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26 Aug, 2012

Mauritania’s Date Palms: Cultural Heritage and Means of Survival

Compiled by Imtiaz Muqbil & Sana Muqbil

A compilation of stories of interesting events and developments in the Islamic countries for the week ending 27 August 2012 (09 Shawwala 1433). Pls click on any of the headlines to go to the story.



Over 800 of the world’s best concierge are expected to converge in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the 61st Les Clefs d’Or UIHC International Congress in January 2014. Kuala Lumpur was chosen as the preferred destination by the International Board of Directors of the Union Internationale Des Concierges D’Hotels “Les Clefs d’Or”, headquartered in Paris, following a competitive bid presentation by the Malaysian team in Toronto, Canada. The successful bid was initiated by Society of the Golden Keys Malaysia and supported by the Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB), Kuala Lumpur City Hall and its hotel partners. The win further reinforces Malaysia’s standing as the preferred meeting destination for global associations wanting to connect with Asia and to experience Malaysia’s myriad of exciting attractions. The unique concierge profession has grown in Malaysia with the development of many international hotels in the country. According to Mr. Ragu Kumarasamy, President, Society of the Golden Keys Malaysia, “Malaysia was chosen due to its positioning as an emerging economy especially in the hotel and tourism industry. It is also a country that offers an array of purpose-built and modern infrastructure for meetings and is easily accessible from neighbouring countries’ airports. The local organising team has already been busy evaluating potential venues for the conference as well as hotels to support the accommodation of the delegates from 44 member countries,” continued Mr. Ragu.

For more information about the Society of Golden Keys Malaysia, please visit http://www.uichlesclefsdor.org/article-6322746.html

For more information about what makes Malaysia one of the most popular destinations in the Islamic world, as well as on planning your next holiday or MICE event in Malaysia, please click: http://www.tourism.gov.my/.

facebook: http://www.facebook.com/friendofmalaysia

twitter: http://twitter.com/tourismmalaysia

Mauritania’s Date Palms, Cultural Heritage and Means of Survival

By Mohamed Abderrahmane

NOUAKCHOTT, Aug 21 2012 (IPS) – “The palm tree is a means of survival,” said Tahya Mint Mohamed, a 44-year-old Mauritanian farmer and mother of three children. “We eat its dates; we make mats, beds and chairs from palms; the leaves are also used to make baskets and to feed our livestock.”

Mint Mohamed is the regional president of the associations for participatory management of oases in the Two Hodhs region of southwestern Mauritania (hodh means “basin” in Arabic) – an unusual position for a woman to hold in a traditionally male-dominated activity.

She was delighted to take IPS on a tour of her palm plantation, which is alive with activity during the date harvesting period between June and August. “The plantation is my most precious investment. I maintain it carefully and water it with the help of my shadoof (a traditional irrigation system using a bucket and counterweight to draw water from a well),” she told IPS.

Her output depends heavily on rainfall and successfully fighting off the attentions of locusts, birds and animals, but she estimates her harvest this year will come in somewhere between 500 and 1,000 kilos of dates.

Mauritania has over 10,000 productive hectares of date palms, taking into account mature, productive palms as well as young trees that have not yet begun to bear fruit, and male palms – essential for pollination – according to Mohamed Ould Ahmed Banane, who oversees monitoring and evaluation for the Oases Sustainable Development Programme (PDDO).

Banane said nearly 20,000 people across the country depend on dates for their livelihood in five oasis regions: Adrar in the north, Tagant in the Centre, and Assaba and the two Hodhs in the southeast.

He estimates Mauritania’s annual production of dates at 60,000 tonnes, to which is added a small amount of imports – 1,000 tonnes from Algeria and 500 tonnes from Tunisia. Around 60 percent of dates are eaten between June and August, during the Guetna (the Arabic name for the season when dates are harvested). The rest is dried for consumption throughout the year.

Nutritionist Mohamed Baro said dates are rich in micronutrients like iron and calcium and are an excellent source of energy.

Hademine Ould Saleck, the imam of Nouakchott’s main mosque, said that there is a baraka (a blessing in Arabic) in dates, explaining that it is often the first thing eaten to break the fast during Ramadan, especially in date-producing countries.

But Mauritania’s oases have been badly affected by drought, suffering from siltation, a lack of water and declining soil fertility, said Banane.

“In Adrar, date production was clearly lower this year because of climatic threats, such as poor rainfall, dust and wind, which held back the harvest,” said Sid’Ahmed Ould Hmoymed, the mayor of Atar, the principal town of the Adrar region.

Mohamed Ould Haj, an experienced farmer, provided a gloomy summary of the situation in the region. “This year, we had nothing at all: no dates, no wheat, no barley, no vegetables and no watermelons because of the drought.”

But Cheikh Ould Moustapha, regional coordinator for PDDO in Adrar, told IPS that while it has been a challenging year, Ould Haj’s income from all sources will come to between 2,500 and 3,000 dollars.

To demonstrate sustainable land management techniques, PDDO has also created small field schools (measuring just 10 by 10 metres) and a plantation with fruit trees and vegetables interspersed with the date palms.

“This creates three levels of protection against soil erosion and allows good conservation, efficient irrigation, and a diversification of sources of income for the farmers,” said Banane.

In the Adrar region, where nearly half of the country’s palm plantations are found, smallholders have proved reluctant to apply modern techniques, said Cheikh Ould Moustapha, regional coordinator for PDDO.

The recommendations call for well-spaced plantations, pollination, drip or tube irrigation and the use of organic fertiliser. In Adrar, the wealthier farmers use solar-powered pumps to draw water for both these systems of irrigation.

In terms of marketing, PDDO has helped to set up a group in Adrar to work together to make transporting dates to the capital, Nouakchott, more profitable, Moustapha told IPS.

The date palm and the camel – the two pillars of their economy – are well adapted to the climate of the Sahara and the Sahel and remain important assets, Moustapha stressed.

Read the full story here: http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/08/mauritanias-date-palms-cultural-heritage-and-means-of-survival/

Maldives air carrier to start new routes to Mumbai, Chennai and Dhaka

2012-08-26 – Maldives carrier, Island Aviation Services Ltd is to start new direct routes to Mumbai, Chennai and Dhaka in November this year and direct flights to New Delhi in April 2013 as part of the company’s regional expansion. For a successful operation Island Aviation Services Ltd plans to add an Airbus A320 into our fleet. The Airbus A320 aircraft will be configured with 138 economy seats and 12 business class seats. The airline will operate three flights per week to Mumbai, Chennai and Dhaka. Flights to Mumbai will be on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, while flights to Chennai will operate alternatively on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Air Astana Grows Frequencies To Delhi, Launches Beijing Direct Flight

Air Astana, the flag carrier of Kazakhstan, increased frequencies between Almaty and Delhi on 21st August 2012. With the introduction of the additional services, Air Astana will be providing a daily service except Thursdays and Saturdays. Flights will be performed by Airbus A320 aircraft configured in 148 seats, two class configuration. The flight duration from Almaty to Delhi is 3 hours and 45 minutes.

The increase of services to Delhi will help to satisfy increasing demand for airline services between India and Kazakhstan and contribute to greater trade and financial cooperation. Air Astana services from Almaty to Delhi commenced on 4th September 2004 and since then the airline has carried almost 200,000 passengers on the route.

“Business and leisure traffic between Kazakhstan and India has continued to grow strongly in recent years and Air Astana is now delighted to respond by providing extra services to Delhi, one of the country’s most dynamic cities. The new flights offer passengers arriving in Almaty convenient connections to domestic services including to the capital Astana, as well as regional destinations in Central Asia, Caucasus, southern Russia and China,” said Ibrahim Canliel, Vice President Sales and Marketing, Air Astana.

The cost of an economy return ticket from Almaty to Delhi starts at US$337, including all airport taxes, business class return ticket starts at US$ 1308 including airport taxes.

On Aug 25, Air Astana launched an Astana-Beijing direct flight. Flights will operate on Wednesdays and Saturdays using a Boeing 757 configured with 16 business class seats and 150 economy class seats. The flight will depart from Astana at 15.25 and arrive in Beijing at 22.35 local time. The return departure from Beijing will depart at 23.45 and arrive in Astana at 04.00 local time.

Air Astana first launched Almaty to Beijing services in December 2002, with 500,000 passengers and 7.5 million tons of cargo being carried since that date. A 70% load factor being achieved on the route over the past 30 months. Air Astana started services from Astana to Urumqui in western China since November 2008.

Air Astana commenced regular flight operations on 15th May 2002 and currently operates a network of more 50 international and domestic services from hubs in Almaty, Astana and Atyrau. Air Astana flies an all western fleet comprising of two Boeing 767s, five Boeing 757s, ten Airbus A320s, six Embraer 190s and three Fokker 50s. Air Astana is a full member of the International Air Transport Association and was the first airline in Kazakhstan to achieve EASA Part 145 aircraft maintenance certification. In September 2011, Air Astana passed its third annual IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA), without any findings.

Air Astana is a joint venture between Kazakhstan’s national wealth fund Samruk Kazyna and BAE Systems, with respective shares of 51% and 49%.

U.S. imports carpets from Iran

Tehran Times – 21 August, 2012 – U.S. is importing carpets from Iran via Canada and Mexico, the chairman of the Iran-China Joint Chamber of Commerce stated. “Iran is negotiating with Latin American countries in the field of handmade carpets,” Asadollah Asgaroladi told the Mehr News Agency.

“Americans have been accustomed to the Iranian carpet,” he said, adding that the sanctions will not affect handicrafts and food. Iran exported over $ 560 million worth of handmade carpets to 80 countries last year.

According to the Customs Administration data, carpet exports last year rose by 0.8 percent in value, but decreased by 15.4 percent in weight, compared to the year before. Iran has developed plans to export as much as $ 1 billion worth of carpets in the current calendar year, the head of the National Carpet Center said on April 7.

“Carpets are of great importance among the non-oil exports of the Islamic Republic,” Baqer Aqa-Alikhani said, adding that boosting carpet exports to the UAE and China has been highlighted, the Mehr News Agency reported.

India keen to expand exports to Iran: Mathai

New Delhi, Aug 26 (BSS/PTI) Notwithstanding US pressure on it to reduce engagements with Iran, India yesterday said it would like to expand India’s exports to Tehran and noted that bilateral trade relations have improved over the last few years.

Briefing reporters ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Tehran, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said that “in recent times the relationship has expanded to include cooperation in diverse fields like hydrocarbons, trade and economic matters, consultations on important international and regional issues, cultural and people-to-people contacts”.

Giving details of current trade status between the two countries, Mathai said the total bilateral trade in 2011-12 was USD 15.9 billion, of which imports to India was USD 13.5 billion and exports from India around USD 2.5 billion.

“The balance of trade is still decisively in favour of Iran because of largescale oil purchases and the relatively small level of Indian exports,” he said adding “we would certainly like to expand Indian exports to Iran”.

On the issue of international sanctions against Iran, he said India has emphasised that it formally accepts only the sanctions which are implemented by the United Nations.

“But given the fact that there are a number of sanctions which have been introduced by other countries, there are problems which arise in terms of banking arrangements for trade, for shipping, insurance, and so on. So, these have had an impact on the level of the trade, particularly in the level of oil imports from Iran,” he said.

Bangladesh Theater festival in memory of playwright Selim Al Din

DHAKA, Aug 22 (BSS) – A weeklong theater festival in memory of playwright Selim Al Din will begin in the capital on August 25 marking the 63rd birth anniversary of the country’s legendary theater activist.

Former adviser to the caretaker government Justice Habibur Rahman will inaugurate the festival at Jatiya Nattyashala at Shilpakala Academy. Selim Al Din Foundation and Bangladesh Shipakala Academy will organize the festival which would be continued until August 31.

Convenor of the festival and cultural personality Nasir Uddin Yusuf Bacchu said Selim Al Deen was among those of a few who had an immense contribution toward establishing a strong theatre base in the country. About his (Selim Al Deen’s) works, he said he was such a theatre personality whose aim was to uphold the country’s rich cultural legacy of thousand of years.

Apart from staging of plays, the festival will feature recitation, seminar and exhibition. The artifacts discovered during the archaeological excavations of the Wari-Bateshwar site in Narsingdi district would be exhibited in the festival.

With the titled ‘Selim Al Deen Utsab-2012’, the festival will feature a total of 12 theatrical production. In the inaugural function, Dhaka Theater will stage ‘The Tempest’, at the main hall and Drishtipat Natyadal’s ‘Raja Himadri’ at Experimental theater hall.

Enhanced efforts ordered for Bangladesh passport conversion to meet deadline

DHAKA, Aug 25, 2012 (BSS) – Authorities have ordered intensified campaign to quicken conversion of handwritten passports into machine readable (MRP) ones fearing failure to meet an international aviation deadline could expose the country’s crucial manpower exports to a difficult state.

“Officials concerned have been asked to quicken the process while a high level meeting has been convened on August 30 to review the conversion situation,” a home ministry official familiar with the situation told BSS.

Director General of Department of Immigration and Passports (DIP) Abdul Mabud supplemented him saying works were underway to ensure cent percent MRP coverage within the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) deadline of March 2015.

ICAO earlier said the international flights would not carry passengers with manually issued or handwritten passports.

Passport officials said they sent a proposal to the higher authorities seeking to send their officials in Bangladesh missions in major manpower recipient countries to work on deputation to convert the passports of Bangladeshi workers there.

They said at least 80 lakh Bangladeshis are now living abroad and only 16 percent of them so far could be provided with the MRPs while the missions abroad could issue as high as 350 passports every day with their existing manpower.

“The MRPs could not be issued to the huge number of the expatriate Bangladeshis within this short time unless extra manpower are engaged to quicken the process,” a passport official said referring to a working paper of a high level meeting in June with prime minister’s public administration affairs adviser HT Imam in the chair.

The passport office started issuing MRPs from the first week of May 2010 to meet the deadline set by the ICAO to convert all handwritten passports into MRPs and MRVs to protect Bangladeshis abroad from immigration sufferings.

The home ministry officials said the DIP issued around 34 lakh MRPs to the Bangladeshi nationals since its introduction on May 1, 2010. The printing capacity is 7,000 passports a day while they need 14,000 passports.

Solo painting exhibition begins at Bangladesh Embassy in US

DHAKA, Aug 25 (BSS)- A seven-day solo painting exhibition of Shumona Haque began yesterday (Friday) at Bangladesh Embassy in Washington.

Ambassador Akramul Qader formally inaugurated the seven-day long solo painting exhibition titled ‘Moner Ronge Nibir Khela’ (Playing colours with mind) at Bangabandhu Auditorium of the embassy, a message received here.

This is the 5th Solo Painting exhibition and 2nd by a female artist organised in Bangladesh embassy. The popular singer and noted artist Shumona Hauque known as ‘Jingel Kanya’ displayed her 34 painting works in the exhibition.

Bangladesh envoy Qader said, “Bangladeshi art has evolved drawing its components from traditional heritage such as archeological relics, folk mythology as well as by internationalising trend of modern mainstream artworks of the east and the west.”

He said Bangladesh’s modern art movement began from what we call the Bengal Renaissance in the pioneering artworks of shilpacharya Zainal Abedin, Anwarul Haque, Qamrul Hassan, Shafiuddin Ahmed, Khwaja Shafiq Ahmed, Shahabuddin and Rashid Chowdhury.

He thanked Shumona Haque for showcasing her artworks in the United States of America and said creative medium such as painting transcends geographic boundary and helps bringing together peoples from different culture.

Dr Alyssa Ayres, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs and many Bangladeshi expatriates were present on the occasion.

The exhibition will remain open till August 30 at the Bangabandhu Auditorium from 11 am to 5 pm. The ambassador accorded a reception on the occasion.

Shumona’s first painting exhibition was held in Tokyo in 2002.

MyCEB Promotes M’sia As Meetings & Incentive Destination In India

NEW DELHI, India Aug 24 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) is promoting Malaysia as a meeting and incentive destination to the thriving Indian corporate and incentive market and identify new business potentials for the country.

MyCEB has launched the Malaysia Twin Deal Programme (MTD Programme) here at the Incentive Travel & Conventions, Meetings India. “Deal 1 offers value-added support for participants. Among the privileges lined up to be experienced are complimentary Malaysian cultural entertainment during welcome dinners or gala dinners and partial food and beverage sponsorships for events,” MyCEB General Manager for Sales and Marketing, Ho Yoke Ping, said in a statement.

As a personal added touch, each participant will be presented with special welcome packs containing an exclusive souvenir, she said.

As for Deal 2, Ho said it offers incentive rewards for corporate and incentive planners and is based on cumulative numbers of participants. “The planners will be able to redeem vacation packages to Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia, inclusive of return air tickets and accommodation at a five-star hotel.

“MyCEB would like to invite all event planners in India to grab this opportunity and to experience what Malaysia has to offer in terms of incentive products and services,” she added.

Malaysia’s Twin Deal India programme is applicable only to corporate and incentive groups from India with a minimum group size of 50 participants or more.

Confirmed bookings must be made from Aug 27, 2012 to June 30, 2013 for arrivals from Oct 1, 2012 to Dec 31, 2013.

With a total of 693,056 visitor arrivals from India to Malaysia in 2011, about 2,200 higher arrivals from the previous year, the trend of business tourism relationship between Malaysia and India is showing all signs of promise.

This year, Malaysia Airlines (MAS) has forecast an estimated 15 per cent growth in passenger load from India as compared to 2011, citing the country as one of its growth-centric market.

“This sales mission will definitely benefit Indian and Malaysian business tourism industry by providing an opportunity for Indian buyers to meet and engage with MyCEB and our Malaysian industry partners. It further demonstrates MyCEB’s commitment to accelerate business growth from the country,” MyCEB Chief Executive Officer, Zulkefli Sharif, said.

The MTD Programme, first launched in China last year, has been one of MyCEB’s most successful worldwide programmes and is also available now in countries like Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and more recently in South Korea.

To date, MyCEB has “booked” over 13,000 participants from China under the MTD Programme. Aptly named after the Malaysian iconic structure, the “PETRONAS Twin Towers”, its unique “two-pronged” approach offer rewards for both incentive planners and participants, and further enhances their events success.

Pakistani youth enjoy night cricket during Ramadan

Centralasiaonline.com 2012-08-17 PESHAWAR – Devotion to Islam and love of sports go together in Pakistan, where one can find thousands of fasting youth playing Twenty20 matches between the taraveeh night prayer and sehri, the pre-dawn meal.

“Hundreds of night cricket tournaments are organised all over the country,” Abdul Wahab, manager of the National Cricket Club, who formerly represented the Peshawar U-19 team in several national-level tournaments, told Central Asia Online. “Some are organised officially in popular stadiums, but the majority are played on small grounds or in streets with makeshift lighting.”

One of the biggest cricket galas in Pakistan is the Dr. Muhammad Ali Shah Ramadan Night Cricket Tournament in Karachi. The tournament is taking place at Asghar Ali Shah Stadium, one of a few stadiums in the country with floodlights for night cricket. The stadium can hold 8,000 fans, but the games are televised to a much larger audience.

The event, which has been played for the past few years, is one of the best organised Ramadan nighttime tournaments, Hakimullah, a club cricketer from Karachi, told Central Asia Online.

“Some of the tournaments are profitable too, as in one tournament the prize money for the winning team is Rs. 200,000 (US $2,200), while the man of the match in the final will get a motorbike,” he added.

The Directorate of Sports, University of Peshawar, organised a cricket tournament in connection with Independence Day celebrations August 14. “It’s a healthy activity,” said Muhammad Naeem, a young cricketer. “Not only the students in the campus but sports lovers from all over Peshawar come to watch the night tournament at the University of Peshawar.”

Involving youth in sports not only improves their physical skills but also keeps them mentally fit and thinking positively, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Sports Director-General Khan Zeb told Central Asia Online.

KP has started sponsoring more such activities to keep youth happy and healthy. “Apart from the Ramadan tournaments, the KP government is holding a series of tournaments, sports galas,” he said. “We have also revived the indigenous games to engage the youth in positive activities.”

Sometimes, special accommodations need to be made for playing cricket at night. For example, youth mostly use a soft ball, rather than the standard hard ball, and wrap it with white tape to increase its nighttime visibility.

The soft ball is better for play on streets and small playgrounds because it doesn’t fly as far off the bat, said Haji Asad, a sports lover from Achar village on the outskirts of Peshawar. “We have also arranged generators so in case of power breakdown, which is frequent because of shortages in this country, the lights stay on,” he said.

Regardless of the venue or the lighting issues, the night cricket draws praise. “It was all fun during the holy month to celebrate it in our own way,” said Abdul Majid, after arriving by motorbike from a distant village to enjoy a tournament semi-final at Wazir Bagh, a public garden in suburban Peshawar.

Other sports lovers during Ramadan nights take up volleyball, football and badminton. “The thirst and the heat don’t let you play any game in the daytime,” said volleyball player Bashir Ahmad, resident of Inayat Garhai on GT Road.

Squash and badminton courts in Peshawar Cantonment and surrounding areas remain crowded after taraveeh. “It is not easy to play in the daytime while you are fasting, and that is why many of the players prefer to play in the night,” said Nawaz Khan, organiser of a badminton tournament in the Swati Phatak area. “Our tournament has begun in the first week of Ramadan and will probably end on August 17.”

Ramadan Night Market in Dubai attracts 50,000 visitors

Gulf Today – 22 August, 2012 – Ramadan Night Market (RNM), a 10-day shopping extravaganza concluded successfully on Sunday at Dubai World Trade Centre.

Surmounting all expectations the first edition witnessed footfall of 50,000 visitors in 10 days. The market that started on Aug.10 had tremendous opening as 8,500 visitors thronged on the very first day and on an average 5,000 visitors were registered thereafter every day crossing the earlier target of 2,000 visitors.

100 participants showcased the products in categories such as apparel, gifting, electronics, perfumes, cosmetics and jewellery. The market buzzed with visitors from different nationalities buying from midsized retailers such as Kani home, Unoo.ae, Lifestyle Fine Jewelry, Emirates Gourmet as well as big brands such as Panasonic, Lootah Perfumes etc.

Sunil Jaiswal CEO Sumansa Exhibitions, said: “We think, what clicked with the visitors, was the concept of the market which is based on the fact that shoppers get unique gifts at the time of Eid for their loved ones. The exhibitors are overwhelmed with the response and some have already committed bigger space for the next edition. Our first edition has been received very well and we are committed to deliver a bigger and better show next year.”

Ramesh Chhugani, Managing Director, of Sparkle 365, exhibitor at Ramadan Night Market commented, “We have got tremendous response and we believe that Ramadan Night Market has been a good platform for us. It is not just the number of visitors, but even the quality that matters and we got serious buyers. Also we had right product mix such as handbags, perfumes, shoes, cosmetics etc.”

Gulf Air resumes flights to Iran, Iraq

Saudi Gazette – 18 August, 2012 – Bahrain’s national carrier, Gulf Air will resume its services to Iran and Iraq from Sept. 20, 2012 following the Bahrain government’s approval.

Flights to Baghdad, Erbil, Najaf and Basra in Iraq and Tehran, Mashhad, Shiraz and Isfahan in Iran will begin progressively between Sept. 20 and Oct. 28, subject to final approvals by the civil aviation authorities of the respective countries.

Announcing the news Thursday, Gulf Air Chief Executive Officer Mr. Samer Majali said, “We are glad to be resuming our operations to Iran and Iraq. I am sure this will be welcome news for thousands of Iranians and Iraqis living and working in Bahrain and the GCC countries as well as the business community for whom the direct flights will be a great advantage.”

He added, “We were the first and only full-service GCC carrier to operate into Baghdad back in 1976. Again, we were the first carrier to restart our operations in 2009, which received overwhelming support from travelers with most of our flights flying to full capacity. However we had to suspend the flights in 2011 due to unavoidable circumstances but were confident that we will resume our operations soon. I am glad the time has come.”

Flight schedule for Iraq:

Najaf – from Sept. 20 with four weekly flights increasing to daily from Dec. 1

Baghdad- from Sept. 21 with five weekly flights

Erbil – from Sept. 23 with four weekly flights increasing to daily from Oct. 28

Basra – from Oct. 29 with three weekly flights increasing to four from Dec. 1

Flight schedule for Iran:

Mashhad – from Sept. 22 with four weekly flights increasing to daily from Dec. 2

Shiraz- from Sept. 23 with five weekly flights increasing to daily from Dec. 1

Tehran- from Sept. 25 with six weekly flights increasing to daily from Dec. 1

Isfahan – from Oct. 30 with three weekly flights

The above flights will be operated by a combination of Embraer and Airbus fleet.

RAK Airways to launch UAE’s first domestic flight

Gulf Today – 19 August, 2012 – Ras Al Khaimah-based RAK Airways, one of the flagship carriers of the UAE, has ventured into a major aviation milestone announcing its inaugural scheduled domestic flight, the first of its kind in the history of the UAE. The flight is expected to commence from Oct.3, with the first service to the capital, Abu Dhabi.

Initially, RAK Airways will offer four flights a week on the route, increasing it to daily flights in December, and then double daily by April 2013. Passengers will not be required to carry their passports but the Emirates national ID cards will be mandatory at both the airports for check in and check out purposes.

Announcing the date, the airline’s acting CEO, John Brayford said RAK Airways is strengthening its foothold in the regional aviation market. The CEO said that commencing of the domestic flight will make RAK Airways the first UAE airline to operate domestic flights, and will take the carrier’s route network up to 10 destinations.

“With the launch of Abu Dhabi, we are offering residents of Ras Al Khaimah and the northern emirates an alternative and we are connecting Ras Al Khaimah to the capital,” explained Brayford.

The northern emirates airline has worked on building passenger numbers, filling 250,000 seats in 2011, while gradually expanding its destination network to Africa, Middle East and Asia.

The national carrier’s move to introduce more routes, boosted by the emirate’s efforts to market itself as a tourist and business destination, has also led to a significant rise in passenger numbers at RAK International Airport. Data issued by the airport’s operators showed that its passenger traffic recorded a 78.3 per cent jump in passenger traffic in the second quarter of 2012, while traffic in the first half of the year increased 67.8 per cent, over the respective periods a year earlier.

In the first three months of 2012 passenger traffic increased by 58.5 per cent, well exceeding previous expectations. The airline has also put in place a system where customers can book flights through private travel agents. The airline, however, will soon allow bookings through its web site.

The announcement of the domestic flights by Rak Airways has been welcomed by a cross-section of businessmen, who say that it will save a lot of time travelling for urgent business meeting and also reduce the stress travelling by road.

Istana Open House leaves lasting impression on tourists in Brunei

Borneo Bulletin Online – Scores of tourists currently in the Sultanate took the golden opportunity during the Hari Raya festivity to visit the Istana Nurul Iman during its Hari Raya Open House. Many of them said it is a unique and exclusive tradition that they don’t usually see back in their home country.

The three-day Hari Raya Open House at the Istana Nurul Iman is not just an event for them to shake hands and extend greetings to the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam and the royal family, but also a good way to experience Bruneian culture at its best during the Hari Raya Aidilfitri festivity.

A visitor from Poland and her daughters who are in the country for the second time for the summer holidays said the whole event was impressive and well-organised.

“There are thousands of people coming and it somehow works. Everyone knows what to do and the staff at the palace are very well-trained to handle the crowd. It is so impressive that you can welcome so many people in such way,” she said.

“This is our first visit to the palace and we are very excited to see the Queen. We also had the opportunity to speak to the Queen, who asked us where we were from,” she added.

Vladimir and his group of diver friends from Russia who are in the country for a two-day transit said he found it amazing to see the Sultan and the royal family receiving greetings from so many people. “I think it must be very difficult and you must be rather strong to do it but he does it really good,” he said.

He said he admired the concept of the open house as it presents “a good possibility for the monarch to understand his people and to know better the situation in the country and the people”. He said he also noticed the smiles and happiness from the faces of the people coming to the Istana Nurul Iman to greet the royal family.

“I heard the visitors can reach up to 100,000 annually and this already represents about 30 per cent of the population. The people here have much respect for their monarch because they are happy to have such a caring King. Our visit here is very exciting and it gives a good understanding of the Bruneian people and culture,” he added.

Meanwhile, another group of ladies from Russia who are currently here for a short visit said they were delighted to have met the royal family. “It’s a very nice tradition to have just about anybody to meet the royal family, and the people here are so nice and friendly. The food was good as well.”

Also joining the celebration at the Istana Nurul Iman yesterday were a group of tourists from Thailand who also expressed their excitement to be at the palace and meet the royal family.

135 Economy Development Projects Under Way In Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia Aug 17 (NNN-Bernama) — About 135 projects under the Indonesian Economic Development Acceleration and Expansion Master Plan (MP3EI) programme have started since its launch last year.

Projects worth more than Rp490 trillion in infrastructure development and real sector have been launched since the MP3EI programme took off in May last year, said President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in his nation address before the Parliament here Thursday.

“The MP3EI programme is necessary to narrow the existing development gap in regions, to reduce unemployment rate and to boost the nation’s economic growth through innovation,” ANTARA news agency quoted Susilo. “The infrastructure development acceleration and expansion strategy is also crucial to avoid a middle-income trap.”

In the eastern Indonesian region, the government had made efforts to control prices, improve education and health services, strengthen the fishery and maritime sectors, promote local tradition-and culture-based tourism as well as develop the creative economy. “Through MP3EI, we plan to accelerate economic development in Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Papua and Maluku Islands as well as the Nusa Tenggara Islands,” the president said.

Susilo also called for speedy implementation of the development acceleration programme in Papua. “The Special Autonomy status for Papua and West Papua is in line with our aim to better manage public services and infrastructure development in these regions,” he said.

The Development Acceleration Unit for Papua and West Papua Provinces (UP4B) were set up by the government to ensure that development efforts were in line with its plan and policy.

With Legoland, Johor Poised To Become ‘Theme Park Capital Of Malaysia’

JOHOR BAHARU, Aug 20 (NNN-Bernama) — Johor is poised to become Malaysia’s ‘Theme Park Capital’ when Asia’s first Legoland theme park at Nusajaya is open to the public in September. This will signify the emergence of Iskandar Malaysia and Johor as a major tourist destination of the country and region.

Following the opening of the RM750 million Legoland, Iskandar Malaysia will receive another attraction with the opening of a family theme park in Puteri Harbour in November. The two international standard theme parks will be major attractions to millions of domestic and foreign tourists planning to visit Iskandar Malaysia and Johor.

According to Iskandar Regional Development Authority (Irda) chief executive Ismail Ibrahim, Iskandar Malaysia could realise its huge potential in the tourism sector through the implementation of several infrastructural projects.

“We believe Iskandar Malaysia will provide the perfect tourist destination for affordable leisure at competitive prices in the South East Asian region and Asia Pacific,” he told a briefing on the Puteri Harbour family theme park by Khazanah Nasional subsidiary, Themed Attractions and Resort (TAR) Sdn Bhd recently.

The Puteri Harbour family theme park, located in Nusajaya and built at a cost of RM115 million, will feature popular animation characters such as Hello Kitty, Bob The Builder, Angelina Ballerina, Pingu and Thomas And Friends.

It will also house ‘Lat’s Place’, Malaysia’s first restaurant of the nation’s favourite cartoonist Datuk Mohd Nor Khalid, better known as Lat. Apart from the two family theme parks, TAR is also planning to open two more international standard theme parks at the Desaru holiday resort in East Johor.

The two parks in Desaru — Ocean Splash and Ocean Quest — will be built by TAR at a cost of RM267 million and are expected to be completed and open to the public by mid-2014.

Algeria Irrigating 1.2 Million Hectares To Grow Cereals

ALGIERS, Aug 20 (NNN-APS) — The Algerian government is equipping an area of 1.2 million hectares with supplementary irrigation facilities through an investment of 150 billion dinars (about 1.823 billion USD) to enable the production of cereals, according to a report from the National Bureau of Studies for Rural Development (BNEDER).

Taking into account a biennial rotation (cereal/fallow), the report said, a target area of 1.2 million hectares would be irrigated by a water saving system. “We evaluated the cost at over DZD 150 billion,” the Director of BNEDER, Aboud Saleh Bey, told APS. The Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development has expressed its willingness to support such an investment.

The rate of return on investment of this irrigation system is estimated at 19 per cent of the amount of investment approved, and this would accure from the third year of implementation, according to a study carried out for the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development on the impact of supplemental irrigation on crop yields.

This study revealed a potential of 2.4 million hectares which can be irrigated from surface and underground water. Out of the 3.3 million hectares reserved for cereal cultivation, only 95,000 hectares are currently equipped with means of supplemental irrigation.

The study took into account the climate constraints to which agriculture in Algeria is exposed, including drought and floods, which have become extreme phenomena threatening agricultural production.

GCC Tourism In Jordan Up 14% In Six Months

AMMAN, Aug 23 (NNN-KUNA) — The percentage of tourists from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries has increased during the first six months of this year by 14 percent, according to official statistics published here on Wednesday.

According to the Central Bank of Jordan (CBJ) figures, the number of GCC tourists during the period from the beginning of January until the end of June 2012 came to 419,000 compared to 366,000 in the same time last year.

The tourism and hotels sector realized tourism-income growth rate amounting to 17 percent during the first six months of the fiscal year, reaching two billion dollars compared to USD 1.7 billion for the same period in 2011.

Bringing in about USD 2 billion last year, tourism is one of the most productive sectors of the Jordanian economy, yielding financial wealth as well as creating jobs.

Tourism Malaysia Launches Free Amaze-Ya! Smart Phone Application

MELBOURNE, Aug 23 (NNN-Bernama) — Tourism Malaysia Sydney has launched a free smartphone application called Malaysia Amaze-Ya!, designed to provide travellers with a useful tool for navigating their travels in Malaysia.

The app is available for both iPhone and Android and offers general information on key destinations in Malaysia as well as handy tips for the best attractions in Kuala Lumpur, Sabah and Penang, Tourism Malaysia Sydney director Shahrin Mokhtar said in a statement here.

The free downloadable app lists the best places to explore, eat, shop and stay in Kuala Lumpur, Sabah and Penang. It provides contact details and detailed Google street maps to ensure a fuss-free holiday. To use it, travellers can either click through categories or search by keywords to find exactly what they are looking for.

The weather in Kuala Lumpur, Sabah and Penang is also provided, making daily activities easy to plan.

To celebrate the launch of the new smart phone app, Tourism Malaysia, in partnership with Air Asia X, Traders Hotel and Golden Sands Resort, is running a competition on the Tourism Malaysia Australia page, www.facebook.com/tourismmalaysiaaustralia.

The competition invites fans to describe their dream Malaysian adventure for their chance to win a trip to the country.

To enter the competition, individuals must first download the Malaysia Amaze-Ya! app, and ‘Like’ the Tourism Malaysia Australia Facebook page. Fans can then enter the competition using the ‘Win a Holiday!’ app on the Tourism Malaysia Australia Facebook page.

The Malaysia Amaza- Ya! app is available to download for free at iTunes and Google Play.

Qatar Airways to fly daily to Chicago

Saudi Gazette – 19 August, 2012 – Qatar Airways announced Friday an expansion of its US route network with the introduction of daily passenger flights to Chicago from April 10, 2013. The non-stop service from Doha, capital of the State of Qatar, will be Qatar Airways’ fourth USA gateway, following already successful daily operations to New York (JFK), Washington (IAD) and Houston (IAH).

The carrier, which already operates twice-weekly cargo flights to Chicago O’Hare, will use its flagship long-haul Boeing 777-300 Extended Range passenger aircraft on the Doha – Chicago route with an approximate flying time of 15 hours. The announcement follows this summer’s fifth anniversary launch celebrations of both the New York and Washington, D.C., services.

Qatar Airways’ expansion to Chicago O’Hare, the world’s second busiest airport handling 70 million passengers a year, has long been earmarked by the airline as a key traffic route that would appeal to travelers from across its passenger network.

Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker said: “As Qatar Airways continues its aggressive expansion, we are pleased to finally offer another gateway in the United States, this time to the ‘The Windy City’ of Chicago, five years after we began operations to North America.

“Chicago is a key route for business and leisure travelers alike, connecting them from destinations across India, Africa, Middle East and Asia Pacific with a one-stop service via Doha to the Midwest.

“For the people of Chicago and the Midwest, we look forward to offering a great travel experience on the world’s best airline to cities across our network with one-stop convenience through our Doha hub.

“Our onboard experience is distinct and provides an unparalleled commitment to service quality, reinforced by the recent accolade from Skytrax, naming Qatar Airways the world’s best airline for the second consecutive year,” Al Baker added.

Qatar Airways’ Boeing 777-300ER aircraft operating on the Chicago route will feature 335 seats in a two-class configuration of 42 Business Class seats and 293 in Economy. Qatar Airways’ Business Class, configured in a spacious 2-2-2 layout, features seats that convert into fully-flat horizontal beds, 17 inch individual TV monitors and an award-winning dining experience.

Qatar Airways’ Economy Class has the most generous leg room of any long-haul aircraft flying today with a seat pitch of up to 34 inches and seating in a 3-3-3 configuration. Regardless of class of travel, every passenger has a wide choice of personal inflight entertainment options through their audio video entertainment system of over 1,000 programs and movies.

Bahrain Air back in the black as revenue up 67%

Saudi Gazette – 20 August, 2012 – Bahrain Air has said it returned to profitability in June and July on the back of rising revenues, adding that it is working to reach a deal with its creditors. The private carrier said in a statement that it posted a 67 percent increase in revenue during the past two months compared with the same period last year. Seat factor also increased by 27 percent, the carrier said.

“We are very pleased with the results,” said chief executive Richard Nuttall. “Summer is traditionally the strongest season for all airlines, but given the turbulence in many of the traditional summer destinations, this result is a major achievement.”

He added: “We are currently putting every effort to reach an agreement with our creditors for the restructuring of our debts that accumulated as a result of the unfortunate events that took place in Bahrain and the region.”

“We are optimistic of our ability to improve our performance further in the coming months in the hope of continued stable economic, security and political conditions and receiving the required co-operation and support to our commercial operations from the authorities concerned,” he added.

The airline said it is expecting a “slight downturn” in the performance for August due to Ramadan, but added that the rest of the year is set to be strong. “We are also looking at cautious expansion in the coming months in a manner that will allow us to further improve our network and results,” he said.

Jeddah becomes major convention center in Middle East

Zawya – 21 August, 2012 – Adnan Mandura, secretary-general of Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry ( JCCI ), said the chamber has been successful in realizing the dream of Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal to convert Jeddah into the number one city for holding forums and conferences in the Middle East region as a whole.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News reporter Nadim Al-Hamid, he outlined JCCI ‘s priorities in creating thousands of job opportunities for jobless Saudi youths as well as in promoting small enterprises and productive families. Mandura said the chamber has made major headway in easing bureaucratic bottlenecks through introducing e-service and other administrative reforms.

JCCI is lending a helping hand to businessmen and investors in carrying out their business transactions as well as in implementing their projects. Could you spell out the major achievements of the chamber in the recent past?

JCCI was successful in fulfilling most of its missions and that impacted positively on the national economy, private sector and the local society. As a result of this, JCCI won accolades from several government agencies, and businessmen in addition to local, regional and international organizations.

The chamber is always keen to extend highly advanced and excellent services, and as such it worked on improving quality of service and efficiency of performance keeping pace with the massive growth requirements of the Kingdom’s economy. JCCI ‘s mission of serving the interests of the business community and the private sector has later been expanded to support the government as a strategic partner in realizing its social and economic development goals as well as in developing infrastructure projects, supporting investment projects, in addition to promoting social and charity programs.

The chamber organized a number of forums and activities this year, and these included the 13th edition of the Jeddah Economic Forum, social responsibility forum, productive family forum, fifth industrial forum and Jeddah Summer Festival 33. It also participated in highlighting the potential of Jeddah through the Jeddah projects exhibition. We worked hard to realize the dream of Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal to make Jeddah the city of forums and conferences in the Middle East region.

Apart from this, the chamber also plays a vital role in empowering Saudi women and enables them to have active participation in the national development. There are a total of 65 sub committees under JCCI that are engaged in solving problems and removing bureaucratic bottlenecks concerning private business organizations.

JCCI believes SMEs are the backbone of the Kingdom’s economy. SMEs represent nearly 90 percent of those registered with the chamber. Through the JCCI center for developing small and new businesses, we extend them logistic support to remove hurdles and score success. During the first half of this year, the chamber conducted 18 programs to serve young men and women, of which the last one was the seminar on SMEs in which top executives of several leading Saudi banks attended.

We are doing everything to support and promote SMEs. Most of our programs and activities aimed at serving this purpose. The latest example for this is our plan to hold an exhibition for 300 young businessmen and women, slated for October this year. It is expected that more than 20,000 people will visit the fair, which would be a great driving force for young Saudi entrepreneurs in crystallizing their dreams through adopting professional ways. We have presented several e-solutions free of cost to SMEs.

Saudi hotel sector set to grow by 53.9%

Saudi Gazette – 21 August, 2012 – Hotel sector across the Gulf region is set to see huge growth in construction activity, new figures released by STR Global revealed. The Middle East/Africa hotel development pipeline comprises 495 hotels totaling 125,481 rooms, according to the July 2012 STR Global Construction Pipeline Report.

Among the countries in the region, Oman reported the largest expected room growth (+81.2 percent) if all 5,417 rooms in the country’s total active pipeline open. Saudi Arabia’s hotel market is set to grow by 53.9 percent with 27,624 rooms expected to open while Qatar is expected to see 47.1 percent with 6,785 rooms. Qatar is embarking on a major tourism spending spree as it looks ahead to hosting the 2022 World Cup tournament which will bring in thousands of visitors from all over the world.

The STR Global data also said that the UAE’s tourism sector would grow by 38.6 percent with 35,052 rooms included in its active construction pipeline. Algeria expects 43.6 percent growth with 1,875 rooms, the report added.

Last month, research by Ventures ME said the value of hotel and hospitality construction contracts will witness enormous growth throughout 2012 to reach $ 7.3 billion. The growth is a direct result of the increased demand for hotel space in the GCC where room revenues are set to reach $ 22 billion in 2012 and expected to increase to $ 27 billion by 2015.

The Middle East/Africa region reported mostly positive performance results in June 2012 when reported in US dollars, according to data compiled by STR Global. The region’s occupancy increased 8.7 percent to 58.2 percent during the month, its average daily rate fell 1.8 percent to $136.16 and its revenue per available room rose 6.8 percent to $ 79.22.

Year-to-date 2012, the region reported a 9.4-percent occupancy increase to 60.6 percent, a 1.5-percent ADR decrease to $ 162.37, and a 7.7-percent rise in RevPAR to $ 98.38.

“Middle Eastern hoteliers reported improving occupancy and average room rates boosted by double-digit demand growth for the first half of 2012 compared to the first six months in 2011”, said Elizabeth Randall, managing director of STR Global.

“The occupancy and average room rate for the first half of 2012 is, however, still behind its peak performance of the first six months in 2008. For the first six months of 2008, the region achieved 70.9 percent occupancy and rate of $ 235.64. The region saw the highest increase in new room supply compared to the other world regions since 2008. Africa reported continued occupancy improvements whilst average room rates remain under pressure compared to the first half 2011. In contrast, looking back at the first half of 2008, the Africa region surpassed its average room rate performance by $ 12.68”.

In June, Muscat, Oman, rose 34.1 percent in occupancy to 51.6 percent, posting the largest increase in that metric, followed by Amman, Jordan, with a 15.0-percent increase to 67.8 percent.

Doha ended the month with the largest occupancy decrease, falling 11.8 percent to 49.4 percent. Dubai achieved the largest ADR increase, rising 9.8 percent to $ 170.07, followed by Amman with an 8.2-percent increase to $ 155.51.

Cape Town, South Africa, fell 15.6 percent in ADR to $ 102.93, posting the largest decrease in that metric, followed by Muscat with a 13.3-percent decrease to $ 152.90.

Four markets experienced RevPAR increases of more than 15 percent: Amman (+24.4 percent to $ 105.43); Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (18.2 percent to $ 195.70); Dubai (+18.0 percent to $ 125.25); and Muscat (+16.3 percent to $ 78.87). Abu Dhabi fell 15.4 percent in RevPAR to $ 66.13, reporting the largest decrease in that metric.

Rush of tourists in Dhofar

Oman Daily Observer – 23 August, 2012 – Dhofar Governorate yesterday saw an influx of tourists pouring on major tourism spots to enjoy the khareef season while the roads leading to these locations experienced unprecedented traffic congestions with some roads totally blocked for more than two hours due to traffic flow from mountains and vehicles coming from neighbouring wilayats and meeting at Darbat intersection.

The situation got worse by trucks belonging to companies working at the area driving down already congested roads. ROP traffic personnel from Taqah and Tiwi police stations managed to ease the traffic flow only after separating large trucks from the main road.

Meanwhile, the accommodation crunch has aggravated due to new tourist arrivals despite efforts being made by real estate brokers to provide more flats and villas so as to meet the increasing demand.

Etihad to Boost Casablanca Flights to Daily Service

Khaleej Times – 23 August, 2012 – Etihad Airways will increase its services to Casablanca to provide daily flights from 28 March, 2013. Etihad currently flies five times a week between Abu Dhabi and Casablanca and in June, 2012 celebrated the seventh anniversary of operations to the Moroccan capital.

The daily service will support traffic growth between Abu Dhabi and Casablanca and connecting traffic to many popular onward GCC destinations including Jeddah, and a choice of Asian cities such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, and Sydney. The additional services will improve the connectivity in Abu Dhabi by 50 per cent.

James Hogan, Etihad Airways’ President, CEO, said: “The Moroccan capital has been a successful destination for us and retains strong volumes of business and leisure passengers throughout the year. We believe there are good prospects for further growth in the region. Abu Dhabi’s geographical location makes it ideal as a gateway for air travellers from Morocco to connect to markets in Australia, the Far East and throughout the Arabian Gulf easily and quickly.”

Islamic finance taps into mobile phone airtime

Saudi Gazette – 22 August, 2012 – The use of mobile phone airtime as an underlying asset in structuring financial products is making a comeback especially in the Islamic finance space. Malaysia’s Axiata Group Berhad, one of Asia’s largest telecoms operators, is setting the pace in using mobile phone airtime as one of the underlying assets to back its sukuk issuances.

The Group launched a $ 1.5 billion Sukuk Al-Wakalah Issuance Program a few weeks ago, followed by a RM5 billion Sukuk Al-Murabaha offering last week by its mobile phone subsidiary, Celcom Axiata Berhad, which was issued through its unit Celcom Transmission (M) Sdn Bhd.

But it was the Saudi telecoms operator Etihad Etisalat (Mobily) which was the pioneer of using mobile phone airtime in their financing requirements.

In March 2008, Mobily raised a $ 2.875 billion syndicated Islamic financing facility, which was based on mobile phone airtime, whereby Mobily was able to sell minutes of airtime to the financiers involved, and then taking on the role of agent to these banks and selling the minutes for a profit.

The facility, whose proceeds were used to refinance the Saudi telecoms operator’s short-term debt and to fund its operations and infrastructure expansion, was arranged by a consortium of banks which included Samba Financial Group, National Commercial Bank, Saudi French Bank, Calyon Bank, Saudi Hollandi Bank, ABNAMRO and National Bank of Abu Dhabi.

Similarly, in August 2009, Malaysia’s RHB Islamic Bank, pioneered the first tawarruq (Islamic cash management) product based on the use of mobile phone airtime, which the bank claims was the first commodity murabaha type product based on mobile phone airtime.

Tawarruq is used as a cash management instrument by some Islamic banks which allows customers to raise funds. Normally in a tawarruq transaction, according to RHB Islamic Bank, the purchaser will buy a commodity from the bank on a deferred payment plan and thereafter, sells it to the market to raise instant funds. In the past, commodities such as precious metals and crude palm oil have been used as the intermediary asset for tawarruq.

Under the airtime-based RHB Islamic Bank tawarruq offering, the minimum financing was RM3,000 and the maximum financing was RM150,000. The bank bought the mobile phone airtime from a broker at cost price and sold it to the customer at the mark up price depending on the rate of the facility at the point of application and the customer then chose the payment period between 2 years up to the maximum of 10 years.

RHB Islamic Bank signed an agreement with Sedania Media Group and E-Pay for the introduction of telecommunication airtime in its tawarruq offerings, with Sedania being the ready buyer and E-Pay the ready seller for the commodity.

With Asia and the Middle East seen as two of the largest growth areas for mobile phone ownership, the prospects for using airtime as an asset class for structuring various types of financing structures are both exciting and potentially big.

In a statement, Jamaludin Ibrahim, Axiata Group President and CEO, emphasized that “both programs are in line with Axiata Group’s on-going group-wide initiative to optimize its balance sheet and improve its financial flexibility, while supporting the government’s vision of developing Malaysia into a major Islamic financial hub and reaffirming Malaysia’s position as a leader in the global Islamic capital market.”

In July, Axiata Group Berhad, through its wholly owned subsidiary, Axiata SPV2 Berhad, launched a $ 1.5 billion Sukuk Al-Wakalah Issuance Program, which the issuer stresses is the Asia Pacific Region’s first internationally rated multi-currency sukuk program and whose underlying is based, inter alia, on mobile phone airtime.

Axiata is one of Asia’s largest telecommunications companies with controlling operations in Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Thailand and minority operations in India and Singapore, and joins a growing number of companies using mobile-phone airtime to back Islamic transactions.

In fact, airtime joins other non-tangible asset classes as underlying for Islamic finance transactions including sukuk issuances, which has been introduced into the market over the last few years. These include intellectual property, tariffs due on electricity meters, and receivables due on petrochemical marketing contracts.

This indicates the growing innovation in structuring sukuk and the increasing flexibility by Shariah advisories especially in recognizing the legitimate use of assets, which would have been non-existent and thus inconceivable during the last 1,430 years following the advent of Islam. It also signifies an important Ijtihad (discourse among the Muslim jurists) albeit in the context of modern finance which perhaps has been absent in other areas or sectors of life in Muslim countries.

Airtime as an asset is set to flourish in debt financing deals, given that Asia is projected to see a massive increase in mobile phone ownership in the world over the next few years. ROA Holdings Inc. in Tokyo, for instance, estimates that Asia will account for a staggering 65 percent of 7 billion mobile phone owners by 2015.

In the Islamic finance space, its use in tawarruq deals may proliferate in the short-term but given the uneasiness due to Shariah concerns over the use of certain tawarruq structures, its use could be more increasingly used to form a component of the asset pool to back sukuk transactions.

The $ 1.5 billion Axiata Sukuk Issuance Programme, which was lead arranged by CIMB Bank (L) Limited, HSBC Amanah Malaysia Berhad and Merrill Lynch (Singapore) Pte. Ltd., and which was approved by the Shariah advisory board of HSBC Amanah, has an innovative structure which provides for the issuance of sukuk under the principle of wakalah (agency arrangement), which allows the use of assets comprising airtime vouchers (representing an entitlement to a specified number of airtime minutes on the mobile telecommunications network of subsidiaries of Axiata for on-net calls), Shariah compliant shares, lease assets and murabaha receivables arising from the sale of commodities as the underlying assets. The three banks also acted as dealers and bookrunners for the transaction.

Special tourist buses being operated for returning Indonesian holiday travelers

Wed, August 22 2012 Bojonegoro (ANTARA News) – Special tourist buses are being operated to ferry returning Lebaran holiday travelers from Bojonegoro in East Java, to Jakarta, Bogor and Bandung, an official said on Wednesday.

Wawan Istiawan, the spokesman for an inter-city and inter-province bus operator at the Rajekwesi bus terminal said that tourist buses for Lorena and Pahala Kencana were also being run by the company.

He added that this special bus service has been started to transport returning holiday travelers, who have been unable to get tickets for train travel or for the regular bus service from Bojonegoro to various big city destinations across the country.

Meanwhile Edy Subroto, the spokesperson for the Rajekwesi bus terminal said, the bus depot has been packed since Tuesday with holiday travelers who are returning to their work places and schools after celebrating the Idul Fitri festival with family and friends in their hometowns.

He also pointed out that regular buses travelling to Surabaya, Malang, Jakarta, Bogor and Bandung from Bojonegoro are already available for the returning Lebaran tourists.

But the bus terminal’s management has also made arrangements for an additional 32 tourist buses that will move the returning holiday makers to Bandung, Bogor, and Jakarta to help avoid any accumulation of passenger traffic at the terminal.

Indonesia attracts foreign textile investors

Fri, August 24 2012 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Indonesian Trade Attache in Washington DC Ni Made Ayu Marthini said Indonesia has become a potential investment destination for investors in the textile and apparel sector. Indonesia should make full use of the good opportunity by intensifying promotional campaigns to boost exports of textiles, Ni Made said.

Ni Made said Indonesia has been named a leading country in “Sourcing at Magic 2012” exhibition, the largest ever textile exhibition in the United States held in Las Vegas, Nevada, this month.

“Perry Ellis, a popular brand in the United States plans to open a branch office in Indonesia to support their sourcing activities,” she said.

She said Indonesia gained from being named a “leading country” representing ASEAN , which is the main focus at the Sourcing at Magic 2012 exhibition.

The Sourcing at Magic 2012 exhibition ending on Thursday was participated in by 43 countries with 8,000 buyers representing popular brands in the United States.

Indonesian participants with pavilion , “Trade with Remarkable Indonesia”, included yarn, garment, fabric, textile, sweater/knitted fabric, apparel, leather goods, batik, bag, and ornament producers.

In this year Sourcing at Magic 2012 exhibition, Indonesia was represented by 20 companies or larger than in previous years. In 2011, US import of textiles and apparel from all over the world were worth US$100 billion and Indonesia is the fourth largest supplier of textile to that country after China, Vietnam and India.

Indonesia’s exports of textiles and garments to the United States were valued at US$5.2 billion in 2011. In the first five months of the year the Indonesian textile exports to the United States already reached US$2.16 billion.

Egypt CB receives $500mn deposit from Qatar

Ahram Online, 23 Aug 2012 – The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) has received the first tranche – worth $500 million – of a promised $2 billion deposit from Qatar, Egyptian Finance Minister Momtaz El-Said announced on Thursday. According to the minister, the amount will be converted into Egyptian pounds to help fill gaps in Egypt’s budget.

The outstanding $1.5 billion will be transferred to the CBE in September, said El-Said. In May of last year, Qatar announced a handful of investment projects in Egypt – worth at least $10 billion in total – aimed at shoring up Egypt’s foundering post-revolution economy.

Emir of Qatar Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani recently met with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to discuss means of enhancing cooperation between the two countries. Following the meeting, Al-Thani ordered that $2 billion be deposited at the CBE.

In October of last year, Qatar provided Egypt with a grant worth $500 million.

Centre of Islamic Studies in Brunei to hold 2nd Int’l Conference

Borneo Bulletin Online – Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Centre of Islamic Studies (SOASCIS), Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) will hold its 2nd International Conference, bringing a theme “Inculcating Moral & Spiritual Values among 21st Century Generation: The Challenges to the Muslim Education” on November 2-7 at UBD Chancellor Hall.

The conference is open to government officers, lecturers, academicians, students and the public, local as well as international. Members of the public are also widely welcome to participate in the three-day conference.

The working papers in the conference will discuss the spiritual and moral values in a society as well as the current challenges in educating the Muslims to follow the right path. In addition, the need for reformation in curriculum will also be deliberated.

For further information, interested applicants can send e-mail to Conference Secretariat at office.soascis@ubd.edu.bn or contact 2463001 extension 2116 or visit UBD website www.ubd.edu.bn.

Gallery Misr’s summer exhibition showcases work by Egyptian artists

Ahram Online, Thursday 23 Aug 2012 – Cairo’s Gallery Misr for Contemporary Art is currently exhibiting the work of several prominent Egyptian artists for this year’s Summer Selective. The exhibition, which will run until 15 September, features work by a range of well known local artists, including Georges Bahgoury, Ibrahim El-Dessouki, Khaled Zaki and Amr Kafrawy, among others. Located in Cairo’s upscale Zamalek district, Gallery Misr is surrounded by other contemporary art spaces, such as the Safarkhan, Al-Masar and the Zamalek Art Gallery.

Tajikistan upgrades highway system

Centralasiaonline.com 2012-08-23 KHUDZHAND – Tajikistan is about to complete a major transportation project that could improve lives and increase prosperity. In early July, workers joined the southern and northern halves of the Shakhristan Tunnel in Sughd Oblast, part of the strategic North-South highway.

It’s the second tunnel through mountain passes between Tajikistan’s north and south. Workers finished the first one in the Anzob mountain pass in 2006. Shakhristan, at 2,700m above sea level, is scheduled to open by September 25. The 5km tunnel will connect Sughd Oblast to the south year-round.

“The building of modern highways … is part of the state’s national strategy of developing economic potential and raising living standards,” said Kokhir Rasulzoda, chairman of the Sughd Oblast government. “This tunnel is particularly important for those who live in the Zarafshan Valley, who experience great difficulties in winter and spring with transportation, trade and food supplies.”

The builders still have a tonne-and-a-half of dirt to excavate from the tunnel and to pave it and finish lining it, according to the oblast government.

In Soviet times, Tajikistan had great difficulties feeding the population of two major regions, the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast and the Zarafshan Valley in Sughd Oblast, during the winter as highways through the mountain passes were closed from November to May because highway crews couldn’t keep them clear of avalanches.

Attempts to drill a tunnel through the Gissar Ridge in the 1970s failed. Only after independence, with technological progress, more investment and more specialists, did workers manage to drill the 5k Anzob Tunnel linking Dushanbe to the Zarafshan Valley. After that, they turned their attention to Shakhristan, which connects the valley to the Sughd Oblast capital, Khudzhand, and shortens the distance to Dushanbe by 20km.

“This is a unique structure, which meets the latest international standards,” said Dzhumakhon Zukhurov, first deputy minister of transport and communication. “It will provide safe two-way traffic and good road quality, lighting and ventilation, which we didn’t completely succeed in doing in the Anzob Tunnel.”

Every year, authorities handle 5 to 10 avalanche emergencies in the Shakhristan Pass, some fatal, according to the Sughd Oblast office of the Ministry for Emergency Situations and Civil Defence. This year was no exception, with six avalanches and six deaths between January and June.

The tunnels will bring major benefits, according to specialists. “With the introduction of the new tunnels, not only has the distance between Dushanbe and Khudzhand been shortened by 20km, but also travel time,” said Rakhmonberdi Tuychiyev, head of the Road Use Department of the Sughd Oblast Road Management Directorate. “Previously, cars took 12 hours to cover the route and trucks up to 24 hours. Now it’ll be 4½ and 7 hours, respectively. This will save a lot of money … during this energy crisis.”

The Shakhristan Tunnel and other transport corridors that Tajikistan has built since independence also give Tajikistan easier access to Pakistani seaports, useful for the mountainous, landlocked country in boosting trade.

“We intend to submit recommendations to the government on the need to develop transport infrastructure along the highways and to improve the legal foundation, with the aim of developing the country’s trade potential,” said Anna Shukurova, director of the NGO Union of Professional Consultants of Tajikistan.

Theatre makes a comeback in Turkmenistan

Centralasiaonline.com 2012-08-20 ASHGABAT – Theatre arts are back in vogue in Turkmenistan. “Up until 2008, we had completely forgotten about what the theatre was,” said Dovlat, who covers cultural events for state television, explaining that then-President Saparmurat Niyazov closed theatres in the early 2000s, calling them “unneeded.”

But plays and opera re-emerged on the Turkmen scene in 2008. “Then, suddenly, one premiere after another came out, and the last one, in fact, drew in a lot of people – several hundred – including President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who went on stage at the end and made a speech about the importance of culture,” Dovlat said. “All this was simply a surprise for the Turkmens.”

The latest offering is the opera “Mahmutkuli,” which premiered in late June. After opening, the directors of various children’s theatres held a meeting and the government granted 10 major theatres $50,000 (143,000 TMT) each.

The theatre revival is a positive change that has given hope to many Turkmens, Dovlat said. “After we showed a report about the opera ‘Mahmutkuli’ on television, a lot of people called me, asking about it and saying they were very happy that theatre and opera were making a comeback,” he said. “Our nation really loves theatre – and that’s not all!”

“In Soviet times, I went to the theatre often,” said Maisa Nurmametova, who attended the Russian Drama Theatre’s production of “Othello” this summer. “Under Niyazov, all the museums were left in disrepair and closed. It was a sad sight. And now, to see such a production on stage in Ashgabat – it might be just a classic, but it is Shakespeare – it was simply amazing!”

While people can appreciate the return of theatre, the re-emerging arts scene is going through some growing pains. “Although the quality was not the best like before, I believe that everything will turn out for them,” Nurmametova said. “I’d like the door to the arts and culture to be opened, not shut. What would become of a nation without culture?”

Theatre critic Irina K. gave mixed reviews of the rebirth of the arts. It is good that the classics are on stage, she said. “We’ve got many young people who don’t even know or read the classics. Maybe (seeing) the theatre productions will then inspire them to read the books.”

While she welcomed efforts to restore the arts, Irina K. proposed expanding the range of what’s being offered. “Theatres, if you noticed, are just putting on classical productions,” Irina K. said. “If modern productions were attempted, then they’d likely be something in the style of the current government’s propaganda.”

Some have suggested that theatre groups spread their artistic wings, as discussions have been going on about productions on the dangers of drugs and the benefits of an athletic life, she said.

The idea of re-establishing the national ballet has also been mentioned, and though nothing definitive has been announced, Irina K. said she’s hoping to see that happen.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa attracts domestic tourism

Centralasiaonline.com 2012-08-18 PESHAWAR – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s (KP) mountainous Kalam and Naran regions have gained a large number of domestic tourists as urban Pakistanis throng the highlands to escape rising temperatures.

“Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC)’s motel at Naran is doing a roaring business these days as domestic tourists from Karachi and other Pakistani cities have come in large numbers this year,” Ijaz Khan, a Peshawar-based PTDC official told Central Asia Online August 15.

Hotels in Naran are so full that tourists are erecting tents along the riverbank, Zahur Durrani, a Peshawar-based tourist operator, said. The number of tourists to Kalam, Malakand Division, had risen by about 30% this year, compared to last year, numbering in the thousands, Khan said. He attributed the higher number to improved security in Swat.

Bursa buys first ferry to begin Istanbul trips

ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News – Bursa municipality has signed a deal with a Norwegian firm to buy its first ferry in a bid to compete with Istanbul’s ferry firm Istanbul Fast Ferries (İDO). The deal includes the purchase of one ferry, and talks continue on the purchase of two additional ferries.

The municipality is continuing its efforts to win a share in marine transportation between Istanbul and Bursa, Bursa Mayor Recep Altepe told Anatolia news agency.

“We have strong relations with Istanbul. Thousands of people travel between the two cities, and marine transportation between them grows in importance every day. But we have taken steps in this direction, because some problems have come up recently,” he said.

The first ferry will be delivered in 15 days, he said, adding that talks continue to procure two more form Germany and Norway. The first trips will leave from Bursa’s Mudanya district and dock at Kabataş in Istanbul, and service will begin in one month, Altepe said, adding that Bursa has the crew, captains and system in place.

“Our goal is to provide regular service to citizens who were troubled by (İDO’s) flexible price policy,” Altepe said.

İDO faced a negative public reaction to its “flexible” pricing policy, initiated at the beginning of the summer and stepped back from the policy as more patron objected to the company’s higher-priced last-minute tickets. Hamdi Akın, chairman of Akfen Holding, a local property developer and airport and port operator that owns a 30 percent share in İDO, apologized.

Turkish Seaplane company enjoying good business in first month of operations

Çilem Kaya ISTANBUL / Hürriyet – An ambitious venture to launch Turkey’s first regular seaplane service is paying dividends so far, with carrier Seabird Airlines reporting occupancy rates of 80 percent in its first month of service.

“The (passenger interest) indicates that we are on the right track. We will purchase a new plane,” Kürşad Arusan, the chairman of the Seabird Airlines, recently said.

“We have received some investment proposals since we started the operations, but we have not accepted them for now. We hit 80 percent in occupancy rate in just one month. We have not encountered any problems other than minor operational issues. We have a total of 50 staff, including the call center. Currently, we carry out operations with one plane and another one will join in one month at the latest,” Arusan said.

Seabird Airlines made its maiden flight between Istanbul and İzmir’s Alaçatı district on June 28.

Istanbul airport sees record traffic

ANKARA – Anatolia News Agency – Atatürk Airport broke its air traffic record Aug. 17 when a total of 1,127 planes took off and landed at the transportation hub during the end of Ramadan, according to the General Directorate of State Airports (DHMİ). A total of 558 planes landed and 569 planes took off on Aug. 17, bringing 38,533 passengers to the international terminal as 38,121 passengers departed from the same terminal.

On the domestic side of the airport, 22,417 passengers arrived in Istanbul and 26,626 passengers flew out of the terminal to various domestic destinations. The Transport Ministry is planning to open a tender for a third airport in Istanbul before the end of this year.

In another development, the Transport Ministry will announce the tender date for a third airport in Istanbul next month, Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım has said. The government aims to receive bids in December for the facility, which is estimated to cost 10 billion Turkish Liras, he told Anatolia news agency.

“We cannot tell exactly what will be in the bids, but this is our estimate,” he said. Some foreign investors, including those from Japan, France, China and Germany, have already shown interest in the airport, which will be constructed in three phases.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said the airport would be built on a plot in the north of the European side of Istanbul. The project will follow the build-operate-transfer model, which is also known as the “Turkish model,” according to the minister.

This model has attracted $2 billion for airport construction across the country, Yıldırım also said. The capacity produced by these private sector projects has reached 90.5 million passengers per year, while the government has spent nothing on these new airports, he added.

Regional airports, meaning facilities that serve more than one province, are crucial for civil aviation, the minister said. Ordu Giresun Airport in the north, Çukurova Airport in the south and Zafer Airport in the inner-Aegean region are three such projects.

Zafer will be the first completed on Oct. 29, 2012, which is about 1.5 years earlier than the original deadline, due to the great efforts of the contractor, Yıldırım said. The date marks the anniversary of foundation of the modern Turkish republic.

A third airport in Istanbul, the largest city in the country, has long been on the agenda as Atatürk Airport on the European side and Sabiha Gökçen on the Asian side are struggling to meet the rising demand with mainly Turkish Airlines, the national flag carrier, boosting its flights and the city attracting more visitors.

Aviation association considers local flights

ÇANAKKALE – Anatolia News Agency – The Turkish Aeronautical Association (THK) is planning to introduce flights to cities that do not have any, said THK President Osman Yıldırım.

“We are continuing our negotiations to create our own airline. We want to provide flights to destinations not encompassed by Turkish Airlines, Anadolu Jet and other large airlines. We want to fly from Ankara or other large cities and provide services to other destinations that do not currently have available flights.”

Yıldırım also said THK was interested in manufacturing Turkey’s first domestic airplane. “We want to provide our public with planes that we manufacture, which will be part of this system,” said Yıldırım. THK plans to produce two to four-seat planes by 2014 for purchase by the general public.

Meanwhile, investments in the Turkish civil aviation sector have reached 7.6 billion Turkish Liras in the last decade, Turkish Transport Minister Binalı Yıldırım said yesterday, adding that more than 150,000 people were employed thanks to investments in the civil aviation sector. When foreign airlines shrunk during the global crisis, the Turkish civil aviation sector continued growing, he said. The sector’s turnover rose to $15.3 billion from $2.2 billion in the last decade, he added.

NYPD’s Futile Muslim Surveillance

IslamOnline 23/08/2012 NEW YORK – After six years of spying on Muslim neighborhoods, eavesdropping on conversations and mosques, a senior New York police official said that surveillance of the Muslim community has not yielded a single criminal lead, triggering Muslim condemnations.

“You can see for yourself that this is not about keeping us safe, that this is, unfortunately, about control, about intelligence gathering for its own sake,” Cyrus McGoldrick, who represents the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told Voice of America on Wednesday, August 22. “It has no practical purpose and is a tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Uproar followed a court testimony made by Thomas Galati, the Assistant Chief and commanding officer of the NYPD Intelligence Division. Galati confirmed that six year work of Muslim surveillance has not yielded a single lead or launched any terror investigation.

“I never made a lead from rhetoric that came from a Demographics report, and I’m here since 2006,” he said in the testimony cited by AP. “I don’t recall other ones prior to my arrival. Again, that’s always a possibility. I am not aware of any.”

Last year, the Associated Press revealed that the NYPD sent out undercover officers into ethnic communities to track their daily life and monitor mosques as well as Muslim student organizations.

It also revealed that the NYPD intelligence had established so-called Demographics Unit using plainclothes police officers to monitor ethnic groups in the metropolitan region.

The AP also found that the NYPD kept secret files on businesses owned by second- and third-generation Americans specifically because they were Muslims.

According to the agency, police photographed businesses and eavesdropped at lunch counters and inside grocery stores and pastry shops. Using this information, the police department built databases showing where Muslims live, pray, buy groceries, and use internet cafes.

The revelations angered US Muslims, who described the police surveillance as a violation of their civil and religious rights. But officials of New York City and New York State have refused to investigate the police over these allegations.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has also publicly defended the NYPD surveillance of Muslims, describing the operation as “legal,” “appropriate,” and “constitutional.”

The six-year surveillance has widely affected Muslim rights and businesses in the United States. “Maybe five outside, ten police inside, you know. I told him ‘what happened?’ He’s told me like just ‘this is routine.’ I said ‘routine for what? This is a barbershop,'” Palestinian immigrant Mousa Ahmad said.

“He go to the basement, he checked every single bag, every single drawer,” he said.

Facing repeated police harassment, Ahmad had to close a coffee shop that he owned because police surveillance frightened away his customers.

Since 9/11, Muslims, estimated between six to seven million, have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was stigmatizing their faith.

The accusations against the NYPD were not the first. Last September, the CIA launched an investigation into cooperation with NYPD to spy on American Muslims.

In 2011, the New York University’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice issued a report criticizing the tactic of US law enforcement agencies in sending paid informants into mosques to instigate and trap Muslims into terror plots.

The report, themed “Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the ‘Homegrown Threat’, cited three high-profile domestic terrorism prosecutions which raised question marks about the role of the FBI and the NYPD in creating the perception of “homegrown” terrorism.