500 MW solar project to be built in Oman

500 MW solar project to be built in Oman

With no details reported on the final electricity price agreed for a 500 MW solar project to be built in Oman, speculation will center on whether the victorious Saudi power company and its Kuwaiti partners have again trumped lower offers from overseas rivals. The winning ACWA says:

We are a developer, investor and operator of power generation and desalinated water plants with 51 assets in operation, construction or advance development across 11 countries. We employ over 3,500 people with ~60% local employment. ACWA Power’s portfolio, with an investment value in excess of USD 45 billion, can generate 29+ GW of power and produce over 4.8 million m3 /day of desalinated water.

ACWA triumphs again in Middle Eastern tendering exercise

By Max Hall

With big players from France, Korea, China, Spain, India, Turkey and the U.K. all having expressed an interest in developing a 500 MW solar park in Oman, the organizing body will have surprised hardly anybody by eventually settling on a winning consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power and two Kuwaiti partners.

The winner was reportedly announced late on Sunday night by Kuwait’s state-owned news agency KUNA. pv magazine has been unable to verify that decision, which was reported by news wire Reuters yesterday.

According to the Reuters report, ACWA and partners the Gulf Investment Corporation and the Alternative Energy Projects Co have landed the contract to develop the project at Ibri, 300 km west of Muscat.

Originally announced as a $500 million project, the Ibri scheme is now being reported as a $400 million plant but the commissioning date of early 2021 is unchanged.

Home advantage

The decision of commissioning body the Oman Power and Water Procurement Company (OPWP) will come as a fresh snub to French energy giant EDF, which last year submitted the lowest bid for a 300 MW scheme in Saudi Arabia – SAR0.06697/kWh ($0.018) for the energy generated – only to lose out to ACWA despite the Saudi company offering a higher tariff of SAR0.08872. The Reuters report did not carry any details of final negotiated power tariffs in the Omani procurement exercise.

EDF was one of 12 bidders shortlisted by the OPWP after an initial request for expressions of interest attracted 28 enquiries from around the world. Indian state-owned utility NTPC Ltd was filtered out at the first stage but that left big solar companies including Engie, X-ELIO, Hanwha Q Cells, BP, Chint, GCL New Energy and Abengoa in the running.

The OPWP announced in November there were three consortia left standing, with ACWA and its partners joined by a group made up of Chinese manufacturing giant Jinko Solar, French oil major Total and state-owned Abu Dhabi concern Masdar; and a third bid, from Japan’s Marubeni Corp and the Oman Gas Company.

Oman is aiming to install 4 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030, from a low base, and is also running a separate 500 MW solar tender as well as a reported $1 billion, 300 MW wind park.

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The Flower Men of Saudi Arabia

The Flower Men of Saudi Arabia

Al Jazeera’s Middle East showcased this story in pictures of certain peoples of the Arabian peninsula. Amongst their present wide and diverse variety, the Flower Men of Saudi Arabia are exceptionally unique in their well held till today customs.

These are the Descendants of the ancient Tihama and Asir, fierce warriors, reclusive tribesmen, and lovers of floral headwear.

The Flower Men of Saudi Arabia

By Eric Lafforgue, 12 Mar 2019

The most elegant wreaths are made with a type of white jasmine that is so fragile it has to be kept in iceboxes by the sellers. A wreath like this can be worn for two days. Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera

Saudi Arabia – In Jizan and Asir, Saudi Arabia’s southern provinces, live the reclusive Flower Men.

For centuries, these descendants of the ancient Tihama and Asir tribes have been known for wearing colourful flower garlands on their head.

They lived completely isolated until 20 years ago; their villages had no electricity or paved roads and they lived according to traditional tribal law. 

Even today, the Flower Men were reluctant to have their photos taken or even meet strangers.

They enjoy their peaceful way of life and the margin of autonomy they are given.

They are the only tribes in Saudi Arabia who are allowed to grow and consume khat, a stimulant drug. Possession of drugs is punishable by the death penalty in the kingdom.

The Flower Men also hold strongly to their tradition of floral decorations as a peaceful way of setting them apart.

The community spreads across the border into Yemen, a country the Saudi-led coalition is targeting in air raids.

The mountainous region has become popular and attracts many local tourists from the lowlands. The Flower Men grow coffee on the terraces, but also khat, a stimulant drug. This is an exception in a country where possession of drugs leads to the death penalty. Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera
Flower Men can also be found on the other side of the border: in Yemen. Because they feel a strong kinship with the people in Yemen, the war there makes people unhappy. The conflict also affects the local economy and brings many refugees into Saudi Arabia. Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera
Flower Men do not wear the traditional ghutra (headdress), instead adorning their heads with beautiful, scented wreaths of fresh flowers. Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera
Sometimes the Flower Men will share images of their wreaths on social media platforms like Instagram. Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera
The Flower Men go to the market early in the morning to buy ready-made wreaths. Some prefer to select their own herbs and flowers, preparing the garlands themselves, for a more unique look. Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera
Herbs such as wild basil, fenugreek and marigold flowers are most popular. Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera
In the Mahalah Flower Men market, an old man wears traditional shoes made of palm leaves. Things started to change with the construction of a cable car track in the 1990s that allowed access to the remote villages of the Flower Men. But traditions remain strong with the elders. Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera
This is a village that was inhabited by the Flower Men until the 1980s. Some of the structures are more than 200 years old. Eric Lafforgue/Al Jazeera

For more pictures, visit Al Jazeera

Halah Hamrani: The Saudi boxing instructor

Halah Hamrani: The Saudi boxing instructor

Halah Hamrani: The Saudi boxing instructor

Teaching women to ‘Fight Like a Girl’

Halah Al Hamrani is a Saudi martial arts instructor and owner of the FLAG (Fight Like a Girl) Boxing gym in Jeddah. A pioneer in the emerging Saudi women’s fitness industry, Halah teaches women to challenge themselves and push their limits.

Women in Saudi Arabia have typically been discouraged from sports, but as the country starts to open itself up to the outside world and modernising forces are at work in Saudi society, all that is starting to change – Halah is at the forefront of that movement.

In honour of International Women’s Day, we sat down with Halah to find out how she made it to where she is today, her thoughts on the social changes sweeping her country, and what inspires her to keep pushing boundaries.

Halah4

“It all started with my love for martial arts, which began when I was twelve. I studied many different styles starting with karate and then going into Muy Thai and kickboxing when I went to the US to study in San Diego. But when I came back to Saudi Arabia, I realised that there was nothing available within sports for women – in fact, it wasn’t huge for men, either.

It was my mother who gave me the idea. She suggested I start teaching, since I was struggling to find a job in the field that I studied – Environmental Studies. I started teaching classes in my parents house, reaching people only through word of mouth – it was before the era of social media! Fast forward to around three years ago, and my Dad told me I needed to find my own space because I’d been using their house for too long, and that’s where FLAG Boxing came in!

 I was adamant that I didn’t want to get onto social media, but my sister persuaded me to. When I started out on Instagram, I was recovering from a miscarriage and was in a really bad place. I decided to document my process of getting back into shape, and how I was using sports and training to make myself feel better. It was such a personal journey for me and I didn’t really think about the effect it would have on people.

But it really resonated with people and I started to get a lot of attention, and that’s when I started to realise the impact I could have – especially on Saudi women. I realised that it isn’t normal to see a Saudi woman practicing martial arts, and it’s certainly not normal for her to put it out there in the public domain so people can see. It’s great that my journey has inspired people, although that was never my intention to begin with. My passion for the sport is what fuels me, and I’m so happy to have that.

Things really took off when National Geographic came to interview me for their piece on ‘The Changing Face of Saudi Women’, although I was really naïve and had no idea it was going to be so big!”

Halah.jpg

Halah has since appeared in major media outlets around the world and, not only has she inspired Saudi women to take care of their bodies, but she has unintentionally become an icon of women’s empowerment in her country and around the world. What she has achieved is especially remarkable given that she lives in a country where the fitness industry is very new.

We asked her what it’s been like leading this new movement, and what opportunities and challenges the rapid growth of the health and fitness industry presents for Saudi women:

“The fitness industry in Saudi has grown ridiculously quickly over the last three years. For the eleven years prior that I was teaching, there was nothing. We weren’t even allowed to open facilities for women, so not much was happening and anything that did take place was in the private sphere. The government has become very supportive of the industry – they’re trying to promote it as much as possible and bring sports events to the country, for example, last year we had the Mohammed Ali Cup, the MMA, football… And women are allowed to participate now, not just men. 

Of course, I worry that the momentum might be too much, that it’s all happening too fast and it might meet resistance. It would be very hard for us mentally to go from this position, where there’s so much excitement and optimism, if it suddenly came to a halt – but that’s always a possibility in this country.

There has been some pushback, but not as much as you might imagine. I think the fact that 70% of the population is under the age of 30 works in our favour, because they really want to move forward. So as long as the government continues as it is and the King continues with the changes that he wants to see happening, I think we’re in a good place, inshallah. 

One of the challenges is that people live quite a sedentary lifestyle here, and this is becoming worse thanks to social media and the internet. I see this first-hand as an instructor: it’s difficult to teach people who have never worked out in their lives and don’t have that muscle memory. This is particularly the case for Saudi women, as the only women who have ever practiced any kind of sport are those who went to private schools or  spent time abroad. This is only a small percentage of the population, and even then, in most cases it hasn’t been sustained. So it’s hard for people, often they don’t move very easily and it takes a long time to train them.

It’s also a cultural thing: because everyone drives here the sedentary lifestyle has become the norm. But even that is starting to change now; people are out walking, here in Jeddah there is a running group, and you have women who are really trying to change those social norms.”

Halah5.jpg

Not coincidentally, the rapid growth of the fitness industry has happened alongside major social changes taking place in Saudi society, as the government seeks to open the country to the outside world and create new opportunities for Saudi citizens – particularly women.

We asked Halah how she feels about the social changes taking place, and how she responds to the stereotypes of Saudi women that often prevail in the Western media.

“There are huge changes happening for women in Saudi at the moment. For example, lifting the driving ban has completely changed my life! It’s not only given us physical freedom but economic freedom as well, as it’s lifted a huge barrier for women to work. I actually still have my driver because I don’t want to fire him, but he doesn’t really do anything now so I joke with him that he should be training in the gym!

I think the biggest challenge facing Saudi women now is realising mentally what they can accomplish and having the confidence to do it. Opportunities are opening up, everything is there and available for women now, but the hardest thing is changing how they think, and getting them to make the move towards doing whatever they want to do. 

There are still frustrating stereotypes of Saudi women in the media internationally, although I do understand where this comes from; Very few foreign journalists were allowed into the country before the current King took over, so they had no idea what Saudi women were really like. So I can understand why these stereotypes exist, but it bothers me when journalists come to the country with these stereotypes in mind and don’t actually want to learn the truth about how we really live. We are not oppressed; we may live within our means and within the expectations of our government, but we are still strong and empowered. Often journalists aren’t interested in hearing that because it’s not going to make a good story, so they end up repeating the same stereotypes and reinforcing what people in other countries think they know about us. 

Social change takes time, and even the most liberal countries are still moving towards gender equality and fighting those battles. I think the most important thing – and something we don’t see enough of anywhere in the world – is that women continue to support and lift each other up every day. We all have our own struggles, and instead of competing we should support one another.”

halah6.jpg

Halah’s story of fearless boundary pushing and creating her own success is hugely inspiring for women, not only in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, but around the world. When we asked her about her own role models, her answer was surprising.

“The women I teach in the gym! Especially the ones who work really hard – I’ve done sports all my life so it comes naturally to me. But for these women it doesn’t, they haven’t developed the mentality that goes along with the practice. You have to know how to push yourself, when to push yourself – and it’s not something you develop right away, it happens over many years. And these women are trying to develop that without those years of practice.

When someone puts themselves in a situation where they’re working beyond what they’re comfortable with, that is a true inspiration to me. That’s why I love my job so much, because these women – the ones who really want to try and to work hard – they’re incredible. So I would say they are my number one inspiration, which is great because I get them on a daily basis!”

FLAG Boxing.jpg

Having accomplished what many Saudis just a few years ago would have thought impossible, we asked Halah what advice she would give her younger self?

“It gets better. When I was young I had a hard time because I had ADD, so I suffered a lot in school and always thought of myself as a stupid kid because nobody really understood what it was at the time. So they would point at me like, ‘Oh, she’s the naughty kid, she doesn’t study…’ In fact, that’s actually why I gravitated toward sports, because I was able to excel in it. I needed it to feel good about myself because without it I constantly felt like a failure. So I would tell myself, ‘Don’t worry, you’re going to be okay’. Because so much of the time I thought I wasn’t.”

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And what’s next for Halah and FLAG Boxing…?

 “One of my goals at the moment is to go to some of the more remote cities in Saudi to give boxing and self-defence classes to women and promote women’s empowerment. That’s one of the many things on my list.

When I started teaching my goal was to spread the sport, to get women active and moving, and that turned into a goal to get girls into competitions. We need to be working with the younger generation to help them build up their skills. It’s a long process and it won’t happen overnight. We can bring in new competitions – and we are – but developing incredible athletes will take years. It’s a generational thing and we have to start with the youngest.

We have just started a programme for kids, but we need more people and more coaches. It’s a challenge; on the one hand, we’re going through a stage as a country where we’re trying to get more Saudis into the workforce, but that can be difficult when you’re recruiting coaches, because you need people who have trained their whole lives, and because it’s such a new thing in our country we just don’t have that. So for now, we need to recruit coaches from abroad.

I’m also working with a friend in Bahrain to put together a self-defence programme for women, which I’m really excited about. For a lot of women in this country, the main reason for their interest in boxing is self-defence, for whatever reason. This is something I’ve wanted to do for fifteen years and I’ve finally found the right person to work with. We’re hoping to launch it within the year, inshallah.

So I’m excited and I’m happy to get up in the morning. I know I have a lot of things I want to accomplish, and that’s my driving force!”

We can’t wait to see what’s next for Halah as she continues to push for women’s empowerment and inspire women worldwide to test their limits and see what they’re capable of. To keep up with her inspiring work, follow @flagboxing on Instagram.

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If Halah’s story inspired you, you might also enjoy:

10 badass Middle Eastern women you need to know about on International Women’s Day

Freedom is an Inside Job: Iraqi activist Zainab Salbi on how to heal the world

“Driving While Female”: Manal al-Sharif and the fight for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia

Tourism’s importance in Saudi Arabia

Tourism’s importance in Saudi Arabia

Travel and Tour published on Thursday, February 21, 2019, this article on Saudi Arabia that aims to attract 1.5m tourists by 2020 all according to its Prince Mohamed Bin Salman’s Vision 2030. In this prince’s vision, diversification of the economy is emphasised and Tourism as a segment of it, is aimed at increasing the State revenue.

Tourism now holds pivotal importance for Saudi Arabia

Tourism has turned out to be the central development theme in Vision 2030 for Saudi Arabia, and as the Kingdom gradually opens its doors to tourists from around the world, its own citizens are also considered as one the fastest growing segment in the global travel market.

With travel bookings in the Kingdom considered the largest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, worth more than $25 billion each year, the power of the Saudi traveller is strong, which was reflected in recently concluded Jeddah International Travel and Tourism Exhibition (JTTX), where thousands of Saudis, including women, attended the event.

The show is touted as the largest travel trade show in Kingdom, featuring outbound destinations for Saudi tourists and travel companies showcasing various lucrative options.

The JTTX ninth edition was formally inaugurated by Prince Saud Bin Abdallah Bin Jalawi, Advisor to Makkah Governor and also secretary at Jeddah Governorate. The show was held under patronage of Prince Mishal Bin Majed, Governor of Jeddah.

More than 200 exhibitors from 29 countries took part in JTTX which was held at Hilton Hotel. There were stalls displaying a wide range of tourism facilities such hotels, resorts, airlines, travel technologies, medical and educational tourism.

A majority of the Kingdom’s tourists travel to the UAE, Bahrain, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Turkey and the UK as top holiday destinations.

However, new destinations like Kerala in India, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan and Georgia emerge as new destinations for Saudis.

The show also featured eight new destinations: Hong Kong, Finland, Spain, Mauritius, Morocco, Kosovo, Vietnam and New Zealand with Tunisia being the guest of honor of the event.

Vision 2030: Towards a New Saudi Arabia or No Saudi Arabia?

Vision 2030: Towards a New Saudi Arabia or No Saudi Arabia?

By Andrew Korybko in Oriental Review on February 7th, 2019.

Saudi Arabia clinched 37 deals worth $53 billion after announcing that it intends to attract upwards of $426 billion in total over the next decade as it seeks to advance Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s (MbS) ambitious Vision 2030 agenda of socio-economic reform. The young leader knows that his majority-youthful country has no hope for the future if it doesn’t rapidly transition to a post-oil economy before its world-famous reserves run dry, which is why he’s doing everything in his power to court infrastructural, industrial, defense, and technological investments in order to prudently give his people a chance to survive when that happens.

This will naturally result in far-reaching lifestyle changes whereby the relatively well-off native population is compelled to leave their plush government jobs and segue into the competitive private sector out of economic necessity. Relatedly, the Kingdom is loosening its previously strict religious edicts that hitherto prohibited Western-style social freedoms such as playing music in restaurants, going to the cinema, and allowing women to drive. About the last-mentioned of these three latest reforms, it’s inevitable that more women will move out of the home and into the workforce as Vision 2030 progressively develops, though therein lays the potential for serious social unrest.

The Saudi state is upheld by the dual pillars of the monarchy and the Wahhabi clerics, the latter of which have been side lined as a result of Vision 2030 and MbS’ previous crackdown on both radical Islam and the corrupt elite. For all intents and purposes, the Crown Prince’s rapid rise to power was a factionalist coup within the monarchy itself but also a structural one of the monarchy imposing its envisioned will over the Wahhabi clerics, both in the sense of curtailing any militant activities that some of them might have been encouraging and/or funding and also when it comes to counteracting their previously dominant influence over society.

As the country makes progress on advancing Vision 2030 and its related economic reforms continue catalyzing social ones as well, it’s very possible that the structural fault lines between the monarchy & Wahhabis and the younger generation & the older one will lead to political destabilization if they’re not pre-emptively and properly dealt with. While it might sound overly dramatic, there’s a lot of objective truth in the forecast that MbS might either end up as the first King of a New Saudi Arabia or the last Crown Prince of a country that might ultimately cease to exist if these naturally occurring Hybrid War variables aren’t brought under control.

Tourism in Saudi Arabia as a palliative equivalent to oil exports

Tourism in Saudi Arabia as a palliative equivalent to oil exports

The International Monetary Fund in its recent report on Saudi Arabia informed that the country whilst reconsidering the speed at which it is taking steps towards austerity, it is nevertheless avoiding slowing down its economy, to notably not increase its unemployment rate. This report holds that although the budget deficit is shrinking, it is doing so at a high cost to the economy. Before adding that : “Riyadh has been cutting spending while raising taxes and fees to curb a huge state budget deficit caused by low oil prices. Last December it published a plan to eliminate the deficit, which was a record $98bn in 2015, by 2020.”  Tourism in Saudi Arabia as a palliative equivalent to oil exports related revenues has been reiterated as such for very long but was never taken this seriously.

It is to be noted that with the prospects of oil prices remaining low for the foreseeable future and the global economy possibly opting out of anything to do with fossil fuel type of energy soon, it would be up to the country itself to find other means of replacing those revenues.  For that, the country is developing a whole strategy; perhaps one of the rare few that could seriously be envisaged at this stage. Tourism has been plucked out as a good earner and it will not take much in order to expand this sector’s role in the economy.  

This of course will be limited in terms of earnings and employment as shown below in the WION graph. And if more earnings and employment were sought, there bound to be difficulties arising from the conservative establishment.

It consists of developing or furthering the already on-going religious tourism.  Projects to develop and diversify the Red Sea coast infrastructure and offer it as a world tourism destination have been announced.  The following WEF’s article is a good description of this move.

With The Red Sea Islands being developed, Saudi Arabia is hoping to bring more tourism in. Image: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem 03 Oct 2017

 

Could Saudi Arabia become a holiday destination?

John McKenna, Formative Content

Saudi Arabia is putting vast sums of money behind its ambitions to nearly quadruple the number of visitors to its holy sites by 2030.

It is spending $26.6 billion to expand the Grand Mosque in Mecca in order to accommodate more pilgrims during the haj week, plus another $3.6 billion on a hotel nearby that with 10,000 rooms would be the world’s largest.

When associated projects such as the Mecca-Medina rail link are included, it is estimated that Saudi Arabia is spending $80 billion on Mecca alone.

The Grand Mosque in Mecca is undergoing a $26.6 billion expansion. Image: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

 

Further funds are being spent restoring and improving historical and religious sites across the country, as the government aims to more than double the number of Saudi heritage sites registered with UNESCO by 2030.

Life after oil

The spending on Saudi Arabia’s religious and historical sites is part of a drive by the country’s leaders to wean the country off its dependency on oil.

Saudi Arabia is, with Russia, the world’s joint largest oil and gas producer.

The petroleum industry accounts for roughly 87% of government revenues, 42% of GDP, and 90% of the country’s exports.

With oil prices remaining depressed, the Saudi Arabian economy is suffering – its GDP shrank by 0.5% in the first quarter of this year, caused by the oil and gas sector contracting by 2.4% in the same period.

Memories of the 1980s oil glut which put Saudi Arabia heavily in debt have combined with a realization that the oil and gas sector may never again be what it once was.

Renewable energy and the rise of electric vehicles point to a future where oil and gas use at best stagnates, and where prices may be in long-term decline.

Vision 2030

To wean the country off its oil addiction, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz last year launched a roadmap for diversifying the country’s economy, called Vision 2030.

It includes plans to invest in infrastructure, education and a variety of business sectors outside of oil and gas.

A large portion of the plan will be funded by next year’s sale of less than 5% of state-run oil company Saudi Aramco – widely predicted to be the largest IPO in history, valuing the company at around $2 trillion.

One of the non-oil and gas sectors identified for growth in the Vision 2030 plans is tourism.

Image: WION

The country already welcomes 8 million visitors per year, the overwhelming majority of whom are pilgrims visiting Islam’s holy sites of Mecca and Medina – 1.75 million in just five days during this year’s haj pilgrimage.

Saudi Arabia’s leaders want to nearly double the annual number of pilgrims to 15 million by 2020. By 2030 it wants to welcome 30 million Umrah visitors every year.

Muslims pray at the Grand Mosque during the annual Haj pilgrimage in Mecca. Image: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

 

 

Tourist attraction

And it is not just religious tourists that Saudi Arabia is hoping to attract.

It is also developing islands on its Red Sea coast to create a tourist resort the size of Belgium.

Work across the 50 islands will include the building of luxury hotels, an airport, new roads and a port. Construction is due to begin in 2019, with the first phase of the development opening in 2022.

The Red Sea Islands will be developed as a “private area” with laws that match “international best practice”.

The Kingdom’s authorities have yet to confirm whether this means the resort will be subject to Saudi Arabia’s conservative laws, which ban alcohol and enforce modest dress.

As part of its bid to attract religious and recreational visitors alike, Vision 2030 also sets out plans to relax visa regulations.