women – will be allowed to don bikinis or other clothing which does not fit the kingdom’s strict dress codes while visiting the resorts, or travel without the presence of a male guardian.

The Kingdom’s authorities say the new tourist zone will not necessarily be subject to the laws in place in the rest of the country, although there are no details on how the semi-autonomous area will function yet.

The government is working on introducing tourist visas to make it easier for foreigners to visit. It is hoped one million people a year – a combined domestic and international total – will stay at the new Red Sea destinations by 2035.

Construction at the Red Sea site will begin in autumn 2019 and be completed by the end of 2022, state news agency SPA said. The Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund will provide the initial funding before international bodies are invited to invest.

Up to 35,000 jobs will be created by the project, which is eventually projected to generate 15 billion riyals (£3bn) a year.


Saudi Arabia may ease rules for tourists as it tries to attract more western visitors

SAUDI Arabia wants your attention. The middle-eastern country wants to attract more western tourists and it’s willing to relax its strict laws to do so.

The ultraconservative Arab nation plans to build a “semi-autonomous” visa-free travel destination along its northwestern Red Sea coast, where restrictions on women’s dress, gender segregation and other conservative norms could be waived.

Already, it has opened its doors to more entertainment in order to generate more local spending and appease the country’s burgeoning youth population.

The Red Sea project is being headed by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud, who wants to lessen Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil exports for revenue and sees a major tourism push as the chance to do so, as a part of his Vision 2030 plan.

The core of the prince’s Vision 2030 plan is to diversify and modernise Saudi society and the economy. It also includes plans for keeping some of the Saudi money spent abroad each year in the country.

Currently, a large part of the country’s tourism revenue comes from the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, which Saudi Arabia oversees. It wants more western tourists.Source:istock

The country’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) said it will provide the seed capital to develop the tourist resort area, explaining that the new “semi-autonomous area will be governed by laws on par with international standards” and will “bring about the next generation of tourists”.

The resort area will incorporate popular holiday activities such as diving attractions, protected coral reefs, dormant volcanoes, and a nature reserve, with some areas resembling the luxury hotels, islands and lagoons of the Maldives.

Trips to Saudi Arabia’s ancient ruins of Mada’in Saleh, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site will also be a drawcard, along with parachuting, trekking and rock climbing.

The PIF is the main investor in a Six Flags theme park that is expected to be built in a new entertainment city that will be the first of its kind in the kingdom.

Currently, the majority of the country’s tourism revenue comes from the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, which Saudi Arabia oversees.

View of night-life with people hanging out and walking along the Jeddah’s Corniche, a coastal resort area of the city of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.Source:istock

It is estimated that The Red Sea project will generate 15 billion Saudi riyals ($5 billion) annually to Saudi Arabia’s economy and create 35,000 jobs.

The fund said the Red Sea project will be built along 125 miles (200 kilometres) of coastline and is tailored toward global luxury travellers and those seeking wellness travel.

However, as it stands the Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) urges Aussies to reconsider their need to travel to Saudi Arabia due to the threat of terrorist attacks.

“There has been a sharp increase in terrorist incidents in Saudi Arabia over the past year. Attacks have targeted the Shia minority and members of Saudi Arabia’s security forces in particular,” the advice reads.

“Further attacks are likely, including the possibility of indiscriminate and opportunistic attacks against Westerners and venues frequented by Westerners. Large gatherings represent attractive targets for terrorists. Terrorist tactics could include bombings or smaller-scale attacks such as drive-by shooting and kidnapping.”

It also warns of political tensions in the area, particularly amid its diplomatic crisis with Qatar.

On 5 June, Saudi Arabia and six other countries cut relations with Qatar, accusing it of supporting extremism.

“The Government of Saudi Arabia has stated that it is an offence to display sympathy towards Qatar, or to object to the Saudi Government’s current policy in relation to Qatar. This includes social media or any other written or verbal form. Offenders could be imprisoned and subject to a large fine,” DFAT warns.


King Salman’s efforts to reopen Al-Aqsa Mosque lauded

JEDDAH: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Monday thanked King Salman for making contact with world leaders, resulting in the reopening of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque and the removal of restrictions on entry to worshippers.
Presiding over the Cabinet at Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah, Prince Mohammed said the king’s efforts highlighted Saudi keenness to preserve the rights of Muslims to perform their rituals with ease, and the need to respect the holy site’s sanctity.
The crown prince briefed the Cabinet on his meetings with the commander of US Central Command, during which they discussed bilateral military issues and joint counterterrorism efforts. He also brief the Cabinet on his meeting with Iraqi cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr on Saudi-Iraqi relations.
The Cabinet condemned the launch by Yemen’s Houthi militia of a ballistic missile toward Makkah in an attempt to spoil the Hajj season.
The Cabinet said this reaffirmed the claim by the Saudi-led coalition supporting legitimacy in Yemen that smuggling missiles into the country is due to the absence of control over Yemen’s Hodeidah port.
Regarding the Qatar crisis, the Cabinet welcomed the outcome of the meeting of the foreign ministers of the Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ) — comprising Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt — and the affirmation of their six principles on combating terror and its financing.
The Cabinet welcomed the ATQ’s call for implementation of 13 demands to ensure peace and stability in the region and the world. It also welcomed the ATQ’s condemnation of Doha’s plan to obstruct Qataris from performing Hajj, and the quartet’s appreciation of Saudi facilities to receive pilgrims.
The Cabinet welcomed the statement by Arab foreign ministers on Israeli aggression against Al-Aqsa, and their appreciation of King Salman’s efforts to protect the mosque. In this context, the Cabinet expressed the longstanding Saudi stance in support of the Palestinian people, and rejection of the imposition of unilateral measures aimed at disrespecting Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa.
It said the only way to achieve peace is to implement the Arab Peace Initiative and lay down an international mechanism that will ensure Palestinian rights and end Israeli occupation.
The Cabinet appreciated condemnation and rejection by the permanent representatives of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) of all Israeli measures in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa.
The Cabinet also renewed strong Saudi condemnation of the terror attack in Kabul, Afghanistan.
It approved a memorandum of understanding (MoU) against commercial fraud between the Saudi Ministry of Commerce and Investment and Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Commerce and Industry.
The Cabinet approved a cooperation agreement on the peaceful use of atomic energy between the Saudi and Kazakh governments.
It authorized the president of the General Auditing Bureau, or whomever he authorizes, to discuss a draft MoU between the bureau and its counterparts in the UAE, Egypt and Russia for cooperation in accounting, controlling and technical areas.
The Cabinet approved rules of work for the supervisory committees of sectors targeted for privatization.
It approved Saudi participation in Expo Dubai 2020, and approved the statute of the Economic Judiciary Authority of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
The Cabinet approved the appointment of the following as members of the Family Affairs Council for three years: Princess Lulua Al-Faisal bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, Dr. Lana bint Hasan bin Said, Dr. Bandar bin Hamoud Al-Suwailim and Dr. Raja bint Omar Said.


Qualification Applications for Saudi Arabia’s First Wind Energy Project

Riyadh – As of August 10, Saudi Arabia will close the qualification applications for Dumat al-Jandal project, which will strengthen the kingdom’s presence in the field of wind energy and increase electricity productions via renewable resources.

The Energy Ministry’s Renewable Energy Project Development Office (REPDO) had previously announced requests to qualify for the 400 megawatt wind project in al-Jouf region, north of the kingdom.

The ministry had earlier said the Sakaka 300 MW solar PV plant and a 400 MW wind project in Midyan were part of the first round of projects.

In April, Saudi Arabia kicked off the massive renewable program in Riyadh by announcing the beginning of the bidding process for the Sakaka project, which is expected to come online by 2018-19. The Sakaka project is estimated to cost around $300 million.

Qualified bidders for the Dumat al-Jandal project will enter the request for proposal process, due to start on August 29 and close in January 2018. Companies whose pre-qualification application is unsuccessful for this round retain eligibility to participate in future rounds under the National Renewable Energy Program (NREP).

NREP aims to generate 9.5 gigawatts of electricity from renewable energy annually by 2023 involving 60 projects, and 3.45 GW by 2020 as part of the National Transfer Program NTP 2020 within the framework of Vision 2030.

The ministry said the first round aims to generate 700 MW of renewable energy followed by 1.02 GW in the second round, which will be split into 620 MW solar and 400 MW wind. The bidding of the second round could happen between the fourth quarter of this year and first quarter of 2018.

Saudi Arabia has devised strategic goals to increase the industrial sector’s contribution to the domestic product. Factory numbers in the country increased last year by 10 percent in comparison to 2015.

The introduction of renewable energy to Saudi Arabia is meant to help the country reduce its dependence on liquid fuels for power generation, help the kingdom boost local manufacturing and create jobs.

Based on the Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia aims to diversify its income resources and increase investments through a series of reforms and procedures to the structure of the domestic economy. This is starting to show through the NTP 2020 and Public Investment Fund (PIF) which is increasing investments in several vital sectors primarily technology.

“We are pursuing one of the most ambitious renewable energy development programs globally, installing 9.5 GW of wind, solar and other technologies over the next six years… We are seeking for the Kingdom, in the medium term, to become a nation that develops, manufactures and exports the advanced technologies of renewable energy production,” stated Saudi Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources Khalid al-Falih.

The Ministry of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources is considering several options and methods to promote the industrial sector and is expected to hold a series of meetings with investors to discuss current challenges and means to overcome them.


Red Sea Project: New Income Sources for Saudi Arabia

Riyadh – Observers have affirmed that the Red Sea Project that was launched on Monday by Vice Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Prince Mohammed bin Salman will contribute in reinforcing the tourism and recreation sectors in the Kingdom, generating hard currency, attracting foreign investment and diversifying the economy and income sources.

Abdul Rahim Naqi, secretary general of the Federation of Chambers of the Gulf Cooperation Council, stated to Asharq Al-Awsat that the international Red Sea Project represents a significant step in the right direction and is expected to attract domestic, Arab, Gulf and international investments.

“Such a project would cement partnership between the public and private sectors and would boost the tourism sector,” he added.

Nasser Al-Tayyar, deputy chairman and president of Al Tayyar Travel Group, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the endeavor “represents one of the most significant projects that the Kingdom needs right now. This is the second project of its kind and would have a huge impact on the Saudi economy.”

He added that the tourist project would reduce exporting hard currency and increase it instead. Tayyar also expected the project to create job opportunities and reinforce the craft industry sector and other economic activities.

Prince Mohammed announced on Monday the launch of the Red Sea international tourism project, which will be built in one of the world’s most beautiful and diverse natural spots.

It aims to develop exceptional resorts on more than 50 natural islands between the cities of Amlaj and Al-Jawh. It will break ground in the third quarter of 2019 and complete its first phase in the fourth quarter of 2022.


Crown Prince Meets with UK’s Special Representative on Saudi Vision 2030

Jeddah- Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense, met on Sunday with UK’s Special Representative on Saudi Vision 2030 Ken Costa.

During the meeting, they reviewed a number of Saudi-British programs related to the Saudi Vision 2030 as well as mechanisms for implementing these programs.

The meeting was attended by Minister of Commerce and Investment Dr. Majid Al-Qasabi, Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan and a number of officials.

The man who will be king – MEED

Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed’s achievements at such an age have a precedent

It has been a summer of surprises for observers of Saudi Arabia.

On 5 June, Riyadh, supported by other GCC and Arab states, announced it had broken off relations with Qatar and halted land, air and sea traffic with the country.

And then came the news that Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud had replaced his cousin Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as heir to the Saudi throne.

This overshadowed oil prices the same day falling to their lowest level since Saudi Arabia forged a production restraint deal involving Opec and leading non-Opec oil exporters in December. And it deflected attention from the recapture, completed on 9 July, of Mosul from Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The fascination with the new crown prince is due to his age. He is 31 and was largely unknown before his father became king in January 2015.

The plan he has championed to transform the Saudi economy by 2030 and Riyadh’s intervention in Yemen, which he approved as defence minister in March 2015, are both contentious. Prince Mohammed was under 30 when these policies were adopted.

But there is a precedent. Prince Mohammed’s grandfather Abdulaziz al-Saud was 27 when he recaptured Riyadh for the Al-Saud dynasty and became emir of the Najd. By the time he was 31, Abdulaziz had expelled Ottoman forces from central Arabia. He seized Arabia’s eastern region before he was 40. Jeddah, Mecca and Medina were taken in 1925. Abdulaziz became Saudi Arabia’s first king seven years later.

King Salman himself tasted power early. His father made him deputy governor of the Riyadh province when he was just 19. He became its governor before he was 30.

Arabia has only recently been a place ruled by old men. Prince Mohammed’s rise echoes an earlier tradition, where youth and ambition trumped experience.

But it would have been impossible without the approval of King Salman, now in his 82nd year. He and leading Saudi princes have decided that the last thing the country needs is another period in which possible successors feud and ministries drift as an ageing king’s powers fade. This is what happened for 10 years after King Fahd’s stroke in 1995 and for half a decade before King Abdullah’s death.

King Salman has used the legitimacy he enjoys and the right Saudi Arabia’s laws allow him to name as his heir a capable son he loves and trusts. It would have been more surprising if he had not.


Saudi Crown Prince in charge as King Salman takes holiday

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, named heir to the region’s most powerful throne last month, took temporary charge of the country on Monday as the King Salman left on holiday.

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, issued a royal decree deputising his son to “manage state affairs and guard the interests of the people” during the monarch’s “personal break”, state news agency SPA reported.

On June 21, King Salman stripped the title of crown prince from his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef, naming 31-year-old Prince Mohammed, often known as MBS, as heir to the throne.

Apart from his role as crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman also serves as defence minister and leads an ambitious reform agenda to end Saudi Arabia’s reliance on oil.


Erdogan arrives in Kuwait as trip to Gulf region continues

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Kuwait from Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah city, as a part of his two-day Gulf tour that attempts to mediate the Qatar crisis.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday has continued his two-day Gulf tour with Kuwait after leaving the Saudi city of Jeddah as part of a diplomatic tour aimed at healing an Arab rift with Ankara’s ally Qatar.

Erdogan’s first stop on a Gulf diplomatic tour was in Saudi Arabia where he held separate meetings with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud on Sunday.

Erdogan and Saudi King Salman discussed “efforts to combat terrorism and its sources of funding,” the Saudi press agency reported, without elaborating.

The visit came amid a Gulf crisis after four Arab states — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt – cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed sanctions on Doha on June 5, accusing it of supporting terrorism.

Doha denies the charges and describes the blockade as a violation of international law.

The boycotting countries want Qatar to close down a Turkish base, curb relations with their arch-foe Iran and close down the state-run Al Jazeera TV channel.

Erdogan will visit Qatar on Monday for his first face-to-face talks with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani since the crisis began.

“No one has any interest in prolonging this crisis anymore,” Erdogan said before leaving Istanbul.

He accused “enemies” of seeking to “fire up tensions between brothers” in the region.

Erdogan praised Qatar’s behaviour in the crisis, saying Doha had sought to find a solution through dialogue.

“I hope our visit will be beneficial for the region,” he said.

The Turkish president is being accompanied by a high-profile delegation that includes Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Berat Albayrak, Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli, Chief of Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar, and National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) head Hakan Fidan.


Crown Prince congratulates President of India on victory in presidential elections

Jeddah, Shawwal 29, 1438, July 23, 2017, SPA — Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, has sent a cable of congratulations to President Ram Nath Kovind of #India on the occasion of his victory in the presidential elections.
The Crown Prince expressed his most sincere congratulations and best wishes for the health and happiness of the President and further development and prosperity for the people of the Republic of India.


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Quote by the Prince

"We seek to be proud of our country, and allow the latter to contribute to the development of the world, whether on the economic, environmental, civilisational, or intellectual levels."