Business web design services have been shut down in Saudi Arabia, a decision that has sparked anger from civil society groups, and raised concerns about the impact the closures will have on local businesses.
The move came after Riyadh announced plans to close the web design and web design service providers (WDS) of companies and organisations which have no local presence in the country, as well as the Saudi-based design studio, Zoon, which is responsible for designing the country’s official government websites.
The Kingdom’s move comes as the country faces the threat of the coronavirus, which has forced thousands of businesses to close or relocate abroad, in some cases to other countries.
A number of the countries affected by the virus are Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and the closures are likely to hit other countries, including Turkey and Qatar.
“It is a terrible blow to Saudi Arabia’s image in the international community,” said Mohamed Al-Maghrabi, executive director of the Middle East Forum, a London-based think-tank that has been monitoring the situation closely.
“The government has to take responsibility for the country.”
Zoon, the Saudi design studio responsible for the official government web sites, is based in the US, according to its website.
The company is a subsidiary of the WDS Group, which also runs the official websites of Bahrain, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Zoon has faced criticism in the past for the way it designs its official websites.
In 2014, it was criticised for using a Chinese logo to show its products.
The logo is a combination of the characters for “Chinese”, “Bharat”, “China” and “Baharat”.
The company has said it had no knowledge of the plans to shut down its services.
A Saudi-owned media outlet, Al-Watan, reported that the government had decided to shut Zoon down as a result of a “complicated legal case” and said it was considering other ways to deal with the business.
The decision to shut the Zoon offices has been condemned by the Saudi civil society, who have criticised the closure.
“This is a blow to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said Ali Al-Amin, the director of Saudi Centre for Civil Society.
“This is the government’s attempt to punish the Zoning Authority of Riyadh for its role in the coronacovirus outbreak, and it is not the right thing to do.”
The government said the closure would affect more than 1,000 WDSs and was aimed at cutting off their ability to hire people.
The WDS services include web design consultancy, web design for government offices, online publishing, web hosting, social media management, digital advertising and mobile applications, according the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
The ministry did not provide an exact figure for the number of WDS’s that were affected.
“Zoon is a small and medium-sized business that provides high-quality design services for businesses, government agencies and other government bodies,” the ministry said in a statement on its website on Friday.
“Zoon employs more than 300 people and is headquartered in Washington, DC.
Its main office is in Washington DC.”
Saudi Arabia has been dealing with the virus, which began spreading in March, partly by cutting off the internet access to many of its citizens and severely limiting travel to the country.
The kingdom has also closed other websites, including the countrys official television channel, which carries Al Jazeera’s news.
The closures were first announced by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday, after which a statement said they would be implemented over the next four weeks.
“The ministry is making every effort to maintain its services and will be in touch with Zoon in case of any difficulties,” the statement read.
The Saudi government is facing growing public pressure to implement the measures as a way of dealing with a growing public health crisis, especially in light of the country having a large population of young people, the Associated Press news agency reported.
Saudi Arabia, which still has large stockpiles of the vaccine, has also introduced a number of measures to deal more effectively with the disease.
It has cut back on its air travel to other Muslim countries and cut back its consumption of food from the US and Europe, the AP said.