Saudi Arabia To Host January Spanish Super Cup

 

The Spanish Super Cup will be held in Saudi Arabia and moved to the winter for the next three editions, Spain’s football association (RFEF) announced on Monday.

Jeddah’s King-Abdullah stadium will host the four-team tournament in early January as opposed to its traditional pre-season date in August.

The competition sees La Liga winners Barcelona face Atletico Madrid and Copa del Rey champions Valencia play Real Madrid before a final on January 12.

RFEF president Luis Rubiales said women would be allowed into the ground for the fixtures and the governing body would subsequently help the Saudi Arabian football federation to organise a local league for women.

De facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has recently introduced reforms including allowing concerts, reopening cinemas, and lifting a prohibition on women driving.

In December unified heavyweight world champion Andy Ruiz of Mexico will take on Britain’s Anthony Joshua in their rematch in Diriyah as the country attempts to improve its international image.

Five Things To Know About Saudi Arabia And Its Mammoth IPO

In this file photo taken on September 20, 2019, a general view of Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq oil processing plant. Saudi Aramco said it will list on the Riyadh stock exchange in what could be the world’s largest IPO, underpinning Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitions to overhaul the kingdom’s oil-reliant economy. PHOTO: FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP

 

Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia is undergoing a major transformation under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who intends to end the kingdom’s addiction to oil revenues.

As the country opens up on the economic front, there have also been some social reforms including more freedoms for women, but progress has been erratic and critics pushing for faster changes have ended up in jail.

The crown prince’s most ambitious economic initiative so far has been to push the state energy giant Aramco towards a stock market debut. After years of delays, the green light was announced on Sunday.

Why is the IPO such a big deal?

The sale of part of Aramco forms the foundation of Prince Mohammed’s turnaround plan for Saudi Arabia. The size of the listing remains in the air, but originally it was hoped it could generate as much as $100 billion.

That figure, based on a $2 trillion valuation of the company now seen as unrealistic, may not be reached but even so it it is likely to be the biggest share market offering of all time.

That money is needed to fund mega-projects like NEOM, a $500 billion futuristic mega city planned on the northern Red Sea coast, which officials say will have flying taxis and talking robots.

With no foreign listing planned at the moment, the crown prince will be relying on Saudi billionaires to heavily support the offering, and the kingdom’s representatives are reportedly visiting global capitals to woo investors further afield.

Will it be a success?

After years of stop-start progress towards the IPO, scepticism abounds and the new stock will be under close scrutiny when it launches on the Saudi bourse in coming weeks.

Apart from holding out for the big-ticket valuation, the delays are also said to be related to Saudi concerns that a foreign listing could shine an unwelcome light on the secretive company’s finances and inner workings.

“Should shares fall sharply after they begin trading, it would be a highly visible blow to the credibility of the economic reforms so closely associated with Mohammed bin Salman, which is why the valuation is so important,” said Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute in the United States.

“International investors will pay very close attention to how Aramco performs on the domestic exchange, especially in the absence of any firm detail over the international portion of the eventual dual listing.”

Why is Aramco so important?

Aramco pumps about 10 percent of the world’s oil from its wells beneath the desert sands — mostly in the kingdom’s east but also in the evocatively named “Empty Quarter” in the south. There are also some major offshore oil fields.

The energy behemoth generated the most profit of any corporation last year with net income of $111 billion — more than Apple Inc., Google’s parent Alphabet Inc. and Exxon Mobil Corp. combined.

The fate of Aramco is fundamental to world energy supplies — which was illustrated when oil prices were sent spiking after two of its facilities were targeted with strikes in September, temporarily knocking production down by half.

 How is MBS remaking the economy?

Even before he became crown prince in June 2017, the son of King Salman — often known by his initials MBS — had announced a plan to diversify the economy and push it away from its long reliance on oil.

Since then, the kingdom has witnessed a number of never-before-seen initiatives, mostly related to entertainment and tourism, including vast multi-island luxury destination projects.

Women were made more welcome in the workforce, concerts opened to Saudis, international sports events were given the green light, and the first tourist visas were issued.

Amid low oil prices, the kingdom also increased the prices of fuel and electricity, imposed a five percent value added tax (VAT) and levied duties on 11 million expatriates in a bid to generate additional revenue.

Selling the crown jewels

Aramco’s IPO has generated a feeling of pride among Saudis, although some are concerned about sharing the “family jewel” with foreigners.

“Aramco means family. From the work environment to the personalities you come across, it feels natural. It feels like home,” Naif Ghofaily, an Aramco employee in his 30s, told AFP.

“The sale has brought a lot of exposure for the company on a global scale. Although one of the biggest companies in the world long before its proposed listing, I feel as if many more people recognise Aramco today.”

Many of the employees live on plush company compounds, meaning that their immersion is total — particularly in a country where cities and towns offer few attractions.

For another employee, 33-year-old Haya, the landmark IPO risks “changing” the company.

“I was born in Aramco, my dad worked for Aramco for more than 50 years, both my parents retired from Aramco, I live in Aramco. To me Aramco is my home,” she told AFP.

“I’m feeling nervous about the IPO, I grew up planning for my kids to live the life I experienced in Aramco and I’m worried that with the IPO it won’t be the Aramco that we know.”

AFP

Saudi Arabia Holds First-Ever WWE Superstars Women Wrestling Match

Lacey Evans (red) fights against Natalya during the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Crown Jewel pay-per-view in Riyadh on October 31, 2019. PHOTO: Fayez Nureldine / AFP

 

Dressed demurely in black leggings and unflattering baggy t-shirts, rather than their trademark low-cut bikini tops, WWE superstars Natalya and Lacey Evans starred in the first-ever women’s wrestling match in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, the latest unlikely event in the kingdom as it attempts to shrug off an ultra-conservative image.

As they arrived in the ring, with their flowing blonde hair uncovered, three teenagers laughed out loud having earlier in the evening been entranced by the spectacle served up by male, shirtless fighters.

“It’s nonsense,” said one to the other, struggling to be heard above the fireworks and rock ‘n’ roll music which blasted into the Riyadh night.

Evans, a former US Marine, and Natalya appeared at the King Fahd Stadium suitably dressed down for the occasion, their usual costumes left behind in the United States.

“Do you want them to be sent to jail?” said an expatriate fan who wished to remain anonymous when defending the dress code.

“Women’s wrestling in Saudi Arabia, yes, but only if they dress like that, otherwise it would not be possible, even if it’s a fact that the clothing is an integral part of the show,” added a young fan wearing a black World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) t-shirt, adorned with pictures of his favourite fighters.

Saudi Arabia is boosting entertainment that allows citizens to have fun, in what some see as an attempt to blunt public frustration over an economic downturn and high youth unemployment.

De facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has introduced reforms including allowing concerts, reopening cinemas, and lifting a prohibition on women driving as part of a modernisation drive.

However, when it comes to women’s wrestling, it may be a long, hard road.

Last year, broadcast during a men’s wrestling match of a promotional video featuring scantily-clad female wrestlers sparked a scandal in the country, forcing the authorities concerned to apologise for the “indecent” images.

Ahmed, 24, who says he follows the sport from the kingdom, appeared disappointed with such furores.

“I was waiting for the women’s match. Those who want to see such a spectacle should have the right to access it, and those who do not like don’t have to come,” he said.

Ali, 40, attended with his two children and said he wanted to support the social changes in progress in the country.

However, he thinks there should be “limits”.

“These women’s shows, honestly…”, said Ali, wearing his country’s traditional all-white robe.

“That women drive, it’s already a shock for me. I’m not against it but you have to get used to it.”

Despite his discomfort, he said he had promised his daughter, pulling at his arm to show him her favourite wrestler, to teach her to drive when she is old enough.

AFP

Saudi Arabia To Stage First Women’s Wrestling Match

Medina, Qatif, Saudi Arabia

 

The first ever women’s wrestling match in Saudi Arabia will be held on Thursday, organisers said, the latest unlikely event staged in the kingdom as it attempts to shrug off an ultra-conservative image.

World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (WWE) said that its “superstars” Natalya and Lacey Evans will face off in the pay-per-view event which will also feature former boxing champion Tyson Fury as he takes on Braun Strowman.

The organisers said the two women had done battle in some tough bouts recently, including one that Evans, a former US Marine, “won by powerbombing her foe off the side of the stage and through a table”.

The bout at King Fahd Stadium will be an incongruous scene in a country where women are generally obliged to wear the black “abaya” cloak.

However, Saudi Arabia is boosting entertainment that allows citizens to have fun, in what some see as an attempt to blunt public frustration over an economic downturn and high youth unemployment.

De facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has introduced reforms including allowing concerts, reopening cinemas, and lifting a prohibition on women driving.

Developing the tourism and leisure sector is one of the foundations of his Vision 2030 plan to prepare the Arab world’s largest economy for the post-oil era.

In a landmark decision in August Saudi Arabia announced it would offer tourist visas — relaxing rules that had largely restricted visits to business travellers and Muslim pilgrims.

However, not all the initiatives have gone to plan. Nicki Minaj, known for her provocative, profanity-laced lyrics and skin-baring music videos, was to headline a concert in Riyadh in July but pulled out in a show of solidarity for women’s and gay rights in the kingdom.

The wrestling match is part of the Riyadh Season, which includes more than 100 entertainment and arts events over two months during the capital’s cooler winter months.

President Buhari Arrives In Saudi Arabia

 

President Muhammadu Buhari has arrived in the King Khalid International Airport, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Mr President is in Riyadh to attend the Future Investment Initiative (FII).

Under the theme, ‘‘What’s Next for Global Business?’’, the event, which holds from October 29-31, will focus on three key pillars: Sustainable Future, Technology for Good and Advanced Society.

READ ALSO: Buhari To Visit London, After Saudi Arabia Trip

The three-day event will be held under the patronage of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia and chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, deputy premier, chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs and PIF.

On the sideline of the event, President Buhari will hold bilateral talks with His Majesty King Salman and His Majesty King Abdullah ll of Jordan.

At the end of the summit, President Buhari will on Saturday 2nd November 2019, proceed to the United Kingdom on a private visit. He is expected to return to Nigeria on 17th November 2019,” the statement read in part.

Saudi Arabia Says Baghdadi ‘Distorted’ Image Of Islam, Praises Killing

The chief of the Islamic State group Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi purportedly appears for the first time in five years in a propaganda video in an undisclosed location.  AL-FURQAN MEDIA / AFP

 

Saudi Arabia said Monday that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had distorted the image of Islam, and hailed his killing by US special forces in northwestern Syria.

“The kingdom appreciates the US administration’s efforts to pursue members of this terrorist organisation that distorted the real image of Islam… and committed atrocities and crimes,” said a Saudi foreign ministry source, according to the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

“Saudi Arabia continues its efforts with its allies, especially the United States, in fighting terrorism,” the source added.

US President Donald Trump announced on Sunday that Baghdadi had died “like a dog” in an overnight raid by US special forces in Syria.

Trump said many IS jihadists had been killed in the raid and that Baghdadi had detonated a suicide vest when he was cornered in a tunnel.

IS had seized swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014, imposing a violent form of Islamic rule on some seven million residents of its “caliphate”, headed by Baghdadi.

The Iraqi, believed to be 48 years old, was rarely seen during his years as leader of the group, last appearing in a propaganda video in April.

AFP

Saudi Replaces Foreign Minister Less Than A Year After Appointment

 

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman appointed a new foreign minister on Wednesday, according to a royal decree issued less than a year after his predecessor took office.

Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, who has been serving as ambassador to Germany, will replace Ibrahim al-Assaf, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) cited the decree as saying.

Assaf will be demoted to minister of state, the SPA reported, having replaced Adel al-Jubeir in December 2018, two months after the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.

Assaf had been detained in 2017 in an anti-corruption sweep.

Saudi officials say he was released after being cleared of any wrongdoing, and he subsequently led a government delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year.

Saud will take office as the kingdom continues to deal with the aftermath of Khashoggi’s killing, widely seen as the kingdom’s worst diplomatic crisis since the September 11 attacks, in which most of the hijackers were identified as Saudi nationals.

The 45-year-old new foreign minister served as a key advisor at the Saudi embassy in Washington during the time of Khashoggi’s murder in October.

Farhan has “strong ties with ‘the West'”, tweeted Cinzia Bianco, a Middle East analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“He is dynamic and proactive. The ministry will likely be different than what we saw with Adel al-Jubeir and Ibrahim al-Assaf.”

She told AFP on Wednesday that Farhan “has really strong ties with traditional Saudi allies, US and even a more European outlook than would be traditionally the case”.

Elana DeLozier, a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told AFP it was still not immediately clear why the replacements took place.

“Al-Jubeir, the foreign minister previously, is still rather present in the foreign policy scene,” she said.

“In fact, he has remained more prominent in the media than Assaf.”

Regional Tensions

Saudi King Salman also replaced the transport minister, Nabil al-Amoudi, with Saleh bin Nasser Al-Jasser on Wednesday.

This comes after 35 foreigners were killed when a bus collided with another heavy vehicle near the Islamic holy city of Medina last week.

Transporting worshippers around the holy sites, particularly during the hajj, is a huge challenge for Saudi Arabia.

During the pilgrimage, the roads can be chaotic with thousands of buses creating interminable traffic jams.

The kingdom has also been navigating a spike in tensions with its regional arch-rival Iran, with attacks on Saudi oil facilities last month that temporarily halved the kingdom’s crude output and sent prices soaring.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels claimed responsibility, but US officials blamed Tehran, charging that the rebels did not have the range or sophistication to target the facilities.

Tehran has denied involvement and warned of “total war” in the event of any attack on its territory.

Earlier this month, an Iranian tanker was hit in suspected missile strikes off the coast of Saudi Arabia, sparking new fears of war.

Saudi Arabia’s New 100% Shisha Tax Sparks Fury

A hooka (shisha) is pictured at a restaurant in Saudi Arabia’s western city of Jeddah on October 20, 2019. A decision to impose 100 percent tax on bills of restaurants that serve hookah, or shisha, has sparked social media fury in Saudi Arabia, which seeks to boost its economy. Some restaurants have stopped offering the popular pastime, while others lowered their prices to accomodate their customers. PHOTO: AFP

A decision to impose a 100 percent tax on bills at restaurants that serve shisha has ignited criticism on social media in Saudi Arabia, where the water pipes are a popular pastime.

The furore has also been fuelled by confusion over how the tax is applied.

In the meantime, some restaurants have stopped offering shisha, while others have lowered their prices to appease customers.

The government’s official gazette said earlier this month that the tax will apply to all tobacco products.

However the ruling from the ministry of rural and municipal affairs said it will apply “to the total invoice of the business serving tobacco products”.

A number of restaurants and cafes contacted by AFP said they believed that the tax applies to all table orders in any establishment that serves tobacco products, whether or not the order included shisha.

The decision sparked an avalanche of criticism on social media networks where the Arabic hashtag “tax on hookah restaurants” is trending in the kingdom.

Many people posted photos of their restaurant bills, with totals of more than double the initial amount when taking into account the new 100 percent tax and a still-unpopular five percent value added tax which went into effect last year.

“Tobacco tax — controversy and confusion,” read a headline in the Al-Madina newspaper on Monday.

In the face of persistent budget deficits, the world’s top crude oil exporter has resorted to measures like cutting subsidies on fuel and power and imposing new taxes including on cigarettes and soft drinks.

There were also suggestions that the new shisha tax could be a measure to protect public health.

“This is an indirect way to prohibit shisha without actually prohibiting it,” tweeted Electronic Lawyer, a popular commentator who has more than 80,000 followers.

Other Twitter users said the new decision goes against the country’s Vision 2030 ambitions to change its ultra-conservative image and revamp the economy.

Encouraging investment and kickstarting tourism are part of a reform programme envisaged by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to wean the kingdom off its reliance on oil.

Saudi columnist Bassam Fatiny criticised the size of the tax as ill-considered.

“Let us assume that tax on tobacco has environmental and health benefits, is it logical that it be 100 percent!” he said on Twitter. “The ministry must have misunderstood Vision (2030).”

AFP

35 Killed In Saudi Arabia Bus Crash

Medina, Qatif, Saudi Arabia

 

Thirty-five foreigners were killed and four others injured when a bus collided with another heavy vehicle near the Islamic holy city of Medina, Saudi state media said on Thursday.

The accident on Wednesday evening involved the collision of “a private chartered bus… with a heavy vehicle” near the western city, a spokesman for Medina police said, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

Those involved were Arab and Asian pilgrims travelling from Medina to Mecca, according to local media, which carried pictures of the bus engulfed in flames and with its windows blown out.

The injured have been transferred to Al-Hamna Hospital, SPA added. Authorities have launched an investigation.

The Okaz newspaper said that the victims were expatriates who lived in the kingdom and who were performing the umrah, the lesser pilgrimage to the Muslim holy places which can be undertaken year round.

This year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world in August to take part in the annual hajj pilgrimage — one of the five pillars of Islam.

The hajj and the umrah centre on the western city of Mecca and its surrounding hills and valleys, but the itinerary also often takes in the other holy city of Medina.

Last year, a high-speed train line was opened linking Mecca and Medina in just two and a half hours, halving the previous travel time.

Prince Faisal bin Salman, the governor of Medina region, expressed his condolences to the families of the victims, SPA said.

Pakistan said four people survived the bus crash, including one of its nationals, while several other Pakistani citizens were killed.

“It has been reported that 35 passengers out of total 39 lost their lives,” the foreign ministry in Islamabad said in a statement.

“Initial reports indicate that the deceased also include a certain number of Pakistani nationals. Of the four (4) survivors, there is one Pakistani named Mr. Akbar, who is seriously injured,” it added.

 Transport Challenge 

The nationalities of the other victims was not immediately known but Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also sent his condolences.

“Anguished by the news of a bus crash near Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Condolences to the families of those who lost their lives. Praying for a quick recovery of the injured,” he tweeted.

Transporting worshippers around the holy sites, particularly during the hajj, is a huge challenge for Saudi Arabia.

During the pilgrimage, the roads can be chaotic with thousands of buses creating interminable traffic jams.

Four British pilgrims were killed and 12 others injured in April last year when their bus collided with a fuel tanker while they were on the way to Mecca.

And in January 2017, six Britons, including a two-month-old baby, were killed in a minibus on their way to Medina after making a pilgrimage to Mecca.

In September 2015, a stampede killed up to 2,300 worshippers — including hundreds of Iranians — in the worst disaster ever to strike the hajj.

Earlier that month, 100 people were killed when a construction crane toppled into a courtyard of Mecca’s Grand Mosque.

As part of efforts to diversify its oil-dependent economy, the ultra-conservative kingdom wants to foster a year-round religious tourism sector that attracts millions of pilgrims.

Up until last month, it only issued visas to Muslim pilgrims, foreign workers and recently to spectators at sporting or cultural events, but tourists are now allowed to visit as part of the drive to wean the biggest Arab economy off its dependence on oil.

Saudi Condemns Turkey’s ‘Aggression’ In Syria

File photo: King Salman of Saudi Arabia

 

Saudi Arabia condemned Turkey’s offensive Wednesday against Kurdish areas in northeast Syria saying it would undermine the region’s security and the battle against jihadists.

The Turkish army’s “aggression” would have “negative repercussions on the security and stability of the region”, the foreign ministry said on Twitter.

It would also “undermine international efforts to fight the Islamic State terrorist group”.

AFP

Saudi Rules Women Can Join Armed Forces

 

Saudi Arabia announced Wednesday it will allow women in the ultra-conservative kingdom to serve in the armed forces as it embarks on a broad programme of economic and social reforms.

The move is the latest in a series of measures aimed at increasing the rights of women in the kingdom, even as rights groups accuse Riyadh of cracking down on women activists.

“Another step to empowerment,” the foreign ministry wrote on Twitter, adding that women would be able to serve as private first class, corporal or sergeant.

Last year, Saudi Arabia authorised women to join its security forces.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, has approved a handful of reforms aimed at widening women’s rights, including allowing them to drive and to travel abroad without consent from a male “guardian”.

But he has at the same time overseen the arrest of several prominent women’s rights campaigners, including activist Loujain al-Hathloul.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude exporter, is pushing to improve its image and attract tourists as part of a plan to diversify its economy away from oil.

Khashoggi Murder: UN Expert Blasts Saudi Prince Over Defence

Turkey Widens Khashoggi Search, Quizzes Consulate Staff
In this file photo taken on December 15, 2014, general manager of Alarab TV, Jamal Khashoggi, looks on during a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama. MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH / AFPj

 

A UN rights expert on Monday criticised Saudi Arabia’s crown prince for trying to create “distance” between himself and journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s execution, even as he appeared to acknowledge the Saudi state was responsible.

Agnes Callamard, a United Nations special rapporteur who conducted an investigation into Khashoggi’s murder, was reacting to an interview broadcast by US media on Sunday with Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Speaking to CBS’s 60 Minutes, Prince Mohammed denied ordering or having advanced warning of Khashoggi’s killing on October 2 last year at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, but said he “took full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia”.

Callamard, whose independent probe found “credible evidence” linking the crown prince to the murder and attempted cover up, dismissed that defence as “problematic”.

“He is only taking corporate responsibility for the crime, which goes without saying,” Callamard told AFP, days ahead of the first anniversary since Khashoggi’s death.

She said the interview appeared to mark a concession by Prince Mohammed that “the killing of Mr. Khashoggi was a state killing,” and therefore a rejection of Riyadh’s previous explanation that responsibility for the brutal murder lay with rogue agents.

But Callamard condemned the prince, known by his initials MBS, for taking “no personal responsibility for the crime”.

“He is creating huge distance between himself and the crime,” by arguing that he cannot be liable for the conduct of all Saudi government employees.

Callamard told AFP that “for the last 12 months, the Saudi state, their various representatives and (MBS) included have been lying to the international community regarding the nature of the crime. So now we are supposed to take his word that, yes, he has a corporate responsibility but he has no personal responsibility?”

“Not good enough,” she said.

The CIA has also reportedly said the killing was likely ordered by Prince Mohammed.

But Saudi prosecutors have absolved the prince and said two dozen people implicated in the murder are in custody, with death penalties sought against five men.

 Justice not ‘easy’ 

Callamard has previously blamed UN “paralysis” for the failure to punish those who murdered Khashoggi — a US resident, Washington Post contributor and critic of the Saudi royal family.

She has called on Secretary General Antonio Guterres to independently launch a UN criminal probe.

The UN chief’s office has said that is impossible without a member state request.

“I have not argued that this will be easy for (Guterres) procedurally or politically to do. What I am arguing is that if he wanted, and if he received sufficient formal or informal backing, he could find the legal backing to move forward,” Callamard said.

AFP