Elliott Maroun is the Editor-in-Chief at The Middle East Beat. Born in Beirut, his family fled due to the devastating consequences of the civil war. Elliott holds a degree in international relations from Manchester University and went on to assist in writing articles for publications in Egypt and Jordan. He enjoys researching, analysing and opining on geopolitical topics, especially on Levant-related affairs.

Located in the heart of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh Air Base serves as a crucial hub for military operations in the Middle East. This sprawling airfield is home to a variety of aircraft and personnel, and its strategic location allows it to provide vital support to military operations throughout the region.

The history of Riyadh Air Base dates back to the 1940s, when it was initially constructed as a small airfield. Over the years, the base has undergone several expansions and upgrades, and today it is one of the largest and most advanced military airfields in the world.

One of the key features of Riyadh Air Base is its extensive runway network. The base boasts multiple runways, including one that is over 12,000 feet long, which allows it to accommodate virtually any type of military aircraft. In addition to its runways, Riyadh Air Base also features a variety of hangars and maintenance facilities, which provide crucial support to the aircraft and personnel stationed there.

Riyadh Air Base – location

Another important aspect of Riyadh Air Base is its location. Situated in the heart of the Middle East, the base is strategically positioned to support military operations throughout the region. It is within easy reach of many of the most important hotspots in the Middle East, including Iraq, Iran, and Syria, making it an essential hub for military operations in these areas.

Riyadh Air Base – role

Riyadh Air Base is home to a variety of military units, including fighter squadrons, transport squadrons, and support units. These units are responsible for a wide range of missions, including aerial reconnaissance, air support for ground troops, and transport of personnel and equipment. The base also houses a number of air defence units, which are tasked with protecting the base and its personnel from enemy threats.

In addition to its military operations, Riyadh Air Base also plays an important role in the local community. The base provides employment opportunities for thousands of Saudi citizens, and it has also contributed to the development of the surrounding area. The base’s medical facilities, for example, have provided care for both military personnel and local citizens alike.

Riyadh Air Base is a vital hub for military operations in the Middle East. Its strategic location, extensive runway network, and advanced facilities make it an essential asset for military planners in the region. And with its long history of service and commitment to excellence, it is sure to remain a critical component of military operations in the Middle East for many years to come.

Riyadh Air Base – history

The Riyadh Air Base has a fascinating history that spans several decades. Originally built by the U.S. Air Force in the early 1950s, it was designed to be a strategic air transport hub for the Middle East. The base was strategically located near the capital city of Riyadh, making it an ideal location for supporting military operations in the region.

Over the years, the base has been used by various branches of the U.S. military, including the Air Force, Navy, and Army. During the 1990-1991 Gulf War, the base was used as a staging ground for the coalition forces that liberated Kuwait. It was also used during the early stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

In addition to its military uses, the Riyadh Air Base has also played an important role in humanitarian efforts. In 2015, the base served as a hub for the U.S. military’s response to the Yemeni Civil War, providing logistical support for aid deliveries and evacuations of U.S. citizens from Yemen.

The base is also home to the King Khalid Air Base Hospital, a joint venture between the U.S. military and the Saudi Arabian government. The hospital provides medical care to both military personnel and civilians in the region.

The Riyadh Air Base has undergone several upgrades and renovations over the years to keep up with changing technologies and operational requirements. The most recent renovation was completed in 2019, which included upgrades to the base’s air traffic control tower and runway.

US Congressional Democrats have sent an open letter to the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, expressing concern over the alleged Tunisia rights crackdown by Tunisian President Kais Saied on perceived political opponents in the country. The 20 signatories condemned the “stark acceleration in Tunisia’s autocratic consolidation” and highlighted the wave of arrests against activists, former ministers, former MPs, senior political figures, judges, businessmen and media professionals.

They noted that Tunisian authorities charged individuals with conspiring against the state security and plotting to overthrow the government under the Anti-Terrorism Law for meeting US diplomats. They also criticized Saied’s “repugnant racist and xenophobic remarks” that undocumented sub-Saharan migrants were part of a conspiracy to change the country’s demographic make-up, and the increased arrests of undocumented migrants following those comments.

The letter called for any US foreign assistance to Tunisia to support the restoration of inclusive democratic governance and rule of law, as well as directly supporting Tunisians in dire economic need, without strengthening the hand of the internal security services that have exacerbated repression and authoritarianism under Saied.

Following the open letter from US Congressional Democrats expressing concern over Tunisian President Kais Saied’s alleged crackdown on perceived political opponents, tensions between the US and Tunisia have increased. The letter, sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, warned of a “stark acceleration in Tunisia’s autocratic consolidation” and raised concerns about the future of the US-Tunisia relationship.

Tunisia rights crackdown

Since mid-February, Tunisian authorities have arrested activists, former ministers, former MPs, senior political figures, judges, businessmen and media professionals, prompting condemnation from the UN Human Rights Office and several international rights groups. The Congresspersons were particularly alarmed by reports that individuals had been charged with conspiring against state security and plotting to overthrow the government under the Anti-Terrorism Law for meeting with US diplomats.

The American legislators also condemned Saied’s “repugnant racist and xenophobic remarks” about undocumented sub-Saharan migrants in Tunisia being part of a conspiracy to change the country’s demographic makeup. In response to the president’s comments, authorities have increased their arrests of undocumented migrants, causing many to flee the country. Black people in Tunisia, both citizens and migrants, have reported being attacked and abused due to their skin colour, and police have arrested dozens of “illegal migrants”. The African Union has also condemned Saied’s remarks, warning against making “racialised hate speech”.

The letter from the US legislators urged President Joe Biden’s administration to ensure that any US foreign assistance to Tunisia supports the restoration of inclusive, democratic governance and the rule of law. They also called on the US to ensure that any aid directly supports Tunisians in dire economic need and does not strengthen the hand of those, including the internal security services, that have exacerbated repression and authoritarianism under Saied.

Tunisia has been in political turmoil since 2011 when mass protests led to the overthrow of longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and the country has struggled to establish a stable democracy since then. In July 2021, President Saied announced that he was seizing control of the government, dismissing the prime minister and freezing parliament for 30 days. The move was widely seen as a power grab, with Saied accused of seeking to consolidate his power and undermine democracy. Although he has since lifted the freeze on parliament, he continues to rule by decree and has yet to appoint a new prime minister.

The situation in Tunisia remains tense, with the country facing multiple challenges, including a deteriorating economic situation, rising COVID-19 cases, and ongoing political unrest. The US, which has been a key ally of Tunisia since the Arab Spring, will need to navigate the situation carefully to ensure that it continues to support democracy and human rights in the country while also maintaining its strategic interests in the region.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Hassene Dridi

Protesters in major southern Iraqi cities took to the streets on Tuesday morning, burning tires in objection to the controversial new amendments to the election law endorsed by the Iraqi parliament in a chaotic session on Monday. Independent candidates and small parties fear they will be disadvantaged by the amendments that tend to favour the established parties.

The amendments revert to the modified Sainte Lague system introduced in 2014, a complex formula to apportion seats that benefits the established parties. The law also reverses a key change made in 2019 law, reducing the number of constituencies from 83 to 18, where one district covers each governorate. At least 560 people were killed and tens of thousands were wounded, many with live ammunition during protests in 2019.

Iraqi Parliament pushes amendments

The new amendments were pushed by the Iran-backed Co-ordination Framework, which has the majority in the parliament, and is the main supporter of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani. The protesters vowed more demonstrations in several cities, including Nasiriyah, Najaf, Hilla, Diwaniyah, and Kut, and anti-riot police and other security forces were sent to the cities.

The country is preparing to hold its provincial council elections on November 6, its first in a decade, and the federal government has not yet scheduled the next general elections. The semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government also announced on Sunday that the region would hold elections for its regional parliament on November 18, after a delay of a year.

As the protests continued to rage on, the Iraqi government responded by sending in anti-riot police and other security forces to try and disperse the demonstrators. However, this only seemed to inflame the situation further, as videos shared on social media showed security troops trying to forcefully break up the protests while gunshots could be heard in the background.

The government’s heavy-handed approach to the protests drew condemnation from human rights organizations and activists, who accused the authorities of using excessive force against peaceful protesters. Many also criticized the new amendments to the election law, which they argued would make it harder for independent candidates and smaller parties to compete against the more established parties in the country.

The protests were not limited to just the southern cities of Hilla, Nasiriyah, Najaf, Diwaniyah, and Kut, as demonstrations also broke out in other parts of the country. In Baghdad, protesters gathered in Tahrir Square, the site of the 2019 protests that brought down former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. Demonstrators here chanted slogans and held up signs denouncing the new election law and calling for reform.

The passing of the new election law and the ensuing protests have thrown a spotlight on the challenges facing Iraq’s fledgling democracy. The country has been struggling to build a stable political system ever since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, with corruption, sectarianism, and violence plaguing the country.

Despite these challenges, there have been some glimmers of hope, such as the emergence of new independent parties that have sought to challenge the entrenched political elites. However, the passing of the new election law threatens to stifle this progress and reinforce the status quo.

As Iraq prepares for its next round of elections, the country’s leaders will need to find a way to address the concerns of the protesters and ensure that the democratic process is open and fair to all. Failure to do so could lead to further unrest and instability in a country that has already suffered so much.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Anmar Khalil

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a delay in his controversial judicial reform plan, which has sparked one of the most significant domestic crises in the country’s history. The plan, which would weaken the role of the Israeli Supreme Court, has faced intense opposition, leading to protests and strikes that have disrupted the nation’s economy.

Netanyahu’s decision to delay the plan until after the Knesset’s April recess is an attempt to find a compromise and avoid a civil war. However, he remains determined to proceed with the changes, which have divided the newly formed government. Critics have called the reforms an attack on Israel’s democracy.

Response to Netanyahu’s announcement

Following Netanyahu’s announcement to pause the judicial changes, there were mixed reactions from the public. Some viewed it as a positive step towards resolving the crisis, while others criticized it as a delaying tactic to avoid facing the issue head-on.

Proposed judicial reforms

The proposed judicial reform plan, which was introduced by Netanyahu’s government, aimed to limit the power of the Supreme Court and give the government more control over the appointment of judges. The plan sparked outrage and protests across the country, with critics arguing that it would undermine the independence of the judiciary and harm the country’s democracy.

The crisis deepened after the sudden dismissal of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who had publicly opposed the reform plan, and the subsequent resignation of the justice minister in protest. The move triggered a wave of strikes and protests, with major industries shutting down, and thousands of people taking to the streets to express their dissent.

The strikes, which were called by the Histadrut labor federation, affected a wide range of sectors, including transportation, healthcare, and education. The federation’s leader, Arnon Bar-David, had urged the government to listen to the people and withdraw the controversial plan.

The decision to pause the plan came after weeks of intense pressure from the public and political opposition. Netanyahu’s government had initially pushed for the plan to be passed as soon as possible, arguing that it was necessary to reform the judiciary and ensure greater accountability.

However, the opposition had accused the government of trying to undermine the rule of law and accused Netanyahu of using the plan to shield himself from corruption charges. Netanyahu is currently facing trial on corruption charges, which he denies.

The crisis has put Israel’s democracy under strain and raised concerns among its allies. The United States and the European Union have expressed concern over the situation, with the US State Department urging Israeli leaders to find a compromise that protects the rule of law and democratic principles.

The crisis is expected to continue until a compromise is reached between the government and the opposition. The next session of the Knesset is scheduled to begin on April 30, and it remains to be seen whether the government will be able to garner enough support to pass the plan or if a compromise can be reached to address the concerns of the opposition.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Oren Ziv

The Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq has announced that parliamentary elections will take place on November 18, following a delay due to a disagreement between the two major ruling parties. Kurdish President Nechirvan Barzani issued a decree on Sunday, approving the election date. The vote will elect both a parliament and a president for Kurdish regions, which have had self-rule since 1991. The President has called on the regional authorities and the Independent High Elections Commission to prepare for the elections and has requested that representatives of the United Nations help make the elections a success.

The parliamentary elections in the region were supposed to take place on October 1, 2022, but were postponed by a year due to disagreements between the two dominant political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, over electoral constituency boundaries. The parliament has 111 seats, with the KDP controlling 45 and the PUK holding 21.

Kurdish officials have portrayed the region as a haven of stability in conflict-ridden Iraq, but activists and opposition figures have criticized corruption, arbitrary arrests, and the intimidation of protesters. Disputes between the KDP and the PUK have centered on the allocation of budgetary funds. Further disagreements at Iraq’s national level have typically been between Erbil and the central government in Baghdad over federal budget allocations to Kurdistan, as well as the management of oil exports from the resource-rich region.

Image Credit: KRG

The White House has urged Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, which led to mass protests across Israel. Thousands of people took to the streets on Sunday in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to protest against the dismissal, which came after Gallant broke ranks and urged the government to halt plans to overhaul the judicial system.

The overhaul package aims to tighten political control over judicial appointments, giving the executive greater freedom to name judges to the Supreme Court. The bill, along with others that would limit Supreme Court powers to rule against government policy, have led to concerns over Israel’s democracy. Asaf Zamir, Israel’s consul general in New York, resigned in response to Netanyahu’s “dangerous decision,” saying he wanted to join the fight for Israel’s future to ensure it remains a beacon of democracy and freedom in the world.

In the wake of the mass protests, tensions between Israel’s government and opposition parties continued to rise, with accusations of corruption and authoritarianism being levelled at Prime Minister Netanyahu.

The protests, which were some of the largest the country had seen in years, were met with a heavy-handed response from the police and security forces. The use of water cannon and other crowd control measures drew criticism from human rights groups and civil liberties advocates.

Despite the pressure, Netanyahu remained defiant in his support for the judicial reforms, arguing that they were necessary to ensure that the courts did not overstep their authority and interfere with the democratic process.

“The reforms we are proposing are essential for the future of Israel as a free and democratic society,” he said in a speech to the Knesset.

“We will not be deterred by the protests of a vocal minority who seek to undermine our government and our democracy. We will continue to stand firm and do what is necessary to protect the interests of our citizens and our nation.”

The controversy surrounding the judicial reforms also drew attention from the international community, with many countries expressing concern over the impact they could have on Israel’s democratic institutions.

The United States, one of Israel’s closest allies, issued a statement calling on the government to find a compromise with the opposition and ensure that any changes to the judicial system were made in a manner that respected the rule of law and democratic principles.

“The United States is deeply concerned by recent developments in Israel and urges all parties to find a peaceful and democratic solution to their differences,” the statement read.

“We remain committed to working with Israel and its leaders to promote democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.”

As the controversy continued to unfold, many Israelis were left wondering what the future held for their country and their democracy. With tensions high and protests continuing, it remained to be seen whether the government and opposition could find a way to work together and resolve their differences, or whether the situation would escalate further and lead to more unrest and political instability.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Oren Ziv

Turkey has been ruled against by an international arbitration court in a long-standing dispute with the Iraqi government over crude oil exports from the autonomous Kurdistan region, according to Turkish sources. The court’s decision regarding the Kurdistan oil arbitration case confirms that the Iraqi national oil company SOMO is the only entity authorized to manage oil export operations through the Turkish port of Ceyhan. The Iraqi oil ministry welcomed the ruling, saying that it would discuss mechanisms for exporting Iraqi oil through the port with both the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq to guarantee the continuation of shipments.

When did the Kurdistan oil arbitration case begin?

Iraq sued Turkey nearly nine years ago due to an oil deal between Ankara and Erbil concerning exports through the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline. One source familiar with the lawsuit said that Iraqi authorities demanded $33bn from Turkey for the damage but couldn’t get that amount. Turkey was ordered to pay Iraq $1.4bn to cover the 2014-2018 period.

An industry insider said Ankara was making around $1bn as a transit country thanks to Iraqi shipments. Iraqi local media reported that Turkey halted the pumping of Iraqi crude oil through Ceyhan on Saturday morning. The case has been running for almost nine years and centers on Iraq’s claim that Turkey has violated a 1973 pipeline transit agreement by allowing crude exports from Iraq’s Kurdish region without Baghdad’s consent.

Iraq’s Kurdistan depends on crude oil exports through Turkey, and the Paris court ruling will further tighten the noose on Erbil, weakening its hand in negotiations with Baghdad over an authoritative legal framework for the country’s oil sector. The federal court also invalidated the KRG’s contracts with foreign oil firms. Baghdad has been trying to bring Kurdistan’s energy resources under federal control, and Trafigura severed ties with the KRG at the end of January, exacerbating the region’s challenges and complicating its ability to market its crude.

Image Credit: Tarik Haiga on Unsplash

Lebanon, a country already struggling with one of the world’s worst economic crises, now faces a new challenge – two different time zones making it hard to tell the current local time in Lebanon. The controversy began when the government decided to postpone the winter clock changes, with Daylight Saving being introduced from midnight on April 20 instead of from midnight on March 25.

No official explanation has been given for the move, but local media has suggested it was introduced to coincide with Ramadan. However, the decision is facing widespread revolt, with two TV channels going ahead with the clock changes in protest complicating the current local time in Lebanon. MTV Lebanon and LBCI Lebanon say they will refuse to cooperate with the adjustment, announcing they will go ahead with switching to Daylight Saving Time on Saturday.

This has created confusion as to what the correct current local time in Lebanon is, as the government has yet to say whether it has informed officials responsible for synchronizing times on mobile phones, laptops, and other electronic devices of the change. Additionally, Lebanon woke up in two time zones on Sunday, with an escalating dispute between political and religious authorities over the decision to extend winter time for a month.

Where does the confusion regarding the current local time in Lebanon stem from?

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati issued a decision on Thursday to roll clocks forward an hour on April 20, instead of entering daylight savings time on the last weekend of March as is usually the case in Lebanon, Europe, and other regions. Though no reason was given for the decision, it was seen as an attempt to score a win among Muslims by allowing those fasting during the holy month of Ramadan to break their fasts an hour earlier, at around 6 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.

However, Lebanon’s influential Maronite church on Saturday announced it would disobey the decision, calling it “surprising” and saying there had been no consultations with other actors or considerations of international standards. Other Christian organizations, parties, and schools announced similar plans, while Muslim institutions and parties appeared set to remain in winter time.

Businesses and media organizations, including two of Lebanon’s main news channels LBCI and MTV, announced they too would enter daylight savings on Saturday night as calls for disobedience gained steam. LBCI said in a statement that it would disobey Mikati’s decision because it would have harmed its work, adding: “Lebanon is not an island”.

Many have said the uncertainty and potential chaos was emblematic of decades of failed governance by leaders that led Lebanon into a 2019 financial crisis the World Bank said was “orchestrated” by elites. As of now, the situation remains uncertain, with the government facing backlash from various groups and individuals, and no clear resolution in sight.

Image Credit: Djim Loic on Unsplash

Iraq has become the first country in the Middle East to join the UN Water Convention. The agreement aims to ensure sustainable use of transboundary water resources across international borders. Nineteen of the 22 Arab countries are considered water scarce, and Iraq is experiencing mounting social, economic, and political pressures due to water scarcity.

Low rainfall, increasing temperatures, and reductions in the country’s surface water have led to critically low levels of water in Iraq in recent years. Iraq’s President, Abdul Latif Rashid, warned of the impact of climate-related factors such as drought, dust storms, and high temperatures. He encouraged neighbouring countries to join both the 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses and the 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes.

The Tigris and Euphrates rivers are the most important sources of surface water for some 237 million people across Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. The UN Water Convention requires signatory countries to use transboundary waters reasonably and equitably and ensure their sustainable management.

Why is it significant that Iraq has joined the UN Water Convention?

Iraq’s move to join the UN Water Convention is seen as a significant step towards promoting sustainable use of transboundary water resources and ensuring cooperation among riparian countries in the region. As one of the countries hardest hit by climate change, Iraq is facing a real water crisis, with its surface water sources, such as the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, facing critical levels of depletion.

The UN Water Convention aims to ensure the reasonable and equitable use of transboundary waters and to promote sustainable management practices. With Iraq now a signatory to this convention, it will have access to a framework that promotes regional cooperation and facilitates peaceful resolution of water-related disputes.

Iraq’s decision to join the UN Water Convention is also expected to have positive impacts on the country’s sustainable development goals. As water scarcity continues to be a major challenge in Iraq, sustainable management practices will be critical to ensuring access to clean water and improving the health and well-being of its citizens. Additionally, transboundary cooperation can contribute to regional stability and peace, which are vital for Iraq’s long-term prosperity.

The UN Water Convention is a legally binding agreement that is open to signature by all United Nations Member States, as well as regional economic integration organizations. As of 2023, a total of 49 countries and the European Union have become parties to the convention. The Convention provides a framework for the development of principles, norms, and guidelines for cooperation on the use of transboundary water resources, as well as mechanisms for monitoring and reporting on compliance with its provisions.

Iraq’s accession to the UN Water Convention marks a significant milestone in the country’s efforts to promote sustainable management of its transboundary water resources. It sends a clear message to other countries in the region that cooperation and collaboration are essential to ensuring access to clean water and promoting sustainable development. As the international community continues to grapple with the impacts of climate change, cooperation on transboundary water resources will be critical to ensuring a sustainable and peaceful future for all.

Image Credit: unece

Saudi Arabia’s first national astronauts, Ali al-Qarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, are set to head to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of Axiom-2, the world’s second all-private astronaut mission, in May.

The two will be part of a four-man crew to conduct more than 20 experiments, including cloud seeding in microgravity to develop weather control technology for generating artificial rain in future human settlements on the Moon and Mars, researching stem cell production in microgravity and space tissue regeneration. The mission will also mark the first time two Saudi nationals will be aboard the ISS and the country’s return to human spaceflight after 40 years. The research conducted will impact the understanding of human physiology and establish the use of novel technologies for future human spaceflight missions.

In addition to the groundbreaking experiments being conducted by the Saudi Arabian astronauts, the Axiom-2 mission will also mark another important step towards the development of Axiom Station, the world’s first commercial space station and successor to the International Space Station.

Axiom Space, the Houston-based company behind the mission, aims to provide commercial access to space for research, exploration, and space tourism. With the retirement of the International Space Station in 2024, Axiom Station is expected to become the new hub for human activity in low-Earth orbit.

The company has already secured agreements with NASA for the first private astronaut mission to the ISS, and aims to begin construction of Axiom Station in 2022. The station will initially be attached to the ISS, but will eventually detach and become a free-flying space station.

The successful completion of the Axiom-2 mission and the continued development of Axiom Station represent major milestones in the commercialization of space, and the increasing participation of private companies and individuals in space exploration and research.

Furthermore, the participation of Saudi Arabian astronauts in the mission reflects the country’s growing interest and investment in the space sector. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has launched its own national space program, with plans to establish a space agency and launch satellites and other space missions.

The inclusion of a female astronaut, Rayyanah Barnawi, in the Axiom-2 mission is particularly noteworthy, as it represents a significant step towards gender equality and women’s empowerment in the traditionally male-dominated field of space exploration.

Overall, the Axiom-2 mission and the continued development of Axiom Station represent exciting new frontiers in space exploration and research, and the growing role of private companies and individuals in shaping the future of space travel and discovery.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Aya Batrawy, File

Ramadan 2024 is expected to begin on the evening of Sunday, March 10th, and last for 30 days, ending at sundown on Monday, April 8th. As the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is observed by millions of Muslims around the world with great devotion and commitment.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, abstaining from food, drink, and other physical needs as an act of worship and as a reminder of the suffering of those less fortunate. It is also a time for increased prayer, spiritual reflection, and community service.

However, it is important to note that the exact date of Ramadan may vary depending on the sighting of the crescent moon in different parts of the world. This is because the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, which is approximately 11 days shorter than the solar year. As a result, the date of Ramadan and other Islamic holidays shift forward by around 11 days each year.

When is Ramadan 2024 expected to begin?

Despite the possibility of the date changing, Muslims worldwide will prepare for Ramadan 2024 with great anticipation. It is a time of self-reflection, community, and a renewed commitment to spiritual growth and service to others. The observance of Ramadan 2024 will begin with the sighting of the crescent moon and will continue for 29-30 days, depending on the lunar cycle.

In addition to fasting and prayer, Muslims observe Ramadan by breaking their fast each evening with family and friends, sharing meals and extending hospitality to those in need. It is a time of great significance and spiritual growth for Muslims worldwide.

Ramadan 2024 is a significant observance in the Islamic calendar, expected to begin on the evening of Sunday, March 10th, and last for 30 days. It is a time for increased devotion, spiritual reflection, and community service for Muslims around the world. While the exact date of Ramadan may vary, Muslims will eagerly anticipate its arrival and observe it with great devotion and commitment.

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Saudi Arabia is in talks with Syria to reopen its embassy in the war-torn nation for the first time in a decade. State television in Saudi Arabia reported on Thursday that discussions had started with their Syrian counterparts to resume consular services. The report followed Chinese-mediated talks in Beijing that saw Saudi Arabia and Iran agree to reopen embassies in each other’s nations.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has remained in power thanks to the help of Iran and Russia. Russian mediation is believed to have led to the talks to reopen embassies between Saudi Arabia and Syria. Syrian state media is yet to acknowledge the talks, and neither country has responded to requests for comment.

Why are talks between Saudi Arabia and Syria taking place now?

The talks between Saudi Arabia and Syria to reopen their embassies mark a significant shift in the diplomatic landscape of the Middle East. The two countries have been at odds since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, with Saudi Arabia backing the opposition forces and Syria aligning itself with Iran and Russia. However, in recent years, the Saudi government has sought to normalize its relations with Syria and other regional powers in an effort to counter the growing influence of China and Russia in the Middle East.

The announcement of the talks comes just days after Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to reopen their embassies in each other’s countries, ending a long period of hostility between the two regional powers. The agreement was brokered by China, which has been seeking to expand its influence in the region through its Belt and Road Initiative. The Chinese government has been investing heavily in infrastructure projects in the Middle East, including in Saudi Arabia and Iran, in an effort to secure access to the region’s vast oil reserves.

The talks between Saudi Arabia and Syria were reportedly facilitated by Russia, which has been seeking to strengthen its ties with both countries. Russia has been a key ally of Syria since the start of the civil war, providing military and diplomatic support to the Assad regime. However, Moscow has also sought to build closer ties with Saudi Arabia in recent years, as part of its broader strategy to expand its influence in the Middle East.

The reopening of embassies between Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Syria is a significant development in the region, as it could pave the way for greater cooperation and dialogue between these countries. However, analysts caution that the road ahead is fraught with challenges, as these countries have long-standing differences that cannot be resolved overnight. Moreover, the United States, which has been the dominant power in the Middle East for decades, is likely to view these developments with concern, as they could further undermine its influence in the region.

The talks between Saudi Arabia and Syria also come at a time of heightened tensions between Israel and Iran, which has been blamed for a recent attack on an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the Gulf of Oman. The incident has raised fears of a wider conflict in the region, as Israel and Iran continue to engage in a proxy war in Syria and other parts of the Middle East. The reopening of embassies between Saudi Arabia and Syria could have implications for this conflict as well, as both countries are likely to play a key role in any future peace negotiations.

Overall, the talks between Saudi Arabia and Syria are a sign of the changing dynamics in the Middle East, as regional powers seek to balance their relationships with traditional allies and new partners. While the road ahead is uncertain, these developments could pave the way for a more stable and peaceful Middle East in the years to come.

The IMF warns Lebanon that they are at risk of spiralling into hyperinflation if the government fails to enact economic reforms, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The warning came as progress towards a sorely needed IMF bailout package has largely stalled.

The country has fallen into the worst economic crisis in its modern history, rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement. Three-quarters of Lebanon’s population of over six million, including a million Syrian refugees, now live in poverty and inflation is soaring. The preliminary deal reached last year for a $3bn bailout would have to be revisited, as the country’s economic situation has changed, according to the IMF.

Underlying reasons behind IMF warns Lebanon

Lebanon’s economic situation has continued to deteriorate since the onset of its financial crisis in late 2019, caused by decades of corruption and mismanagement by the country’s political class. Inflation is soaring, and three-quarters of the population, including a million Syrian refugees, now live in poverty.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been working with Lebanese officials to develop a bailout package to help the country stabilize its economy, but progress has been slow. The IMF’s latest visit to Lebanon, part of its regular assessments of member countries, resulted in a grim assessment of the country’s prospects.

Ernesto Ramirez Rigo, the head of the IMF mission visiting Lebanon, warned that without reforms, Lebanon is headed for hyperinflation, which would have a lasting impact on the quality of life of many Lebanese. Rigo expressed frustration at the slow rate of progress on reforms required to reach a deal, noting that even the legislation that has been passed to enact reforms has fallen short of the IMF’s requirements.

Lebanon’s currency, officially valued at 15,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, is trading at more than 100,000 for $1 on the black market, which is used for nearly all transactions. The pound hit a new low on Tuesday, hitting 140,000 pounds to the dollar, before rebounding slightly.

In response to the crisis, hundreds of protesters, mainly retired soldiers, attempted to break through a fence leading to the government headquarters and parliament building in downtown Beirut before being driven back by security forces using tear gas. The IMF has called for much-needed reforms to be enacted, saying the process has been “very slow” considering the country’s devastating financial situation.

The IMF’s visit comes as negotiations for the bailout package have stalled. A preliminary agreement reached nearly a year ago would have provided a bailout of about $3 billion, but Rigo said that figure would have to be revisited as the country’s economic situation has changed. The IMF called on Lebanon’s leaders to enact reforms, saying the delays can only increase the cost on the Lebanese people.

Lebanese and IMF negotiators reached a staff-level agreement in April last year that depended on an economic recovery plan and a series of crucial reforms. But Lebanese leaders have failed to reach agreement on how to resolve the crisis despite an economic recovery plan adopted by the government in May. One of the main bones of contention is the allocation of financial losses between the main stakeholders: the government, the banks, and depositors.

Mr. Rigo said the state’s participation should be minimal to maintain public debt sustainability. “Any solution needs to ensure that there is debt sustainability. Lebanon is in default … it doesn’t have the capacity to recapitalize the system; that would have been the easy solution, but it can’t do that,” he said. The IMF called for a fair allocation of losses while protecting the value of small depositors as much as possible.

The stakes are high: billions of dollars in relief funding from the IMF could pave the way for releasing other international funding and foreign investment to ease Lebanon out of more than four years of economic crisis. The negotiations with the IMF notably stalled on the state’s contribution to cover the financial losses.

Lebanon is a unique case because of the complexity of the balance sheets between the central bank, commercial banks, and the public sector, and the size of the losses. “The numbers are on such a scale for a country as small as Lebanon that everybody will have to take losses,” Rigo said.

The IMF’s visit comes at a time when Lebanon is facing many other challenges, including political instability and a surge in COVID-19 cases. The country’s caretaker government has been unable to form a new administration for months.

Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nasonurb/

Lebanese security forces clashed with protesters in Beirut on Wednesday, as hundreds of retired army and police veterans, along with angry depositors and other demonstrators, took to the streets to protest against low pensions and deteriorating economic conditions. The rallies occurred near a joint meeting of parliamentary committees, where politicians were discussing measures to alleviate the public’s increasing financial hardship and declining livelihoods.

Reasons behind protesters in Beirut

The retired soldiers, frustrated at a lack of action to address the currency crisis and devaluing pensions, repeatedly attempted to storm the government palace in the city centre. Security forces responded with tear gas, heightening tensions. The veterans demanded that all public sector salaries be adjusted to a discounted rate of 28,500 Lebanese pounds to the dollar through the government’s Sayrafa exchange platform, bringing their pensions closer to a liveable wage. Before the economic crisis, a veteran’s monthly pension was worth $1,600. Should the veterans’ demands be met, the same amount would be worth $245.

Lebanon’s economic collapse

Since the 2019 economic collapse, over 80% of the population has been pushed into poverty, and the local currency has lost over 98% of its value on the parallel market. Lebanese commercial banks imposed informal capital control laws that locked depositors out of much of their savings, further driving down their quality of life. Inflation has skyrocketed since 2019, making essential daily items increasingly unaffordable.

The central bank’s intermittent interventions through the Sayrafa platform, which sells public sector employees a limited amount of dollars at the discounted rate of 70,000 pounds to the dollar, have been little more than temporary stopgaps and have not kept pace with the rapid devaluation of the nation’s currency. The Lebanese pound fell as low as 140,000 to the US dollar on Tuesday before another intervention by the central bank saw it recover some of its value. On Wednesday afternoon, it was trading at about 110,000 to the dollar.

Protests also erupted in other parts of the country, including the main north-south highway and the eastern Bekaa Valley, with angry protesters briefly closing roads. Many gas stations, which have been changing their fuel prices several times a day, closed on Tuesday amid calls to price oil products in US dollars. Some pharmacies also closed because of the constantly changing exchange rate.

The latest crash of the pound comes days before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when observant Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk. The ongoing economic crisis has also stalled the implementation of broad reforms agreed with the International Monetary Fund to enable access to a $3 billion bailout package and unlock funds in development aid to make the economy viable again. The country is currently being run by a caretaker government, and there is an ongoing deadlock over the election of a new president, a post that has been vacant since the end of October.

Five African migrants drowned and 28 others are missing after their boat capsized off the coast of Tunisia while they were attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Italy. The boat was carrying 38 people, mostly from the Ivory Coast, and had set off from the southern city of Sfax. The Tunisian coastguard rescued five people from the boat.

The incident is the latest in a series of tragedies on the central Mediterranean, which is known as the world’s deadliest migration route. There has been a significant increase in the number of boats departing from the Tunisian coast towards Italy, and the Tunisian authorities have been conducting a campaign of arrests targeting undocumented sub-Saharan African immigration.

President Kais Saied’s remarks about undocumented sub-Saharan African immigration sparked a wave of violence against Black migrants, and landlords fearing fines evicted hundreds of people who are now camping in the streets of Tunis. About 21,000 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are believed to be in Tunisia, and they have called on the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR to evacuate them.

Why people are fleeing Tunisia

The incident off the coast of Tunisia highlights the ongoing humanitarian crisis facing migrants and refugees attempting to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Many of these individuals are fleeing poverty, conflict, and persecution in their home countries and are seeking safety and a better life in Europe.

However, the journey is often dangerous and deadly. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), over 1,200 migrants and refugees have died while attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2023. The central Mediterranean route, which includes the coast of Tunisia, is particularly deadly, accounting for over 80% of all deaths.

Despite the risks, the number of people attempting to make the journey continues to rise. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the economic situation in many countries, leading more people to seek opportunities abroad. Additionally, political instability, conflict, and human rights abuses in several countries have forced people to flee for their lives.

The situation in Tunisia has also become more complex due to the recent comments made by President Kais Saied about undocumented sub-Saharan African immigration. His remarks have sparked violence against Black migrants and have led to the eviction of hundreds of people who are now homeless and living on the streets.

The UNHCR has called on the Tunisian government to protect the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers and to refrain from any actions that may lead to their stigmatization or discrimination. The agency has also urged European countries to provide more support to Tunisia to help it deal with the influx of migrants and refugees.

Syrian state media has reported that Israeli rockets hit Aleppo International Airport early Wednesday, causing damage. The Syrian Defence Ministry stated that the Israeli enemy carried out the airstrike at approximately 3:55 am with several rockets from the direction of the Mediterranean, west of Latakia, that targeted the airport.

Explosions were also heard in the area earlier in the day. Israel has conducted hundreds of strikes on government-controlled targets in Syria in recent years, including attacks on the Damascus and Aleppo airports, but rarely acknowledges or discusses its operations.

Previous attacks on Aleppo airport

In other recent Israeli attacks in Syria, an airstrike on March 7 killed three people, putting Aleppo airport out of service and disrupting the flow of aid. Syria’s transport ministry has announced that all earthquake aid flights will be re-routed following the Israeli air strike. The Israeli air strike was said to have been carried out from the direction of the Mediterranean Sea, west of Latakia, targeting Aleppo International Airport. Last month, a Damascus district housing state security agencies was hit, killing 15 people.

In January, a missile strike on Damascus International Airport killed two soldiers and led to services being suspended overnight. However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group that relies on a wide network of sources on the ground in Syria, stated that “four fighters, including two Syrian soldiers, were killed.”

In December, Israel made a rare acknowledgement of operations “not just in Syria” against what it claimed were Iranian targets. Israel has acknowledged that its targets are the bases of Iran-allied militant groups, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has sent thousands of fighters to support President Bashar Al Assad’s forces. Aleppo, which suffered extensive damage during Syria’s civil war, was also heavily damaged in a 7.8-magnitude earthquake in February. Since then, many countries have sent aid shipments to the airport in the city.

Image Credit: AFP

In Yemen’s Houthi-held capital, a court has sentenced four activists, including three Yemeni YouTubers, to prison terms ranging from six months to three years after they published videos alleging abuses by the Iran-aligned fighters. The activists were convicted on Tuesday of inciting chaos, disrupting public peace, and insulting the Houthis. They were detained in Sanaa in December and January on charges stemming from videos they had posted on social media last year criticizing the Houthis over alleged corruption and their handling of the economy.

According to their lawyer, Waddah Qutaish, the Houthis’ crackdown on dissent and on those seen as working for the Saudi-led coalition has intensified. The rebels control Sanaa and most of northern Yemen. The Yemeni YouTubers’ arrest and trial are part of the Houthis’ efforts to suppress freedom of speech and individual liberties, including free speech and movement of women in areas they control.

Who are the Yemeni YouTubers?

One of the Yemeni YouTubers, Ahmed Allaw, was sentenced to three years while another, Mustafa al-Mawmari, got a year and a half. Ahmed Hajar and Hamoud al-Mesbahi, the other two activists, were sentenced to a year and six months, respectively. The court also ordered the closure of the activists’ YouTube channels and fined them each 10 million Yemeni riyals, or about $40,000, Qutaish added. He denounced the verdict as “politically motivated” and said he would appeal.

The sentences came a day after Houthi-controlled media released videos of the men renouncing their earlier criticisms of the rebels. The latest footage sparked an uproar among some Yemenis, who claimed the statements had been coerced. The sentences also followed Monday’s announcement of a prisoner exchange agreed upon between the Houthis and Yemen’s government, after talks overseen by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross in Switzerland. The deal covers more than 800 conflict-related prisoners, including journalists captured by the fighters, according to Yemeni government officials, as well as 15 Saudis, according to Houthi officials.

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The European Commission has pledged €1 billion to Turkey to aid in the Turkey earthquake reconstruction efforts following the devastating earthquakes that claimed tens of thousands of lives in February. European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, made the announcement on Monday, ahead of a donors’ conference in Brussels. The aid package will also include €108 million for humanitarian assistance to Syria, according to von der Leyen.

The earthquakes hit south-eastern Turkey in February, resulting in the death of over 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria. Tens of thousands of buildings were destroyed, prompting questions over the construction standards in the region. The European Commission’s aid package aims to help rebuild homes, schools and hospitals with high standards of seismic safety.

The February 6 tremors resulted in the loss of more than 52,000 lives in southern Turkey and north-western Syria, many of whom were asleep and buried under debris. Last month Washington committed $85 million in immediate humanitarian aid for Turkey, along with continuing USAid help. The additional $100 million pledged by Blinken brings the total to $185 million in aid for Turkey and Syria. The United States remains committed to doing everything it can to support the rescue, relief, and Turkey earthquake reconstruction efforts in the wake of the earthquake.

The cost of the earthquake’s damages in Turkey

Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, estimates the cost of the earthquake’s damages at $104 billion (around €97 billion). In addition to the aid package, the EU and Sweden are hosting a one-day meeting attended by NGOs, G-20 and UN members, as well as international financial institutions to raise money for both Turkey and Syria.

The amount needed for Turkey earthquake reconstruction

Last month’s devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria have left behind damages exceeding $100bn, according to a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) official. A donor conference was held on March 16 in Brussels to raise funds for survivors and reconstruction, with the provisional damage figure only covering Turkey. Recovery costs are expected to be much higher, including the construction of improved and more environmentally sustainable infrastructure.

The World Bank previously estimated direct damage in Turkey at $34.2bn, with losses to the country’s gross domestic product due to economic disruptions caused by the earthquakes adding to the cost. Hatay province in Turkey was particularly hard-hit, with hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed, and the needs of survivors are vast but resources scarce. Turkish government figures show that around two million survivors have been evacuated or housed in temporary accommodation in the aftermath of the quakes.

EU stance on sending earthquake relief funds to Syria

Survivors of the earthquake in rebel-held northwest Syria have received little assistance due to deep divisions exacerbated by the country’s 12-year war. The EU has been providing humanitarian aid to Syria since 2011 and has expressed interest in stepping up aid efforts. However, the EU does not intend to contribute to Syria’s reconstruction as EU sanctions against President Bashar Assad’s regime remain in place due to its continued crackdown against civilians.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has urged donors to ensure that the UN’s appeal for Turkey and Syria, calling for $1 billion and $397 million respectively, is fully funded. The IRC said that the people affected by the earthquake are relying on donors meeting in Brussels to ensure that funding is available for life-saving items including food, shelter, warm clothes and clean water.

Image Credit: AP Photo/ Emrah Gurel

Ramadan 2023 is expected to begin in the UK on Thursday, March 23, according to astronomy calculations. The precise Ramadan 2023 dates will be determined by the sighting of the crescent moon on the evening of Wednesday, March 22. News outlet Hamari Web predicts that the new moon will be visible in the UK on March 22. Additionally, Hamari Web predicts that Eid Al Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan 2023, will take place on April 22.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is observed by Muslims worldwide. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, abstaining from food and drink. It is estimated that there are over 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide, and over 3.9 million people adhere to Islam in the UK. The Muslim population in the UK has increased by 44% in the past decade, with 39% of Muslims living in the “most deprived” areas of England and Wales. Muslims make up approximately 6.5% of the population in England.

What are the Ramadan 2023 dates in North America?

In addition to the UK, countries including the US, Canada, and Morocco are also expected to begin fasting on March 23. The Fiqh Council of North America has announced that North American countries will celebrate the first day of Ramadan on March 23. Astronomers predict that Ramadan will begin on March 23 in Morocco, but this may vary depending on the sighting of the moon. The Islamic calendar is based on the phases of the moon and is approximately 10 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar.

When does Ramadan end in 2023?

Ramadan lasts between 29-30 days and always ends with the arrival of Eid al-Fitr. Eid al-Fitr, which translates to “festival of breaking the fast,” will fall on Friday, April 21, and end on the evening of April 22. Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims, during which the Quran was said to have been revealed to Prophet Muhammad by God. It is a month of fasting and abstaining from impure things for the mind and body, according to the Muslim Hands Organisation.

Why is Ramadan important?

Ramadan is one of the most important and holy months of the Islamic calendar. It is observed by Muslims worldwide as a time for spiritual reflection, increased devotion, and self-discipline. During this month, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, abstaining from food, drink, and other physical needs as an act of worship and as a reminder of the suffering of those less fortunate.

How is the date for Ramadan determined?

The exact date of Ramadan is determined by the sighting of the crescent moon, and it begins on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is considered a time of purification and spiritual renewal, and Muslims engage in additional prayer, charitable acts, and increased reading of the Quran during this time. The fast is broken each evening with a meal called Iftar, and the month culminates with Eid al-Fitr, a festive holiday marking the end of the fast.

How is Ramadan celebrated?

Ramadan is not only a time of personal reflection and devotion, but it is also a time for community gatherings and social events. In many Muslim countries, the streets are filled with people shopping, enjoying traditional foods, and engaging in nightly prayers and festivities. Families gather for large meals, and it is a time for giving and sharing with those less fortunate.

The history of Ramadan dates back to the time of Prophet Muhammad, who received the first revelations of the Quran during this month. It is believed that during one of the last 10 nights of Ramadan, the Quran was revealed to the Prophet over the course of several years. This period is known as Laylat al-Qadr, or the Night of Power, and it is considered the holiest night of the year for Muslims.

Throughout history, Ramadan has been a time of solidarity and unity for Muslims worldwide. It is a time to put aside differences and come together in worship and community. Today, Ramadan is observed by millions of Muslims across the world, and it is a time for reflection, devotion, and celebration.

Image Credit: Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash

Beirut airport is set to receive a major upgrade with the construction of a new $122 million terminal, according to officials. The new Terminal 2 at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport will be operated by Irish company daa International, which is also responsible for managing Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Development Project. The airport, which has not been expanded since 1998, is looking to handle 3.5 million passengers annually when the new terminal opens in 2027.

Where is the new terminal in Beirut airport going to be?

The project is expected to bring in private sector investments worth $122 million and create 500 direct jobs and 2,000 related jobs. Terminal 2 will be built where the airport’s old cargo building used to stand. The new terminal will include six docking stands as well as remote ones and will cater to charter and low-cost flights.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said the project will “open more horizons for air aviation between Lebanon and the world” and help solve several problems, including overcrowding at the current terminal. The airport currently handles 8 million passengers a year and is planning to handle 20 million by 2030.

The announcement comes as Lebanon faces a severe economic crisis that has led to millions of people facing a cost-of-living crisis, with the currency losing over 95% of its value. The government has been unable to alleviate the issues that have pushed three-quarters of the country’s population of 6 million, including 1 million Syrian refugees, into poverty.

The new terminal will not only boost the country’s tourism sector, but it will also deepen business relations between Lebanon and Ireland. The project is expected to be completed within four years.

Could the new terminal help boost Lebanon’s struggling economy?

The construction of the new Terminal 2 at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport is being seen as a major boost for Lebanon’s struggling economy. The country has been grappling with a severe economic crisis that has led to skyrocketing inflation, rising unemployment, and political instability. In recent years, the tourism sector has been one of the hardest hit, with many visitors opting to stay away due to the ongoing political turmoil.

The new terminal, which is set to open in 2027, is expected to attract more low-cost airlines, charter and seasonal flights, and tourists. The project is also expected to create a significant number of jobs, providing a much-needed boost to the country’s labor market. This is particularly important given that Lebanon’s youth unemployment rate is among the highest in the world.

The decision to involve the private sector in the construction and operation of the new terminal is being seen as a positive step towards increasing productivity and efficiency in the country’s public facilities. It is hoped that this will attract further investment into Lebanon, which has been struggling to attract foreign capital in recent years.

Image Credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Nowruz Mubarak 2023! The Persian New Year, also known as Nowruz, is being celebrated around the world by millions of people of Iranian and Central Asian descent. The holiday marks the first day of spring and the beginning of a new year in the Persian calendar. This year, Nowruz falls on March 20th.

Nowruz is a time for family gatherings, feasting, and gift-giving. Homes are thoroughly cleaned in preparation for the new year, and traditional decorations such as Haft Seen tables are set up with symbolic items such as sprouts, coins, and candles. These items represent the hopes and wishes for the new year, including wealth, happiness, and good health.

The holiday has been celebrated for over 3,000 years and is recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Nowruz is not only celebrated in Iran and Central Asia but also in other countries where there are significant Persian communities, such as Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.

The celebration of Nowruz has also been adopted by people of various faiths and cultures around the world, including those of the Baha’i, Zoroastrian, and Kurdish communities. It has become a symbol of unity and diversity, bringing people from different backgrounds together to celebrate a common tradition.

In Iran, the holiday is celebrated for thirteen days, with the thirteenth day known as Sizdah Bedar, where families gather outdoors for picnics and nature walks. This year, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, celebrations may be limited or adapted to adhere to health guidelines in different countries.

Nevertheless, the spirit of Nowruz remains strong, with people finding new and creative ways to connect with loved ones and celebrate the holiday. Social media platforms are filled with messages of Nowruz Mubarak, wishing family and friends health and prosperity in the new year.

How is Nowruz Mubarak 2023 celebrated?

One of the most important customs associated with Nowruz is the preparation of Haft-Seen, a table setting that includes seven symbolic items, all of which start with the Persian letter ‘sin’. These items include Sabzeh (wheat or lentil sprouts), Samanu (a sweet pudding made from wheat germ), Senjed (dried oleaster fruit), Sir (garlic), Sib (apple), Somāq (sumac), and Serkeh (vinegar). Each of these items has a special meaning and represents different aspects of life, such as health, wealth, and love.

Another important part of Nowruz celebrations is the practice of visiting friends and relatives. People usually dress up in their best clothes and go to each other’s homes to exchange gifts and enjoy traditional foods such as Sabzi Polo Mahi (herbed rice with fish) and Ash-e-Reshteh (a hearty soup made with beans, herbs, and noodles).

Music and dancing also play an essential role in Nowruz celebrations, with people gathering in public spaces to perform traditional dances such as the Bandari and the Azeri. These dances are usually accompanied by the sound of traditional Persian instruments such as the santur, the tar, and the daf.

Nowruz is also a time for charity and generosity, with many people choosing to give to the less fortunate during this time. Donating to charity, feeding the poor, and visiting hospitals and nursing homes are all common practices during Nowruz.

Nowruz Mubarak 2023 is a time for reflection, renewal, and hope for the future. As we welcome the spring season, let us embrace the values of peace, love, and unity that are at the heart of this joyous occasion. Whether it be through virtual gatherings or socially distanced celebrations, let us come together to celebrate the beginning of a new year and the beauty of our diverse cultures.

In conclusion, Nowruz Mubarak 2023 is a special time for millions of people around the world. It is a time to connect with loved ones, celebrate traditions, and embrace the spirit of unity and diversity.

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Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has extended an invitation to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to visit the kingdom, marking a significant step in the restoration of ties between the two nations after years of hostility. The invitation comes just over a week after the two countries announced they were restoring diplomatic relations, seven years after they were severed in the wake of the torching of the Saudi embassy in Iran.

Why does Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi want to restore ties with Saudi Arabia?

Mohammad Jamshidi, the Iranian president’s deputy chief of staff for political affairs, confirmed the invitation via Twitter, saying that “Raisi welcomed the invitation”. The move is expected to see Iran and Saudi Arabia reopen their embassies and missions within two months and implement security and economic cooperation deals signed more than 20 years ago.

The detente between Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, and Iran, which is strongly at odds with Western governments over its nuclear activities, has the potential to reshape relations across a region characterized by turbulence for decades. The two nations have long supported rival sides in several conflict zones, including Yemen, where the Houthi rebels are backed by Tehran, and Riyadh leads a military coalition supporting the government. They also vie for influence in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq.

The deal, brokered by China, was announced after four days of previously undisclosed talks in Beijing between top security officials from the two rival Middle Eastern powers. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told reporters on Sunday that the two countries had agreed to hold a meeting between their top diplomats, with three locations suggested for the talks.

The shift in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran could have significant implications for the Middle East, a region known for its geopolitical volatility. Other Gulf countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, have already restored diplomatic ties with Tehran. Iran has also said it would welcome restoring ties with Bahrain, a close Saudi ally that followed Riyadh in severing diplomatic ties with Iran in 2016.

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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has met with senior Russian officials to discuss boosting economic ties between the two countries, marking the 14th year of the joint Egyptian-Russian committee. The committee is currently holding a meeting in Cairo to outline cooperation in fields such as commerce, industry, research, and the arts. The talks included discussions on increasing Russian investments in Egypt, the establishment of a Russian industrial complex in the Suez Canal Economic Zone, and co-manufacturing goods with Russian producers operating in the canal zone.

The meeting also addressed the current global crisis in the supply of grain and food, and discussed the continuing trading of wheat and grains between the two countries. In 2022, Egypt imported 4.9 million tonnes of Russian grain, making Russia one of Egypt’s biggest suppliers of grain and wheat, along with Ukraine.

Egypt’s dependence on Russian grain

Egypt’s reliance on Russian grain is expected to continue throughout 2023, according to a January statement from Egypt’s state grain buyer. After announcing its exit from the UN Grain Trades Convention, Egypt is expected to look more towards Russia to fulfill the grain needs of its 104 million population. In January, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister said Moscow was studying a mechanism to settle payments for grain exports to Egypt in roubles instead of dollars.

Despite calls by Western powers to isolate Russia over its invasion of Ukraine last year, Cairo has maintained relations with Moscow. In fact, Russian efforts to bolster its relations with African and Arab nations have intensified since the invasion, as Moscow continues to face harsh sanctions from the US and Europe. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addressed the Arab League in July 2022 in a bid to curry favour among its member states.

The visit of Russian officials to Cairo came two days after the International Criminal Court announced an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin on the war crimes accusation of unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children. However, the meeting in Cairo did not address this development.

Egypt’s economy has suffered greatly since the invasion of Ukraine last year, with food prices skyrocketing and contributing to a punishing economic crisis. Nonetheless, Egypt has continued to maintain strong relations with Moscow, given its dependence on Russian imports for food and other critical supplies. The meeting between the Russian officials and El-Sisi is seen as an attempt to further strengthen economic ties between the two countries and to mitigate the impact of the ongoing global crisis on Egypt’s economy.

Image Credit: Egyptian presidency

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made a historic visit to Cairo on Saturday in a bid to restore full diplomatic relations between Turkey and Egypt, despite Ankara’s ongoing support for the Muslim Brotherhood group. During a joint news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Cavusoglu revealed that Turkey was using its influence to extend a Black Sea grain deal, allowing the export of grain from Ukraine, in its role as mediator between Moscow and Kyiv.

Why is the meeting significant?

The fact that Shoukry and Cavusoglu held a joint news conference indicates a significant shift between the two countries after almost ten years of strained relations that followed the ouster from power of the Muslim Brotherhood and former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Both diplomats hinted that full diplomatic relations will be restored soon amid a general thaw of hostilities throughout the Middle East following the recent agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia to resume diplomatic ties severed in 2016.

“We largely agree on most issues. We have to improve bilateral relations in every field from transportation to trade,” Turkey’s Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a joint press conference in Cairo with Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry.

Cavusoglu emphasized the dangerous ramifications of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the need to avoid a more serious — potentially nuclear — conflict. He said Ankara had pushed to gain Russia’s agreement on renewing a Black Sea grain deal that allows Ukraine to export grain to various Middle Eastern and Third World countries, including Egypt.

Egyptian Member of Parliament Mustafa Bakri told Saudi-owned al Arabiya TV that restoring normal relations with Turkey is important for several strategic reasons, including “using Turkey’s good relations with Ethiopia to ease tensions over the Renaissance Dam,” which has caused consternation in Egypt due to its potential to disrupt the flow of water on the Nile.

Latent tensions between Cairo and Ankara over who controls parts of Libya and undersea natural gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean have also made relations between the two countries acrimonious, and improved relations between the two countries could avoid potential conflict in those areas. Egypt’s foreign minister said talks with Turkey on the possibility of restoring ties to the ambassadorial level would happen at “the appropriate time” during the first visit to Cairo by Turkey’s top diplomat since relations ruptured a decade ago.

At the joint news conference, Shoukry and Cavusoglu said Turkey would upgrade its diplomatic relations with Egypt to ambassador level “as soon as possible”. Ties between Turkey and Egypt were severely strained after Egypt’s then-army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi led the removal of Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, an ally of Ankara, in 2013. El-Sisi was elected president the following year. The two countries have also been at odds in recent years over Libya, where they backed opposing factions in an unresolved conflict, and also over maritime borders in the gas-rich Eastern Mediterranean.

Why now?

The recent warming of relations between Turkey and Egypt coincides with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s attempt to improve strained ties with the Arab world in anticipation of May’s elections. The two countries’ relationship has been troubled for years, largely due to Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt has classified as a terrorist organization. This was exacerbated by the military removal of former Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi in 2013. Additionally, Egypt and Turkey have had disagreements over other regional conflicts, as well as rivalling claims to energy resources in the East Mediterranean.

Cavusoglu said on Saturday that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egypt’s el-Sisi would meet “after the Turkish elections,” including the presidential vote slated for May 14, to mark the end of a decade of estrangement between the two countries.

Image Credit: Reuters

Tunisia’s Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine has resigned from his post citing family reasons, according to a report by state-run news agency Tap. The announcement came on Friday, with Charfeddine informing Tunisian President Kais Saied of his decision to step down. The President quickly appointed Kamal Feki, the former governor of Tunis, as the new interior minister.

Charfeddine explained to reporters that his decision to resign was based on a desire to take care of his family, particularly his children, after the death of his wife in a fire caused by a gas leak in June of last year. He had held the post since October 2021 and was considered one of the President’s closest aides.

Who is Kamal Feki?

The appointment of Feki, who is known as one of Saied’s staunchest supporters, came just hours after Charfeddine’s resignation. Feki has already refused to grant a protest permit to the opposition Salvation Front coalition, citing their involvement in plotting against state security. However, the Interior Ministry allowed them to protest.

Charfeddine was a key figure in the election campaign that propelled Saied to the presidency in 2019. He had also served as interior minister under former Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, who sacked him in January 2021 due to strained relations between the president and prime minister. However, Saied reappointed Charfeddine after dismissing Mechichi and seizing most powers.

Tunisia’s crackdown

In recent weeks, Tunisian authorities have detained several opposition figures, charging them with conspiring against state security. Police have also carried out a crackdown on African refugees lacking residence permits, leading to accusations of detaining hundreds and turning a blind eye to racist attacks.

Saied has taken increasing control over security forces since July 2021, when he dismissed Mechichi’s government. He shut down the parliament and moved to rule by decree before writing a new constitution that he passed last year.

The president has faced international criticism over his treatment of opposition figures and African refugees. Last month, Charfeddine was present during a video meeting with the president, where Saied expressed his position on illegal refugees from sub-Saharan Africa. “There is no question of allowing anyone in an illegal situation to stay in Tunisia,” Saied said. “I will not allow the institutions of the state to be undermined or the demographic composition of Tunisia to be changed.”

Yesterday, March 16 marked one year since Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe release from Iran. On the one year anniversary of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe release, a British-Iranian woman who was detained in Iran in 2016, has called for sanctions against 10 Iranian officials on the first anniversary of her release from prison.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe release

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her legal advisers marked the first anniversary of her release from an Iranian jail by urging Britain to sanction 10 Iranian officials they say are responsible for a resurgence in state hostage-taking of foreign nationals.

Why was Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe held in Iran?

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in Iran in 2016 while on a visit to see her parents in Tehran. She was separated from her daughter Gabriella, who was a toddler at the time, and subjected to vigorous interrogation by authorities. The UK-Iranian was later sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly plotting to overthrow the regime, a charge she has always denied.

What has Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe done since her release?

Since her release from prison in March 2022, Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been working tirelessly to campaign for the release of other dual national and political prisoners detained in Iran. She and her husband Richard have been trying to balance a normal life with their daughter Gabriella, while also advocating for policy changes in the UK to prevent other families from going through similar ordeals. In September, Zaghari-Ratcliffe filmed herself cutting her hair in solidarity with protesters in Iran after the death of Mahsa Amini.

British-Iranians Morad Tahbaz and Mehran Raoof are known to still be held in Iranian jails, while another dual citizen Ali Reza Akbari was executed earlier this year. At least three dual nationals have recently had a death sentence confirmed, and it is estimated that 40 dual nationals have been arrested since a wave of street protests in Iran started last September.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s legal advisers at Redress have submitted the names of 10 Iranian officials they believe should be subject to human rights sanctions over state hostage-taking, according to The Guardian. The couple is also calling on the UK government to appoint a special envoy for hostages to handle such crises in the future.

However, Foreign Office minister David Rutley has stated that the UK does not believe a state can be a hostage-taker and instead uses the term “arbitrary detention for diplomatic leverage”. This statement has disappointed Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family, who feel that more needs to be done to hold those responsible accountable.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, accused the UK government of being less interested in sanctions for cases such as theirs since his wife’s release. He is worried that the UK’s soft approach will only encourage more state hostage-taking by Iran.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case has garnered international attention, with many countries and organizations calling for her release. While her release was a positive development, the fact that other dual nationals remain detained or have been executed shows that there is still much work to be done to improve the human rights situation in Iran.

The Ratcliffe family continues to campaign for the release of Morad Tahbaz and Mehran Raoof and for greater accountability for those responsible for state hostage-taking. They hope that by raising awareness and advocating for policy changes, they can prevent other families from experiencing the same trauma they have gone through.

Image Credit: BBC

Turkey has been hit by yet another natural disaster, as torrential rain caused deadly flooding in two provinces that were devastated by catastrophic earthquakes last month. At least 14 people have been confirmed dead, with several others missing, after surging waters swept away homes and inundated campsites sheltering earthquake survivors.

Where has been worst hit by the flooding in Turkey?

The south-eastern province of Adiyaman and the neighbouring province of Sanliurfa were particularly badly affected, with videos from the region showing flood waters surging along streets and sweeping away cars. In Tut, a town in Adiyaman, a container home where a group of earthquake survivors were living was swept away by the raging waters.

In Sanliurfa, a flooded campsite where earthquake survivors were sheltering in tents, as well as a hospital, were both evacuated, according to HaberTurk. Governor Sali h Ayhan reported that four people were killed and two firefighters were missing in Sanliurfa, while in Adiyaman, one person was confirmed dead and four more were missing.

Rescue teams are currently searching for five people who were reported missing in three locations. Television footage showed that the floodwaters caused part of a motorway in the region to collapse.

The flooding in Turkey comes after last month’s, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck parts of Turkey and Syria, killing over 52,000 people, the majority of them in Turkey. More than 200,000 buildings in Turkey were either severely damaged or collapsed.

Turkey’s disaster management agency said that more than a dozen professional divers are involved in the ongoing rescue efforts in each of the two affected provinces. The latest flooding has increased the misery for thousands who were already left homeless by the earthquake last month.

Image Credit: Hakan akgun/Dia via AP

Hong Kong-based Hutchison Ports has announced an investment of $700m in two Egyptian ports, Ain Sokhna and the Port of Alexandria. The investment will include the development of a new container terminal in Ain Sokhna Port with a capacity of 1.7 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU). Hutchison Ports will also invest in the development of B100, a new container terminal in the Port of Alexandria, which will serve as a gateway to the Egyptian market. The total investment in the two projects is approximately $700m, bringing Hutchison Ports’ total investment in Egypt to over $1.5bn.

“The new container terminal in Sokhna will provide a significant boost to Egypt’s maritime trade, as it is strategically located on the Red Sea and offers direct access to major shipping routes. The B100 container terminal, on the other hand, will provide a new gateway to the Port of Alexandria, which is one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean and a key hub for trade between Europe, Asia, and Africa,” said Hutchison Ports.

Why Hutchison Ports are investing in Egypt

Hutchison Ports has a strong track record of investing in emerging markets and is committed to working closely with local partners and stakeholders to drive sustainable growth and development. The new terminal facilities will further expand its network to 52 ports in 25 countries across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, the Americas, and Australasia.

The investment comes as Egypt identifies port development as a major area for foreign direct investment, with nationwide capacity expected to rise from just under 10 million TEU in 2022 to almost 19 million TEU in 2024. Hutchison Ports previously signed an agreement with the Egyptian Navy to develop a $730m, 2 million TEU container terminal at Abu Qir peninsula close to Alexandria in 2020.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrives in Moscow on Tuesday for his first official visit outside of the Middle East since last month’s earthquake. Mr. al-Assad is set to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, alongside a large Syrian ministerial delegation. The two leaders are expected to discuss co-operation in the political, trade, and humanitarian spheres, as well as prospects for an overall settlement of the situation in and around Syria.

Why is Assad in Moscow?

Experts believe Mr. al-Assad’s visit is linked to the need to co-operate on a joint strategy with Russia in light of new prospects for the rapprochement process between Iran and Saudi Arabia. “The political processes in the region are taking on a new dynamic, therefore the leaders of Russia and Syria, Vladimir Putin and Bashar Assad, need to get on the same page,” said Nidal Sabi, an expert in inter-Arab relations.

Since the start of Syria’s war in 2011, Mr. al-Assad has been politically isolated in the region, with his country expelled from the Cairo-based Arab League. But since the earthquake, Arab leaders have made overtures to his government. Late last month, Egypt’s Sameh Shoukry became the third Arab foreign minister to meet Mr. al-Assad since the February 6 earthquake killed more than 50,000 people in total, with about 6,000 dead in Syria.

Syria has been a staunch ally of Moscow since Russia launched a military campaign in the country in 2015 that helped to turn the tide of the civil war in favour of Mr. al-Assad. Russia supported Damascus through the extensive aerial bombardment of opposition-held areas. Moscow increased its presence in Syria after the US pulled out its forces in 2019.

Why is the timing of Assad’s trip important?

The visit coincides with the 12th anniversary of the uprising in Syria that began with peaceful demonstrations in March 2011. The protests turned into an armed revolt after Mr. al-Assad used force to crush the opposition. It became a multi-sided conflict that has pulled in neighbors and world powers, as well as causing the largest displacement crisis since the Second World War.

In addition to the talks between Mr. al-Assad and Mr. Putin, Russia is also hosting Syrian and Turkish diplomats on Wednesday as part of its efforts to further thaw relations between the two countries. Turkey backs various rebel groups in Syria fighting Assad’s government, and relations were severed in 2012. However, Turkey has begun to recalibrate its position now that Assad has retaken most of the country with Russia’s help. In December, the Turkish and Syrian defence chiefs held a meeting in Russia. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said that month that he would like to meet with Assad. Wednesday’s meeting between the Turkish and Syrian diplomats in Moscow was announced earlier, but Assad’s visit was not.

Image Credit: AFP

The Lebanese lira has reached a historic low, with the country’s largest banknote now worth only $1, according to reports. The new rate came into effect on Tuesday, marking the latest chapter in the country’s economic crisis, which has left more than 80% of the population in poverty, according to the UN.

Before the crisis hit in 2019, the 100,000-pound note was worth $67. However, the currency’s relentless decline means that it now takes 10 million pounds, or 100 of the country’s largest banknotes, to buy $100. This has raised questions about the need for smaller denominations such as the 1,000 and 5,000 notes, as coins have largely become obsolete.

Lebanon is heavily reliant on imports, but most international agents do not accept pounds, forcing importers to pay in dollars. This has driven up the cost of goods and services, with supermarkets and most shops displaying prices in dollars.

Why the Lebanese lira is doing so badly

Meanwhile, Lebanese salaries have not kept pace with inflation and the devaluation of the pound, leading to a severe reduction in purchasing power for most people. The currency is still officially pegged at 15,000 liras to the dollar by Lebanon’s central bank, but private dealers reported a new record low in the shadow economy on Tuesday.

Lebanese banks have imposed strict restrictions on withdrawals for several months, leading to public outrage and even armed raids by depositors. Banks were closed on Tuesday as they continued an indefinite strike in protest against judicial measures aimed at lenders. Judges have sought to seize the funds of bank directors and board members, as well as force them to pay dollar deposits at the pre-crisis exchange rate.

The huge decline in the lira has forced businesses to set prices in dollars, while those paid in liras are now struggling to buy basic goods. An estimated 80% of Lebanon’s population is now living below the poverty line, as part of what the World Bank has deemed potentially one of the three worst economic crises of modern times.

Lebanon’s currency is the worst performing in the world this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The situation is unlikely to improve any time soon, with residents continuing to navigate the hardships caused by the economy’s rapid decline and the currency’s seemingly endless plunge.

Egyptian authorities are systematically denying identity documents to dissidents, journalists, and activists living abroad, in an attempt to pressure them to return to the country, according to a report by Human Rights Watch. The rights group interviewed 26 Egyptians living in Turkey, Germany, Malaysia, Qatar, and other African and Gulf countries between June and December 2022, who were unable to obtain birth certificates or renew passports or ID cards. This has resulted in restrictions on their access to rights and the risk of deportation back to Egypt.

The report stated that the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was punishing and silencing dissidents abroad after crushing domestic opposition and public dissent through mass arrests, unfair trials, and rampant torture in detention. Interviewees in Turkey said the Egyptian consulate only accepted requests for documents through its Facebook page, requiring applicants to fill out unofficial, extralegal forms in which they were required to provide private details such as links to their social media accounts.

The report added that in recent years, Egyptian dissidents based in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Kuwait, and Malaysia have been extradited, some of whom were later sentenced to years in prison. The report noted that some of the interviewees were considering attempting to migrate irregularly from Turkey to Europe to apply for political asylum.

Egypt’s human rights crisis

Since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power in 2014, his government has overseen a wide-ranging crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of people. Authorities have targeted not only Islamist political opponents but also pro-democracy activists, journalists, and online critics. The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Egypt third, behind China and Turkey, in detaining journalists.

Egypt’s human rights crisis is nothing new and the alarming trajectory of human rights violations in the country has caught the attention of more than 30 countries at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Despite the government’s opaque nature, reports of enforced disappearances and torture by Egyptian security forces have surfaced, leading to grossly unfair mass trials and hundreds of death sentences since 2014. The NSA’s practice of “rotation” allows for the indefinite detention of individuals without trial, even after prosecutors and judges order their release. Additionally, a new law has expanded the regulation of social media accounts, further limiting independent journalism in the country.

Egypt has increased the number of death sentences in 2022, according to the Egyptian Front for Human Rights. The group claims that 538 death sentences were handed out, an increase from the previous year. Of those sentences, 28 were executed in political cases and 510 in criminal cases.

In 2021, Egypt was ranked the third highest executioner, following China and Iran damaging Egypt’s human rights crisis. The Court of Cassation and Military Appeals also upheld the death sentence against 39 people in 2022, according to the human rights organization.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File

Princess Iman of Jordan, the eldest daughter of King Abdullah II and Queen Rania, married Venezuelan-born Greek national Jameel Thermiotis on Sunday in a ceremony on the outskirts of the capital city of Amman. The wedding took place at the Dabouq Palace, hosted by the bride’s parents.

What did Princess Iman of Jordan’s dress look like?

Princess Iman, 26, was escorted to the ceremony by her brother, Crown Prince Hussein, wearing a white dress with a long train and a lace veil by Dior. She wore a diamond tiara reportedly owned by her grandmother, Princess Muna Al Hussein. The wedding was a rare occasion when most members of the Hashemite family were seen in public, and parts of the ceremony were broadcast live on state television.

Under Jordan’s constitution, all significant powers in the country are with the monarch, who has to be male. Princess Iman sat with her new husband, Mr Thermiotis, and King Abdullah in front of a green Quran placed on a table as a palace cleric recounted how marriage is an exalted virtue in Islam. The couple then signed the marriage document, which declared them husband and wife.

The newlyweds walked under spears carried by Royal Honour Guards, who usually greet foreign leaders when they come on official visits to the kingdom. They jointly used an Arab sword to cut a six-layer wedding cake.

Who attended the wedding of Princess Iman of Jordan?

Guests at the wedding included Prince Hasan, the only living brother of the late King Hussein, who is seen as an elder statesman in Jordan, as well as members of the Hashemite family and Mr Thermiotis’s parents and siblings. Crown Prince Hussein, the king’s eldest son, is due to marry fiancee Rajwa Al Saif, from Saudi Arabia, on June 1.

The engagement of the couple was announced by the Royal Hashemite Court in July last year, and last week, Queen Rania shared photos from her daughter’s pre-wedding henna party.


Saudi Arabia is set to launch a new national airline, named ‘Riyadh Air,’ as announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Sunday, according to the Saudi Press Agency. The airline aims to improve connectivity between the Kingdom and the three continents it straddles: Asia, Europe, and Africa. Former CEO of Etihad Airways, Tony Douglas, has been appointed as CEO of the new carrier.

Riyadh Air, which is wholly-owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), is expected to add $20 billion to non-oil GDP growth and create more than 200,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to a statement by PIF. The airline is due to serve over 100 destinations worldwide by 2030.

Where will Riyadh air be based?

The airline will be based in the capital city of Riyadh and will be chaired by Yasser bin Othman al-Rumayyan, the Governor of PIF. The airline’s senior management will include both Saudis and international employees.

Riyadh Air will operate from King Salman International Airport, a major new airport in Riyadh, unveiled in November 2022. The airline will adopt the global best sustainability and safety standards across its advanced fleet of aircraft equipped with the latest cutting-edge technology.

Why is Saudi launching another national airline?

The establishment of Riyadh Air is part of PIF’s strategy to unlock the capabilities of promising sectors that can help drive the diversification of the local economy. It will enable a more financially resilient aviation ecosystem in Saudi Arabia, supporting the industry’s global competitiveness in line with Vision 2030. The new national airline will also serve as a catalyst for the Saudi National Transport and Logistics Strategy and the National Tourism Strategy by increasing air transport options, raising cargo capacity and growing international passenger traffic.

Riyadh Air is expected to enhance customer travel experience while connecting them to more than 100 destinations around the world by 2030, offering exceptional experiences with an authentic, warm Saudi hospitality at its heart. The airline will also provide tourists from around the world the opportunity to visit Saudi Arabia’s cultural and natural attractions.

Since the announcement of Riyadh Air, there has been excitement and anticipation from both the aviation industry and travellers around the world. The airline’s commitment to adopting the latest cutting-edge technology and global best sustainability and safety standards has garnered positive attention, indicating that Riyadh Air is set to be a world-class airline.

The establishment of Riyadh Air is a significant development in Saudi Arabia’s push to diversify its economy away from oil. The airline is expected to contribute significantly to the country’s non-oil GDP growth and create over 200,000 direct and indirect jobs. With the expansion of the company’s operations, Riyadh Air is poised to become a leading national carrier.

As part of the National Transport and Logistics Strategy and the National Tourism Strategy, the new national airline will increase air transport options, raise cargo capacity, and grow international passenger traffic. It will serve as a catalyst to attract more tourists from around the world to visit Saudi Arabia’s cultural and natural attractions, thus boosting the country’s tourism industry.

Riyadh Air is expected to operate a modern fleet of aircraft that will offer a premium customer experience. The airline will adopt the latest technologies to enhance the customer journey, including advanced in-flight entertainment systems, Wi-Fi, and other amenities to ensure passengers’ comfort and convenience.

On Sunday morning, Israeli missiles targeted a western Syrian city, Masyaf in Hama province, injuring three Syrian soldiers, according to Syrian state media marking the latest Israeli strike in Syria. The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), citing a military source, reported that the missiles were fired at dawn, and some of them were intercepted by Syria’s air defenses. No deaths were reported, but photos from SANA suggest that the missiles may have landed on farmland.

Israel has reportedly staged hundreds of strikes on targets in Syria over the years, targeting bases of Iran-allied militias, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, which has deployed fighters in Syria to support President Bashar Assad’s government forces. Israel has also targeted arms shipments believed to be bound for the militias. However, Israel rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations.

SANA did not disclose the specific targets of the latest Israeli attack, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said pro-Iran forces and a “scientific research centre” were present in the areas. According to the Observatory, Israel had previously attacked Masyaf twice in May and August 2022, killing five people and injuring two.

Latest Israeli strike in Syria

On Tuesday, Israeli warplanes reportedly attacked the airport in Aleppo, Syria’s second city, killing three people, the Observatory said. The attack caused material damage and putting the airport out of service, according to Syrian state media. Syria’s transport ministry has announced that all earthquake aid flights will be re-routed following the Israeli air strike. The Israeli air strike was said to have been carried out from the direction of the Mediterranean Sea, west of Latakia, targeting Aleppo International Airport. The state news agency, Sana, did not immediately report any casualties resulting from the strike. Israeli officials have yet to comment on the operation.

Plans for the first railway between the UAE and Oman are well underway as a result of a $3bn investment deal signed recently which will reduce the UAE Oman travel time between between Sohar and Al Ain to 47 minutes. Oman and Etihad Rail Company, the developer of the UAE-Oman Rail Network, signed an agreement with Mubadala Investment Company to support the development of the 303km railway network that will connect the two countries.

The railway project, widely known as the Etihad Rail project, will serve both passenger and freight trains, offering increased efficiency and reduced costs compared to other modes of transport. The project was announced back in September 2022 during the state visit of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, to Oman.

The partnership aims to explore investment opportunities in the railway sector, strengthen cooperation, accelerate the planning and execution process, and develop economic and financial feasibility studies. It also includes joint investments in the railway network’s development and cooperation to enhance the project’s added value.

The project will provide trade and investment opportunities for the private sector, create new and diverse job opportunities, train national human resources, enrich tourism activities, improve the competitiveness of the two countries in global trade, and establish their position as logistics hubs that serve as gateways to regional markets.

UAE Oman travel time

The railway network will connect Sohar in Oman to Abu Dhabi in the UAE, via Sohar Port to the UAE National Rail Network. Passenger trains will run up to 200 km/h, reducing the time of the journey between Sohar and Abu Dhabi to 100 minutes, and between Sohar and Al Ain to 47 minutes. Meanwhile, freight trains will reach speeds of up to 120 km/h.

The signing ceremony was attended by Suhail bin Mohammed Faraj Faris Al Mazrouei, Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, Chairman of Oman and Etihad Rail Company, and the agreement was signed by Ahmed Al Musawa Al Hashemi, CEO of Oman and Etihad Rail Company, and Dr. Bakheet Saeed Al Katheeri, Executive Director of the UAE Industries Unit at Mubadala’s UAE Investments platform.

Image Credit: Etihad Rail

UN Special Representative for Libya also known as the UN envoy to Libya, Abdoulaye Bathily, has emphasized the necessity of national elections in Libya to achieve peace, stability, and prosperity. Bathily spoke at a press conference regarding the high-level panel for elections on Saturday, stating that the Libyan people must have the opportunity to elect their leaders through the ballot box to restore and rebuild legitimate public institutions that represent and serve the people of Libya.

He further added that the postponement of elections a year ago disappointed Libyan citizens and urged all Libyan leaders to “seize this opportunity to commit themselves to this vision and meet the aspirations of their great people”.

The UN envoy Bathily’s call for elections comes as Libya struggles to make a democratic transition since the fall of the late leader Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011. Libya failed to hold general elections in December 2021 due to disagreements over election laws among Libyan parties. However, in January, Libyan Prime Minister Abdul-Hamed Dbeibah said his government is ready to hold general elections in 2023.

Bathily called on rival administrations in conflict-torn Libya to agree to terms for elections “by mid-June” to be held by the end of the year. The UN envoy has faced pushback over his criticism of the country’s two houses of parliament for failing to reach an agreement. Bathily defended his proposal in a news conference in Tripoli on Saturday, stating that it was “not a foreign-imposed solution”.

Who is the UN envoy to Libya – Abdoulaye Bathily?

Abdoulaye Bathily was appointed as the new Special Representative for Libya and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in September 2022. Bathily, a Senegalese national, has over 40 years of experience in his national government, academic institutions, regional organizations, and the United Nations system.

He previously served as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and as Special Representative for Central Africa and Head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) in Gabon. Bathily has also held various ministerial positions in the Senegalese Government and is a history professor. He is fluent in English, French, Soninke, and Wolof.

Image Credit: World Atlas

Egypt Musk is a fragrance that has captivated the world for centuries. It’s a scent that has been used in perfumes, incense, and other products for thousands of years. But despite its popularity, there are still many things that people don’t know about this mysterious fragrance. Here are five things you probably didn’t know about Egypt Musk.

In case you are wondering what Egyptian musk smell like, well it typically has a warm, earthy, and musky scent with a hint of sweetness. The fragrance is typically made from a blend of natural ingredients, including musk, amber, sandalwood, and jasmine. It has a unique, exotic aroma that is not too floral or overpowering, making it appealing to both men and women.

Egyptian Musk is often considered to be a seductive fragrance due to its warm and sensual aroma. Its musky and earthy scent is believed to have a calming effect on the mind and body, which can help set the mood for intimacy. The fragrance is not too overpowering, making it a subtle and alluring scent that can be worn by both men and women. However, it’s important to note that individual preferences for fragrance can vary greatly, and what may be seductive to one person may not be to another. Ultimately, whether or not Egyptian Musk is considered seductive will depend on personal taste and the specific context in which it is worn.

Egyptian Musk is not actually from Egypt

Despite its name, Egypt Musk is not actually from Egypt. The fragrance is believed to have originated in the Far East, and it was likely brought to Egypt by traders and merchants. The scent then became popular in Egypt and spread to other parts of the world from there. Today, the term “Egypt Musk” simply refers to a type of musk fragrance that is similar to the original scent that was used in Egypt.

It’s made from natural ingredients

One of the reasons why Egypt Musk has remained popular for so long and one of the reasons why i is so good is because it’s made from natural ingredients. The fragrance is typically made from a blend of oils that are extracted from various plants and animals. Some of the most common ingredients in Egypt Musk include musk, amber, jasmine, and sandalwood. These natural ingredients give the fragrance a unique, exotic scent that can’t be replicated by synthetic fragrances.

It has spiritual significance

In many cultures, Egypt Musk is believed to have spiritual significance. In ancient Egypt, the scent was used in religious ceremonies and rituals. It was believed that the fragrance had the power to purify the soul and help people connect with the divine. Today, many people still use Egypt Musk in spiritual practices, such as meditation and prayer.

It’s used in aromatherapy

In addition to its spiritual significance, Egypt Musk is also used in aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is a practice that uses natural fragrances to promote health and wellbeing. Egypt Musk is believed to have a calming effect on the mind and body, and it’s often used to help reduce stress and anxiety. Some people also use the fragrance to promote relaxation and sleep.

It’s a unisex fragrance

Unlike many fragrances, Egypt Musk is a unisex scent that can be worn by both men and women. The fragrance has a warm, earthy scent that is not too floral or sweet, making it appealing to people of all genders. It’s also a versatile fragrance that can be worn in a variety of settings, from formal events to casual outings.

Egypt Musk is a fragrance that has a long and fascinating history. From its origins in the Far East to its use in religious ceremonies and aromatherapy, there’s much more to this scent than meets the eye. Egypt Musk is a fragrance that is worth exploring, due to it’s unique smell.

Image Credit:  Fulvio Ciccolo on Unsplash

Iran and Saudi Arabia have made a historic announcement to restore diplomatic ties after five years of tension and conflict. The announcement was made jointly with China on Friday, stating that Riyadh and Tehran would reopen embassies and consulates within the next two months.

The Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers will meet to begin arranging the exchange of ambassadors and discuss ways to strengthen the renewed relations, according to the statement. The countries have also agreed to reactivate a 2001 security co-operation agreement and 1998 deals on the economy, trade, investment, technology, science, culture, sports, and youth. The deal was reached by Saudi and Iranian delegations over the past week in Beijing, officials said.

“As a result of the talks, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to resume diplomatic relations and re-open embassies … within two months,” reported Iran’s state news agency Irna.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan welcomed the resumption of diplomatic relations between Riyadh and Tehran, stating that it comes as part of the kingdom’s vision of preferring political solutions and dialogue, and its keenness to uphold this in the Middle East.

The resumption of ties is “major good news” in the current turbulent world, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry. The US also expressed hope that the deal would help end conflict in Yemen and reduce regional tensions.

The trilateral statement on the resumption of diplomatic ties was welcomed by Oman, which had reportedly hosted talks in 2021 and 2022. Iraq said the agreement was “turning a new page” between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Why is it significant that Iran and Saudi Arabia have agreed to restored ties?

The restoration of ties between the two countries is a significant development as they have fought a proxy war in Yemen through the Iranian-tied Houthi rebels, and the Saudi Arabian-aligned government that has also received support from the US government. The two countries’ proxies are at odds elsewhere in the region, including in Lebanon and Iraq.

Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran may see fewer tensions because of the accord, experts said. Many hoped that it would decrease violence in Yemen and lead to fewer spats between the two countries. The agreement could also provide cover for the Saudis to pursue the US’s efforts of normalizing ties between the Saudis and Israel without incurring “a physical response” from Iran. However, Israel is unlikely to be very happy with the development, as Iran has long been considered a particularly staunch nemesis of Israel.

Image Credit: Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP, File

Egypt’s government has announced new measures to attract foreign investment by easing the requirements for foreigners to obtain Egyptian nationality. The decision of Egypt to offer citizenship comes at the country seeks to gain foreign investments.

According to local media reports, foreigners can now be granted an Egyptian passport if they buy real estate property worth at least $300,000, a reduction from the previous threshold of $500,000. Additionally, the deposit amount required in an Egyptian bank account has been reduced to $500,000 from the previous $750,000.

How did the decision of Egypt to offer citizenship arise?

The move of Egypt to offer citizenship is part of a series of measures by Prime Minister Mostafa al-Madbouly aimed at bolstering the state’s coffers amid economic difficulties. The country is grappling with inflation and a lack of foreign currency while being squeezed by its creditors.

Egypt is facing one of the worst economic crises in its history, with the Egyptian pound losing half its value against the dollar in just one year. The country’s foreign exchange reserves have also been depleted, while inflation officially reached 26.5% in January.

As one of the world’s largest grain importers, Egypt has also been impacted by soaring wheat prices due to the war in Ukraine, putting further pressure on its foreign exchange reserves. Dollar reserves have shrunk by 20% to $34.2 billion, with $28 billion coming from the Gulf.

In response, the government has implemented an economic reform program since 2016, including phasing out subsidies on petroleum products. In early March, fuel prices rose at rates as high as 20%.

The new measures to ease nationality requirements are seen as an effort to boost foreign investment and strengthen the country’s economy. In addition to buying real estate and depositing funds in an Egyptian bank account, foreigners can also obtain citizenship by participating or establishing an investment project for a minimum of $350,000 while depositing an amount of $100,000 as direct revenue in foreign currency to the state’s public treasury.

Foreigners who deposit a sum of $250,000 as direct revenue in foreign currency, which is later transferred to the public treasury and not refundable, also have the right to hold Egyptian citizenship.

Lebanon’s Association of Banks has announced that the Lebanon bank strike will resume their open-ended strike on Tuesday, March 14, in protest of recent judicial rulings. The Association is calling for “swift legal measures” to put an end to what they say are contradictory standards in the issuance of some rulings, warning that these rulings are “exhausting what’s left of deposits belonging to all depositors and not only some of them.”

Why is the Lebanon bank strike happening?

The banks had suspended their strike on February 24 at the request of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, after they had begun the strike on February 7 in protest of a recent court ruling that forced one of the country’s largest banks to pay out two of its depositors their trapped savings in cash.

Lebanon’s banks have been hard hit by the country’s economic meltdown that began in October 2019 and have since imposed informal capital controls, under which depositors have been able to withdraw only small amounts of their savings at an exchange rate far lower than the one used on the market.

The economic crisis has left more than three quarters of Lebanon’s population of 6 million in poverty, and the Lebanese pound has lost 97% of its value against the dollar. The informal capital controls have prompted some overseas depositors, locked out of their savings, to launch lawsuits overseas and in Lebanon to pressure banks to release their savings in full. In Lebanon, some depositors opted to break into banks, armed, and forced cashiers to hand over their money.

Lebanon’s Court of Cassation recently overturned a 2022 verdict in favour of Fransabank, which was sued by two depositors demanding their money in cash. The ruling threw out the previous verdict, which allowed the bank to pay them with a check. That would not have allowed them to retrieve their money in full since they would have had to deposit the check in a bank account, where the money would get stuck all over again.

Despite the economic meltdown, Lebanese authorities have not implemented reforms demanded by the international community in order to release billions of dollars in loans and grants. The International Monetary Fund has criticized Lebanon for its sluggish progress on the reforms since talks between the government and the IMF began in May 2020.

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A tragic incident has occurred off the coast of Yemen, as 11 women and three children lost their lives after a boat sank in the Hodeidah province. The Houthi-run Saba news agency reported that the vessel was carrying 25 people when it capsized late on Monday due to high winds and waves. According to sources at the Fisheries Authority, the boat sank between the coastal area of Khoba and Kamaran Island, where the group was heading to a relative’s wedding party. The incident marks the latest maritime tragedy off Yemen’s shores, which have mostly involved African migrants fleeing war and poverty in their home countries.

Since Yemen descended into civil war in 2014, the Saudi-led coalition has intervened to restore the internationally-recognized government to power. At least 16 Yemenis, including 11 women and three children, have lost their lives in two separate boat incidents off Yemen’s western shores. On Wednesday, two Yemeni fishermen died, and two others were rescued when their boat sank in high winds off Khokha. This came after a boat carrying at least 25 people, believed to be overloaded, sank on Monday afternoon near Kamaran Island, resulting in at least 14 deaths.

The boat involved in the Monday tragedy was ferrying passengers from the coastal village of Khuba in the western province of Hodeidah to a wedding on Kamaran when it capsized due to a strong gust of wind. A Khuba resident, who wished to remain anonymous, stated that only the men who could swim survived, while all the women and three children lost their lives.

The locals received news that the boat had gone missing five hours after it had left, and they immediately raised the alarm. The journey from Khuba to Kamaran typically takes an hour-and-a-half, and such a tragedy has not occurred since the 1980s, according to the resident. Local coastguards and fishermen recovered bodies from the sea early on Tuesday morning, and a statement by the Houthi authorities, who control the island and Khuba, confirmed that 11 women and three children were discovered dead in the water on Tuesday, while 11 others, including a toddler, were saved.

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On March 7, a joint statement delivered by Australia before the UN Human Rights Council condemned Lebanon’s pervasive obstruction and interference with the domestic investigation into the August 4, 2020 Beirut blast investigation.

The statement, made on behalf of 38 countries, called on Lebanon to take immediate action to carry out necessary judicial reforms and remove obstacles undermining the investigation. The statement further called for an independent and impartial fact-finding mission to be established without delay to investigate the explosion, which killed over 200 people, wounded over 7,000, and caused extensive property damage.

What is the current state of the Beirut Blast investigation?

Lebanese authorities have been criticized for allowing political interference with the judiciary, which has allowed a culture of impunity to flourish. Judge Tarek Bitar, the lead investigator into the blast, has charged more than a dozen political, judicial, and security officials in the probe, including Ghassan Oueidat, Lebanon’s powerful state prosecutor. However, the investigation has been suspended for over a year, and Lebanese politicians who are suspects in the case have filed over 25 requests to dismiss Judge Bitar and other judges involved in the case.

Following the condemnation of the pervasive obstruction and interference in Lebanon’s domestic investigation into the August 4, 2020 explosion at Beirut’s port, by 38 countries at the UN Human Rights Council on March 7, 2023, Human Rights Watch and Legal Agenda issued a joint statement calling on the Lebanese authorities to urgently act and carry out badly needed judicial reforms and remove other obstacles undermining the domestic investigation into the explosion.

Why is this condemnation of the Beirut blast investigation significant?

The statement delivered by Australia before the UN Human Rights Council stated that the 38 states called on Lebanon to “take all necessary measures to safeguard, in law and in practice, the full independence and impartiality of the Lebanese judiciary” and to ensure that a “swift, independent, impartial, credible, and transparent investigation into the explosion” be carried out. The investigation into the Beirut port explosion has been suspended for over a year.

The statement is significant as it demonstrates that several governments, including many of Lebanon’s donors and supporters, are losing patience with the government’s failure to carry out the investigation effectively. The signatory states included Australia, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, and several other countries from around the world.

Why is political interference rife in Lebanon?

For years, Lebanese and international rights groups have documented political interference with the judiciary and criticized its lack of independence, which has allowed a culture of impunity to flourish in Lebanon. The domestic investigation into the Beirut port explosion case is no exception, with Lebanese politicians who are suspects in the case filing over 25 requests to dismiss the lead investigator, Judge Tarek Bitar, and other judges involved in the case, causing the inquiry to be repeatedly suspended while the cases are adjudicated.

Lebanon has also been called upon to urgently review and pass a draft law on judicial independence and transparency that adheres to international standards. This will include the amendment of Lebanon’s codes of judicial procedures to eliminate abuses of the judicial process.

On January 23, 2023, Judge Bitar attempted to resume the investigation and summoned Oweidat for interrogation in the case. Two days later, Oweidat ordered the release of all suspects detained in connection with the catastrophic explosion in Beirut’s port, a decision the Beirut Bar Association, the Lebanese Judges Association, and the Lebanese Coalition for the Independence of the Judiciary criticized as illegal.

The August 4, 2020, Beirut port explosion was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, killing at least 220 people, wounding over 7,000, and causing extensive property damage.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Hussein Malla

On March 8th, International Women’s Day, the United States Treasury Department announced the imposition of sanctions against two senior Iranian prison officials for their involvement in human rights abuses against women and girls. In addition, the Treasury also sanctioned three Iranian companies, their leaders, and two top Iranian army commanders for their role in enabling law enforcement to engage in repression.

In a statement, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson expressed solidarity with Iranian women who have advocated for fundamental freedoms despite the brutal regime’s attempts to suppress their voices by any means.

Why have the US imposed more sanctions against Iran?

These sanctions are part of the tenth round of measures taken by the US against Iranian officials since the nationwide protests that erupted after the death of Mahsa Amini, who died while in the custody of the morality police last September. The demonstrations posed the most significant domestic threat to the Iranian regime in years, and Tehran’s brutal crackdown on the protests has especially targeted women.

Who are the Iranian prison officials that got sanctioned?

The two sanctioned prison officials, Ali Chaharmahali and Dariush Bakhshi, have run prisons where political prisoners and protesters have been tortured, sexually abused, and violently threatened. The three companies sanctioned on Wednesday – Naji Pas Company, Naji Pars Amin Institute, and Entebagh Gostar Sepehr Company – have helped procure goods and material for Iran’s security services, according to the Treasury.

Who else did the US sanction?

The US also targeted Mahdi Amiri, who has been central to Iran’s internet shutdowns in the face of widespread protests, as well as Sayyed Abdolrahim Mousavi, the commander in chief of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army, and Habib Shahsavari, a commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to the Treasury.

As women around the world marched to mark International Women’s Day, many showed their support for Iranians who took to the streets following Ms. Amini’s death. In his statement marking the day, US President Joe Biden noted that the rights of girls and women remain under attack in far too many places, including Iran and Afghanistan, where the Taliban bars women and girls from attending school and pursuing employment.

Image Credit; Blondinrikard Fröberg

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day 2023, the issue of women’s empowerment and feminism remains a sensitive subject in the Arab world, particularly in Iran. Since the overthrow of the shah in 1979, the image of women in the country has typically been defined by the hijab. However, the past six months have seen a complete turnaround of this past notion, as young women in Tehran have pushed the limits on what they can wear publicly, risking arrest and punishment.

Photos and videos of women with their hair out in public have gone viral on social media, but this newfound sense of freedom has not gone unnoticed by the authorities. The recent Mahsa Amini protests and the revelation that more than 1,000 Iranian girls in schools across the country have been poisoned are stark reminders of the continued oppression of women in Iran. Despite the implementation, criminalization, and promotion of compulsory hijab as the primary gender policy in Islamic states, women have shown remarkable courage and determination in their pursuit of justice, gender equality, and freedom of choice. The ongoing pursuit of these ideals is embodied in the slogan “women, life, freedom.”

The recent Mahsa Amini protests in Iran have shed light on the brutal oppression faced by women in the country. Mahsa Amini, a 26-year-old Iranian woman, was brutally beaten and murdered while in police custody after being arrested for not wearing a hijab in public. Her death sparked widespread protests across Iran, with many women taking to the streets to demand justice for Amini and an end to the oppressive policies that have long plagued their lives. However, the Iranian government has responded to these protests with violence and repression, using excessive force to quell dissent and punish those who speak out against the regime.

Moreover, recent revelations that more than 1,000 schoolgirls in Iran have been poisoned further demonstrate the dire situation faced by women in the country. The use of poison as a weapon against women is a shocking and deeply concerning development, and it is a clear indication that the Iranian government is willing to go to any lengths to maintain its control over the population. This is a violation of basic human rights, and it is a reminder that we must continue to fight for the rights of women and other marginalized groups in Iran and around the world.

The poisoning of schoolgirls in Iran is a shocking and disturbing development, and one that demands a response from the international community. This type of violence against children, particularly girls, is unacceptable and requires a multilateral response. It is essential that Iran’s leadership take swift action to identify and punish those responsible for these attacks, as well as to take steps to prevent such incidents from happening in the future. Additionally, other countries must come together not just to condemn these acts of violence but also to apply pressure to the Iranian regime to enact real change.

While international condemnation is an important step in bringing attention to human rights abuses, it is not sufficient in and of itself to bring about change in the behaviour of the Iranian regime. As history has shown, the regime has a pattern of making baseless statements in response to international criticism and continues to engage in human rights violations. Therefore, in addition to international condemnation, there needs to be concerted efforts to hold the Iranian regime accountable whether it be through sanctions targeting the regime or other measures.

On this International Women’s Day, it is important to recognize the courage and resilience of women in Iran who continue to fight for their rights in the face of incredible adversity. They have shown us that even in the darkest of times, hope and determination can prevail. We must stand in solidarity with these women and support them in their ongoing struggle for justice, gender equality, and freedom of choice.

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Iran-backed Hezbollah has publicly declared its support for Suleiman Frangieh, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, in the race to become Lebanon’s next president. The announcement was made on Monday by Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah during a televised speech. Frangieh, who comes from a prominent Christian political family in Lebanon, has been described as a friend of the Syrian government throughout the country’s civil war.

Why is it significant that Hezbollah is backing Suleiman Frangieh?

The move is significant as it marks Hezbollah’s strongest show of support for Frangieh, following comments from its Shiite ally, the Amal Movement, last week. The presidency in Lebanon is reserved for a Maronite Christian, and in the deeply fractured 128-seat parliament, a two-thirds majority is required for the first round of voting.

Who is Suleiman Frangieh and what is his connected to Suleiman Frangieh Sr?

Suleiman Frangieh comes from a prominent political family in Lebanon, with a long history of involvement in the country’s politics. His grandfather, Suleiman Frangieh Sr., served as Lebanon’s president from 1970 to 1976, and his father, Tony Frangieh, was a powerful political and military figure who led the Marada Brigade during the Lebanese Civil War. However, Tony Frangieh was assassinated along with his wife, daughter, and several other people in the infamous Ehden Massacre in 1978, which has remained a traumatic event in Lebanon’s history. Despite these setbacks, Suleiman Frangieh has continued to be an influential figure in Lebanese politics and is widely respected for his leadership and experience.

Does Suleiman Frangieh have the support to become Lebanon’s next President?

Despite receiving support from about a third of MPs, mainly from those deeply opposed to Hezbollah, Mr Frangieh still falls short of the 65 votes required for him to be elected. Frangieh’s candidacy is also opposed by the Lebanese Forces party led by Christian politician Samir Geagea, who was responsible for the raid that killed Frangieh’s parents and sister in 1978.

Hezbollah’s main Christian ally is the Free Patriotic Movement, founded by former president Michel Aoun and now led by his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, who is believed to harbour presidential ambitions for himself. However, the relationship between the two parties has cooled in recent months, among other factors, due to Hezbollah’s apparent support for Frangieh and not Mr. Bassil.

Lebanon has been without a president since the end of October when ex-army chief Michel Aoun stepped down at the end of his term. The cabinet of Prime Minister Najib Mikati is in a caretaker status and is severely stripped of its powers as the country grapples with one of the worst economic crises in modern history.

Egyptian authorities have arrested 29 individuals, including 13 foreign nationals, for allegedly running an online cryptocurrency scam in Egypt that defrauded thousands of investors, according to state media reports. The network, which operated under the name “HoggPool”, reportedly earned about $620,000 by luring victims with fraudulent means and promising financial gains through cryptocurrency mining and trading services. The scheme charged fees at an attractive foreign exchange rate, and was illegal under Egyptian law, with potential penalties including imprisonment and fines of up to $325,000.

The network suddenly shut down operations in February, and authorities later discovered that they had vanished with investors’ money. The suspects were allegedly planning to launch a new platform called “Riot” when they were arrested. The arrests come as Egypt grapples with one of its worst-ever economic crises, with the value of its pound depreciating by nearly half against the US dollar since March 2022, and inflation surging to 25.8 percent in January, the highest level in five years. The crisis has left nearly 60 percent of the country’s 104 million citizens below or close to the poverty line, and many lower-income households reliant on government subsidies for basic goods like bread.

Why are people turning to cryptocurrency scam in Egypt?

The Egyptian government has been struggling to stabilize the country’s economy amid ongoing challenges, including years of government austerity, the coronavirus pandemic, and the fallout from the war in Ukraine. Egypt is the world’s largest importer of wheat, with most of its imports traditionally coming from Russia. However, the currency crisis and inflation have significantly affected the country’s ability to import essential goods, leaving its population struggling to access basic necessities. The government has responded by implementing measures such as increasing subsidies for food and fuel, increasing public sector salaries, and launching infrastructure projects to create jobs.

However, these efforts have not been enough to address the underlying issues, and the country continues to face significant economic challenges. The recent cryptocurrency scam in Egypt is just one example of the types of fraud and financial crimes that have become more common in the country as people seek ways to make money in difficult economic times.

Despite these challenges, there are some signs of hope for Egypt’s economy. In December 2022, the country received a 46-month arrangement under the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) for Egypt in an amount of about US$3 billion by the International Monetary Fund to support its economic recovery efforts.

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An Israeli air strike has reportedly hit the Aleppo airport on Tuesday, causing material damage and putting the airport out of service, according to Syrian state media. Syria’s transport ministry has announced that all earthquake aid flights will be re-routed following the Israeli air strike. The Israeli air strike was said to have been carried out from the direction of the Mediterranean Sea, west of Latakia, targeting Aleppo International Airport. The state news agency, Sana, did not immediately report any casualties resulting from the strike. Israeli officials have yet to comment on the operation.

Why Israel carries out air strikes in Syria

Israel has carried out numerous strikes on targets within government-controlled parts of Syria over the past few years, including attacks on the Damascus and Aleppo airports. However, the country rarely acknowledges or discusses the operations. It has been acknowledged, however, that Israel targets bases of Iran-allied militant groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has sent thousands of fighters to support President Assad’s forces. Iran’s involvement in Syria’s civil war has been hidden by the Syrian government, which has repeatedly claimed that Iran only has military advisers in the country.

Previous Israeli air strikes in Syria

Aleppo was heavily damaged during Syria’s civil war and was again hit by an earthquake last month, which caused widespread destruction. Several countries have since sent aid shipments to the city’s airport. On February 9, Israeli air strikes targeted residential areas in Syria’s capital, Damascus, resulting in the deaths of at least five people and 15 injuries, according to the news agency.

The February strike was dubbed by the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as “the deadliest Israeli attack in the Syrian capital” since the civil war began. A month prior to the February Israeli air strike, the Syrian army claimed that Israel’s military had fired missiles towards the capital’s international airport, causing two soldiers to be killed and putting the airport out of service. This attack reportedly came as a result of Israeli fears that the Damascus airport was being used to funnel Iranian weaponry into the country.

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Kuwait’s Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf Al Sabah has been reappointed as Prime Minister by an Emiri decree on Sunday, according to state media. As the son of the emir, Sheikh Ahmad’s first task is to form a new government following the resignation of the previous government in January.

The former Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah submitted his cabinet’s resignation after weeks of tension with the National Assembly over requests to question two cabinet ministers. He had served as Prime Minister since July 2022, when he was appointed after the resignation of the previous government more than two months earlier.

What happened to the previous government of Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf Al-Sabah

Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah’s cabinet was assembled in August, and he then restructured it in October after early elections. The September elections were welcomed by opposition politicians after several months of political deadlock. The mass resignation was sparked by a political impasse centred around a draft bill proposing the government take over personal and consumer loans of Kuwaiti citizens, a move later deemed too expensive. MPs offered to withdraw the bill if ministers raised wages in the country in return.

A long-running standoff between the government and the elected parliament has hampered efforts by the wealthy Gulf Arab oil producer to push through fiscal reforms, including a debt law allowing Kuwait to tap international markets. Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who has taken over most of the ruling emir’s duties, moved last year to end feuding by naming Sheikh Ahmad as premier, dissolving parliament, and calling early polls, in which opposition members made gains.

However, tensions resurfaced when lawmakers pressed the government sworn in last October for a debt relief bill, under which the state would buy Kuwaiti citizens’ personal loans, and sought to question two ministers, prompting the government to resign in January.

Kuwait bans political parties but has given its legislature more influence than similar bodies in other Gulf monarchies. While Kuwait has strong fiscal and external balance sheets, frequent political bickering and institutional gridlock have hampered investment and reforms aimed at reducing its heavy reliance on oil revenues.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Nasser Waggi

Jordan’s Princess Iman bint Abdullah II and her fiancé Jameel Alexander Thermiotis are set to tie the knot on March 12, 2023, according to a statement from the Royal Hashemite Court. The Jordan royal wedding is set to be an extravagant celebration, the couple’s wedding venue has not been announced yet.

The princess is the second child of King Abdullah II and Queen Rania Al-Abdullah, while her fiancé is a managing partner at a venture capital fund in New York. Thermiotis, who was born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1994, is of Greek descent and holds a degree in business administration from Florida International University.

Upon announcement of their engagement in July 2022, Queen Rania expressed her happiness on social media, posting: “Congratulations my dearest Iman; your smile has always been a gift of love that I’ve cherished since the day you were born. I wish you and Jameel a life filled with love and laughter!” Princess Iman does not have a public social media presence, but her mother occasionally posts family home videos and photos on Instagram that offer a glimpse into the young royal’s life.

Jordan royal wedding – possible location

According to reports, the wedding ceremony is expected to be a private affair, with only close family and friends in attendance. However, some reports suggest that a larger celebration may take place possibly in the historic city of Petra. The iconic site, which is carved into the rock face, has hosted royal events in the past, including the wedding of King Abdullah II and Queen Rania in 1993. Regardless of the location, the wedding of Princess Iman and Mr. Thermiotis is sure to be a significant event in Jordanian society and a cause for celebration among the royal family and their supporters.

Is Princess Iman in line for the throne?

Although Princess Iman is not in line for the throne as only legitimate, male, “mentally sound” Muslim descendants are eligible, she has been a regular fixture at official photocalls and royal engagements in and out of her home country. The upcoming Jordan royal wedding is sure to be a grand affair, with the Royal Hashemite Court extending its congratulations to the couple and wishing them a lifetime of happiness.

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Al-Qaeda has confirmed the death of one of its top leaders in Yemen following a suspected US drone strike. Hamad bin Hamoud Al Tamimi, also known as Abdel Aziz Al Adnani, was killed on February 26th when a drone targeted his residence in Marib province.

Who was Hamad bin Hamoud Al Tamimi?

The US considers Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to be among the most dangerous of the group’s branches. AQAP identified Hamad bin Hamoud Al Tamimi as a “media official” who had previously managed external operations, including attacks against American interests. Hamad bin Hamoud Al Tamimihad spent four years in a Saudi Arabian prison before traveling to Yemen in 2013, where he expressed a desire to attack “vital” American interests and carry out a suicide attack himself.

Unnamed security and local government sources confirmed Hamad bin Hamoud Al Tamimi’s death and said that he had headed AQAP’s leadership council and acted as the group’s “judge”. A statement from AQAP also noted that another media official, Abu Nasser Al Hadhrami, was a victim of the attack.

What is Al Qaeda’s role in Yemen’s civil war?

AQAP and rival militants loyal to ISIS have thrived in the chaos of Yemen’s eight-year civil war, which pits the Saudi-backed government against Iran-allied Houthi rebels. The group has carried out operations against both the Houthis and government forces as well as sporadic attacks abroad. The US has been targeting AQAP with drones for more than two decades, although the number of reported strikes has dropped in recent years.

The February 26th attack came a month after three alleged AQAP militants were killed in another suspected US drone strike on a car in Marib province. The conflict in Yemen has killed tens of thousands of people and caused what the UN terms the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with millions displaced.

What are the consequences of US counterterrorism operations in Yemen

Concerns have been raised about the impact of these counterterrorism operations on civilian populations in Yemen. In recent years, human rights groups have accused the United States of carrying out unlawful strikes that have killed civilians and violated international law.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, U.S. drone strikes in Yemen have killed between 1,244 and 1,416 people, including between 111 and 168 civilians, since 2002.

The United States has defended its actions as necessary to combat terrorism, but some critics argue that the strikes have fuelled anti-American sentiment and undermined efforts to stabilize the country.

Image Credit: REUTERS/Yemen’s Defence Ministry

The UAE and Italy have announced that they will be elevating their relations to the level of a strategic partnership. This announcement was made during a meeting between the UAE President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at Al Shati Palace in Abu Dhabi.

UAE and Italy signed a “Declaration of Intent” on enhancing cooperation within the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP28) and climate action, as well as a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for cooperation on energy transition projects and sustainability initiatives between ADNOC and the Italian energy group Eni.

Why UAE and Italy signed the MoU

The focus of the MoU is to strengthen cooperation in the field of emissions reduction, new energy technologies, and low-carbon solutions. The partnership aims to enhance long-term strategic ties between the two countries, boost energy security, and accelerate low-carbon economic and industrial growth.

Areas of cooperation between UAE and Italy will include reducing carbon emissions, with a particular focus on carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies, enhancing energy efficiency, joint investment in green hydrogen, and renewable and clean energy.

The declaration of promoting relations to a strategic partnership reads, “The UAE and Italy share common goals, including achieving sustainable development and economic growth, strengthening cooperation with the international community, prosperity and stability, and traditional values of peace, tolerance, human fraternity, coexistence, dialogue, and openness.”

The strategic partnership will enable the two countries to expand and deepen cooperation in areas of mutual strategic interest, including political, diplomatic, international, economic and trade cooperation, healthcare, sustainable development, food and water security, cooperation in industry and advanced technology, defence and climate change, renewable energy and clean technologies, energy security and transition, education, culture, people-to-people exchanges, sports, and other vital areas.

This partnership is significant as it highlights Italy’s increasing importance in the region. The meetings in the UAE also included discussions on boosting energy security and enhancing energy efficiency, which are crucial issues for both countries.

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There have been several cases of suspected poisoning attacks targeting Iranian schoolgirls in various provinces, with the latest spate occurring in Hamedan, Zanjan, West Azerbaijan, Fars, and Alborz provinces. The suspected poisoning of schoolgirls in Iran have led to dozens of schoolgirls being hospitalised, but all are said to be in generally good condition.

Over the past three months, hundreds of cases of respiratory distress have been reported among schoolgirls, mainly in Qom.

Is there going to be an investigation into the suspected poisoning of schoolgirls in Iran?

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has ordered the ministers of intelligence and interior to investigate the incidents, which he has dubbed “the enemy’s conspiracy to create fear and despair in the people.” The Deputy Health Minister has suggested that the poisonings are aimed at shutting down education for girls.

Protests have broken out in Tehran, with parents gathering outside an education ministry building to demonstrate against the government over the suspected poisoning of schoolgirls in Iran. There are conflicting opinions about who might be responsible for the attacks, with some politicians suggesting that hardliner Islamist groups opposed to girls’ education may be behind them. The United Nations human rights office in Geneva has called for a transparent investigation, and several countries, including Germany and the US, have expressed concern.

International response

The series of suspected poisoning attacks targeting Iranian schoolgirls has sparked outrage and concern both domestically and internationally. The Iranian government has been criticized for its handling of the situation, with some accusing it of not doing enough to protect the girls and investigate the incidents. The protests that have erupted in response to the poisonings highlight the broader social and political tensions in the country, including ongoing protests over the death of Mahsa Amini and restrictions on women’s rights.

The motives behind the attacks are unclear, and there are conflicting opinions about who might be responsible. While the Iranian government has blamed “enemies” of the country for the poisonings, some politicians have suggested that hardline Islamist groups opposed to girls’ education may be behind them. Others have raised concerns about environmental pollution, as the affected schools are located near industrial areas.

The suspected poisonings have also raised questions about the state of healthcare in Iran and the availability of medical resources to treat the affected girls. Some reports suggest that hospitals in the affected provinces have been overwhelmed by the number of patients, with some parents reportedly having to take their children to private clinics due to long waiting times at public hospitals.

The international community has called for a transparent investigation into the incidents, with the United Nations human rights office in Geneva expressing concern and several countries, including Germany and the US, voicing support for the affected girls and their families. The situation is still developing, and it remains to be seen how the Iranian government will respond and whether further protests and unrest will ensue.

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Thousands of people protested in Tunisia’s capital, Tunis, on Saturday for a rally organized by the country’s most powerful labour union, the UGTT, to demonstrate against the government under President Kais Saied. The protest, one of the largest since Saied dismissed the previous government and suspended parliament in July 2021, came after a spate of arrests of the president’s political opponents in recent weeks.

Who protested in Tunisia?

Starting at the Mohamed Ali Hammi plaza, thousands marched along the capital’s main Habib Bourguiba avenue shouting slogans such as “Freedom, the police state is over”, “Saied, your time is over” and “IMF government, the people are invincible”.

Noureddine Tabboubi, the head of the Tunisian General Labor Union, addressed the crowd before the march, stating that “no matter how costly it is, we will not fear prisons and assassinations, and we will always stand on the side of equality and justice”. Tabboubi referred to the recent arrests and said, “I salute all the activists and politicians in Mornaguia prison.”

Most of those who protested in Tunisia and were arrested have been accused of “conspiracy against state security”. Tabboubi said the UGTT would not remain silent in the face of a systematic targeting of rights and freedoms in the country.

“Tunisia will not be a land of tyranny and oppression,” he said. Several other Tunisian organizations and political parties also participated in Saturday’s rally.

Hamma Hammami, secretary-general of the Workers Party, called on Saied to resign, saying it was the only feasible option for the country. “He is seeking to intimidate us, but we were never afraid and we will never be afraid of Saied,” Hammami told reporters at the rally.

Why are tensions so high in Tunisia?

Tensions between the UGTT and Saied have escalated following the recent arrest of a member of its transport sector federation and the President’s rejection of a national dialogue that the labour union has been attempting to organize together with the Lawyers Bar, the Tunisian League for Human Rights, and the Tunisian Forum for Social and Economic Rights.

“The national dialogue initiative is in its final stages and will be announced in the coming few days,” Tabboubi said on Saturday.

Saied accused the UGTT of trying to involve foreign parties in Tunisian affairs after it invited representatives of international trade unions to join Saturday’s protest. Tunisian authorities turned back Spanish trade unionist Marco Perez Molina upon his arrival in Tunis on Thursday and also banned representatives from the International Trade Union Confederation from entering the country.

The UGTT called the moves “unnecessary” and part of a wider clampdown on trade unions. The union said it would hold a meeting of its executive bureau on Tuesday, which would set a date for a meeting of its national administrative authority, which brings together representatives of all the union federations.

The crackdown is the biggest since Saied’s seizure of powers and his opponents say it is ever more clear that he has dismantled the democracy won in the 2011 revolution that triggered the Arab Spring and will end the freedoms it brought. Saied has denied his actions were a coup, saying they were legal and necessary to save Tunisia from chaos.

Over recent weeks, police have arrested more than a dozen prominent opposition figures, mostly tied to the coalition of parties and protesters that protested on Sunday, accusing them of conspiring against state security. Those arrested in recent weeks include politicians from Ennahdha, which was the biggest party in the shuttered parliament, leaders of a protest group, the head of Tunisia’s main independent media outlet, and a prominent businessman.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Hassene Dridi

Children across the United Arab Emirates will be taking to the streets of their neighbourhoods on Monday night, March 6th, to celebrate the traditional event of Hag Al Laila. Children across the UAE will take to the streets of their neighbourhoods on Monday night knocking on doors and calling out ‘Atoona Hag Al Laila”, which means “Give us sweets for tonight”. This event, which has been celebrated for hundreds of years, marks the arrival of Ramadan and is one of the Emirati traditional celebrations in the middle of Sha’aban, the eighth month of the Islamic Hijri calendar.

Hag Al Laila, which translates to “For this Night”, is not a Halloween tradition for trick or treating, but rather a cultural event where Emirati children go from door to door singing and collecting sweets and treats from neighbors. In preparation for the event, families stock up on traditional sweets and nuts to welcome the visiting children.

The purpose of the event is not just to celebrate, but also to educate the public about the occasion and the month of Ramadan and promote the values of sharing and giving. The event also serves as a way to promote unity within the community.

Although the event is primarily celebrated in the UAE, it is also celebrated across the Muslim community, albeit with different names. In Qatar, it is called Garangao; in Bahrain, it is called Gergaoon; in Oman, it is called Garangesho, and in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, it is called Gargean.

As the celebration of Hag Al Laila approaches, families and communities are looking forward to participating in the tradition and spreading joy and happiness throughout their neighbourhoods.

The history behind Hag Al Laila

Hag Al Laila, which is celebrated in the middle of Sha’aban, the eighth month of the Islamic Hijri calendar, is an event that is steeped in tradition and culture. It is a time when Emiratis come together to celebrate the arrival of Ramadan, which is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. The event is also an opportunity for families to teach their children about the values of sharing, giving, and community.

Hag Al Laila preparations

The preparations for Hag Al Laila begin several days before the actual event. Families throng groceries and shops that sell traditional sweets and nuts before welcoming visiting children. Many households also decorate their homes with colorful lanterns and lights, which adds to the festive atmosphere of the event.

On the day of the event, children dress up in traditional clothes and take to the streets in groups, accompanied by their parents or older siblings. They knock on doors and sing the Hag Al Laila song, which is a catchy tune that has been passed down from generation to generation. The song is usually accompanied by clapping and dancing, which adds to the joyous spirit of the event.

The event is not just about collecting sweets and treats, but also about fostering a sense of community. It provides an opportunity for neighbors to come together, share in the festivities, and learn about each other’s cultures and traditions. Many households also take the opportunity to donate food and clothing to those in need, which is in line with the values of Ramadan.

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of preserving Emirati culture and tradition. As a result, there has been a renewed interest in celebrating events such as Hag Al Laila. Schools and community organizations also play an important role in promoting and preserving Emirati culture by organizing events and activities that showcase the country’s rich heritage.

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Oman is planning to phase out fuel-operated vehicles and have 79 per cent of the country’s vehicles powered by electricity by 2035 as part of its commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The announcement regarding fuel vehicles in Oman was made during the Ministry of Transport, Communications and Information Technology’s annual media meeting on Wednesday. H E Said bin Hamoud bin Said al Ma’awali, Minister of Transport, Communications and Information Technology, said that the ministry is working with car dealers to ensure that the country reaches the target by 2035.

Other measures being taken other than Fuel vehicles in Oman

The ministry is also addressing the issue of traffic congestion in the capital city, Muscat. Al Ma’awali revealed that three alternative routes have been identified to solve the problem: Nakhl-Bidbid, Seeb-Bidbid and Amerat-Dima Wa al Taien. The ministry is currently designing the roads and estimates that the cost of constructing new roads, maintenance and repairing roads damaged due to climatic conditions will be more than RO1bn ($2.6bn) in 2023.

Tunnel-based road projects are not feasible in Oman, according to the minister. The cost of operating the tunnels on Sharqiyah Expressway ranges between RO30,000 and RO40,000 per month. The Dibba-Lima-Khasab road will be awarded after completion of technical analysis submitted by five companies before the end of March.

In 2022, tenders worth RO230mn were awarded and eight strategic projects are set to begin and end this year. The ministry aims to improve import and export through Omani ports by increasing the movement of goods by no less than seven per cent annually, increasing container traffic by five per cent, and improving transport and logistics indicators, road quality, and efficiency of port services.

“We are working on digitising more than 200 government services, implementing more than five projects for the National Centre for AI and Advanced Technologies, and training more than 2,000 people as part of the ‘Makeen’ initiative to improve digital competencies,” said Al Ma’awali.

Oman net-zero emissions

Oman has committed to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 in line with the Paris Agreement objective of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Oman is the third Middle East oil and gas producer to make a net-zero pledge after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The latest announcement regarding fuel vehicles in Oman is in line with similar pledges around the world.

The energy ministry also announced the formation of Hydrogen Oman (Hydrom) — a subsidiary of state-owned Energy Development Oman (EDO — previously known as Petroleum Development Oman). The ministry unveiled a Green Hydrogen Strategy, and the country is targeting $140bn of investment in the green hydrogen industry with the aim of producing 1 million tons of it annually by 2030.

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Saudi Arabia has announced a new national holiday called Flag Day that will be celebrated annually on March 11. The announcement came through the Saudi Press Agency on Wednesday, stating that the decision was made by the order of King Salman.

The chosen date for Flag Day corresponds to March 11, 1937, which was the day when the design of the country’s current flag was endorsed by former King Abdulaziz. This day falls on the 27th of Dhu Al Hijja 1355 on the Islamic calendar.

The flag behind Flag Day

The flag features a green background with a white shahada, or inscription, above a sword. The shahada is a profession of faith and reads: “There is no deity but God. Mohammed is the Messenger of God.” This design has been in use since 1973, with minor differences from the original flag that was first designed in 1902.

Before the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932 by King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, the flag had several variations. The king’s army used to carry a banner featuring only the shahada during conflicts with other Arabian tribes and rival families. Later on, after capturing Riyadh in 1902, the sword was added to the flag by Ibn Saud.

Last year, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced that February 22 would be celebrated annually as a national holiday to commemorate the founding of the state. The government’s decree at the time explained that this move was made to “show pride in the well-established roots of this state and the close connection of its citizens with its leaders since the era of Imam Muhammad bin Saud three centuries ago.”

The new Flag Day holiday is likely to further boost the patriotic spirit of the Saudi citizens, who already show immense respect and loyalty to their country’s symbols and traditions.

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Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has confirms May 14 election date when the country will hold presidential and parliamentary elections, despite criticism of his government’s handling of the devastating earthquake that hit last month. The announcement sets the stage for a fierce battle between Erdogan and opposition parties, who have seized on rising discontent over the cost of living crisis and criticism of the government’s building regulations that contributed to the scale of the catastrophe.

The earthquake, which killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey and neighbouring Syria, has left around 1.25 million people homeless, according to the World Bank. In addition to the loss of life, the disaster caused some $34bn in damage to homes, hospitals, schools, and public infrastructure, highlighting the need for urgent reform.

Erdogan’s government has faced criticism for rules put in place ahead of the 2018 election that forgave shoddy building work, exacerbating the damage caused by the earthquake. The opposition has seized on rising discontent, with Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party, holding Erdogan responsible for the immense scale of the catastrophe.

A coalition of half a dozen opposition parties, known as the “table of six”, is due to meet on Thursday to choose a presidential candidate, although it is unclear whether they will announce their decision publicly. Kılıçdaroğlu is one of the leading contenders, along with Ekrem İmamoğlu and Mansur Yavaş, the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, respectively.

There have been few public polls since the earthquake, but a person who had been briefed on a nationwide private survey said the disaster had so far had a relatively muted effect on opinion polls. The ruling AKP party had sagged in the polls for a long period in 2021 and 2022 as potential voters criticized the government’s economic policies, which economists say have exacerbated Turkey’s inflation problem.

Sentiment had started to improve late in 2022 after Erdogan unveiled a series of measures to address the cost of living crisis, including a rise in the minimum wage. However, according to private polling, the improvement has since petered out, suggesting a tight campaign ahead.

The election will be closely watched by Turkey’s neighbours and international partners, who will be looking for signs of political stability and a commitment to reform.

Image Credit: Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Arab world’s second-largest economy, is set to launch its UAE National Hydrogen Strategy next month, according to a Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure official. Dipak Sakaria, an energy transition expert at the ministry, said during the World Hydrogen Mena conference in Dubai on Wednesday that the first phase of the strategy was completed last year and the second phase was currently underway.

Last September, the UAE signed an agreement with Australia’s GHD and Germany-based Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft to develop its strategy for the low-carbon fuel. The Emirates, which aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, is bullish about hydrogen and has been drawing up a comprehensive road map to position itself as an exporter of the clean fuel and tap into its future potential. The UAE National Hydrogen Strategy is set to positioning the country as an exporter of the clean fuel and tapping into its future potential.

Why is the UAE national hydrogen strategy being pursued?

Hydrogen, which can be produced using renewable energy and natural gas, is expected to play a key role in the coming years as economies and industries transition to a low-carbon world to mitigate climate change. The UAE currently has 28 hydrogen projects “on board,” of which seven have passed the financing stage, according to Mr. Sakaria.

Globally, 520 million tonnes of hydrogen will be needed to achieve net-zero targets by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency. French investment bank Natixis estimates that investment in hydrogen will exceed $300 billion by 2030. It comes in various forms, including blue, green and grey hydrogen. Blue and grey hydrogen are derived from natural gas while green hydrogen is produced using renewable sources.

“The demand [for hydrogen] is here. If you look at net zero and if you look at the energy mix [targets], you will get all those numbers … the question is on the supply [side],” said Mr. Sakaria. “We have looked at, like, 18 sectors that are calling for a lot of hydrogen by 2030 to 2031.”

Green hydrogen is expected to play an important role in reducing emissions in hard-to-abate industries such as cement, steel, aluminium, and petrochemicals. The Emirates is investing Dh600 billion in clean and renewable energy projects over the next three decades. It is building the Mohammed bin Rashid Solar Park in Dubai with a five-gigawatt capacity. Abu Dhabi, which is developing a two-gigawatt solar plant in its Al Dhafra region, has set a target of 5.6 gigawatts of solar PV capacity by 2026.

The UAE, which plans to use its hydrogen for both domestic consumption and exports, will closely monitor the latest EU regulations that specify the requirements a hydrogen project developer must fulfill for the fuel produced to be categorized as “renewable”, said Nawal Alhanaee, director of the ministry’s future energy department.

Last month, Abu Dhabi’s clean energy company Masdar signed a preliminary agreement with four companies from the Netherlands to explore the development of a green hydrogen supply chain between Abu Dhabi and Amsterdam.

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The country has been in a state of political limbo and faces a stalemate in Lebanon now with the country struggling to find a consensus candidate for the presidency. Despite the fact that none of the major political parties have an interest in blocking the election of a new president, finding a compromise solution that satisfies all sides has proven to be a significant challenge to overcome the stalemate in Lebanon.

The situation is made even more complicated by the severe economic crisis that Lebanon is currently facing, as well as the regional role of Hezbollah. A new president will need to be acceptable to regional states like Saudi Arabia and Iran, while also having the confidence of the US and France. This means that the candidate must be able to show that they will not undermine the expectations of these regional and international actors, while also being able to preserve good relations with Lebanon’s Arab partners and implement much-needed economic reforms.

To this end, a meeting was held in Paris last month, attended by representatives from the US, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Egypt. The participants discussed the profile of the ideal candidate, emphasizing the need for a consensual president who would be able to implement reforms and break ties with corrupt patronage networks in the country.

Underlying causes of the political stalemate in Lebanon

However, finding a candidate that satisfies all sides has proven to be difficult, with different factions holding different preferences. Hezbollah and its allies, for instance, have indicated a willingness to engage with the Gulf states, as seen in an article published last November by an affiliated media outlet, Al-Akhbar newspaper. The article suggested a quid pro quo whereby Hezbollah and its allies would choose a president and Saudi Arabia and its local allies would select a prime minister. However, without Christian backing, the candidate suggested by Hezbollah, Suleiman Franjieh, would not have communal legitimacy, handicapping his presidency.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that Saudi Arabia is holding back in Lebanon as long as Hezbollah is active in Yemen. This puts a brake on other Arab states, not least Qatar, which has played an axial role in trying to find a solution, given the fact that it can speak to all sides in the deadlock and act as a mediator.

Despite the difficulties, there are indications that talks are taking place behind the scenes, and it remains possible that a package deal can be worked out eventually to resolve the stalemate in Lebanon. However, for now, a positive outcome remains elusive until one side makes a serious concession.

Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX has successfully launched four astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA including the 1st astronaut from Arab world, marking the third crewed flight for the private spaceflight company. The launch, which took place on Thursday, March 2, 2023, was notable not only for SpaceX’s continued achievements, but also for the historic significance of one of the astronauts on board.

The Falcon rocket blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, shortly after midnight, illuminating the night sky as it headed up the East Coast. The trip to the ISS, a laboratory orbiting some 420 km (250 miles) above Earth, was expected to take nearly 25 hours, with rendezvous planned for about 06:15 GMT on Friday.

The crew includes NASA’s Stephen Bowen, a retired Navy submariner who has logged three space shuttle flights; Warren “Woody” Hoburg, a former research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and space rookie; Andrey Fedyaev, a space rookie who has retired from the Russian Air Force; and Sultan al-Neyadi, an astronaut from the United Arab Emirates and only the second Emirati to fly to space.

Who is the 1st astronaut from Arab world going for an extended monthslong stay?

Al-Neyadi’s mission marks the first time an astronaut from the Arab world will stay in space for an extended, monthslong stay. His six-month mission will see him replace a US-Russian-Japanese crew that has been on the ISS since October 2022. Nearly 80 spectators from the UAE watched from the launch site as al-Neyadi blasted off into space. Half a world away in Dubai and elsewhere across the UAE, schools and offices broadcast the launch live.

The UAE paid for al-Neyadi’s seat on the SpaceX flight, and the long mission “provides us a new venue for science and scientific discovery for the country,” said the UAE’s minister for public education and advanced technology, Sarah al-Amiri. Al-Neyadi, a communications engineer, served as a backup for the first Emirati astronaut, Hazza al-Mansoori, who rode a Russian rocket to the ISS in 2019 for a weeklong visit.

The UAE’s involvement in space exploration extends beyond just sending astronauts to the ISS. The country already has a spacecraft orbiting Mars and a mini rover hitching a ride to the Moon on a Japanese lander. Additionally, two new UAE astronauts are currently training with NASA’s latest astronaut picks in Houston.

The successful launch of the SpaceX rocket and the inclusion of al-Neyadi on the crew represents a significant achievement for space exploration and international cooperation. As more countries continue to expand their involvement in space exploration, it’s clear that the future of human spaceflight will be defined by cooperation and collaboration across borders.

Image Credit: SpaceX/Twitter

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has ordered an investigation into a series of incidents where noxious fumes have sickened hundreds of girls at about 30 schools since November. Some officials suspect that these incidents of poisoning at girls’ schools may be attacks targeting women’s education. The girls have complained about headaches, heart palpitations, feeling lethargic, or being unable to move, with some even being admitted to hospital.

Why have Iranian officials changed their stance on the poisoning at girls’ schools?

Initially, Iranian officials dismissed the incidents, but they have now acknowledged the scope of the crisis. Unlike Afghanistan, Iran has no history of religious extremists attacking girls’ education. Women and girls continued attending school even during the Islamic Revolution that toppled Iran’s western-backed shah in 1979.

At a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, President Raisi ordered the Interior Ministry to investigate the incidents, with assistance from the health and intelligence ministries. He called for prompt release of the investigation results to the public. It was the first time that the president has publicly addressed the poisonings.

A senior security official had earlier dismissed the matter as psychological warfare by unnamed enemies of the country, saying that “Over 99% of this is caused by stress, rumor and psychological war started particularly by hostile TV channels, to create a troubled and stressful situation for students and their parents.” However, Iran’s prosecutor-general has ordered an investigation, citing “possibilities of deliberate criminal acts.”

Iran’s deputy education minister has also confirmed that the poisoning of schoolgirls “in cities such as Qom and Borujerd has been done intentionally.” The authorities suspect that some people wanted to close all schools, especially girls’ schools, after the poisoning of several students in Qom.

The poisonings have come at a sensitive time for Iran, which has faced months of nationwide protests since Mahsa Amini died in September after being arrested by the morality police for allegedly violating Iran’s strict Islamic dress code.

Image Credit: Iranian Presidency Office via AP

Lebanon’s financial system is on the brink of collapse, according to the outgoing Minister of Finance Amin Salam, marking another momentous mark in the Lebanon economy crisis . In a press conference held in Beirut, Salam announced that the introduction of prices of consumer goods in US dollars alongside prices of the local pound is one of the last phases of the collapse of the financial structure.

The Lebanese pound’s value has dropped by more than 98% within the last three and a half years, and Salam placed the responsibility for the financial default on the financial class that has ruled the country in the last decades. He explicitly accused those responsible for the Lebanese State.

Salam stated that the old Lebanese finance system is finished, and there is nothing to do except to leave the currency to its destiny. The decision to introduce prices of consumer goods in US dollars is to protect citizens from the chaos and randomness of costs pursued by traders and supermarket owners.

Will the fact that Lebanon has dollarizes its economy help?

The Ministry of Finance also increased the customs dollar from 15 thousand to 45 thousand, one month after abandoning the rate of 1,500 used since 1997. However, the exchange rate of the Lebanese pound continues to plummet in the parallel market and is close to 90 thousand per dollar. World Bank figures show Lebanon ranks third globally in food price inflation, and UN reports place 80% of its population below the poverty line.

The country has entered the fifth month of presidential vacuum amid the repercussions of the interconnected financial, banking, social, and political crises that has worsened the Lebanon economy crisis. Economists and political experts warn of looming economic chaos, and the Finance Ministry’s decision to set the price of the customs dollar at 45,000 Lebanese pounds is an attempt to pay public sector salaries from the state treasury.

Lebanon economy crisis – what’s next?

As the situation worsens, shops and supermarkets have begun to price products in dollars. Economists and political experts predict the Lebanese pound will drop to 100,000 to the dollar soon. Meanwhile, a man stormed a Creditbank branch in southern Beirut, threatening to set it ablaze if denied access to his savings. The man left the bank without getting his money after being assured he would face no criminal charges. At the conclusion of the last government meeting, Minister Salam insisted on the need for the election of the President of the Republic to restore the institutions of the State and promote recovery reforms.

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Southern Iraq’s water crisis has reached unprecedented levels as the Tigris and Euphrates rivers’ water levels have decreased dramatically. Iraqi officials have pledged to take measures to address the ongoing drought in Iraq.

An AFP photographer in the city of Nasiriyah reported seeing the bed of the Euphrates River from its banks. Baghdad has accused its neighbours Turkiye and Iran of reducing water rations reaching Iraq by building dams on the two rivers.

The Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources attributed the drought in Iraq in some southern provinces to “the low quantity of water reaching Iraq from neighbouring Turkey,” as well as Iraqi farmers who misuse water resources to irrigate their land instead of following the ministry’s guidelines.

To cope with water scarcity as a result of the drought in Iraq, the Iraqi government has implemented water rationing for various needs, such as irrigation, agriculture, drinking, and feeding the marshes of southern Iraq. The Ministry of Water Resources stated that the decrease in water shares in some governorates is due to the lack of water revenues coming to the dams, leading to a sharp decrease in the country’s water storage.

Iraqi officials have promised to take measures to address the crisis, although it is unclear what actions will be taken. The water scarcity issue poses a significant threat to the country’s agricultural sector, as well as the health and wellbeing of its citizens who rely on the rivers for their daily needs. The drought in Iraq has severe consequences for the country’s economy, environment, and people. The reduced water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are set to impact the agricultural sector, which accounts for a significant portion of the country’s economy. Additionally, the lack of water may result in the drying up of marshes and wetlands, which are important ecosystems that support a diverse range of flora and fauna.

Drought in Iraq – a result of climate change?

The water scarcity crisis in Iraq has been further compounded by climate change, which is causing prolonged droughts in the region. The Middle East has been identified as one of the most vulnerable regions to the impacts of climate change, and Iraq is no exception.

The country has seen a significant decrease in rainfall in recent years, resulting in reduced water levels in its rivers and reservoirs. The country’s agricultural sector, which accounts for a significant portion of its economy, has been particularly hard hit by the drought.

Experts warn that the situation is likely to worsen in the coming years, as climate change exacerbates the water scarcity problem in the region. According to a report by the World Resources Institute, the Middle East and North Africa region is expected to face “severe water stress” by 2040, with Iraq being one of the most affected countries.

Lebanon’s top prosecutor, Ghassan Oweidat, has instructed Judge Ghada Aoun to halt the Lebanon bank investigations into the financial transactions of commercial banks, according to a letter seen by Reuters. Aoun has been investigating the banking sector since its collapse in 2019 due to years of government corruption, financial mismanagement, and excessive spending.

The move by Oweidat comes a week after caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati blocked Aoun’s investigations, claiming that they overstepped her authority. Mikati also ordered security forces not to carry out Aoun’s judicial decisions, prompting Aoun to take to Twitter to criticize the “unprecedented interference in the work of the judiciary.” Blocks into the Lebanon bank investigation are set to further increase tensions in the country.

The banks have been on strike since February 7th, following a meeting to discuss the legal measures they have faced since Lebanon’s economic crisis began. Aoun’s charges of money laundering against two banks this month further fuelled the banks’ concerns. However, they suspended their strike for a week following Mikati’s move against Aoun and have stated that they are waiting for a long-term resolution of the “deficiency” in the judiciary.

Lebanese politicians retain significant influence over judges’ appointments and prerogatives, while commercial banks also hold considerable sway. The situation has raised concerns about the independence of the judiciary and the ability of authorities to tackle corruption and financial wrongdoing. There was no immediate comment from the banks following Oweidat’s letter on Tuesday.

Lebanon bank investigation effects

The banking system has been paralyzed with most depositors frozen out of US dollar accounts since Lebanon’s financial system collapsed in 2019, marking one of the world’s sharpest ever economic meltdowns. This has led to a wave of bank raids by depositors demanding their money in recent months as a result of the country’s worsening economic crisis.

The United States Department of Defence has said that Iran could produce enough fissile material to create one nuclear bomb in around 12 days. Colin Kahl, the Undersecretary for policy, made the statement during a hearing with the House of Representatives, explaining that Iran’s nuclear progress since the US left the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2018 has been remarkable.

Before the US abandoned the JCPOA, it was estimated that Iran would have needed a year to produce enough material for one nuclear bomb. However, according to Kahl, it now would only take around 12 days to produce a nuclear bomb.

The JCPOA, which the Trump administration left in 2018, had limited Iran’s uranium stockpile to 300 kilograms (661 pounds) and enrichment to 3.67%, which is enough to fuel a nuclear power plant. However, following the US’s departure from the deal, Iran has started producing uranium enriched to 60% purity, which nonproliferation experts say has no civilian use.

Moreover, uranium enriched to nearly 84% is almost at weapons-grade levels of 90%. Iran, however, said that “unintended fluctuations” during the enrichment process “may have occurred” when asked about the presence of the particles.

It is important to note that while Iran has enough uranium to produce several nuclear bombs, building and miniaturizing a weapon to put it on a missile would take months. The US intelligence community has maintained its assessment that Iran isn’t pursuing an atomic bomb.

What is a nuclear bomb?

A nuclear bomb, also known as an atomic bomb or a nuclear weapon, is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions. The explosion of a nuclear bomb can release vast amounts of energy in the form of heat, light, and radiation, causing massive destruction and loss of life. Nuclear bombs work by initiating a chain reaction of nuclear fission, in which atomic nuclei are split apart, releasing energy and more neutrons, which in turn split other nuclei.

This creates a runaway chain reaction that rapidly releases an enormous amount of energy. The destructive power of a nuclear bomb is typically measured in kilotons or megatons, indicating the equivalent amount of TNT required to produce the same explosion.

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Chicken and poultry prices in Egypt have experienced their first drop in over a year after the government imported more than 100,000 tonnes of frozen chicken from Brazil. The move came after steadily rising prices that had made beef and chicken unaffordable for many Egyptians.

The imported chicken, which was sold at discounted rates to low-income Egyptians through the Ministry of Supply and the armed forces’ outlets and at chain hypermarkets, sold out quickly. Demand for the imported chicken was high, particularly as it costs about 35% less than locally raised poultry. The lower prices led local poultry sellers to drop their prices by about 10 Egyptian pounds by Monday morning.

Why poultry prices in Egypt are so high

The Egyptian poultry industry has been struggling for some time, with a shortage of feed created by government import restrictions and a drop in supply leading to higher poultry prices in Egypt. Farmers have repeatedly asked the government to step in and subsidise corn and soybeans, the two main components of chicken feed.

The government has increased the planting of these crops and released shipments of them held up at ports, but this is not expected to have a significant impact on the industry for several months. Egypt imported an average of 50,000 tonnes of chicken per month last year, while Egyptians consume an average of 180,000 tonnes per month.

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Iran’s only endangered Asiatic cheetah cub, Pirouz, died on Tuesday at the age of 10 months despite several days of treatment for kidney failure, according to Tasnim News Agency. The young cub was the only survivor of a litter of three endangered Asiatic cheetahs.

Pirouz and the other cats in his litter were the first Asiatic cheetahs to be born in captivity in Iran, and they were born in the Touran wildlife refuge in Semnan province. The Iranian government has been making efforts to save the Asiatic cheetah, which is one of the world’s critically endangered species.

The United Nations has also been working with Iran to step up efforts to rescue the species. The Asiatic cheetah, a close cousin of the southeast African cheetah, was once found throughout the Red Sea to India. However, its numbers have dwindled to an estimated 50 to 70 animals remaining in Iran, down from as many as 400 in the 1990s.

The decline in their population can be attributed to poaching, hunting of their main prey, gazelles, and encroachment on their habitat. Cheetahs have also been hit by cars and killed in fights with sheepdogs. Shepherds who graze their flocks in areas inhabited by the cheetahs are permitted to do so.

Iran’s attempts to save the endangered Asiatic cheetah

Iran has long tried to save the Asiatic cheetah and, despite this setback, is continuing its efforts to protect the species. The government has implemented conservation measures, such as providing incentives for farmers to protect cheetahs, increasing patrolling in protected areas, and building cheetah breeding centres to try to increase their numbers in captivity.

The Asiatic cheetah is not only a national symbol of Iran but also a significant part of the country’s cultural heritage. It has been depicted in ancient Persian art and poetry for centuries. The death of Pirouz, the only surviving cub of his litter, is a blow to the conservation efforts to save this endangered Asiatic cheetah from extinction.

Romanian authorities have announced the arrest of Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi, a Lebanese-Belgian citizen and a key Hezbollah fundraiser and financer of the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah. Bazzi’s arrest took place in Bucharest last Friday, and it is considered a significant milestone in the fight against Hezbollah. The US government had been seeking Bazzi’s arrest since 2018, and his apprehension in Bucharest is being viewed as a success.

Bazzi’s role as a “Hezbollah fundraiser”

Bazzi, who is 58 years old, has been accused of funnelling millions of dollars to Lebanon’s Hezbollah over the years and is said to be a major Hezbollah fundraiser. In 2018, the US labelled Bazzi a “global terrorist,” and a $10 million reward was offered for information leading to his arrest. Breon Peace, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, charged Bazzi and Talal Chahine, both Lebanese citizens, with conspiracy “to conduct and cause American persons to conduct unlawful transactions and money laundering conspiracy.”

According to Peace, “Mohammad Bazzi thought that he could secretly move hundreds of thousands of dollars from the United States to Lebanon without detection by law enforcement. Today’s arrest proves that Bazzi was wrong.” DEA Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Daniel J. Kafafian added, “The defendants in this case attempted to provide continued financial assistance to Hizballah, a foreign terrorist organization responsible for death and destruction.” Kafafian further emphasized the DEA’s commitment to working with law enforcement and foreign counterparts to dismantle the operations of organizations that support terrorism financially.

Bazzi’s role in West Africa, specifically The Republic of the Gambia, has also come under scrutiny. He was a significant minority shareholder in Prime Bank in The Gambia, which allegedly served as a crucial money-laundering instrument for Hezbollah in West Africa. Bazzi had ties to Yahya Jammeh, the former leader of The Gambia from the mid-1990s to 2017. The financier’s extradition to the US is pending, and further investigations into his activities are ongoing.

Image Credit: Rewards for Justice

Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, arrived in Damascus on Monday, marking the first visit by an Egyptian foreign minister to the Syrian capital since the country’s conflict erupted in 2011. The Syrian state news agency Sana reported that Mr. Shoukry’s trip was part of an effort to show solidarity with Syria and Turkey after the devastating earthquake that hit both countries earlier this month. The earthquake, which measured 7.8 on the Richter scale, resulted in the deaths of more than 46,000 people in both countries.

Following his visit to Damascus, Mr. Shoukry is set to travel to Turkey on Monday to continue the mission of showing solidarity with the two countries and their brotherly peoples. The Egyptian foreign ministry released a statement saying that the visit is an opportunity to strengthen ties between the three countries, and to demonstrate Arab outreach to the internationally isolated Syrian government.

Why is the Egyptian foreign minister visiting Syria now?

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi called his Syrian counterpart Bashar Al Assad on February 7, marking the first official exchange between the two leaders. The move was a significant shift in Egypt’s position towards Syria, which had been estranged since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. The visit by Mr. Shoukry is the latest example of Egypt’s efforts to re-engage with the Syrian government.

The situation in Syria has remained complex and unstable, with the country devastated by a decade-long civil war. Egypt’s outreach to Syria is seen by many as a potential step towards a resolution to the conflict, and a return to stability in the region. With the visit of Mr. Shoukry, hopes remain high that the countries can work together towards a brighter future for the region.

Image Credit: Egypt MFA Spokesperson/Twitter

Companies from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Jordan, and Bahrain have signed industrial agreements worth over $2 billion. The agreements were signed during the third Higher Committee meeting of the Industrial Partnership for Sustainable Economic Development held on February 26 in Amman.

According to state news agency WAM, 12 agreements were signed across nine industrial projects at the meeting. The projects are expected to create around 13,000 job opportunities and boost the national GDP of the partnering countries by more than $1.6 billion.

The Prime Minister of Jordan, Dr. Bisher Al-Khasawneh, met with the ministers of the partner countries and emphasized the significance of this partnership in strengthening bilateral relations and economic development. He also highlighted the role of the industrial sector in participating countries.

Dr. Sultan bin Ahmed Al Jaber, UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, and the UAE’s special envoy for climate change, President-Designate COP28, expressed his country’s commitment to enhancing collaboration with member states to ensure that everyone benefits from each other’s competitive advantages and capabilities. He also called the partnership “an exceptional model for industrial partnerships among private-sector companies.”

Egypt’s Minister of Industry and Trade, Engineer Ahmed Samir Saleh, stressed the need to achieve industrial integration among Arab states, given the economic crisis the world is currently experiencing. He said that it is crucial to strengthen regional partnerships and include the private sector as a major partner in implementing sustainable development plans and helping the Arab region to prosper.

Bahrain’s Minister of Industry and Commerce, Abdulla bin Adel Fakhro, believes that the partnership offers a real opportunity to increase the efficiency of supply chains through the integration of industries in the region, which is a pillar of Bahrain’s industrial strategy.

The agreements signed at the meeting covered various industrial sectors, including chemicals, pharmaceuticals, automotive, and aluminium production.

Egyptian company Soda Chemical Industries announced that it will invest $500 million to produce sodium carbonate, a key raw material in many industries, such as the glass and detergent sector. The facility will have an annual production capacity of 500,000 tons, and an MoU was signed for a strategic partnership with the Emirates Flat Glass Company to purchase the final product.

UAE-based automotive manufacturer M Glory Holding will launch a large manufacturing project with an investment of $550 million, which will include the creation of three electric vehicle factories with specialized production and assembly lines in the UAE, Jordan, and Egypt. The production capacity will reach 40,000 compact crossover SUVs during the first three years of operation.

Emirati investor-owned CFC Group announced that it will invest $400 million to establish an industrial complex for fertilizers and chemicals in Egypt. The industrial complex will have an annual production capacity of half-a-ton of fodder and potash fertilizers and 1.1 tons of chemicals. The company signed MoUs with Jordan-based Arab Potash and Egypt’s Misr Phosphate Company to supply raw materials.

Emirates Global Aluminium will invest $200 million to establish a silicon metal plant in the UAE with an annual production capacity of 55,000 tons. The company signed an MoU with Jordan’s Manaseer Group to supply the required crystalline silica.

Manaseer Group, in turn, announced the expansion of a $70 million magnesium oxide plant in Jordan, which will have a total production capacity of 270,000 tonnes annually, which will be exported to the UAE. The company will sell its product to Emirates Global Aluminium. Production is set to commence in 2024.

Several pharmaceutical deals were also signed at the meeting. The UAE’s Globalpharma entered a partnership with Egypt’s Nerhadou to develop advanced technology for the manufacturing of medicines and supplements. An agreement was also signed to transfer technology to two Jordanian companies – Sav.

Image Credit: Egyptian Cabinet Facebook page

Iran has been rocked by a series of girls being poisoned in Iran at girls’ schools, according to a senior health official who spoke to the semi-official Fars news agency. “Certain individuals sought the closure of all schools, especially girls’ schools,” said Younes Panahi, the Iranian deputy health minister. The fact that hundreds have been poised in Iran has led to dozens of girls needing hospital treatment.

At least 14 schools have been hit in four cities, including the north-western city of Ardebil, the capital Tehran and the western city of Borujerd, newspaper Etemad reported. The authorities have been criticised for their response to protests against the leadership that have emerged in the wake of the poisoning, including the execution of four protesters.

The use of toxic chemicals to harm children represents a flagrant violation of human rights and is expected to be widely condemned by human rights groups and governments. The Iranian government has come under fire for its handling of the situation, with many accusing it of failing to protect its citizens.

The protests that erupted in Iran last week after the poisoning of girls at schools have been met with a brutal crackdown by the authorities. Thousands of people have been arrested so far in the Mahsa Amini protests and detained for taking part in demonstrations, and more than 500 people have been killed by security forces, according to rights groups.

Is this the first time girls schools have been poisoned in Iran?

The use of girls being poisoned in Iran to target schools and children is not a new phenomenon in Iran. Similar incidents have been reported in the past, with girls’ schools being targeted in particular. This latest wave of poisonings, however, is set to spark renewed outrage and calls for action to be taken to prevent such attacks from happening again.

The situation in Iran is made even more concerning by the fact that it comes at a time when girls’ education is under threat across the region. The Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan has banned girls and women from attending schools and universities, effectively denying them the right to an education. The poisoning of girls at schools in Iran is a stark reminder of the importance of defending the right to education for all, regardless of gender or background.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File

Over 50,000 people have now been confirmed dead following the devastating Turkey earthquakes that also hit Syria. On Saturday, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag revealed that 184 suspects, including construction contractors and property owners, had already been arrested as part of an investigation into the disaster.

For years prior to the Turkey earthquake, experts had warned that endemic corruption and government policies meant that many new buildings were unsafe. More than 160,000 buildings collapsed or were severely damaged in Turkey after the quakes, leading to questions about whether the natural disaster’s impact was made worse by human failings.

Among those who have been arrested is a mayor of one of the towns close to where the tremors hit, according to Turkish media reports. Mr Bozdag made his televised remarks from south-eastern Turkey, where the 7.8 magnitude quake struck and was followed by another powerful tremor just hours later.

Response of the investigation into the Turkey earthquake

The investigation into the Turkey earthquake has widened significantly since it was launched two weeks ago, with 113 arrest warrants initially issued. Opposition parties and some construction experts have been quick to capitalize on the public’s anger and have accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration of failing to enforce building regulations and trying to divert overall blame for the disaster.

Government policies have allowed so-called amnesties for contractors who ignored building regulations, in order to encourage a construction boom, including in earthquake-prone regions. While Erdogan has admitted shortcomings, he has appeared to blame fate for the scale of the disaster, saying “such things have always happened. It’s part of destiny’s plan” during a recent visit to the region.

With elections on the horizon, Erdogan’s future is on the line after 20 years in power. While President Erdogan has admitted to shortcomings, his apparent reluctance to accept responsibility for the disaster and his attempts to shift blame onto fate have not gone down well with the public. His pleas for national unity have gone unheeded, and the opposition parties have continued to speak out against his administration’s handling of the disaster. The tragedy has highlighted the urgent need for reforms to ensure that the safety of the people is prioritized over economic interests.

Image Credit: AP Photo/ Emrah Gurel

Hundreds of protesters gathered in Tunisia’s capital on Saturday to denounce racism and show solidarity with migrants, after the country’s president, Kais Saied, claimed that sub-Saharan Africans were part of a plot to erase the country’s identity.

The protest in Tunisia, organized by Tunisia’s journalists union and several non-governmental organizations, saw protesters shouting slogans such as “no to racism,” “solidarity with migrants,” and “no to police crackdown” as they marched through central Tunis.

Saied had earlier in the week called for “urgent measures” to address the entry of irregular immigrants from sub-Saharan countries, citing “violence, crimes, and unacceptable practices.” The comments prompted an increasing number of racist assaults against sub-Saharan migrants, according to Romdhane Ben Amor, spokesperson for the Tunisian Forum for Social and Economic Rights.

“We noted attempts to drive some migrants out of their homes,” Amor told The Associated Press. “Others are being prevented from taking public transportation.”

Tunisian comedian Fatma Saidane also spoke out against the discrimination, calling on people to show a “civic-minded attitude” towards those living on Tunisian soil.

“We must not assault or insult people who live on our soil, in the same way we don’t accept our compatriots to be ill-treated in Europe,” she said.

Recent days have seen around 100 sub-Saharan migrants detained for illegally crossing the Tunisian border, according to Riadh Nouioui, the deputy prosecutor of Kasserine. Other migrants enter the country from neighboring Libya.

Saied’s comments have drawn criticism from NGOs and sparked outrage on social media. Tunisia, which was once lauded as the only budding democracy in the Arab world, has seen a recent crackdown on opposition politicians and activists. Several opposition figures, including judges, politicians, activists, businessmen, and the head of an independent radio station, have been arrested in recent weeks. The accusations against them range from threatening state security to being responsible for recent price increases.

On Friday, the African Union denounced the remarks made by Tunisia’s president as “racialised hate speech.”

The African Union statement on Friday, expressed “deep shock and concern” at the “form and substance” of the president’s remarks, regardless of the migrants’ legal status in the country. The Tunisian foreign ministry was taken aback by the African Union’s statement, dismissing it as “baseless accusations.”

The president’s comments have sparked widespread criticism from civil rights organizations and on social media. This controversy comes amid the country’s prolonged economic crisis and a mounting crackdown on critics, who accuse the president of an illegal power grab after he suspended parliament in 2021.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Slim Abid, file

Tunisian President Kais Saied’s speech on Tuesday about migrants from sub-Saharan Africa has been condemned as “racist” by several human rights organizations. The speech was made after a National Security Council meeting at the Carthage Palace where Saied emphasized the need to take “urgent measures” to stop the flow of “hordes of irregular immigrants” from sub-Saharan Africa because it leads to “violence and crimes.”

Tunisian human rights organizations such as the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights and Mnemty have denounced the speech as inciting “hatred” against black immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa residing in Tunisia. Ramadan Bin Omar, the official spokesman for the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, described Saied’s speech as “steeped in racism and hate.” Bin Omar also accused Saied of “exploiting” the immigrant crisis to distract public opinion from economic and social issues and to “clearly and completely” obey the demands and pressures of the Italian authorities to control the flow of immigrants.

Groups that condemned President Kais Saied’s speech

The anti-racism organization Mnemty also condemned Saied’s speech and called on the Tunisian authorities to address “hate speech, discrimination and racism” on social media and other media outlets. On social media, reactions to the speech were divided between support and criticism. While human rights activist Mustafa Abdelkabir criticized Saied’s speech for not resembling Tunisia, far-right French politician Eric Zemmour praised it as a warning against the escalation of immigration.

Tunisia hosts around 21,000 immigrants, including students and legal residents, with most coming from Ivory Coast, Mali, Cameroon, Ghana, and Guinea. These immigrants work in simple and difficult jobs to earn enough money to pay for the hazardous journey across the Mediterranean to Italy. The speech by Saied has fuelled the migrant crisis, according to human rights organizations.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Slim Abid, file

February 25 is the date of Kuwait National Day 2023 where Kuwaitis will celebrate its 62nd National Day and 32nd Liberation Day, commemorating Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah‘s ascension to the throne in 1950. The day holds great significance for Kuwaitis as it marks the establishment of Kuwait as an independent country, free from British colonial rule.

Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah was a visionary leader who laid the foundations of Kuwait’s modern state, including signing a treaty that declared Kuwait’s independence from Great Britain. He was also instrumental in creating the Kuwait Constitution and the Kuwait Parliament.

How is Kuwait National Day 2023 celebrated?

National Day is a time for Kuwaitis to celebrate their country’s rich history and its many accomplishments. It is an official public holiday and is marked by a series of events, gatherings, and celebrations across the country. Families and friends come together to honour Kuwait’s legacy and remarkable leaders.

The day provides an opportunity for Kuwaitis to reflect on their country’s achievements and renew their commitment to its future. It is a time for national unity, pride, and patriotism, as Kuwaitis celebrate the many successes that have made their country one of the most prosperous and advanced in the Middle East.

In addition to the festivities and celebrations that take place on National Day, the government of Kuwait also organizes a series of cultural events, exhibitions, and performances that showcase the country’s rich history and cultural heritage. These events attract both locals and visitors, who come to experience the vibrant and diverse culture of Kuwait.

One of the highlights of National Day is the traditional military parade, which takes place in the capital city of Kuwait. The parade is attended by members of the royal family, government officials, and members of the armed forces. It is a grand spectacle that showcases the country’s military might and strength.

Importance of National Day

Another important aspect of National Day is the sense of national pride and unity that it inspires in Kuwaitis. The day serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by previous generations to secure Kuwait’s independence and freedom. It is also an opportunity for Kuwaitis to come together and reaffirm their commitment to their country’s future.

National Day is not only celebrated within Kuwait, but also by the Kuwaiti diaspora around the world. Kuwaiti communities in countries such as the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom organize their own celebrations, showcasing their pride in their country of origin.

As Kuwait continues to grow and develop, National Day remains a vital part of the country’s identity and heritage. It serves as a reminder of the resilience and determination of the Kuwaiti people, who have overcome many challenges to build a prosperous and thriving nation.

Image Credit: Andrew Fackler/Flickr

The Central Bank of Iraq has announced plans to settle trade with China directly in yuan, a move that is expected to improve its access to foreign currency and stabilize exchange rates. Previously, Iraqi imports from China were financed in US dollars only. The move is part of a series of measures by the central bank to address a dollar shortage in local currency markets, which forced Iraq’s cabinet to allow a currency revaluation earlier this month.

The revaluation plan was submitted by the central bank after the Iraqi dinar shed more than 10% of its value in recent months. The cabinet set the official exchange rate at 1,300 Iraqi dinars per US dollar. The first option for settling trade in yuan would depend on the central bank’s yuan reserves, while the second would rely on the bank’s US dollar reserves at JP Morgan and DBS. The two banks would convert the dollars to yuan and pay the final beneficiary in China. The move signifies the growing importance of the Chinese currency in international markets.

The Central Bank of Iraq’s decision to allow direct settlement of trade with China in yuan is expected to have significant implications for the country’s economy. The move is seen as a response to a dollar shortage in the local currency markets that has forced the country to take measures to stabilize the value of the Iraqi dinar. By allowing trade to be settled directly in yuan, the Central Bank of Iraq is hoping to improve its access to foreign currency and provide a more stable environment for local businesses and individuals.

Why the Central Bank of Iraq made the decision?

The decision to allow trade to be settled in yuan is part of a series of measures that the central bank has taken to address the dollar shortage. In addition to allowing trade to be settled in yuan, the bank has also taken steps to boost the balances of Iraqi banks that have accounts with Chinese banks in the yuan. It has also strengthened the balances of Iraqi banks through the accounts of the central bank to the final beneficiary in the Chinese yuan, through its accounts with JP Morgan and the Development Bank in Singapore.

This move is significant because it marks the first time that Iraqi imports from China will be financed in yuan. Previously, all imports from China were financed in US dollars only. The move is expected to reduce the country’s dependence on the dollar and diversify its foreign currency reserves. It is also expected to improve the country’s ability to do business with China, which has become one of Iraq’s largest trading partners in recent years.

The decision to allow trade to be settled in yuan also signifies the growing importance of the Chinese currency in international markets. China has been working to promote the use of the yuan as a global reserve currency and has been taking steps to increase its use in trade settlement. The Central Bank of Iraq’s decision to settle trade in yuan is seen as a significant step in this direction and is likely to encourage other countries to follow suit.

Possible implications

The Central Bank of Iraq’s decision to allow trade to be settled in yuan is expected to have a positive impact on the country’s economy. By reducing its dependence on the dollar and diversifying its foreign currency reserves, Iraq will be better able to weather economic shocks and maintain stable exchange rates. It is also expected to improve the country’s trade relations with China and increase its access to foreign currency.

Image Credit: Eric Prouzet on Unsplash

Oman Air has announced that Maha Al Balushi has become the first female Omani Captain in the airline’s history. Al Balushi has been with the airline since 2010, when she graduated from the cadet program at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. She was the only woman enrolled in the program at the time. She became the first female Omani to be awarded the rank of first officer in 2013. Al Balushi officially received her new rank during a ceremony held at the Oman Air’s headquarters in Muscat. This statement comes ahead of International Women’s Day which is celebrated this year on March 8.

In a statement by Oman Air, Al Balushi said, “My dream has always been to become a captain. It hasn’t been easy but thanks to the support I have around me, from my family to my training team and the airline, I have accomplished what I set out to do. It is an honour to hold this role and I hope that I will inspire other Omani women to choose such a rewarding career in the skies.” Oman Air said that 1,230 Omani female employees contribute to the airline’s strength, occupying a range of roles including cabin crew, flight operations, engineering, airport services, marketing, customer services, sales, and communications.

Oman Air’s diversity goals

The airline has achieved an Omanisation rate of 94 per cent, excluding female cabin crew. Oman Air’s appointment of Al Balushi as the first female Omani Captain reflects the airline’s commitment to empowering women and promoting diversity in the aviation industry. It is hoped that her achievement will inspire more women in Oman to pursue careers in aviation, and serve as a reminder of the valuable contributions that women can make to the sector.

Other female captains in the Middle East

In August last year, Etihad Airways announced that Aisha Al Mansoori has made history by becoming the first Emirati woman to become a commercial airline captain in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Captain Al Mansoori joined the airline’s pilot cadet programme in October 2007 and was one of only two Emirati women in her class. She graduated from the programme in 2010 and flew her first flight on an Airbus A320 in Amman, Jordan. To become a captain, she had to complete Etihad’s checks and balances program, accumulate a mandatory number of flying hours, and pass the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority’s theoretical and piloting exams.

Image Credit: Oman Air

Saudi Arabia has deposited $1 billion into Yemen’s Central Bank to support the country’s economic reform programme. This move aims to strengthen the efforts of the Yemeni government to build up reserves at the Central Bank of Yemen and enhance economic stability. The initiative has been welcomed by the Head of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad Al Alimi, and Central Bank Governor Ahmad Ghaleb.

Yemen’s economy has been struggling with a shortage of foreign currency, which is mainly obtained through the export of crude oil through Hadramawt and Shabwah ports that have been under threat due to Houthi attacks. The Houthis have been in control of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa since 2014. Since then, Saudi Arabia has been leading a coalition to fight against the Houthis.

The country is currently in a state of no-war, no-peace stalemate, and active fighting has largely stopped among the warring sides, despite the breakdown of a UN-brokered truce in October. The situation has resulted in economic turmoil and hardship for the Yemeni people, with the Aden-based government raising the US dollar exchange rate used to calculate customs duties on non-essential goods by 50 per cent last month amid dollar shortages, sending prices to all-time highs.

The Yemeni government has been resorting to money-printing to finance the deficit, but in Houthi-held areas, where new notes are banned, the exchange rate is around 600 rials to the dollar, causing further economic hardship for the people. The deposit by Saudi Arabia into the Central Bank of Yemen is expected to help alleviate the country’s economic woes and provide a path towards economic stability.

Image Credit: REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo

The European Union seeks to hastily find alternatives to what it called the Kremlin’s “weaponization of energy” following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Last September, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar to roll out the red carpet to these Middle Eastern gas exporters to deepen their position in the world’s largest trading bloc.

Highlighting the dependency on Russian energy, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published a report on “A 10-Point Plan to Reduce the European Union’s Reliance on Russian Natural Gas” as the European Union imported an average of over 380 million cubic metres (mcm) per day of gas by pipeline from Russia in 2021. The report clearly points out that the EU should immediately increase near-term LNG inflows by some 60 bcm, compared with the average levels in 2021. This reality leads the region to the Middle East LNG market as the timely procurement of LNG can be facilitated by enhanced dialogue with LNG exporters in the Middle East countries such as Qatar and UAE.

Energy independence of EU

The current energy war between Russia and Europe has also had widespread consequences for global liquefied natural gas (LNG) markets and the war itself leads EU to cooperate with the Gulf countries on the LNG transfer.

In 2022, as an alternative source to gain energy independence against Russia, European countries have successfully attracted an estimated 53 billion cubic meters (bcm) of incremental LNG supplies representing over four times the LNG demand of Japan after Fukushima. On the other hand, the continents’ decarbonization goals of by 2050 mean that companies (and countries) are hesitant to make long term commitments to sign the large volumes of LNG contracts with the Gulf countries.

Within the framework of the net zero target, Europe would like to contract clean LNG for 10 years to avoid being stuck with LNG volumes in the late 2040s. Therefore, German economy minister Habeck recently discussed LNG supply with Qatar for an eight-10-year contract. Also, Germany announced to receive first Middle Eastern LNG, from UAE’s Adnoc. On the contrary, the biggest dilemma for the European stakeholders is how to ensure security of gas supplies while decarbonizing the energy system.

EU and Middle East are also cooperating on green energy. In the medium and longer term, Europe’s transition from fossil-based economies to renewable energy could be increasingly bound to a vigorous development of clean energy production in the Middle East region. With the EU’s established ambitious climate and energy policy targets; reducing greenhouse emissions by 2030 by more than half vis-à-vis 1990 levels and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, the region has lots of potential such as solar and wind energy as well as hydrogen to become the saviour of EU.

During COP27, the Sustainable Electricity Trade (SET) MoU signed by Morocco, Spain, Portugal, France and Germany to promote cross-border trade corporate green energy further highlights the acceleration of the MENA region integration in the energy sector. 

The move towards renewables in MENA is accelerating. Morocco, for instance, aims to have 80% of its total electricity generation capacity from renewables by 2050. According to the World Bank, this trend, boosted by European investment deals for clean energy production in the region has the potential to not only increase GDP in the MENA countries involved, but also provide much needed jobs.

Win-win situation

As I highlight in my newly published book “The Renaissance of Smart Energy”, the Middle East region is more than the Syrian war or visits to Dubai for super-posh expensive shopping. Undoubtedly, the region has huge potential for green investments for European countries.

The energy cooperation path remains clear for the building of trust in order to achieve progress on the environment in 2023 between Europe and the Middle East. The Middle Eastern countries must however unite to combat climate-change and the energy oligarchs in order to build a strong alliance that supports European energy independence. There can be no losers in this scenario. It can only be a win-win situation.

The current challenge of Europe on clean energy and Russian energy supplies creates a unique opportunity to draw the countries of the MENA region into a nexus of trade, growth, and peace, while at the same time pushing forward the transition to renewable energy. It is a win-win opportunity that we must not let slip away.

Lebanese Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, along with his brother Raja and an assistant, have been charged with money laundering, embezzlement, and illicit enrichment by a Lebanese judge after an 18-month investigation.

The charges come amidst multiple accusations of corruption and the embezzlement of funds by Salameh, who confirmed earlier this month that he is prepared to resign from his 30-year stint as central bank governor when his fifth term ends this year.

The accusations against Salameh

The accusations against Salameh include the embezzlement of $330 million from the central bank through a contract he signed with Forry Associates, a financial services company run by his brother.

Despite the accusations, the Salameh brothers have denied any wrongdoing. A previous judge had recused himself from the case and did not file charges. The charges against Salameh come at a time when Lebanon is facing a severe economic crisis with a rapidly devaluing currency, hyperinflation, and increasing poverty rates.

Who is Riad Salameh?

Riad Salameh is the Governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon and has held this position since 1993. Salameh is a well-known figure in Lebanon and has been involved in the country’s financial and economic policy for several decades. He is also considered a close ally of the Lebanese political elite.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File

Lebanon’s economic crisis deepened as inflation in Lebanon reached an annual rate of approximately 124% in January, according to the Central Administration of Statistics’ Consumer Price Index. This marks the 31st consecutive month of hyperinflation in the country, which has been hit by a severe economic and financial crisis that has lasted for decades. The inflation in Lebanon is primarily driven by rising communication, education, health, restaurant and hotel prices, along with increased food, water and energy costs.

Why is inflation in Lebanon so high?

The country’s political deadlock has prevented the formation of a new government and enactment of necessary reforms to unlock billions of dollars in aid. The CPI increased by 8.43% in January from December 2022. In 2021, inflation reached 155%, while it climbed to 171.2% in 2022, the highest rate in approximately four decades.

What are the worst affected sectors?

The costs of communication increased by 331% in January from the same month in 2022. Education, health, and restaurant and hotel prices also surged 191%, 176%, and 174%, respectively. Water, electricity, gas and other fuel prices rose 163% annually, while clothing and footwear prices, as well as food and alcoholic beverages, increased by 161% and 138%, respectively.

The costs of miscellaneous goods and services rose by 20% compared to December 2022, while restaurant and hotel prices increased by 18%. Health bills, food and non-alcoholic beverages, and the cost of water, electricity, gas, and other fuels jumped by 11% each.

What’s next for Lebanon?

Lebanon’s economy contracted by about 58% between 2019 and 2021, with GDP falling to $21.8bn in 2021 from about $52bn in 2019, according to the World Bank. The country’s tax revenue more than halved between 2019 and 2021 amid the deepest economic crisis since the civil war, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Could the IMF’s visit to Lebanon in March help?

In March, the IMF delegation is set to visit Lebanon and it is expected that the private sector will propose the creation of a fund to contribute to returning deposits to their owners. This proposal was previously suggested by former Economy Minister Raed Khoury. However, due to the Lebanese government’s failure to implement IMF reform conditions, there is uncertainty over the extent to which the IMF can involve the state in the losses and benefits of such a fund.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Bilal Hussein

King Mohammed VI of Morocco has been advised by his doctor to rest for several days after catching a cold, according to a report by the state news agency Maghreb Arab Press. As a result, the King has been advised to avoid travelling for the time being to protect King Mohammed VI health.

The 59-year-old monarch was set to travel to Senegal on Wednesday, according to reports by Senegalese state media. However, the visit had not been announced by the palace. King Mohammed has the final say on all major decisions in Morocco, a North African kingdom that he has ruled since 1999, following the death of his father, Hassan II.

History of King Mohammed VI health

The Moroccan palace has released several statements in recent years about the King’s health, including when he underwent heart surgery in 2018, suffered a lung infection in 2019, and contracted Covid-19 in June last year when the King’s doctor announced that the monarch exhibited no symptoms despite testing positive for Covid-19.

During his absence, Crown Prince Moulay El Hassan has stepped in to represent his father on various occasions, including during trips abroad.

When was King Mohammed VI’s last public appearance?

The King’s most recent public appearance was last week when he travelled to Gabon, where he held talks with the country’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba at the presidential palace in Libreville, the Gabonese capital. According to an official statement, the meeting was an opportunity to highlight the importance of the “deep, rich, and solidly rooted relations between Morocco and Gabon,” as well as the “strong bonds of brotherhood and solidarity between the two nations.” During the meeting, King Mohammed VI and the Gabonese president reviewed the state of the bilateral partnership between their two countries in all fields. In particular, King Mohammed VI made a donation of 2,000 tons of fertilizers to Gabonese farmers.

Morocco and Gabon share long-standing diplomatic relations that span over 50 years. In 2020, Gabon cemented its support of Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara region by opening a general consulate in the southern Moroccan city of Laayoune. Gabon and Morocco are also large trade partners. Moroccan exports to Gabon amounted to over MAD 537 million ($52 million) in 2020, according to data from Trading Economics. In 2018, Gabonese President Ali Bongo, at the invitation of King Mohammed VI, received medical treatment in Morocco.

Morocco has made significant efforts in recent years to build closer ties with West African countries, as part of its wider strategy to bolster support for its stance on the disputed territory of Western Sahara in the continent.

Image Credit: Moroccan Royal Palace via AP

In October 2016, the Egyptian Premier League witnessed a unique refereeing scandal, which was covered by many local and international media, in the 68th minute of the Ismaily and Al-Nasr mining match, which ended in a positive draw with a goal for the same, Ismaily goalkeeper Mohamed Awad saved a ball with his hands from outside the penalty area, and the referee did not calculate a free kick or anything, and even demanded that play continue amid a wide astonishment from everyone.

Egyptian football followers thought that this disaster would resolve the non-repetition of refereeing errors in the Egyptian Premier League football matches, especially after the heinous attack on the refereeing staff, which resulted in an official decision to suspend the referee of the match, but the crisis continued to flare up from year to year, which shattered the hopes of emerging football teams to achieve advanced positions in the league table, and participate in continental tournaments such as the African Champions League or the African Confederation Championship.

Recurring crisis of referee corruption in Egypt

The refereeing crisis in Egypt is witnessing a remarkable development in the recent period, as the emerging football clubs suffer from the continuation of the journey of the Egyptian Premier League, after the clear stubbornness they are exposed to in favour of the most popular clubs, which appeared recently this month, especially in the first minute of the match Zamalek and Smouha, within the eighteenth round of the Premier League Championship.

The arbitration disaster was new of its kind this time, when only 15 seconds passed from the events of the meeting, and Zamalek player Mohamed Abd El-Shafi made a mistake, in passing the ball to his team’s defense line, to be kidnapped by Hossam Hassan, striker of Smouha Club, from inside the penalty area of the white team, to do Mohamed Abd El-Ghani, defender of Zamalek Club, “mashing” the player’s foot clearly in front of everyone.

The strange thing is that the match referee, Ibrahim Nour El-Din, returned to review the game again via the Var technique, but he decided not to calculate a penalty kick in favour of the Alexandrian team to continue playing normally, in a usual scene from the Egyptian refereeing, and even the director of the match deliberately showed the aforementioned shot in front of the viewers (black and white), so that the vision is not fully clear.

Compulsory retirement

One of the players of emerging clubs in Egypt, who refused to be named, so as not to be subjected to legal accountability, says in an exclusive interview with The Middle East Beat, that his journey in moving between the Egyptian Premier League clubs exceeded 7 years, during which he did not achieve any official championship, despite his many participations in matches, attributing the reason to the refereeing crisis in Egypt, which was exposed to disasters more than 20 times.

The player expresses his sad career in the world of football: “I would have liked to play for popular clubs in Egypt such as Al-Ahly or Zamalek, so that I could avoid repeated refereeing errors, which affected the future of many players in different clubs, and even made a difference in the fate of many football coaches, who were greatly wronged by repeated refereeing errors in the Premier League.”

He concludes his speech, explaining that some players in emerging clubs decided to retire from football permanently in the past few years, after they lost hope in the progress of the teams they joined, or competing with the most popular clubs, stressing that small teams suffer from several things, most notably that the media does not address any details except for popular clubs and affiliated with major companies, which affects the absence of marketing for small clubs, and makes them less likely to defend their rights, as they have been exposed to cases of refereeing errors.

Flops of the “Var” rooms

For his part, Omar Emad, a sports critic, believes that the refereeing crisis in the Egyptian Premier League is very huge, due to the referees’ different treatment of the two most popular teams in Egypt (Al-Ahly and Al-Zamalek), and the referees’ strange actions in calculating direct free kicks or penalties, and cancelling goals or counting them in favour of popular clubs.

“Emad” explains in an exclusive interview with The Middle East Beat: “I personally asked many of the players of the Egyptian Premier League, all of them unanimously agreed on one thing, playing for Al-Ahly or Zamalek is one thing, and playing against them is another thing entirely, despite the large presence of corporate clubs in recent times, but the injustice is clear to them, in exchange for the full bias of the popular clubs in Egypt.”

He adds: “There are several crises within the rooms of the Var, and I attended one of the matches inside the room of the Var, accompanied by one of my friends from the directors of the matches, and I saw then the disasters arbitration, it became clear to me the extent of apprehension that exists n before the referees of the Var in favour of Ahli and Zamalek, the two teams if they were wronged once, the teams that play against them will wronged 10 times,  as a compensation for the two teams”.

As for the reasons for the resignation of the previous arbitration committee, which came under the leadership of the English referee Mark Clattenburg, the sports critic confirms that he decided to leave the presidency of the referees committee in Egypt, because of his repeated crises with Zamalek club president Mortada Mansour, as well as being insulted and slandered publicly in the club’s television programs.

In conclusion, he says: “The presence of Clattenburg in the referees committee did not add anything to the tournament, because his personality was completely absent with the Egyptian referees, and this was quite clear especially in his review of the wrong decisions and refereeing cases, and nothing changed”.

Corrupt appointment

We also got in touch with Mohamed Mohsen, a former Egyptian Premier League referee, who decided to leave the profession a few years ago due to widespread corruption in referee matches, and a lack of desire to belong to the system in general, it became clear that there was another disaster in Egyptian arbitration, little is known about, which is the appointment of people as referees inside the Farr rooms, who do not belong in any way to the profession, and do not have the usual referees.

Mohsen continues his conversation with “The Middle East Beat”, pointing out that these people are relatives of members within the arbitration committee and the Egyptian Football Association, and some of them also have close relations with the presidents of mass clubs in Egypt, and have been appointed in order to provide services to certain clubs, and this has become widely clear in front of the fans recently, and resulted in refereeing disasters that have no analogue in other tournaments.

He says: “Last year, 16 clubs out of 18 participating in the Egyptian Premier League competition, filed official complaints against the wrong refereeing decisions they were subjected to, at the same time that the Egyptian Club Association was asking a committee to contract with a foreign expert to develop the system, which was rejected more than once by the referees committee without giving clear reasons”.

Mohsen concludes: “The continuous pressure by the Egyptian clubs forced the referees committee in the end to bring in the English referee Mark Clattenburg, but only a few months have passed until the parties to the system deliberately spoil his work, and even made it completely cancelled, no impact of his decisions permanently, until he submitted his resignation and left the country, and this is the biggest evidence of the lack of hope for the progress of Egyptian football”.

Image Credit: Omar Emad

Tunisian Foreign Minister Nabil Ammar announced his country’s readiness to support Libya in finding a political solution to end the Libya crisis on Tuesday. The statement was made during a meeting with the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Libya, Abdoulaye Bathily, who was on a visit to discuss the Libyan crisis.

According to the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ammar said that Tunisia is committed to providing all necessary support to the Libyan people and the UN’s efforts to restore peace, security, and development in the neighbouring country.

Ammar reiterated Tunisia’s firm stance on Libya’s situation, based on supporting a peaceful Libyan-led and owned solution free of foreign interference.

In response, Bathily praised Tunisia for its constructive stance and its central role in supporting the process of settling the Libyan issue. Bathily reviewed the UN’s efforts made in collaboration with various Libyan factions, neighbouring countries, and international partners to promote dialogue between the Libyan factions, which would lead to the organization of elections as soon as possible, in accordance with the will of the Libyan people.

Growing international interest to find a solution to the Libya crisis

The meeting between Ammar and Bathily reflects the growing interest in finding a solution to the Libyan crisis, which has been ongoing since the 2011 overthrow of former leader Muammar Gaddafi. The crisis has resulted in a protracted civil war, the rise of armed militias, and a surge in terrorism and human trafficking. Libya and Tunisia have been assisting one another amid Tunisia’s deteriorating social and economic situation. In January, almost 100 Libyan trucks brought sugar, oil, flour and rice into Tunisia amid shortages of basic goods.

Last month, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani emphasized the need for cooperation among all major parties to find a solution for the ongoing Libyan crisis. He also praised Egypt for playing an essential role in facilitating such cooperation. Tajani made the remarks during a joint press conference held with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, in Cairo.

The press conference addressed various issues, including the Palestinian cause, irregular migration, the energy sector, developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, food security, and the repercussions of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis.

In early January, Egypt played a crucial role in organizing a meeting between Libyan leaders Speaker of the House of Representatives Aguila Saleh and Head of Higher Council of State Khaled Al-Mishri in Cairo. The meeting was welcomed by Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as an “important step” towards holding presidential and parliamentary elections simultaneously as soon as possible.

At the time, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry pledged its support for the Libyan people and institutions in their efforts to achieve security, stability, and unity in Libya. It also reiterated its commitment to helping Libya remove all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libyan lands.

Tunisia’s and other countries commitment to supporting Libya in achieving a peaceful resolution to the crisis is an important step towards regional stability and the restoration of democracy in Libya. The resolution of the crisis is vital to restoring peace and stability in the region. The international efforts to find a solution to the crisis is a significant step in the right direction.

Image Credit: World Atlas

On Tuesday, fuel prices in Lebanon saw another significant increase, leading to a rise in the price of various petroleum products. The canister of 95-octane gasoline rose by LBP 14,000, the price of 98-octane gasoline increased by LBP 15,000, diesel increased by LBP 1,000, and the price of LP gas rose by LBP 14,000.

As a result, the new prices for the aforementioned products in Lebanon are as follows:

95-octane gasoline: LBP 1,493,000

98-octane gasoline: LBP 1,529,000

Diesel: LBP 1,426,000

LP gas: LBP 981,000

Back in January, the the price of a 95-octane gasoline was 713,000 LBP in comparison. This price hike comes as a result of the country’s ongoing economic crisis, which has been exacerbated by the recent currency devaluation. Last week’s sudden and sharp decrease in the value of the Lebanese pound created a wave of confusion in the markets and triggered widespread anger among citizens. Within less than 24 hours, the exchange rate in the parallel market plummeted from 68,000 pounds to the dollar to 77,000 pounds, resulting in a significant gap between purchase and sale prices.

The situation has become dire for many, with warnings that people can no longer afford to buy anything. The impact of the fall has already been felt, with gas station owners refusing to sell fuel and government officials attempting to prevent protests from turning into widespread chaos on the streets.

The Lebanese government has been grappling with an ongoing economic crisis that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and political instability. The country has seen a sharp decline in its currency, which has lost over 90% of its value in the past two years. This has resulted in a rise in the cost of living for citizens, with many struggling to afford basic necessities.

Consequences of the increase in fuel prices in Lebanon

This increase in fuel prices is expected to have a ripple effect on various industries, as transportation costs are likely to increase. The agricultural sector, which heavily relies on fuel to power tractors and other machinery, is also expected to be affected.

The Lebanese government has been struggling to address the ongoing economic crisis, with protests erupting across the country in recent months. The fuel price hike is likely to further fuel public anger and unrest.

Image Credit: Dawn McDonald on Unsplash

Kuwait, a small nation located in the Middle East at the Northwest corner of the Arabian Gulf, has a rich history and is governed by the Sabah family. The city of Kuwait was established in the 1700s as a hub for maritime trade between Arabia and India and since then the flag of Kuwait has changed more than once, it eventually emerged as a major port for Mesopotamia and the Arabian Peninsula. After many years of struggles, Kuwait achieved full independence from Britain in 1961, and the current flag was adopted in the same year.

The flag of Kuwait in the 1900s

Before adopting the current flag, Kuwait’s flag was characterized by a red field with a crescent and a star during the Ottoman Empire. A similar design was adopted with an Arabic inscription on the flag as part of an agreement between Kuwait and the British in 1899. The moon and star were made larger in 1909, and the text was placed in the top right corner. In 1915, the moon and star were removed, and the Arabic inscription was moved to the centre, with a broad white stripe added to the left side.

flag of kuwait
Image Credit: Jaume Ollé

The flag of Kuwait between 1920-1956

When Kuwait was declared an independent country under a British protectorate in 1921, the flag was altered once again. The red backdrop and the Arabic inscription of the Shahada, which means “there is no god but God; Muhammad is the messenger of God,” remained in use until 1940. At this point, the Sabah family logo was added, creating the current design that was kept until 1956. This was replaced with a red background and a white wavy stripe along the left edge, and it too had the Shahada lettering.

Image Credit: Eugene Ipavec

The flag of Kuwait in the 1960s

On October 24th, 1961, Kuwait officially adopted a new Pan-Arab-coloured flag, which remains in use to this day. It is composed of three horizontal stripes in green, white, and red with a black trapezoid on the left side. The black trapezoid represents the country’s location at the head of the Persian Gulf, while the green colour represents the country’s prosperity, white represents peace, and red represents the blood of the country’s defenders.

Kuwait during the ’90s

Kuwait was invaded by Iraq on August 2, 1990, marking the beginning of the Gulf War. The Iraqi forces, led by Saddam Hussein, quickly overran Kuwaiti defenses and occupied the country. This triggered a massive international response, led by the United States, to liberate Kuwait and push back the Iraqi military.

Kuwaiti citizens suffered greatly under the oppressive rule of the Iraqi regime. Many were subject to forced labor, torture, and even execution. The Iraqi military looted the country’s resources, including its vast oil reserves, which were set on fire as they retreated. The environmental damage caused by the fires lasted for years and had a devastating impact on the country’s economy and public health.

The international coalition worked tirelessly to push back the Iraqi forces and free Kuwait. After months of intense fighting, coalition forces liberated Kuwait on February 26, 1991, ending one of the most significant conflicts in modern history.

Despite the many challenges Kuwait faced during the Gulf War, the country emerged from the conflict as a strong and united nation. Kuwait’s experience during the war left an indelible mark on its people, shaping their values and fortifying their determination to never give up in the face of adversity.

Image Credit: Andrew Fackler/Flickr

Iranian-German citizen Jamshid Sharmahd has been sentenced to death by the Revolutionary Court in Tehran after being found guilty of planning and directing terrorist acts. The verdict was delivered on Tuesday and reported on the Iranian judiciary’s Mizan website.

The case of Jamshid Sharmahd

Mr Sharmahd, who holds US residency, was accused of being the mastermind of the 2008 bombing at a mosque in Iran that killed 14 people and injured over 200. He was also charged with “corruption on earth”, a broad accusation that has been brought against suspected terrorists, religious minority activists, and protesters.

The arrest of Mr Sharmahd was announced in 2020 by the Intelligence Ministry, which referred to him as “the ringleader of the terrorist Tondar group, who directed armed and terrorist acts in Iran from America.” Currently, there are about two dozen foreigners and dual citizens detained in Iran as hopes of reviving a 2015 deal on Tehran’s nuclear program fade, and anti-regime demonstrations continue for four months.

Last month, Iran executed former defense minister Ali Reza Akbari, a British-Iranian who was convicted of spying for MI6, the UK’s foreign intelligence agency, and was accused of involvement in the assassination of Iran’s senior nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Mr. Akbari was hanged “after going through all the legal procedures and confirming the court verdict in the Supreme Court,” as reported by Mizan.

In January, Iran also sentenced Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele to a total of 40 years in prison and 74 lashes on charges of spying for the US, money laundering, and currency smuggling. Mr. Vandecasteele was given 12 and a half years in jail on each of three charges – espionage, collaboration with hostile governments, and money laundering – and fined $1 million.

Why does Iran not recognise dual nationality?

Iran does not recognize dual nationality, meaning that individuals who hold Iranian citizenship in addition to citizenship in another country are considered solely Iranian in the eyes of the Iranian government. This means that if such individuals are arrested or detained in Iran, the Iranian government may not recognize their other nationality, and they may not be able to receive consular assistance from the other country’s embassy or diplomatic mission in Iran.

The Iranian government’s stance on dual nationality is based on its interpretation of Islamic law, which considers nationality to be a matter of personal identity and loyalty. The Iranian government believes that an individual cannot be truly loyal to two different countries at the same time, and that holding dual nationality can create conflicts of interest and undermine national security.

In practice, this policy has created difficulties for individuals with dual nationality, including Iranian-Americans and Iranian-British nationals, who have been arrested and detained in Iran in recent years. In August last year, Iran sentenced two Swedish citizens to multiyear prison terms on charges of drug smuggling. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual British-Iranian citizen was arrested in 2016 in Tehran while working as a charity project manager. She was accused of spying by the country’s authorities which she denied but was only released in 2022 after a long running dispute between Britain and Iran.

Critics argue that the policy is discriminatory and violates the rights of individuals to access consular assistance from their other country of nationality. Not only does Iran not recognise dual nationality, but last month, Iran sentenced an ethnic Iranian-Kurdish pregnant woman, Shahla Abdi, to death. Although international laws prohibit the execution of pregnant women, this is not the first time that Iran has sentenced a pregnant woman to death. In Iran, the regime executed at least 50 pregnant women in the 1980s. The Iranian authorities also executed and hanged thousands of women in 1988, during the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in Iran.

Image Credit: wirestock – www.freepik.com

Turkey and northern Syria have both been hit by a new earthquake of 6.4 magnitude, with buildings swaying as far away as Lebanon and Egypt. This comes almost two weeks after the first Turkey-Syria earthquake. According to the Turkish disaster response agency AFAD, three people were killed and 213 people have been left injured in Turkey. They also said that the earthquake, at a depth of 7.7km, was centred on the town of Defne, in Hatay province.

While this earthquake was far less violent than the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit southwest Turkey almost two weeks ago it’s effects were still devastating. The earthquake was felt in several countries, including Syria, Egypt, Israel, and Lebanon.

In total 45,000 people have now been confirmed dead in the earlier earthquake, with more than 41,000 of them in Turkey with the number set to rise further in the coming days and weeks.

According to the Turkish authorities, about 1.6 million people have subsequently been made temporarily homeless.

Earlier on Monday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Hatay and pledged that his government would begin the construction of nearly 200,000 new homes in the quake-devastated region as early as next month.

Turkey-Syria earthquake – Why is Turkey hit so badly?

Turkey, a country that has experienced numerous earthquakes in the past, has been working to improve its disaster management efforts. Despite these efforts, however, the frequency and severity of earthquakes in the region continue to pose a significant risk to those living in affected areas. President Erdogan, who has been under criticism over a perceived slow response to the earthquake as well as having presided over a system where corrupt developers failed to meet construction standards. The nature of the soil in southwestern Turkey is said to worsen the effects of earthquakes, with Erdogan promising that new apartment blocks will be built on higher ground. The government’s response comes two weeks after a previous earthquake caused significant damage in the nearby city of Antakya.

As the Turkey and Syria work to recover from the latest earthquake, it remains to be seen how effective the government’s response will be in addressing the needs of those affected by this natural disaster.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Bernat Armangue

Antony Blinken’s arrival in Turkey on Sunday was highly anticipated, due to the US’s long-standing relationship with Turkey and has previously provided assistance and aid to Turkey in times of crisis. The Secretary of State landed at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey’s southern province of Adana on Sunday afternoon and was greeted by Washington’s ambassador to Ankara, Jeff Flake, among other officials.

After taking a helicopter tour of the earthquake damage with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Blinken met with members of the White Helmets rescue group. The White Helmets have played a critical role in the search and rescue efforts in northwestern Syria, where international support from the UN has been lacking.

Blinken also met with the USAid Disaster Assistance Response Team (Dart), which is assisting with the recovery efforts in the aftermath of the earthquake. The Dart search and rescue team is starting to leave Turkey after 11 days on the ground, and response operations are now focused on rapidly delivering relief supplies to millions of people. Blinken’s visit coincided with the day that search and rescue operations in Turkey ended, according to the head of the country’s disaster response agency.

Washington is working through UN agencies and charities to provide emergency assistance, including hot meals, water, medical care and supplies, non-food items such as blankets, clothes, and hygiene kits, temporary shelter, and structural engineers, as well as essential mental health and psychosocial support.

On Monday, Blinken is expected to thank Turkey for its support of cross-border aid to affected areas of Syria, an issue that has reignited since the earthquake. He will hold further talks in Ankara and is expected to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

How much aid to Turkey has been pledged already?

Last week, Washington committed $85 million in immediate humanitarian aid for Turkey, along with continuing USAid help. The additional $100 million pledged by Blinken brings the total to $185 million in aid for Turkey and Syria. The United States remains committed to doing everything it can to support the rescue, relief, and recovery efforts in the wake of this devastating earthquake.

Image Credit: REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/Pool

Egypt has invested heavily in massive infrastructure projects in recent years, including the new capital east of Cairo and widespread road construction, which helped maintain economic activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this has weakened the investment environment, stifling industrial and agricultural projects and relying on hot money, creating some instability in the Egyptian economy in 2022.

The instability could have disappeared or increased over time without defined moments, but the Russian-Ukrainian conflict ignited the situation and has brought the economic situation to light causing huge difficulties and forcing the Egyptian government to struggle to control the exchange rate of the Egyptian pound against the US dollar, leaving the Egyptian government struggling to keep afloat amidst the overwhelming debt that has grown heavier in last 10 years.

With inflation spiraling, American interest rates rising, ongoing geopolitical disturbances, and structural economic challenges, the Egyptian pound and other regional currencies may face further declines in 2023. Therefore, 2023 may be a defining year for the Egyptian state to chart its destiny for years to come.

Eye on the crisis

The Egyptian pound has declined in value in three stages. The first was in March 2022, when it dropped from 15.7 to 18.2 pounds per dollar. The second was in October 2022, when it reached 23 pounds per dollar, with the central bank announcing a flexible exchange rate policy. The third was in January 2023, when the pound plummeted to a record level of over 32 pounds before stabilizing at around 30 pounds currently.

Egypt has been struggling with foreign currency since the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war in February 2022 and the rise in US interest rates throughout 2022, resulting in the exit of over 22 billion dollars in hot foreign investments in debt instruments.

The financial statement for the state’s 2022/2023 general budget project revealed that the total payment of local and foreign debts will amount to 690 billion pounds, representing 7.6% of the total domestic output and an increase of 19.1% over the previous budget. Since October, the Egyptian currency has been depreciating, and the government is facing the challenge of finding sustainable solutions to tackle rising product prices and potential political instability.

Facing the beast

The Egyptian government has faced a challenge and changed some of its important financial leadership, such as replacing Tarek Amer as the governor of the central bank with Hassan Abdullah and appointing Rami Aldekani instead of Mohamed Omran. Since then, the government’s management has improved significantly, despite it not being clear to the Egyptian citizen.

On January 11, 2023, the Egyptian Central Bank succeeded in obtaining a loan from the International Monetary Fund by committing to stringent reform conditions, such as its commitment to maintain a constant exchange rate for the local currency against receiving a loan from the International Monetary Fund worth 3 billion dollars for 46 months. On the same day, the Central Bank announced the exchange rate, and the pound fell to its lowest level ever, 32.5 for the dollar in state-owned banks, close to its price in the black market.

The decision by the head of the Egyptian Central Bank was made due to the observation of four unauthorized practices in the foreign currency market in December 2022 that drained the Egyptian economy. These practices included the use of credit cards abroad to take advantage of currency differences, trading some goods in the local market with hard currency, and violations related to the transfer of money from Egyptians abroad through unofficial channels to take advantage of the unofficial exchange rate. The fourth violation was the establishment of illegal foreign currency trading offices. These practices were negatively affecting the Egyptian economy, and the Central Bank’s decision was aimed at stopping them.

The stock market as a lifeline for the Egyptian Economy

The Egyptian government has taken the reins to revive its stock market and turn it into a safe haven for investors. Along with maintaining a stable exchange rate, the government has also committed to gradually selling some of its state-owned assets, including those owned by the military, to regional and international investors to provide more freedom for the private sector and attract investors back. It has also agreed to increased supervision from the International Monetary Fund on its national budget, state-owned companies, and government spending, in an attempt to control the value of the Egyptian pound.

The government aims to raise 2.5 billion dollars by the mid-year from these sales, covering sectors such as energy, industry, and transportation. Despite the Egyptian stock market being in its worst state in recent years, it has now started to bounce back with the new economic administration. The EGX30, the main stock index in Egypt, has risen by 22.17% in 2022, reaching its highest level since 2017 and adding another 9.51% this year, surpassing 17,000 historical points.

In 2023, there is a high number of companies set to be listed on the Egyptian stock market, attracting Arab and foreign investment, supported by strong performance in the last quarter of 2022 and the first months of 2023. This is just the beginning of a promising future for the Egyptian stock market as a hub for investment.

Sovereign funds as a new player

Egyptian sovereign funds have emerged as a new player in the economy. Failure is the last thing the Egyptian government needs right now, and it seems that the new economic team understands this and will rely on the Arab player in the coming period, specifically the massive financial capabilities and meeting of expectations of the Egyptian Sovereign Fund.

The fund was able to attract investment worth $3.3 billion from Arab and Gulf sovereign funds in 2022, with some in dollars and others in Egyptian pounds, in sectors such as tourism, real estate, industry, financial services, education, and manufacturing. Additionally, the Saudi Sovereign Wealth Fund is in advanced talks to acquire the state-owned Unified Bank of Egypt in a deal worth approximately $600 million, with more companies on the way in the next four years with a total value of around $40 billion.

The acquisition of the investment will take place through the newly established Egyptian-Saudi Investment Company, valued at a whopping $620 billion. This move is a testament to the Egyptian economic team’s understanding of the challenges they face and their determination to find solutions that benefit everyone involved. The vision of Saudi Arabia to transform its oil-based economy aligns with the Egyptian government’s effort to sell some assets to finance exchange rate fluctuations. This agreement is reflected daily in the Egyptian stock market and will become more evident as the government’s initiatives begin this year.

Credit rating downgrades send shockwaves again

Moody’s has announced a decrease in Egypt’s credit rating from B2 to B3, dashing hopes for a brighter future. This may hamper Egypt’s efforts and make it more difficult to issue more bonds, which the government had relied on to fund Egypt’s external debt of 155 billion dollars by September 2022. The Egyptian government will now have to either raise interest rates or resort to alternative means of funding the debt.

The current situation in Egypt’s economy is better than it has been in the past and the production sector has started to recover to its full capacity. This will help stabilize the prices of all products in the near future. However, Moody’s report is based on data from before the new economic administration took over. Standard & Poor’s has already given Egypt a B rating with a stable outlook, which shows that the current situation is under control.

Nevertheless, these reports emphasize the importance of the stock exchange’s initiatives to improve the Egyptian economy and the Egyptian stock exchange, which is expected to see higher values for its companies in the future. The question remains whether Rami Dakkani and Hassan Abdullah will be able to prevent the Egyptian pound from further depreciation. With their economic performance during the storm, it seems that they are up to the challenge of steering the Egyptian pound to calmer waters.

Abu Dhabi’s Abrahamic Family House is set to become a symbol of hope and unity, representing the country’s commitment to embracing diversity and promoting interfaith dialogue. This pioneering multi-faith complex comprises a mosque, church, and synagogue, allowing Muslims, Christians, and Jews to worship under one roof.

Who’s idea was the Abrahamic Family House?

Opening on March 1, this groundbreaking development is named after Abraham, the prophet revered in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. The three houses of worship on Saadiyat Island lead to a central garden under which sits a museum and education center, promoting mutual understanding and respect among different faiths.

Designed by renowned architect David Adjaye, the Abrahamic Family House is a beautiful complex of buildings that seamlessly blends modernity with tradition. It not only complements the flourishing Cultural District on Saadiyat Island but also serves as a shining example of the UAE’s tolerance and acceptance.

As a nation that welcomes over 200 nationalities, the UAE recognizes the importance of embracing diversity and celebrating differences. The Abrahamic Family House is a testament to the country’s values of inclusivity and coexistence, serving as a beacon of hope for people of all faiths and backgrounds. Back in September, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed arrived in Tel Aviv for an official visit to Israel, marking two years since the countries signed the so-called Abraham Accords.

The UAE has taken bold steps in promoting interfaith dialogue and hosting the first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula in 2019. The Abrahamic Family House reflects the country’s continued commitment to building bridges between different religions and promoting a more peaceful world.

The Abrahamic Family House is a groundbreaking development that celebrates the beauty of diversity and the importance of coexistence. It sends a powerful message of hope and unity, showcasing the UAE’s values of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence. As we look towards a future of greater understanding and compassion, the Abrahamic Family House will stand as a reminder that our differences are what make us unique and beautiful.

Image Credit: Wikipedia Creative Commons 2022

An Israeli strike on Damascus on Sunday morning has left at least 5 people dead and destroyed a building in a neighbourhood in central Damascus, home to much of Syria’s security apparatus, according to a war monitor.

Israeli strike on Damascus: Various death tolls

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that the strike, which targeted Iranian and Hezbollah targets close to an Iranian cultural centre, had killed 15 people including civilians. “Israeli missiles targeted sites including Iranian militias and the Lebanese Hezbollah,” they added. Syria’s state media, SANA, said that four civilians and one soldier were killed, and another 15 civilians were wounded in the strike on the Kafar Sousah neighbourhood. It also said several of those wounded were listed in critical condition.

The Israeli Defence Forces did not make any comment, in line with its policy of not generally commenting on air raids in the country.

During more than a decade of war in Syria, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes against its neighbour, primarily targeting positions of the country’s army, Iranian forces, and Hezbollah. But it rarely hits residential areas of the capital. In January, four soldiers were killed in an Israeli missile strike on Damascus International Airport.

Video footage posted by state media illustrated that a 10-story building was badly damaged in the attack, crushing the structure of its lower floors.

Large chunks of the building had been thrown into the street below, which was strewn with cladding and metal fittings. The images also showed that several of the building’s windows had been blown out.

UK-based independent network and Iranian TV station, Iran International TV, has been forced to shut down its London studios following a series of death threats received by its staff, and an alleged escalation in state-backed threats from Iran.

Why the Iranian TV station shut down its UK HQ

The decision to shut down the Iranian TV station was taken on Friday after an Austrian-Iranian man was arrested in the vicinity of the studio in Chiswick, West London last weekend. The man was charged on Monday “with collecting information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”, police said although the police said “serious concerns” remained about the safety of employees. The UK’s Metropolitan Police warned staff that it cannot safeguard them from Tehran-backed assassins or kidnappers on UK soil.

The channel was founded in 2017 and is owned by Volent Media. It reports on human rights abuses in Iran, including gender-based violence and honour killings. In November, concrete barriers were installed outside the studios to prevent any vehicle attack as well as firearms officers and armoured vehicles after warnings of a “credible threat to life”. Despite the man’s arrest, the police stated on Saturday that “we still have serious concerns for the safety of people working at this company”, and as a result, the police gave further advice, which led to the company relocating. About 100 staff work at the UK headquarters, many of whom are long-term British residents.

Iran International will continue its 24-hour broadcasts from its offices in Washington, and its relocation comes amidst the challenging reality faced by journalists around the world, including hostile intentions from foreign states while in the UK.

Image Credit: Iran International English/twitter

After 12 days of search and rescue operations in Turkey, a foreign team from Kyrgyzstan was able to pull a couple and their son alive from under a collapsed apartment building in the southern Turkish city of Antakya. The search and rescue operation in Turkey’s Antakya took place on Saturday, and the family was transferred to ambulances after being found. Unfortunately, the couple’s 12-year-old son passed away in the hospital.

The earthquake, which measured 7.8 on the Richter scale, hit Turkey and Syria on February 6, causing widespread devastation in the region. Hatay province, where Antakya is located, was one of the hardest-hit areas. The death toll in Turkey has now reached 40,642, and Syrian authorities report that 5,800 people died there, taking the total deaths to over 46,000. Many people are still unaccounted for, and the number of casualties is expected to continue to rise.

Why search and rescue operations in Turkey will end now

Search and rescue operations in Turkey will end today, according to the head of the country’s disaster response agency. Tremors continue to shake the country, with a 5.2-magnitude earthquake striking central Turkey on Saturday. However, there were no immediate reports of further damage.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to make a helicopter tour of the affected areas after arriving in Turkey on Sunday for an official visit. He is expected to hold discussions with Turkish officials about how the US can help relief efforts. The focus has turned from rescue to long-term humanitarian support for survivors in Turkey as well as neighbouring Syria, where the movement of aid has been hindered by the country’s long-running civil war.

Despite the co-operation of the Syrian and Turkish governments, the World Food Programme director David Beasley says its operations are being hampered in north-west Syria. The agency last week said it was running out of stocks in the rebel-held region and called for more border crossings to be opened from Turkey. The situation is complicated by the fact that the area is controlled by insurgents at war with forces loyal to President Bashar Al Assad.

The survivors of the earthquake will need help for months to come, with so much crucial infrastructure destroyed. Medics and experts are also concerned about the possible spread of infection in the quake-hit areas after tens of thousands of buildings collapsed, and sanitation infrastructure was damaged. Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca says that although there has been a rise in intestinal and upper respiratory infections, the numbers do not pose a serious threat to public health. Turkey vowed last week to investigate thoroughly anyone suspected of responsibility for the collapse of buildings in the country’s devastating earthquakes nearly one week ago and has already ordered the detention of 113 suspects.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Bernat Armangue

Batroun, one of Lebanon’s ancient coastal cities, is a treasure trove of history and culture, but much of its heritage remains undiscovered. With Phoenician ruins, Roman artifacts, a medieval castle, Byzantine-style churches, and arcaded Ottoman souks, Batroun has a rich history that dates back to before the Phoenician era. Yet, the true origins of the city remain a mystery.

Batroun remains a mystery

The origins of Batroun are still a mystery: While the city is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, its true origins are not fully understood. Some experts believe that the city dates back to the time of the Phoenicians, while others suggest that it could be of Roman or even Crusader origin. Despite extensive excavations and research, the city’s true history remains a mystery.

Batroun has many archaeological treasures

Batroun has a wealth of undiscovered archaeological treasures: According to excavator and former Greenpeace activist Georges Mubarak, there are many archaeological treasures waiting to be discovered in Batroun. These include ancient pottery, jade artifacts, and glass objects. Mubarak believes that there are many structures and vestiges buried underneath the city that have yet to be uncovered.

Batroun used to be a trade center

Batroun was once the largest trade center on Lebanon’s coastline: In the early 19th century, Batroun was the largest trade center on Lebanon’s coastline. The city’s strategic location and thriving port made it a hub for trade, with merchandise being imported and exported through its port. Today, the city’s economy is largely focused on tourism.

Batroun has crystal-clear waters

Batroun’s seafront is pollution-free: Unlike many other coastal cities in Lebanon, Batroun’s beaches are known for their crystal-clear waters and lack of pollution. This is due to the city’s proper infrastructure for sewers, which has prevented pollution from damaging the seafront.

Batroun has a special feature

Batroun is home to the “Phoenician wall”: One of the most fascinating features of Batroun is the “Phoenician wall”. The wall was sculpted more than 2,000 years ago by the city’s inhabitants using sandstone quarried from the area. Only 225 meters of the original 1-kilometer-long wall remains, but it is still a stunning example of the city’s ancient heritage.

Image Credit: Christelle Hayek on Unsplash

The Tunisian flag is a symbol of the country’s struggle for independence and the ideals of the nation. National flags are important symbols in every part of the world, but they have particular significance in the Middle East. The flag consists of a red background with a white circle in the centre, which contains a red star and a red crescent. The flag was officially adopted on July 3, 1959, and has been the national flag of Tunisia ever since.

The red background of the flag is said to represent the bloodshed of the country’s fight for independence from France. The white circle in the centre symbolizes peace, and the red star and crescent are common symbols of Islam. The flag’s design was inspired by the flag of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Tunisia for centuries before the country gained independence.

The current flag replaced the previous one, which was used during the French colonial period. That flag was a tricolour of red, white, and green, with a red star and crescent in the centre. This flag was used from 1831 until Tunisia gained independence in 1956. The distinctive red and white flag of the Tunisan flag is shared by many other Arab states.

The design of the current flag was created by a group of Tunisian nationalists who wanted to create a new symbol of their country’s struggle for independence. The flag was first raised on the day that Tunisia became a republic, which was July 25, 1957.

The flag has been the subject of controversy at times, particularly with regards to the use of the red star and crescent, which are often associated with communism. Some political parties have objected to the flag’s design, and there have been calls to change it, but the majority of Tunisians view it as a powerful symbol of their country’s history and identity.

In recent years, the flag has been used by protesters in Tunisia and other countries in the Arab world as a symbol of resistance and hope. During the Arab Spring uprisings, which began in Tunisia in 2010, the flag was prominently displayed by protesters calling for political change and greater freedom.

Today, the flag of Tunisia is a symbol of the country’s rich history and culture, as well as its aspirations for a better future. It is recognized as one of the most powerful and iconic national flags in the world, and is a source of pride for Tunisians everywhere.

One of the world’s most well-known soccer players Cristiano Ronaldo Saudi Arabia where he was greeted with great fanfare, including children wearing the yellow and blue jerseys of his new club. Saudi Arabia, an oil-rich country, has successfully attracted the five-time Ballon d’Or winner to play for its Al Nassr FC team on a two-year contract, as part of its ongoing effort to achieve its sports-related goals, even at a high cost.

According to Saudi state-run media, Ronaldo will be the highest-paid soccer player in the world, earning an estimated $200 million per year with Al Nassr. The club’s Instagram page gained over 5.3 million new followers after the signing, and its official website crashed due to a surge in traffic. The hashtag #HalaRonaldo – Hello Ronaldo in Arabic – was trending for days on Twitter throughout the Middle East. Analysts suggest that Ronaldo’s signing is part of a broader strategy by Saudi Arabia to diversify its revenue streams and establish itself as a major player in international sports.

Cristiano Ronaldo Saudi Arabia achievements?

Cristiano Ronaldo has made his mark in the Saudi Pro League by scoring four goals for Al-Nassr in a match against Al-Wehda, achieving a remarkable personal milestone. The 38-year-old had only scored one goal in his first three competitive appearances for the club, which he joined in December, but he showed his class in the match, scoring in the 21st, 40th, 53rd, and 61st minutes. He reached and surpassed a significant milestone of scoring 500 career league goals during the match.

Ronaldo’s first goal was a powerful left-footed finish across the goalkeeper, and he showed his poacher’s instincts to score his second, racing in-behind to latch onto a through-ball and finish under Abdulquddus Atiah. He made no mistake from the penalty spot to score his third, and his fourth came just after the hour mark. He reached the milestone of 503 league goals when the goalkeeper could only paw his tame shot back into his path, and he slid the ball into the empty net. Ronaldo’s goals helped Al-Nassr secure a much-needed victory as they push for another league title.

Ronaldo’s 503 career league goals include three goals in the Primeira Liga for Sporting Lisbon, 84 goals in the Premier League during his first stint at Manchester United, and 311 goals in 292 La Liga games for Real Madrid. He was almost as prolific for Juventus, scoring 81 Serie A goals in 98 appearances for the Turin giants before returning to Manchester United in 2021. Ronaldo has scored five goals in his first three Saudi Pro League appearances, and his overall tally of 503 goals places him behind only Pele, Romario, Josef Bican, and Ferenc Puskas on the list of all-time league goal scorers.

Increased tourism?

While no official figures have been released, Cristiano Ronaldo’s signing with Al Nassr is expected to have a positive impact on Saudi Arabia’s tourism industry. As one of the most famous football stars in the world, Ronaldo’s presence in the kingdom is likely to draw the attention of soccer fans from around the globe. Additionally, the significant media coverage and social media buzz surrounding his signing and his subsequent performance with the team can help showcase Saudi Arabia’s rich culture, tourist attractions, and vibrant cities to the world. Overall, Ronaldo’s decision to play for Al Nassr could significantly boost the country’s profile as a destination for sports tourism and help promote its national agenda of economic diversification through tourism.

Image Credit: AP photo/Amr Nabil

Mother’s Day Lebanon is celebrated throughout the country. Mother’s Day is a special occasion celebrated worldwide to honour the mothers who have made significant contributions to our lives, . In Lebanon, mother’s day is celebrated on March 21st every year and 2023 will be no different. It is a time when people express their love and gratitude for their mums through various gestures and gifts.

However, the date of Mother’s Day varies in different countries around the world. In the United States, it is celebrated on the second Sunday in May, while in the United Kingdom, it is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent, which is usually in March or April.

Why Mother’s Day Lebanon date is different to Europe

In many parts of Europe, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the same day as in the UK, which is the fourth Sunday of Lent. However, in some countries such as France, it is celebrated on the last Sunday of May. Similarly, in Germany, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday of May, which is the same day as in the United States.

When countries in Latin America celebrate Mother’s Day

In Latin American countries, Mother’s Day is celebrated on May 10th, which is the anniversary of the death of the famous Mexican poet and writer, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. In India, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday of May, but it is not an official holiday. In China, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday of May as well, but it is not a public holiday.

In some countries such as Ethiopia, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the same day as International Women’s Day, which is on March 8th. In Nepal, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the new moon day in the month of Baisakh, which falls in April or May.

Despite the different dates of celebration, the sentiment and purpose behind Mother’s Day remain the same. It is a special day to honor and appreciate the unconditional love and care that mothers provide to their children. Whether through a thoughtful gift, a card, or simply spending time together, the goal is to show our mothers how much they mean to us and express our gratitude for allthey do. If you are planning on celebrating Mother’s Day in Lebanon this year you should have enough time to prepare!

Image Credit: Manuel Schinner on Unsplash

Dozens of Lebanese protesters attacked several banks in Beirut on Thursday, causing damage to at least four branches in the Badaro area of the city. The demonstrations were held in protest of informal restrictions on cash withdrawals, which have been in place for years, and the worsening economic situation in the country. The protesters, who were frustrated with the rapidly deteriorating economic conditions, set fire to tires outside the banks and broke windows and doors.

The demonstrations came on the 10th day of a strike by Lebanon’s commercial banking institutions. At least six banks had been targeted, as the Lebanese pound hit a new record low. The protests were organized by United for Lebanon, a collective of lawyers seeking to fight corruption and protect depositors’ rights.

Lebanese banks began their open-ended strike last week in protest of recent judicial actions. A court recently ruled in favor of a couple who had been involved in a dispute with Lebanon’s Fransabank over their blocked deposits. The Court of Cassation had ordered that the couple be paid cash, rather than a check, which would have been at a much lower value. The Association of Banks in Lebanon disagreed with this decision and announced the strike soon after.

Why Lebanese protesters are taking to the streets

The pound has lost more than 95% of its value against the dollar since the start of the economic crisis in 2019. The severe depreciation of the local currency on the parallel market has indirectly led to Thursday’s developments. The depreciation has caused a surge in fuel prices in a country where 80% of the population now lives below the poverty line, according to the UN. Lebanese banks have imposed restrictions on withdrawals in US dollars and Lebanese pounds that were never formalized by law, leading depositors to seek access to their funds through lawsuits and often by force. The economic meltdown in Lebanon has led to a major shift towards a cash-based economy

Rami Ollaik, the founder of United for Lebanon, warned that unless recent judicial decisions were implemented, the group was ready to go back to article 184 of the penal code, which according to United for Lebanon allows the use of force and the committing of an offense in defense of oneself or one’s money. He said Thursday’s developments were a “demonstration of force and an act of defiance” and that there would be “no tolerance for ripping us off further without complying to court decisions.”

Image Credit: AP Photo, Hussein Malla

Lebanon Bank raid october Lebanese protesters

The Lower House of Jordan Parliament has passed the General Budget Law for the fiscal year 2023 on Wednesday. The bill was passed during an evening session chaired by House Speaker Ahmed Safadi, with the Prime Minister, Bisher Al-Khasawneh, and the ministerial body in attendance, according to the Jordan News Agency, Petra.

How many members of Jordan Parliament were present

Out of the 107 Lower House members present, 86 voted in favor of the general budget bill, and the body also approved the recommendations of the Finance Committee related to the budget. The bill was discussed during six sessions held over three days, during which 90 out of 130 MPs spoke, including representatives from six parliamentary blocs.

MPs criticized the budget’s reliance on taxes, aid, and loans, calling for solutions to address the economic crisis facing the Kingdom and alleviate the difficult economic situation experienced by Jordanian citizens. The rising poverty and unemployment rates, which are constantly increasing among young people, represent a difficult economic situation for citizens, they said.

MPs also criticized the level of services provided to citizens, resulting from weak economic growth, high public debt interest rates, and the continued budget deficit. They called for the implementation of an executive plan to achieve progress in economic growth that reflects on the citizen and addresses the imbalance in the budget.

MPs called on the government to make further efforts to combat corruption and waste of public funds in all forms and to hold accountable anyone proven to be involved in corruption cases. They also urged the necessity to utilize and invest natural resources to face the Kingdom’s economic conditions, attract investments and expand incentives, and to review the operational costs of economic sectors to enhance productivity and enable them to compete.

On the other hand, the MPs praised the efforts made by His Majesty King Abdullah on internal and external levels, despite the political events, conflicts, and wars taking place in the region and the world. They expressed their pride in the Jordanian position towards the issues of the Kingdom, including the Palestinian cause, and their support for the Hashemite custodianship over Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.

The budget expects the deficit to remain at 16 percent of spending but fall to 2.9 percent of gross domestic product, compared with 3.4 percent last year. Revenue is also expected to rise by 8 percent to 9.6 billion dinars, because of more money from taxes, stipulated by a fiscal program agreed upon with the International Monetary Fund.

Passing of the budget is mostly procedural in Jordan. Of the 103 parliamentarians present at the session on Wednesday, 86 voted in favor of passing the budget. The budget expects economic growth to remain at 2.7 percent and inflation at 4 percent, similar to last year. Most state expenditure went on salaries and pensions. The kingdom has one of the highest public debts relative to the size of its $45 billion economy. The latest World Bank data shows Jordan’s public debt stood at 114 percent of GDP at the end of 2021. The organization had forecast a similar figure in 2022, and 115.2 percent of GDP for 2023.

Image Credit: Jordan Parliament official

February 14, 2023 marks the 18th anniversary of the assassination of Rafic Hariri, former Prime Minister of Lebanon. Hariri was killed, along with 21 others, in a suicide bombing near the St. George Hotel in Beirut. Hariri’s son, Saad Hariri, visited his father’s tomb in downtown Beirut to recite prayers in front of his grave and pay his respects. Many supporters, waving the blue flags of the Future Movement founded by Rafic Hariri, were present.

Last year, a UN tribunal found two members of the Lebanese political party and armed group Hezbollah guilty in absentia of being accomplices to the attack. Another Hezbollah operative was convicted over his role in 2020, while Hezbollah denies any involvement.

Rafic Hariri, who served as Prime Minister of Lebanon from 1992 to 1998 and again from 2000 until his resignation in 2004, was largely considered the de facto leader of the majority of the Sunni community and the Future Movement party. Following the assassination of Hariri, the outraged Lebanese public took to the streets, leading to the Cedar Revolution and the withdrawal of Syrian troops and security forces from Lebanon.

The Taif Agreement, which Hariri played a huge role in constructing to divide the government, parliament, and presidential offices according to sect to put an end to the 15-year Lebanese Civil War, is now widely considered a failed agreement that divided Lebanon into a sectarian country and caused various political tensions among the different sects.

While Hariri was well-regarded in the international political community and backed by Saudi Arabia, his legacy is a topic of mixed opinions among the general Lebanese public. Some younger generations are skeptical of his role in corruption and politics at the time.

Saad Hariri, who succeeded his father as head of the Future Movement and later as Prime Minister, unexpectedly announced his withdrawal from political life last year and urged members of the Future Movement to follow suit. His withdrawal meant lower voter turnouts in Sunni areas and the departure of a key leader of the community from the political scene. The Hariri political legacy now continues with Bahaa Hariri, Rafic Hariri’s other son, who declared in January 2022 that he would follow in the footsteps of his father and brother to “take back the country.”

Image Credit: RAMZI HAIDAR (AFP/Archives)

Chinese President Xi Jinping has promised his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, that China will back Iran’s efforts to find a “proper resolution” to its nuclear issue, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

During Raisi’s three-day state visit to China, Xi pledged his support to Iran in protecting its rights and to assist with resolving the issue as quickly as possible. The Iranian leader was given a red carpet reception and a 21-cannon salute.

The visit, the first by an Iranian president in more than 20 years, aims to boost trade and economic ties between the two countries. The Iranian delegation includes the central bank chief and ministers for oil and mining. Both countries face pressure from the West over their positions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Iran is already under US sanctions over its nuclear programme.

Beijing currently recieves most of its energy supplies from the Middle Esat and has for years been trying to tread a narrow diplomatic path between Iran and its regional rival, Saudi Arabia. While China desperately requires good relations with the Gulf states to secure oil and gas supplies, as well as helping to establish China as a superpower amid declining American influence in the region. Yet Xi’s cosying up to Gulf states has offended their other strategic partner, Iran. During Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia in December he signed up to a communique with the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), an organisation of regional governments which offended the Iranians. In response, China’s ambassador to Iran was summoned.

Last year media in China reported that Iran had brought $4 billion dollars worth of arms from China. China is crucial to Iran as it is the only big market for its oil due to sanctions by the West in retaliation for the Iranian nuclear programme which explains why Raisi has decided to visit China. Last month, the US announced that it would put pressure on China to block Iranian oil exports, which are said to have increased in recent months.

Image Credit: Iranian presidency/AFP

Turkey’s Urbanization & Climate Change Minister Murat Kurum has announced that reconstruction work in Turkey will begin in all 10 cities impacted by the recent earthquakes before the end of February. According to state-run TRT television, the government aims to quickly rebuild the collapsed apartment buildings. This determination to rebuild comes as parliamentary and presidential elections are expected to take place by June 18.

During a brief visit to the Kahramanmaras region, which is close to the epicenter of the deadly earthquake, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faced frustrations and criticisms regarding his government’s response to the disaster. Although he acknowledged “shortcomings,” he defended the government’s reaction, stating that it’s not feasible to be fully prepared for such calamities. Erdogan also declared that the government’s goal is to rebuild the affected areas within one year, but experts believe that it could take significantly longer.

As part of their efforts to support the recovery process, Turkey is planning to offer tax waivers for share buybacks. Regulators are preparing for the resumption of equities trading after a halt last week due to the devastating earthquakes which claimed the lives of over 37,000 people in Turkey and Syria.

The earthquake that struck Turkey on Monday was of 7.8 magnitude, making it the worst to hit the country since 1939, when an earthquake in the east of the country killed approximately 33,000 people. The tremors were felt as far away as Egypt, Lebanon, and Israel, and a powerful aftershock of magnitude 7.5 followed at 1.24pm. The quakes affected a vast area, approximately 12 times the size of Belgium, causing shaking and destruction across the region.

The provinces of Kahramanmaraş, Hatay, Gaziantep, and Adıyaman in Turkey are among the worst affected areas. The quakes also hit the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo in Syria, as well as the coastal regions of Latakia and Tartus.

In addition to the reconstruction work in Turkey, experts have called for a review of what went wrong, as the country has implemented strict construction regulations since 1999 to ensure modern buildings can withstand such quakes. However, many recently-constructed apartment buildings in the earthquake zone still collapsed.

Image Credit: Tarik Haiga on Unsplash

Turkey reconstruction

The Egyptian Court of Cassation has rejected an appeal by TikTok influencer Mawada Eladhm against a six-year prison sentence and a fine of EGP 200,000 ($12,500 USD) on human trafficking-related convictions. Mawada Eladhm and six others were charged with “violating family values and principles and establishing and running online accounts to commit this crime.”