Thursday February 15, 2018 / 29 Jumada al-ula 1439
DAMMAM — Guests staying in hotels and furnished apartments will now have to pay more on room tariff by way of the newly-introduced municipal tax on top of Value-Added Tax (VAT) and the already existing service tax.
According to hotel industry sources, a guest will now have to pay somewhere between 25% and 30% extra on their room tariff.
This will be in addition to food and beverages and other taxable facilities in the hotel.
The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs has imposed a flat levy of 5% on each room occupied in hotels and furnished apartments across the Kingdom.
The levy for rooms in three star hotels and downwards will be 2,5 %.
This is on top of 5% VAT which is collected by the General Authority of Zakat and Tax (GZAT).
The levy, known as municipal tax, came into effect on Wednesday.
Municipal tax, however, will be levied only on occupied rooms.
It is mandatory for all hotels of any size, furnished apartments of any standard and any other commercial residence facilities.
Hotels and furnished apartments will deposit the tax taken from guests with the ministry every month.
Hotels and other commercial residential facilities will have to register with the ministry which in turn will issue them a unique number to get access to their accounts in the ministry.
The hotel industry is passing through an extremely tough period due to the mushroom growth of hotels in Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam, Makkah and Madinah.
“Occupancy is not even 60% during the peak period,” said a hotel executive in Al-Khobar.
The business community feels that municipal tax should be paid by hotels as guests are already burdened with several other surcharges.
Hotels in Dammam, Al-Khobar, Riyadh, Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah and elsewhere in the Kingdom have displayed notice about the 5% municipal tax.
It has also been reported that business establishments, hotels, furnished apartments and many other commercial centers will be levying taxes on various other municipal services like garbage collection, etc.
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Authorities wipe out 4 Taif sites visited by pilgrims for 'blessing'
Thursday February 15, 2018 / 29 Jumada al-ula 1439
TAIF — Emir of Makkah Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, during his recent visit to Taif, has instructed officials to remove four places frequented by pilgrims of various nationalities to seek blessings.
The four locations in Bani Saad village in the Misan area of Taif governorate included two trees and a rock. Pictures of pilgrims in ihram kissing and hugging the trees and the rock to invoke blessings from Allah appeared on various social media platforms.
There is also a three-room structure that the pilgrims visit for worshiping Allah. The fourth location was a piece of land where the pilgrims used to sit on for long hours hoping to be blessed.
Such visits and practices are against the teachings of the Qur'an and the traditions of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
A committee consisting of the police, the municipality and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, carried out the emir's instructions by felling the two trees, and leveling the rock and the piece of land.
Prince Khaled also ordered the formation of a committee comprising representatives of the police and a number of government departments concerned with the Haj services to investigate the violations.
The committee will question the Umrah companies that transported the pilgrims to these places with a view to penalizing them.
Concluding his annual inspection visits to the areas of the southern Sahel on Tuesday, Prince Khaled told the residents of Qunfudah that the General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA) would award the contract to build an airport in the city within 60 days.
SAUDI ARABIA: The planned launch in March of commercial services on the Haramain high speed line between Makkah and Madinah is in doubt following further delays in completing three of the line’s five stations.
Announcing on January 30 that he would be visiting Saudi Arabia in the near future to agree a timescale for the start of commercial operations over the 450 km line, Spanish Minister of Development Íñigo de la Serna said that test trains had been running over the whole route since December 31, when an inaugural special ran between Madinah and Makkah in 2 h 52 min.
Operation of the line will be the responsibility of Spanish national operator RENFE as a member of the Saudi-Spanish Al Shoula consortium which was chosen for the €6·7bn railway systems contract in October 2011. De la Serna made it clear that the consortium was trying to fulfil its commitments, but that these depended on resolution of issues that were not its responsibility.
Construction of the stations is largely in the hands of local companies Saudi Bin Laden Group and Saudi Oger; those at Jeddah, Makkah and Jeddah King Abdulaziz International Airport are understood to be behind schedule.
Ministry’s chatbot app to answer pilgrims’ queries
Wednesday February 21, 2018 / 5 Jumada al-akhirah 1439
EDDAH — The Ministry of Haj and Umrah has developed a new app, considered the first of its kind, to provide automatic replies to the queries of Haj and Umrah pilgrims through social networking sites.
The app was unveiled at the 32nd Janadriya National Heritage and Culture Festival. The ministry will launch the app next year.
The app operates through a chatbot program, which conducts a conversation via auditory or textual methods. This is a small app that works on social networking platforms. They are designed to implement orders through interactive chats without any human intervention.
The ministry’s app has basic information required by pilgrims. It will also help pilgrims outside the Kingdom to know more about Haj and Umrah service companies inside the Kingdom.
Chatbots are computer programs that you “chat” with. Such programs are often designed to convincingly simulate how a human would behave as a conversational partner.
Imagine that you wanted to buy something from an online retailer. Today you would go to their website, look around until you found what you wanted, and then place an order.
But if the said store had a chatbot, you would be able to send them a message that you are looking for a particular item, and the chatbot would respond.
You would have a conversation with the store’s chatbot. Such an experience mimics that of going into an actual physical store and speaking with a salesperson.
Meanwhile, Minister of Haj and Umrah Mohammed Saleh Banten has instructed officials to reconstitute various committees for organizing the international Haj seminar to be held at the beginning of the annual pilgrimage.
These include the higher committee, media committee, executive committee and logistics committee.
The minister chaired a meeting of the higher committee in the presence of deputy minister Dr. Abdul Fattah Mushat and other members and discussed various issues related to making the seminar a big success.
The seminar will highlight Saudi Arabia’s efforts under the leadership of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman to organize the annual pilgrimage in the best manner.
JEDDAH — The Ministry of Haj and Umrah has categorically refuted social media rumors that it will impose fees on domestic Umrah pilgrims, Al-Madina Arabic newspaper reported on Monday.
Social media was agog with rumors that the ministry will be collecting a fee of SR400 to SR700 from domestic Umrah pilgrims who are above 18 years of age.
The rumors also stated that the ministry will set up offices to collect fees at airports and entry points to Makkah.
The justification given in social media rumors was that the ministry had taken this measure to reduce the number of pilgrims in view of the ongoing construction work in Makkah.
The ministry refuted the rumors and released a statement clarifying that it plans to expand the accommodation capacity of pilgrims from the current 8 million to 15 million by 2020 and 30 million by 2030.
It will also work on facilitating the pilgrimage visa process and digitalizing more of its services.
The ministry will be working to achieve five goals in light of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. The goals include strategizing and planning, ensuring the quality of services, raising the qualifications of employees, improving the cooperation between various government agencies, initiatives to implement the ministry’s goals and supporting other initiatives that promote these goals.
The ministry identified a number of challenges in its way, which include low awareness about the role of the ministry in the pilgrimage process, unqualified employees in pilgrimage campaigns, lack of efficient cooperation between the private and public sectors in organizing pilgrimage campaigns.
Reports spread wildly on social media at the end of last week that expatriates will have to pay the fees
March 4, 2018
Manama: Saudi Arabia has denied reports that it would impose fees on expatriates living in the kingdom and planning to perform Umrah.
According to the reports that spread wildly on social media at the end of last week, the expatriates will have to pay fees at special offices that will be set up at all the entrances to Makkah where the religious rites are performed, King Abdul Aziz airport in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, the train station in Jeddah, Taif regional airport, Mohammad Bin Abdul Aziz airport in Madinah and the train station in Madinah.
The reports said that only the foreigners living in Makkah, the Sacred Capital as it is known in Saudi Arabia, would be exempted from paying the Umrah fees.
However, Abdul Aziz Wazzan, the Haj and Umrah ministry undersecretary, said that the reports were not true and lacked credibility.
“These are mere allegations being circulated and there is no plan to impose fees,” he said, quoted by Saudi daily Okaz on Sunday. “There is no study being carried out regarding this matter.”
The ministry official ruled out going after those suspected of spreading the allegations.
“It is all happening in the virtual world of social media and the ministry will invariably respond by dismissing reports if they are not true or by confirming them if they are.”
In August, Saudi Arabia imposed a SR 2,000 fee for foreigners going to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah or Haj.
However, the fee is not imposed for those performing them for the first time.
Foreigners make up slightly more than one third of Saudi Arabia’s total population of 32.5 million people.
The 10.7 million employed expatriates contribute 33.75 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the Saudi General Authority for Statistics said.
Wednesday March 14, 2018 / 26 Jumada al-akhirah 1439
MAKKAH — The Makkah Development Authority has vowed to end the problem of salary delay faced by more than 6,000 employees of Mashaer Railway within a few days.
The new promise comes after employees protested against the six-month-delay in the payment of their salaries.
The authority downplayed the issue, saying it was caused by a problem between the company that operates the railway and the General Authority of Zakat & Tax. "We are about to overcome this crisis," the authority said in a statement carried by Al-Hayat Arabic daily.
Meanwhile, the launch of Haramain Railway that links Makkah and Madinah via Jeddah has been delayed further. It was supposed to be launched in the beginning of this year.
The delay in the payment of salaries to seasonal workers during the Haj season has become an annual problem without a solution.
More than 6,000 employees of Mashaer Railway have expressed their indignation over the continuous delay in the salary payment.
The Malaysian company, which has been contracted by the Makkah Development Authority, to operate Mashaer Railway during the Haj season, has received several messages of protest from its employees due to the recurrent delay in payment of their salaries.
The employees have expressed their displeasure through a Twitter hashtag and said they were facing lots of problems due to nonpayment of salaries for six months. They have not received their salaries since the end of the last Haj season.
"The company has not fulfilled its promise. We have been working for the company under the scorching sun," the employees said on Twitter.
They have urged Makkah Emir Prince Khaled Al-Faisal and his deputy Prince Abdullah Bin Bandar to intervene to end their suffering.
Jalal Kaaki, spokesman of the Makkah Development Authority, said all salary dues would be cleared within a few days.
The Malaysian company had informed its employees that their salaries would be deposited in their bank accounts by the end of February. But the employees said did not receive their salaries yet.
The company, which is entrusted with the task of crowd control at Mashaer train stations, said the salary would be paid in the first week of March. The issue of salary delay is repeated every year since the launch of Mashaer Railway.
Makkah Emir Prince Khaled Al-Faisal had intervened to solve the salary delay in 2016 but the problem continued in subsequent years putting pressure on the authorities.
6 gates for domestic flights in 1st phase of new Jeddah airport
March 13, 2018
JEDDAH — Six gates will be allocated for domestic flights when the first phase of the new King Abdulaziz International Airport is launched at the end of 2018, according to an announcement by the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA).
The test operation of the first phase will take place in May.
The new airport is located 19 kilometers north of Jeddah.
It is expected to handle 30 million passengers a year. Once the airport is fully operational, it will handle 100 million passengers a year.
The second phase will serve 55 million passengers.
The airport boasts of advanced facilities that help it handle giant airplanes such as A380 and create lucrative investment opportunities for the private sector.
The quality of services provided to passengers will be of the highest international standards.
Last month GACA terminated the contract that it awarded to Changi Airports International (CAI)–led consortium to manage and operate the new King Abdulaziz International Airport (KAIA).
“New tenders will be invited in a public bidding, which will be announced shortly.
This procedure will not affect the timetable set for the initial opening and experimental operation of the new airport in May this year,” said GACA sources.
GACA emphasized that the decision is consistent with the terms and conditions of the contract signed between the two parties.
Experts question authenticity of Kiswa piece being sold at SR8 million
Monday March 19, 2018 / 2 Rajab 1439
MAKKAH — Experts have questioned the authenticity of a piece of the kiswa, the black cloth covering that adorns the holy Kaaba, that was offered for sale as an artifact.
The broker who offered the piece for sale valued it at SR8 million, claiming that it belonged to the famous Al-Shaibi family, the traditional keepers of the Holy Kaaba.
The broker claimed that he had an official permit from Makkah Municipality to sell the piece.
However, Abdulmalik Al-Shaibi, an elder of the Al-Shaibi family, said the kiswa piece in question did not belong to the family.
“Many people produce counterfeit pieces of the kiswa in India and Egypt and offer them for sale while claiming they belonged to us to gain the buyers’ trust. The original kiswa belongs to the government and is stored in special warehouses,” said Al-Shaibi.
Mohammad Bajouda, general manager of the Kiswa Factory in Makkah, said the factory’s job was to manufacture the new kiswa.
“Every year, the Kaaba is adorned with a new kiswa. The factory is responsible for manufacturing the new kiswa. When the kiswa is changed, the old covering is handed to specialized committees for safe storage. Every time the Kaaba cover is changed, many ads appear offering the pieces of the old kiswa for sale to artifact collectors,” said Bajouda.
The ad offering a piece of the kiswa for SR8 million was posted on a website, but the website pulled it down after Makkah newspaper called the contact number given in the ad. The man who responded to the call claimed that he was hired as a broker by an important person to sell multiple artifacts.
RIYADH — The consultative Shoura Council has turned down a proposal to hold Isha prayer two hours after the Maghreb all over the Kingdom despite support from its Islamic and Judicial affairs committee.
The proposal, tabled by female member Zainab Abu Talib, failed to obtain the needed majority of 76 votes as 58 members voted in favor while a same number of members voted against it.
The council has asked the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Call and Guidance to further enhance its supervision over mosques to make sure that they deliver their duties according to the set standard.
Yahya Al-Samaan, assistant speaker, said the council asked the ministry to create accounts on social media, make special applications for smart phones and include indicators of achievements in its next annual report.
The council also urged the ministry to ask philanthropists who build mosques to create special endowments to meet the expenses of maintaining them.
It asked the ministry to activate the Endowment Fund for mosques, which was recently announced by the Council of Ministers.
The council, on the other hand, strongly criticized the annual report of the Ministry of National Economy and Planning and said it came void of any economic indicators.
It said none of the 52 various initiatives adopted by the ministry had appeared in its annual report.
A member said the report was full of research studies conducted by the ministry as if it had become a research center instead of a ministry.
Another member said since the economy was separated from the Finance Ministry about 15 years ago, the ministry achieved nothing new in this aspect.
A third member said since 1970 the government was talking about a pro-oil economy but the ministry did not do anything in this regard.
The mataf area now appears wide and open as most of the barriers have been removed.
Monday March 26, 2018 / 9 Rajab 1439
Makkah — Barriers put up around the mataf (the area for circumambulation around the Kaaba) have been removed in preparation to open it for all visitors on Tuesday.
The restoration work of the Zamzam well has been completed, according to President for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais.
Since the work on Zamzam well began last October entry into the mataf area was restricted to Umrah pilgrims.
Sudais said 1,000 workers including engineers, technicians and specialists worked for the restoration project that covers 3,000 square meters.
The project was carried out in three stages.
The renovation project also involves upgrading the system for storing, pumping and distributing the holy water while ensuring cleanliness and safety.
Located around 20 meters away from the Kaaba, the Zamzam well is believed to be the oldest well on earth, as water has been flowing there for 5000 years. The holy well pumps up to 18.5 liters per second and is only 30 meters deep.
Some 120 tons of Zamzam water is transported on a daily basis to the tanks at Al-Masjid Al-Nabawi in Madina through tankers with special specifications to protect the water from contamination.
Zamzam water is provided in 7,000 sterile containers distributed inside and around the Prophet’s Mosque.
Makkah — Travel time between Jeddah and Makkah will be reduced to only 35 minutes with the opening of a new 72-kilometer-long highway which is currently under construction, Ministry of Transport spokesman Turki Al-Toaimi told Makkah Arabic newspaper on Saturday.
The highway will start from the airport in Jeddah and end on the fourth ring road in Makkah.
The highway construction will be carried out in four stages. Budget allocations for the first three stages have already been made.
Expropriation of properties for the project is under way.
The first two stages are expected to be finished in one year if the expropriation process is completed on time.
The new highway will serve Umrah and Haj pilgrims, said Al-Toaimi.
The new highway will serve the districts in north Jeddah, Obhur, Al-Jawhara Stadium and King Abdullah Economic City.
MADINAH – The prospective worshipers who intend to perform the ritual of Itikaf (seclusion and staying in the mosque with the intention of worshiping) during the month of Ramadanwill be allowed to do so only on the roof of the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.
Prince Faisal Bin Salman, emir of Madinah and chairman of the Haj Committee in Madinah, has approved the committee’s recommendation with regard to preparing the roof of the Prophet’s Mosque for Itikaf and allocating the ground floor of the mosque for prayer only.
As many as 10,000 Mu’takif (those observing Itiqaf) can take advantage of the facility during the fasting month, which is due in mid-May.
Chairing the meeting of the committee in Madinah, Prince Faisal stressed the importance of working to address the negative impact of the misconduct caused by some of the visitors to the Prophet’s Mosque during the month of Ramadan, such as taking personal belongings inside the mosque and placing them in inappropriate places, causing inconvenience to worshipers by spreading sheets on the area designated for prayer and sleeping there, and non-compliance with guidelines regarding Itikaf.
The emir has instructed to constitute a working team to develop an integrated mechanism to regulate the process of registration of worshipers who intend to perform Itikaf in the Prophet’s Mosque.
Itikaf at the Grand Mosque in Makkah
Earlier, the Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques had launched online registration facility for prospective worshipers intending to perform Itikaf at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. The basement of the King Fahd expansion area of the mosque is earmarked for Itikaf.
Itikaf is an Islamic practice consisting of a period of spiritual retreat in a mosque especially during the last 10 days of Ramadan and it is a Sunnah (Tradition) of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
The Prophet (pbuh) encouraged those who perform Itikaf to spend their time reciting the Qur’an, performing prayers and seeking blessings from Almighty Allah.
The worshipers are advised to keep the holy mosques clean, honor their sanctity and not to do anything that disturbs other worshipers.
No worries, Jeddah international airport will find your bags
5 April 2018
JEDDAH: Have you ever been at an airport waiting for your luggage on the baggage carousel, and it doesn’t turn up?
Well, it could be very similar to someone else’s luggage and they have picked it up by mistake, leaving you empty handed. Perhaps the luggage has been shipped to visit another country. Who is to blame: You, the airline or the airport? Here are the stories of a few people who lost their luggage at Jeddah airport.
Abdullah Omer, a passenger who gave up trying to find a bag he had been carrying in the plane, said: “Usually when I travel I don’t carry anything with me in the plane, but that time was different. There was a very precious top inside the bag and I remembered that once I arrived home. I didn’t actually contact the airlines or the airport because I was sure it was lost.”
Ola Hamed, who came to Jeddah from Jordan to perform Umrah and lost a bag full of goodies for her sons and grandsons, said: “I panicked when the bag I was waiting for didn’t turn up, I immediately told one of my sons and he suggested I ask the airport guys to find it. Thank God we spoke at the right time as the bag was about to be shipped to Nigeria by mistake.”
Ahmad Mohammed, a Saudi groom who bought his wedding suit from London to get married in Jeddah, said: “I wanted to leave the airport as fast as possible as my wedding was the day after. One of the other passengers had a similar bag to mine. He picked up my bag and I picked up his. But my bag had a sticker with my phone number. I was left alone in the luggage area. I submitted a form about my lost luggage and an hour later I received a call. It was the guy who had picked up my bag.”
Fadhel Mahmoud, who was very lucky to get his lost luggage returned to him after four days, said: “I was heading to Jeddah from Egypt with my bag full of gifts for friends and a big amount of cash. But I could not find my bag after I arrived. I submitted a form to the airport but I lost hope of finding it and went home.
“Four days later I received a call from the airport. The luggage had been to Morocco and I noticed that someone had tried to unlock it, but I was lucky enough to have the bag back without losing anything.”
Reem Omer, from GACA (General Authority of Civil Aviation) customer services, said: ”In such cases, it is better to go personally to the airport and submit a notice to the Lost Luggage office and they will take care of you.”
The General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) tweeted on its official Twitter account in 2017: “If luggage has been damaged, lost or delayed passengers have the right to claim compensation.”
If passengers do not receive their lost luggage within 10 days they will receive compensation from the airlines responsible.
Bigger in scale, bigger inefficiency
King Abdul Aziz International Airport, which will open in May 2018, has some important features to help overcome several problems faced by passengers and employees of the old airport. The new airport will be the largest in the world and the busiest of all airports during the Hajj.
The new airport will have a complex of travel halls with an area of 810,000 square meters allowing all air carriers to operate under one roof. And there are 46 gates for international and domestic flights, including gates to accommodate giant aircraft such as the A380, in addition to 94 mobile bridges to serve aircraft of different sizes with two bridges per gate. This means the old concept of having a bus or airport shuttle to transport passengers from the airport building to the airplane will no longer exist.
The new airport features a 136 meter-high observation tower, one of the highest in the world. Most importantly there will be a sophisticated passenger luggage-handling system with a length of 34.6 km, which is connected to the latest multi-level security systems.
The airport is the busiest airport in Saudi Arabia and the third-largest airport in the Kingdom. The airport is known for its Hajj terminal, which is specially built for Islamic pilgrims going annually to Makkah and can handle 80,000 passengers at a time.
The new KAIA will contain a mosque that can accommodate 3,000 worshippers with an outside courtyard for prayer at an area of 2,450 square meters, in addition to an upper floor as women’s prayer area that will accommodate about 700.
The new KAIA will be able to service 70 aircraft at once with mobile bridges, as well as parking spaces around the terminal complex accommodating 28 aircraft. The project has an automated railway system for international passenger transport within the hall complex.
There will be short-term car parking on four floors that will accommodate 8,200 vehicles, and will be equipped with electronic devices for public parking which will enable the owner of the car to know the parking location of the car. There will also be long-term parking for 4,356 cars. Construction work on KAIA airport began in 1974 and was finalized in 1980. Finally, on May 31, 1981, the airport opened for service after being officially inaugurated in April 1981.
Makkah Grand Mosque Imam: Enormous task to spread moderation in the Muslim world
11 April 2018
Makkah: Spreading moderation in the Muslim world will be an enormous task that will present Islamic scholars with numerous challenges, Sheikh Dr. Saleh bin Mohammed A-Talib, Imam and Preacher of the Grand Holy Mosque in Makkah, has said.
He was addressing the 12th batch of guests of the Program of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for Umrah and Hajj.
Al-Talib stressed that the program seeks to build bridges of communication among Islamic scholars around the world in order to discuss thorny issues and challenges facing Islamic nations, and to overcome obstacles to deploying the true Islamic religion.
“A big task rests on our shoulders that is to identify and defend the true status of Islam, which is a religion of peace and teaches us love, peace, brotherhood, equality, humanity, way of life, justice and tolerance,” he added.
Al-Talib emphasized the importance of unifying Muslim ranks to counter the impending dangers so as to avoid disintegration and fragmentation, and instead to embody the concept of Islamic fraternity, which is based on love and honor.
“Our Islamic fraternity which gathers Muslims from the far west to the far east and makes us one secure nation, impels us to cooperate and sense the fraternal tie. We should never allow anyone to penetrate our rank to stoke division, suspicion or disintegration.”
“Islam has been under fire since 1,439 years ago. However, its power increases with new people reverting to Islam each and every day,” Al-Talib said. He noted that the largest Muslim country today in terms of population is Indonesia, which did not witness for 1,400 years any battle on its soil because people there reverted to Islam through trade and commercial dealings or by addressing the intellect.
He reassured the Islamic scholars that Islam cannot be weakened and shall prevail.
Dr. Abdul Hamid Al-Ameen, Head of the Mercy Relief Society in Norway, emphasized the significant role played by Saudi Arabia under the leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman in caring for Muslims and serving Islam.
This cannot be undone and I am sure it will be greatly appreciated.
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