epaselect epa06178940 An aerial view of the holy Kaaba and the Grand Mosque compound during the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 02 September 2017. Around 2.6 million muslim are expected to attend this year's Hajj pilgrimage, which is highlighted by the Day of Arafah, one day prior to Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Adha is the holiest of the two Muslims holidays celebrated each year, it marks the yearly Muslim pilgrimage (Hajj) to visit Mecca, the holiest place in Islam. Muslims slaughter a sacrificial animal and split the meat into three parts, one for the family, one for friends and relatives, and one for the poor and needy.  EPA/MAST IRHAM
An aerial view of the holy Kaaba and the Grand Mosque compound during the Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah.  EPA/MAST IRHAM

Saudi Arabia offers visas on arrival for Qatari Hajj pilgrims


The National

Saudi Arabia will provide Hajj visas for Qatari nationals on-arrival, saying that Doha had been attempting to block access to citizens wishing to perform the holy pilgrimage later this month.

This week, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umra countered Qatari claims that the kingdom was blocking access to websites used to register for Hajj visas by officially allowing citizens to obtain permits at the King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah.

The ministry provided photos of the offices that will be responsible for Qatari pilgrims during their stay in Makkah and an official statement saying that Qataris will be granted passage, despite a diplomatic dispute between Riyadh and Doha.

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An official at the ministry told The National, that it is Saudi Arabia's duty to "provide every necessary measure for all our Muslim brothers around the world to perform Hajj".

This comes after reports that Doha blocked a website set up by the ministry to allow Qataris to apply for the Hajj visa. Saudi Arabia launched another website, which again, was made inaccessible by Qatari authorities, Saudi Arabia said.

The site is intended to help Qataris perform the Hajj, an obligatory pilgrimage for all able-bodied Muslims and one of the five pillars of Islam, despite Saudi Arabia being embroiled in a diplomatic stand-off with its neighbour.

A statement on the Hajj Media Service, the official website for all news on Hajj, said that preparation was in place to receive Qatari pilgrims.

“Qataris can come on all airlines, except for Qatari Airlines, and that Qataris living in the Kingdom (of Saudi Arabia) can apply through the website set up for Qatari citizens,” a statement on the website said.

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Saudi Arabia, along with the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, have made no diplomatic contact with Qatar since June 2017. Direct flights between the quartet and Qatar have stopped running since the boycott, but citizens can still fly to Jeddah via Muscat or Kuwait City.

Last year, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman, reopened Saudis land border with Qatar and allocated seven flights of the Saudi national carrier to bring pilgrims from Doha, in a temporary lifting of a weeks-long boycott of its Gulf neighbour.

Officials from the quartet have been clear on their stance, saying the boycott is not intended for the Qatari people but for the leadership in Doha, whom they accuse of supporting terrorism and interfering in the domestic affairs of their neighbours.

Saudi Arabia has also made similar concessions for Iranian nationals, despite the two countries being regional adversaries. Tens of thousands of Iranians have been granted the right to perform the mandatory Hajj.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have had no diplomatic relations since 2016.

Qatar, however, has claimed that their treatment of Iran has been more favourable than that of Qataris, a claim Saudi Arabia has denied.

"The Qatari government’s decision bars its citizens from performing the rituals of Hajj, and regardless of all the justifications it touted, it shows a clear absence of informed vision that can differentiate between what is political and what is more important," said Dr Anwar Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs earlier this week.

The Qatari foreign minister has said that Saudi Arabia has “politicised” Hajj, in a statement that angered authorities in the kingdom. Last year, Foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir accused Qatar of attempting to "internationalise" the administration of the holy sites in Saudi Arabia and warned this would be considered a "declaration of war".

Officially, no country is barred from sending its citizens to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage.

The country takes measures to allocate visas to all countries where citizens are looking to perform Hajj.

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Industry: Sustainability & Environment
Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
Investors: Venture capital and government

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Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

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JOKE'S ON YOU

Google wasn't new to busting out April Fool's jokes: before the Gmail "prank", it tricked users with mind-reading MentalPlex responses and said well-fed pigeons were running its search engine operations .

In subsequent years, they announced home internet services through your toilet with its "patented GFlush system", made us believe the Moon's surface was made of cheese and unveiled a dating service in which they called founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page "Stanford PhD wannabes ".

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Date started: May 2021

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Sector: FinTech

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One in nine do not have enough to eat

Created in 1961, the World Food Programme is pledged to fight hunger worldwide as well as providing emergency food assistance in a crisis.

One of the organisation’s goals is the Zero Hunger Pledge, adopted by the international community in 2015 as one of the 17 Sustainable Goals for Sustainable Development, to end world hunger by 2030.

The WFP, a branch of the United Nations, is funded by voluntary donations from governments, businesses and private donations.

Almost two thirds of its operations currently take place in conflict zones, where it is calculated that people are more than three times likely to suffer from malnutrition than in peaceful countries.

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Outside emergencies, the WFP provides school meals to up to 25 million children in 63 countries, while working with communities to improve nutrition. Where possible, it buys supplies from developing countries to cut down transport cost and boost local economies.