- Maureen Dowd visited the Kingdom earlier this year. Few weeks ago I was contacted by her assistant. I was told that Dowd was writing a travel piece about Saudi Arabia for Vanity Fair and she has some questions for me. I answered her questions, but I don’t know if any of what said made it to print. The article is published in their August issue, and to go with it they put together a slideshow on the magazine website under the title “Sex and the Saudis.” Lame linkbait. Don’t wast your time on that. Instead, go to Qusay blog where he offers the same slideshow with much better captions. The pictures are bad because MoDo did not bother to bring a professional photographer with her, and these pics were taken by her assistance Ashley Parker who actually appears in one of them.
- Speaking of slideshows, back in 2007 I put together this one in which I collected images of the many megaprojects that were announced at the time: economic cities, financial districts, new universities, skyscrapers, etc. Three years later, where are they now? Hadi Fakihi takes a moment to check on the development of these projects, and the picture is pretty dim. There were way too many huge promises that are yet to be delivered. Construction in some of the projects has begun, but none of them is anywhere near completion. Boom? What boom?
- After buying Maktoob last year, Yahoo! is getting ready to enter the Saudi market by establishing a sales and editorial presence in the kingdom’s growing media market. Ahmed Nassef, MD Yahoo! ME, said “Saudi Arabia’s just complicated. It’s the most complicated country in the region as far as trade licenses go. It just takes time.” I wonder what SAGIA has to say about this.
- Check out the ever-changing map of the Middle East. As Hanan notes, before Islam nobody cared about the Arabian Peninsula, and even in later Islamic empires the attention was limited to the holy sites of Mecca and Medina:
Knowledge Economic City (KEC) in Madinah is one of many megaproject launched by the government in recent years to diversify the country’s economy and decrease dependence on oil.
The Economic Cities concept include five other projects, three of them have been launched in Rabigh, Hail and Jazan, and two more are expected to be launched later this year in Tabuk and the Eastern Province. It is still not known where exactly in the EP they plan to build the economic city, but I hope they choose either Qatif or Ahssa as both regions has not received the development they deserve in the past.
Building huge projects like these is a big challenge, and making them work efficiently is a bigger challenge. SAGIA, the government’s arm that oversees these projects, have a vision for the economic cities contribute between a quarter and a third of the aspired national growth rate, to create over a million jobs, and to become home to 4-5 million residents by 2020.
KEC, with a total investment worth US$ 7bn, is particularly interesting because it will focus on knowledge based industries, tourism and services. As part of their effort to raise awareness and create excitement around the project, SAGIA are organizing the first ever Islamic Conference for Science & Knowledge (Noor). The event will take place later this month in Madinah.
I hope that some bloggers from the Western region would register to attend the event as it will tackle some topics of importance to them such as healthcare and information communications technology. I would like to attend but I won’t be done with my finals until the 23rd, and on the 25th I will leave the Kingdom to attend the GV Summit 08 in Budapest, Hungary.
The World Bank has recognized Saudi Arabia as one of the top reformers in its most recent ‘Ease of Doing Business‘ report, ranking it at 23rd position jumping from its 38th last year, and making it the best place to do business in the entire Middle East. “Saudi Arabia eliminated layers of bureaucracy that had previously made it one of toughest places in the world to start a business,” the report said.
Great work by Amr Al Dabbagh and the people at SAGIA. I have to admit that I was very skeptic when I first heard him talking about making the Kingdom one of the top 10 most competitive countries in the world by 2010, but now it is obvious we are on the right track here.
Congratulations to all the people who worked on this. Keep up the good work!