Saudi Arabia’s AJEX Logistics Services expands into the US

Saudi Arabia’s AJEX Logistics Services expands into the US

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s economy is poised to benefit from the increasing number of working women as the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 initiative, aimed at enhancing female employment, has begun to demonstrate its potential economic impact, as outlined in a recent report by S&P Global. 

The study showed significant progress in expanding the female workforce in Saudi Arabia, reaching 36 percent of the total human capital in 2022, up from 19 percent in 2016, surpassing Vision 2030’s target of 30 percent by the end of the decade. 

This growth in the participation of women in the labor market can be attributed to various factors, including improved access to education, declining fertility rates, and a more inclusive cultural environment. 

This comes as educational attainment has improved significantly in Saudi Arabia, with nearly 32 percent of women aged 25 and above holding at least a bachelor’s degree in 2020, compared to 26 percent in 2017. 

The increase in female workforce has contributed to raising the overall employment participation rate in Saudi Arabia to a record high of 61.7 percent in March 2022, up from the 54.2 percent recorded in June 2017. 

If the current pace of labor force participation growth continues for the next decade, S&P Global Ratings Economics estimates that the Saudi economy could potentially be $39 billion, larger by 3.5 percent. It made the comparison against a hypothetical scenario with historical labor force participation rate growth recorded during 2000-2022. 
“We calculate that increases in the overall participation rate of just 1 percentage point per year over the next 10 years would boost the country’s annual real GDP (gross domestic product) growth by an average of 0.3 ppt, to 2.4 percent per annum (versus 2.1 percent), assuming that labor force productivity growth for the next 10 years will look the same as the last 20 years,” S&P Global said in the report.  

Women’s wealth transforming region 

Meanwhile, a new study released by the First Abu Dhabi Bank and WealthBriefing has suggested that the rise in women’s wealth is transforming the economies in the Middle East and North Africa region.  

The report, titled “Winning Women in MENA: How Wealth Managers Can Help Further Female Empowerment,” attributed the rise in women’s economic role in the region to advancements in technology and the startup culture. 
It revealed that the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, has seen a surge in women entrepreneurs, with one out of three new businesses in the region now founded by women. 

The report underscored that women are efficient in managing family businesses and often make more diversified and less emotionally driven investment decisions. 
Samira Zakour, managing director at FAB, said: “Over the past 20 years I have seen a lot of women rise to the forefront of large family businesses in the region. There is plenty of research showing that women listen to a variety of opinions before deploying capital and that often leads to less emotional investing and, potentially, to better returns.”   
According to the report, women have the capacity to bring a new point of view to managing a family’s wealth, as they have a different understanding to identify new opportunities, while also possessing ‘soft’ skills to negotiate complex relationships between family members.  

It highlighted that tertiary education among women in the MENA region reached 43 percent in 2019, surpassing the global average of 36 percent and outperforming the male average of 40 percent worldwide. 

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Fed keeps rates unchanged and signals optimism about a potential ‘soft landing’

Fed keeps rates unchanged and signals optimism about a potential ‘soft landing’

Oil Updates — crude falls as US rate hike expectations offset tight supply outlook

RIYADH: Oil prices fell in early Asian trade on Thursday, after posting the largest fall in a month in the previous session, as US interest rate hike expectations offset the impact of drawdowns in US crude stockpiles.

Brent futures for November delivery were down 71 cents, or 0.76 percent, to $92.82 a barrel by 9:08 a.m. Saudi time, while US West Texas Intermediate crude fell 70 cents, or 0.78 percent, to $88.96, the lowest since Sept. 14.

The US Federal Reserve maintained interest rates after its Federal Open Market Committee meeting but stiffened its hawkish stance with a rate increase projected by year-end which could dampen economic growth and overall fuel demand.

“It was still seen as a hawkish pause, which put some pressure on risk assets” such as oil, said ING analysts in a client note.

Fed policymakers still see the bank’s benchmark overnight rate range peaking this year at 5.50 percent to 5.75 percent, a quarter of a percentage point above the current range.

The stance also led to the US dollar surging to its highest since early March, placing downside pressure on oil prices. A stronger dollar typically makes commodities such as oil more expensive for buyers using other currencies.

Energy markets reacted little to data from the US Energy Information Administration on Wednesday showing crude inventories fell in line with expectations last week, with some analysts saying the decline was smaller than they expected.

“EIA data showed US stockpiles fell 2.14 million barrels last week, well short of the 5.25 million barrel drop reported by the American Petroleum Institute. The disappointing inventory drawdown gave impetus for traders to lock in profits following the 10 percent gain since the start of the month,” ANZ analysts said in a note. 

The stock draw was mainly driven by strong oil exports, while gasoline and diesel inventories were drawn down as refiners began annual autumn maintenance, the EIA said in a weekly report. 

However, price falls were limited by continuous concern about tight supply globally entering the fourth quarter, with crude stocks at Cushing — the WTI delivery hub — at their lowest since July 2022 and production cuts continuing by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, together called OPEC+.

Some analysts still expect prices to remain supported in the near term.

“A few more drawdowns could revive talks of tanks reaching their operational minimum … With the production cuts by Saudi Arabia and the broader OPEC+ alliance expected to remain for the rest of the year, inventories will likely touch record lows,” said ANZ analysts.

“Our balance shows a deficit of more than 2 million barrels per day through the fourth quarter of this year,” said ING analyst Warren Patterson.

“This tightness, along with strong refinery margins (largely a result of tightness in middle distillates) suggests that oil prices are likely to see further strength in the short term,” he said.

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Swiss parliament approves ban on full-face coverings like burqas, and sets fine for violators

Swiss parliament approves ban on full-face coverings like burqas, and sets fine for violators

GENEVA: The lower house of Switzerland’s parliament voted Wednesday to give final legislative passage to a ban on face coverings, such as the burqas worn by some Muslim women.
The National Council voted 151-29 for the legislation, which was already approved by the upper house. It was pushed through by the right-wing, populist Swiss People’s Party, easily overcoming reticence expressed by centrists and the Greens.

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‘Horn chamber’ discoveries in AlUla offer clues about beliefs of ancient inhabitants

‘Horn chamber’ discoveries in AlUla offer clues about beliefs of ancient inhabitants

ALULA: Recent archaeological excavations in AlUla uncovered evidence of what appear to be sophisticated rituals carried out by Neolithic inhabitants of northwestern Arabia at the sites of what are known as “mustatils,” Neolithic structures where remains of skulls and horns dating back to the 6th millennium BC have been found.

The discoveries, during digs supported by the Royal Commission for AlUla, help to provide a better understanding of the cultural, social and spiritual beliefs of the ancient peoples who inhabited the area.

Mustatils, which were previously called “gates,” are large, outdoor, rectangular structures characterized by low stone walls. Using aerial surveys, researchers have identified more than 1,600 of them across the northern Arabian Peninsula, and since the 1970s, examples of the monumental stone structures have been documented across Saudi Arabia.

Built more than 7,000 years ago, the function of the enigmatic structures long remained a mystery but excavations since 2018 have revealed clues that suggest they were used in the performing of rituals.

The results of two studies were recently published after peer review. One, led by Wael Abu-Azizeh of the Archeorient Laboratory and Lyon 2 University in France, appears in the book “Revealing Cultural Landscapes in North-West Arabia,” edited by a team of experts led by Rebecca Foote, the director of archaeology at the RCU.

The other, led by Melissa Kennedy of the University of Sydney in Australia, appeared in the journal PLOS One in March.

In 2018, Abu-Azizeh began an excavation on behalf of Oxford Archaeology that unearthed a “horn chamber” at a mustatil site northeast of AlUla dating to around 5300-5000 BC. It measures 3.25 meters by 0.8 meters and is located at the western end of the mustatil, which at 40 meters by 12 meters is smaller than most.

Covering the floor of the chamber, Abu-Azizeh and his team discovered horns and skull fragments densely packed in a layer between 20 and 30 centimeters deep. This, they write, is “a unique and unprecedented assemblage in the context of north Arabian Neolithic.”

About 95 percent of the horns and skull fragments came from domesticated species, including goats, sheep and cattle, and the remainder from wild species, including gazelle, Nubian ibex and auroch, a now-extinct ancestor of cattle.

Under the bones and horns a thin bed of wooden sticks was found, apparently placed on the chamber’s sandstone floor in preparation for the ritual. The researchers concluded that the horns and skull fragments were probably placed there during a single ceremony.

Kennedy, who has been working in AlUla since 2018, initially worked on a project that used remote-sensing equipment to identify heritage assets and archaeological features, using Google Earth satellite imagery and other maps. In 2019, she began excavating a mustatil deep within the dense sandstone canyons east of AlUla.

“We identified around 13,000 sites,” she told Arab News. “We did a program of aerial photography over the key features and sites in the region and, based on a combination of the satellite imagery and the aerial photographs, we then picked sites to ground survey and then excavate. And one of the key findings from the project were the mustatils.”

Just like Abu-Azizeh’s team, Kennedy and her colleagues discovered a chamber containing horns and skull fragments, which were dated to around 5200-5000 BC, though the quantity was smaller. Another difference was that the bones appeared to have been placed there in three or four phases over a generation or two, rather than all at once.

“What was quite interesting when we got on the ground, after flying out there by helicopter and having a walk around, we started to see these really interesting features,” Kennedy said.

“There were these little round structures with standing stones still in them at the front. Then we could see it (the mustatil) had an entranceway, so it wasn’t just a giant rectangle, it had other features to it.”

In the back part of the structure, she said, they found fallen remains in the shape of a structure, with a standing stone in the center and horns placed around the stones.

“The (standing) stone is probably a representation of a deity,” Kennedy added. “We don’t know who but we thought it was quite unique.

“We’ve found others as well and they are consistent in their arrangement, although their quantities vary. But they are all made of horned animals, mainly cattle.”

The discoveries, she said, offer early examples, probably the first in the Arabian Peninsula, of a standing stone being used as a representation of a deity.

The presence of the remains of domesticated species among the animal offerings testifies to the pastoral and nomadic nature of the Neolithic communities of the time, who researchers believe built the mustatils as a form of social bonding and markers of territory.

It is also thought that the probable communal character of the rituals, and the high possibility that people journeyed to these prehistoric stone structures especially to take part in them, suggest that they represented one of the earliest known forms of pilgrimage traditions.

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Tokyo event showcases Saudi Arabia’s NEOM 

Tokyo event showcases Saudi Arabia’s NEOM 

RIYADH: Real estate has been considered one of the safest bets for investors globally and thanks to the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia is now able to offer a sizable portfolio to the world.

The opportunities are amplified by real demand in a swiftly expanding market that is providing some of the best returns on investments in the region and beyond.

Figures released by the General Authority for Statistics in August showed the Kingdom’s Real Estate Price Index edged up by 0.8 percent in the second quarter of 2023 compared to the same period a year earlier.

The report showed that residential property prices rose by 1.1 percent and commercial by 0.2 percent compared to last year.

Alongside the rise in house values is an increase in rent deals. Data released in March by the Real Estate General Authority, or Ejar, showed residential and commercial deals in this sector almost doubled in value in 2022 compared to the year before, reaching SR76 billion ($20.2 billion).

The report added that the total value of commercial rent transactions amounted to SR40.9 billion in 2022, while those of residential properties reached SR35.1 billion.

The Kingdom is witnessing remarkable economic growth alongside an increase in real estate and infrastructure projects, partly spurred on by its goal to raise the proportion of homeownership for its citizens to 70 percent by 2030.

Public-private partnership

To further support the construction industry and facilitate the real estate sector, the Saudi wealth fund earlier this year invested $1.3 billion in four leading local firms: Nesma & Partners Contracting Co., ElSeif Engineering Contracting Co., AlBawani Holding Co., and Almabani General Contractors Co.

Additionally, other companies in PIF’s portfolio granted contracts worth SR184 billion to the Saudi private sector in 2022, which will contribute to increasing the contribution to local content from the fund and its firms to 60 percent by the end of 2025.

Moreover, the Saudi Real Estate Refinance Co., a subsidiary of PIF with assets amounting to about SR6.1 billion, agreed in 2020 with the Public Pension Agency to help provide mortgages amounting to over SR3 billion to enable more Saudi residents to buy homes.

So far, over 270,000 families have benefitted from the investment.

Another key driver in the increase of construction and home ownership in the Kingdom is real estate developer ROSHN.

The PIF-owned project is strongly committed to achieving the Vision 2030 goal of offering more than 2 million homes across the Kingdom, specifically in Riyadh, Makkah, and Jeddah, as well as Asir and the Eastern Province. These projects are set to cover an area of more than 200 million sq. meters.

In order to achieve its targets, ROSHN has established several strategic partnerships with local and international companies worth more than SR10 billion.

Quality of life

Saudi Arabia is making real changes to put itself on the frontline of modernity, and these changes necessitate having contemporary communities, but with the country’s history and culture observed.

The ambitious infrastructure developments taking place across the Kingdom factor in recreational, educational, and health initiatives, with a focus on new urban areas and smart cities.

One of these is King Salman International Airport in Riyadh, which will contribute to realizing Saudi Arabia’s ambition of becoming a global logistics hub.

Under plans unveiled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in November 2022, the facility will be developed to have six parallel runways and is expected to contribute SR27 billion annually to the Kingdom’s non-oil gross domestic product.

It will help drive annual passenger traffic in Saudi Arabia from the current 29 million to 120 million travelers by 2030 and 185 million by 2050, with aircraft traffic increasing from 211,000 to more than 1 million flights per year.

The development is part of a plan to transform the Saudi capital to be among the world’s top 10 city economies by 2030, therefore making real estate investment even more attractive.

Moreover, Riyadh’s King Abdullah Financial District, the largest of its kind regionally, stands out as a prime example of a destination that combines housing, work, and entertainment.

KAFD was designed to feature over 5,000 residential units, 1 million sq. meters of class A office space, 220,000 sq. meters of retail, food, and beverage space, and 110,000 sq. meters of entertainment space once the master plan has been completed.

The under-construction New Murabba project, the world’s largest modern downtown, which will be located in Riyadh, will adopt sustainability standards that aim to raise residents’ quality of life.

The project will also include an innovative museum, a university specializing in technology and design, an integrated multi-use theater, and more than 80 areas for entertainment and cultural live performances.

Saudi Arabia’s ambitions are broader than just real estate developments and boosting its capital.

Saudi Downtown Co. is establishing urban centers with sustainable economic and social impact in 12 cities across the country, while pioneering construction is taking place in NEOM, The Red Sea, Qiddiya, and Diriyah, as the government looks to complete a range of giga-projects to support its economic diversification plan.

Integrated ecosystems

PIF is focusing on developing integrated ecosystems across these developments that rely heavily on technology and localizing knowledge, in fields including future sciences, tourism, sports, as well as real estate.

With these projects aiming to achieve medium and long-term returns, PIF is also working on improving living standards and competitiveness in cities and regions across the nation by boosting new forms of urban communities, business centers, infrastructure projects, and destinations that maximize Saudi Arabia’s natural, cultural, and historical resources.

The companies carrying out these developments are keen to maintain the Kingdom’s cultural identity and vibrant heritage.

Boutique Group, for instance, is transforming a series of historical and cultural palaces in the country into luxury boutique hotels, while Diriyah Project is showcasing Saudi Arabia’s history that spans over 300 years.

Likewise, the historic city of AlUla and Downtown Jeddah are becoming world-class tourist destinations, with their developing companies preserving the destinations’ historical values.

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Iran MPs vote to toughen penalties for women flouting dress code

Iran MPs vote to toughen penalties for women flouting dress code

DERNA: Abdel-Hamid Al-Hassadi survived the devastating flooding in eastern Libya, but he lost some 90 people from his extended family.
The 23-year-old law graduate rushed upstairs along with his mother and his elder brother, as heavy rains lashed the city of Derna on the evening of Sept. 10. Soon, torrents of water were washing away buildings next to them.
“We witnessed the magnitude of the catastrophe,” Al-Hassadi said in a phone interview, referring to the massive flooding that engulfed his city. “We have seen our neighbors’ dead bodies washing away in the floods.”
Heavy rains from Mediterranean storm Daniel caused the collapse of the two dams that spanned the narrow valley that divides the city. That sent a wall of water several meters high through its heart.
Ten days after the disaster, Al-Hassadi and thousands of others remain in Derna, most of them waiting for a word about relatives and loved ones. For Hassadi, it’s the 290 relatives still missing.
The floods inundated as much as a quarter of the city, officials say. Thousands of people were killed, with many dead bodies still under the rubble or at sea, according to search teams. Government officials and aid agencies have given varied death tolls.
The World Health Organization says a total of 3,958 deaths have been registered in hospitals, but a previous death toll given by the head of Libya’s Red Crescent said at least 11,300 were killed. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says at least 9,000 people are still missing.
Bashir Omar, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the fatalities are in the thousands, but he didn’t give a specific toll for the number of retrieved bodies, since there are many groups involved in the recovery effort.
Many Derna residents, including women and children, are spending all their time at collection points of bodies. They are desperate to know who is inside body bags carried by ambulances.
Inside a school in the western part of the city, authorities posted photos of the retrieved bodies.
Anas Aweis, a 24-year-old resident, lost two brothers and is still searching for his father and four cousins. He went to the Ummul Qura school in the Sheiha neighborhood to inspect the exhibited photos.
“It’s chaos,” he said after spending two hours waiting in lines. “We want to know where they buried them if they died.”
The floods have displaced at least 40,000 people in eastern Libya, including 30,000 in Derna, according to the UN’s migration agency. Many have moved to other cities across Libya, hosted by local communities or sheltered in schools. There are risks to staying, including potential infection by waterborne diseases.
Rana Ksaifi, assistant chief of mission in Libya for the UN’s refugee agency, said the floods have left “unfathomable levels of destruction,” and triggered new waves of displacement in the already conflict-stricken nation.
The houseplants on the rooftop of Abdul Salam Anwisi’s building survived the waters that reached up to his 4th-floor apartment. Anwisi’s and a few other families rode out the deluge on the roof, which overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. They thought they wouldn’t live to see daylight. Now, as he sifts through the water-damaged debris of his home, it’s unclear what comes next.
“God predetermined and he did what he wanted,” he said.
Others across the country are calling for Libya’s leaders to be taken to task.
Hundreds of angry protesters gathered Monday outside Derna’s main mosque, criticizing the government’s lack of preparation and response. They lashed out at the political class that controls the oil-rich nation since the ouster and killing of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
The North African country plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed Qaddafi. For most of the past decade, Libya has been split between two rival administrations: one in the west backed by an array of lawless militias and armed groups, a second in the east, allied with the self-styled Libyan National Army, commanded by Gen. Khalifa Haftar. Neither government tolerates dissent.
Derna, as well as east and most of south Libya, is controlled by Haftar’s forces. However, funds for municipalities and other government agencies are controlled by the rival government in the capital, Tripoli.
Al-Hassadi, the law graduate, blamed local authorities for giving conflicting warnings to residents, leaving many defenseless. They asked residents to evacuate areas along the Mediterranean coast, but at the same time, they imposed a curfew, preventing people from leaving their homes.
“It was a mistake to impose a curfew,” he said.
The dams, Abu Mansour and Derna, were built by a Yugoslav construction company in the 1970s. They were meant to protect the city against heavy flooding, but years of no maintenance meant they were unable to keep the exceptional influx of water at bay.
Many Libyans are now calling for an international investigation and supervision of aid funds.
“All are corrupt here … without exception,” said rights activist Tarik Lamloum.

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