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Coronavirus frustrates Saudi women’s push for financial independence



Al ULA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Abeer al-Howayan despaired of ever working after spending eight years trying to find a job that would put her chemistry degree to use in the Saudi Arabian town of Al Ula.

She eventually abandoned her scientific ambitions and turned to selling homemade cakes, before she was chosen last year for a government training programme to support a $20 billion flagship tourism project in the kingdom’s northwestern region.

The 31-year-old learned how to make artisanal soap from French experts flown in by Saudi authorities, and in late December started selling her creations at a booth near the rock-hewn tombs of Madain Saleh, site of an ancient civilisation.

She also started offering her wares online.

Then the coronavirus struck. Even after all her compromises, Howayan’s future is uncertain once again.

The pandemic has hammered Saudi Arabia’s nascent non-religious tourism industry – among the few new sectors to have emerged under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s drive to diversify the economy from oil and create millions of jobs.

“It is very tough, but I keep telling myself things will get better after corona. One has to remain optimistic,” Howayan, whose online business has also slowed, told Reuters.

Women in the United States and Europe have taken an outsized hit from the wave of unemployment caused by the coronavirus, but for women in Saudi Arabia the downturn is particularly damaging because it struck just as their efforts to enter the workforce and gain greater financial independence were gaining traction.

Howayan is among nearly one million unemployed Saudis – 12% of the working-age population – pinning their hopes on the prince’s vision to modernise the conservative and patriarchal country with ambitious projects.

Women make up about 83% of the jobless, according to the Saudi statistics office. And it’s an educated group; 70% of those women have high school diplomas or university degrees.

And many were counting on the new sectors such as tourism to provide their entry to the workforce.

Private sector squeezed

Tackling unemployment is a main pillar of Prince Mohammed’s plan. He promised in 2017 “better unemployment numbers by 2020” and to cut the jobless rate to 7% over the next decade.

But the rate has fallen by less than 1 percentage point.

A tough task has become even tougher as coronavirus disruptions and austerity measures have squeezed the finances of the private sector.

“To reduce unemployment, the private sector will need to create at least 500,000 to 1 million jobs for Saudis, said John Sfakianakis, a Gulf expert at the University of Cambridge, “But this year alone, the private sector will unavoidably contract by 7% … and that’s just this year.”

Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan told Reuters that the government remained committed to job creation targets and was still funding training and capacity building.

“Coronavirus is with us this year and possibly for a part of next year, but then it will go away and when it goes away we need to make sure that we have seized this time to build more capacity and train more people to be ready when we start offering services again,” said Jadaan. He did not specifically address the issue of women.

According to regional experts, a faltering of the reform drive could lead to the public questioning the social contract between the ruling Al Saud family and the people in a country where 80% of the population is under 30.

Oil wealth is shared across the kingdom in exchange for popular submission to absolute monarchical rule. However there could be some social discontent if jobs do not materialise and Saudis find themselves paying more taxes with less state benefits, according to Yasmine Farouk at the Carnegie Middle East Center.

“It will eventually guide the country into a political discussion that the leadership doesn’t want,” she said.

Ending gender segregation

Saudi Arabia has largely struggled to lure foreign capital outside the energy sector as many investors hesitate over Riyadh’s human rights record and the commercial viability of some domestic mega projects.

But the entertainment and tourism industries started taking off last year, accompanied by social reforms to open up the kingdom, including ending gender segregation in most public places and introducing public entertainment. Thousands of jobs were created and Saudis flocked to concerts, festivals and sporting events.

Last year, the kingdom attracted international acts from Cirque du Soleil to Mariah Carey, Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and Greek musician Yanni. Saudis also cheered female WWE wrestlers in Riyadh, and heavyweight boxers Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr in a custom-built 15,000 person stadium.

However the Saudi tourism minister told Reuters in April that the industry, including Muslim pilgrimages, could decline by 35-45% this year due to coronavirus measures.

Abeer Mohammed Jumuah is another example of a woman who benefited from the prince’s reform drive. She spent years looking for a job as a teacher after graduating from university in home economics, and eventually joined a government training programme last year to learn cooking skills in Paris.

The 31-year-old has returned to a catering role in Saudi Arabia helping Michelin-starred chefs, but it is only temporary and she will eventually need to find new work – something that has become a trickier proposition in the wake of the pandemic.

“I hope that one day I can open a café where I can offer a breakfast menu with lots of French pastries,” she said. “I want to be financially independent and I want my two daughters, aged four and seven, to have a better living standard.”

Changing expectations

Analysts said they expected a recovery in tourism and entertainment to start in the first half of 2021, with the sectors requiring government support for at least a few years.

The Royal Commission for Al Ula, set up in 2017 to carry out reforms in the crown prince’s drive, said it planned to reopen in October this year, and a spokesman said it was committed to job creation.

Some are hopeful for the future.

Madiha al-Anazy, 29, joined a five-month tour guide training programme when she returned from Florida in May 2019 with a masters degree in biotechnology, and now has a permanent job as a tour guide.

Her 33-year-old husband, Mohamad, was temporarily taken on as a part-time “ranger” to protect heritage sites and the couple is betting on a revival in the tourism sector.

“We hope he will find a permanent job one day,” Anazy said.

Private-sector job creation is partly intended to wean citizens off reliance on the state as more than two-thirds of the Saudi workforce is employed by the government and their salaries account for roughly half of 2020 budget spending.

Low oil prices would make it difficult for past state largesse to continue. This could lead to many young Saudis taking lower-income jobs typically relegated to foreigners, in a societal shift, according to Karen Young, a Gulf analyst at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

“People’s expectation for income and lifestyle are going to be different to their parents,” she said.

Reporting and photo: Reuters


CROSSROADS Maldives to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr with fusion of local customs, contemporary flair



Imagine exploring a culture and its mythical folklore that few have heard before. Imagine exploring it in a way that seems quite lifelike and whimsical at the same time. From the bold and bright Maali Neshun, to vivid and captivating cultural shows, CRSOSSROADS Maldives is ready to take the guests and visitors into the lunar landscapes of the celebrations, with plenty of adventure along the way. Scheduled to take place from 10th to 12th April 2024, the celebrations will unfold over three exhilarating days filled with cultural performances, traditional games, live entertainment and culinary experiences. Guests staying at SAii Lagoon Maldives, Curio Collection by Hilton and Hard Rock Hotel Maldives, as well as day visitors at The Marina at CROSSROADS Maldives can look forward to an engaging and enjoyable time at CROSSROADS.

The Eid festivities begin with an array of exciting activities on the first day. Guests can engage in various outdoor games either at The Marina’s Marquee or SAii Beach Club, where additional water-based activities and entertainment await. The program includes aqua zumba, mobile karaoke, water polo, family pool parties featuring live DJs and many more, promising a vibrant start to the celebrations and a lively ambience throughout the day. Simultaneously, guests staying at Hard Rock Hotel Maldives can enjoy exclusive Eid-themed activities. From a rockin’ Eid breakfast corner at Sessions Restaurant to a Brazilian flair beach BBQ lunch at The Elephant & The Butterfly Restaurant and an electrifying live band performance at Hard Rock Cafe, the day is brimming with culinary delights and festive feasts, offering an unforgettable experience for in-house guests of both resorts.

The most anticipated it all is the dramatic unfolding of the Bodu Mas and Maali Parade, a vibrant spectacle honouring local culture and mythical folklore. The parade showcases the massive Bodu Mas, an impressive float crafted from sustainable coconut palm leaves, accompanied by Maali ancient characters and women dressed in traditional Maldivian attire. Starting at The Pavilion of Hard Rock Hotel Maldives, the parade will traverse the 400-meter Musikee Footbridge towards the SAii Beach Club and concludes at The Marina’s Marquee for a Cultural Eid Show, complete with food stalls and local games. Music and dance play a significant role in these festivities. As guests join the parade, they will enjoy the rhythmic beats of the “Boduberu” drums and engage in a playful water activity “Fenkulhi” creating a lively atmosphere. Continuing into the second day of Eid celebrations, CROSSROADS guests can anticipate more fun-filled activities at SAii Beach Club, and at Hard Rock Hotel Maldives, including lively pool parties, fun games, a family tie-dye event, and an enchanting sundown ritual featuring the mesmerizing Abracadabra performance. On the final day, The Marina will come alive with the bustling Street Market, drawing inspiration from vibrant Asian street markets. Visitors can explore a variety of stalls offering delicious food, refreshing beverages, captivating art souvenirs, stylish clothing items and many more. Live performances, street music and engaging activities will contribute to a memorable conclusion to the Eid festivities.

“We can’t wait for our guests to experience a one-of-a-kind Eid Al-Fitr celebration, blending the Maldivian cultural essence with contemporary indulgences at CROSSROADS Maldives. Our team has put in tremendous effort to create an engaging series of events for this three-day celebration, showcasing the Maldives’ rich cultural heritage alongside exciting activities & entertainment and a delightful culinary journey for everyone to enjoy”, said Mr. Alexander Traeger, General Manager of CROSSROADS Marina and SAii Lagoon Maldives, Curio Collection by Hilton.

The Marina at CROSSROADS Maldives welcomes visitors daily from 11:00 AM to 11:45 PM. Complimentary transfers are provided, subject to a minimum spend of $20 per person, excluding children below 12 years old. These transfers connect visitors from Male’, Hulhumale’ and the Airport to The Marina. Moreover, day visitors arriving with their private boats can take advantage of the convenience of berthing at The Marina, eliminating touch-and-go berthing fees, subject to terms and conditions.

For more information and to book your Eid Al Fitr getaway, connect with The Marina Concierge Team at

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Festivities of Eid Al-Fitr at Bandos Maldives



Experience the vibrant festivities of Eid Al-Fitr at Bandos Maldives on Wednesday, 10th April 2024. The resort welcomes guests to join in the joyous atmosphere, filled with a lineup of exciting events and experiences designed for everyone.

Start your day with the cherished tradition of Eid Sai at Gallery Restaurant, where families and friends gather for a delightful breakfast and heartfelt greetings. Then, embark on a culinary journey at Sea Breeze, where talented chefs will guide you through the art of making traditional Eid dishes.

As the day unfolds, join us at Huvan Beach for Eid Majaa, an evening filled with beachside celebrations, games, music, and laughter for guests of all ages. Indulge in the rich flavors of Maldivian cuisine at Eid Jaafaiy, a lavish buffet dinner at Gallery Restaurant, reminiscent of local traditions.

End the night with the rhythmic beats of Boduberu at Sand Bar, experiencing the heartbeat of Maldivian culture under the starlit sky. Come together at Bandos Maldives to celebrate the spirit of Eid Al-Fitr and create cherished memories that will last a lifetime.

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Alila Kothaifaru Maldives offers authentic Eid al-Fitr celebrations



Alila Kothaifaru Maldives invites you to immerse yourself in the rich traditions of Eid al-Fitr, the festival marking the end of Ramadan, in an unforgettable Maldivian extravaganza. Step into a world where indulgence meets local charm as we blend authentic Maldivian culture with high-end experiences for a celebration like no other.

Cooking Delights in the Spice Garden with Local Mamas: Embark on a culinary journey with our local mamas in the vibrant spice gardens of Alila Kothaifaru Maldives. Learn the art of Maldivian cuisine as you prepare traditional dishes infused with local spices and flavors. From succulent seafood to aromatic curries, discover the secrets of Maldivian cooking from those who know it best.

Feast on High-End Food with a Maldivian Twist: Indulge in a lavish Eid feast curated by our talented chefs, showcasing the best of Maldivian cuisine with a modern twist. Savor exquisite dishes crafted from the freshest local ingredients, meticulously prepared to tantalize your taste buds. From delectable seafood specialties to tantalizing desserts, every bite promises to be a culinary delight.

Groove to the Beats of Boduberu Band Tunes: Let the rhythm of Maldivian music sweep you away as the acclaimed Boduberu Band sets the stage on fire with their electrifying tunes. Dance under the stars to the infectious beats of boduberu drums and traditional melodies, and experience the vibrant spirit of Maldivian culture come to life.

Celebrate Eid Like Never Before: At Alila Kothaifaru Maldives, we believe in creating experiences that transcend the ordinary. This Eid al-Fitr, join us as we celebrate in true Maldivian style, surrounded by the beauty of our island paradise. From culinary delights to captivating music, every moment promises to be a celebration like no other. Additionally, guests can partake in adventurous experiences and wellness activities during their stay. Moreover, a special program has been curated for kids, ensuring they have a memorable and enjoyable time throughout the festivities.

Find vast dining choices with Half-Board Special with daily breakfast and dinner at our beachside restaurant. Start your day with a delightful breakfast at Seasalt restaurant, offering a range of delicious options to kickstart your mornings. For dinner, indulge in the culinary delights of Seasalt restaurant, Yakitori bar, or Umami restaurant, where you can enjoy a three-course à la carte menu or themed buffet. Guests also receive a USD 75 food credit per adult to explore other dining venues such as Teppanyaki, The Shack, or Dining Experiences, allowing for a variety of dining experiences during your stay (subject to availability).

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