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7 Jan, 2013

Fajr Film Fest Conference On How Hollywood Portrays Arabs/Muslims

Compiled by Imtiaz Muqbil & Sana Muqbil

A compilation of progressive, positive, inspiring and motivating events and developments in the world of Islam for the week ending 07 January 2013 (24 Safar 1434). Pls click on any of the headlines to go to the story.

Watch Islamic Travel Newswire Executive Editor Imtiaz Muqbil’s landmark TEDx lecture on “Peace through Tourism” on YouTube — the first travel industry journalist in Bangkok invited to speak at this prestigious forum. CLICK HERE.

“Home-Grown Terrorism: One Swamp The U.S. Cannot Drain” and other columns gagged by the “Newspaper You Can Trust”

For 15 years (January 1997-July 2012), Imtiaz Muqbil penned a hard-hitting fortnightly column called “Soul-Searching” in a Bangkok-based English-language newspaper. In July 2012, two editors of the so-called “newspaper you can trust” censored and muzzled it, with no explanation. In defiance against that unprecedented action, and at the behest of many upset readers, a selection of the nearly 400 columns are reproduced here, with more to be added regularly. Read the censored column, and several others, by clicking here




Malaysia’s tourism calendar for 2013 is packed with another fascinating year of exciting events and colourful celebrations as a run up to the Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) planned in 2014. Regardless of the month of visit, Malaysia promises visitors something special and unique to make their time here truly memorable and enjoyable! Kick off the year in January by joining in the grand celebration of the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 promotion campaign from 18 to 20 January at Bukit Jalil Stadium, Kuala Lumpur – it will be the biggest tourism carnival ever! It is also a great month to witness the Thaipusam Festival when a dazzling chariot procession pulls into the Batu Caves temple on 27 January after making a 15 kilometre, 12-hour journey from the heart of Kuala Lumpur. Elsewhere, Langkawi waters will host the Royal Langkawi International Regatta from 7 to 12 January, an exciting sailing and racing event you won’t want to miss. The Chinese New Year celebration on 10 February is a great time to catch a glimpse of the 15-day long festival celebrated with joyous reunion, fabulous food, colourful lion dances and ethnic tradition. Another tourism highlight is the Pasir Gudang World Kite Festival from 20 to 24 February in Johor which promises to fill up the sky with colourful and innovative kite designs from international participants. Also, catch some of the world’s leading women tennis players at the BMW Malaysian Open from 25 February to 3 March at the Royal Selangor Golf Club, Kuala Lumpur. Click here to download details of other events from March onwards.

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/ or

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

twitter: http://twitter.com/tourismmalaysia

Blog: http://blog.tourism.gov.my

Global Media Urged to Drop Pejorative Term ‘Islamist’

WASHINGTON, Jan. 3, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today distributed a commentary urging media outlets to drop the term “Islamist” because it is “currently used in an almost exclusively pejorative context.” CAIR distributed the column below, titled “Media Urged to Drop Term ‘Islamist’ in New Year,” through ISLAM-OPED, a syndication service designed to offer an American Muslim perspective on current political, social and religious issues.

By: Ibrahim Hooper

(Ibrahim Hooper is national communications director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties organization. He may be contacted at: ihooper@cair.com A photo of Ibrahim Hooper is available at: http://tinyurl.com/hooperphoto)

As many people make promises to themselves to improve their lives or their societies in the coming year, here is a suggested New Year’s resolution for media outlets in America and worldwide: Drop the term “Islamist.”

The Associated Press (AP) added the term to its influential Stylebook in 2012. That entry reads: “Islamist — Supporter of government in accord with the laws of Islam. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi.”

The AP says it sought input from Arabic-speaking experts and hoped to provide a neutral perspective by emphasizing the “wide range” of religious views encompassed in the term.

Many Muslims who wish to serve the public good are influenced by the principles of their faith. Islam teaches Muslims to work for the welfare of humanity and to be honest and just. If this inspiration came from the Bible, such a person might well be called a Good Samaritan. But when the source is the Quran, the person is an “Islamist.”

Unfortunately, the term “Islamist” has become shorthand for “Muslims we don’t like.” It is currently used in an almost exclusively pejorative context and is often coupled with the term “extremist,” giving it an even more negative slant.

There are few, if any, positive references to “Islamist” in news articles. There are also no — nor should there be — references to “Christianists,” “Judaists” or “Hinduists” for those who would similarly seek governments “in accord with the laws” of their respective faiths.

No journalist would think of referring to the “Judaist government of Israel,” the “Christianist leader Rick Santorum ” or “Hinduist Indian politician Narendra Modi ,” while use of “Islamist” has become ubiquitous.

It might be an interesting exercise to hold a contest, the winner of which would be the first to find a positive mainstream media reference to “Islamist.”

Quite likely, such a contest would end up being similar to a unicorn hunt.

The frequent linkage of the term “Islamist” to violence and denial of religious and human rights is also strongly promoted by Islamophobic groups and individuals who seek to launch rhetorical attacks on Islam and Muslims, without the public censure that would normally accompany such bigoted attacks on any other faith.

Islam-bashers routinely use the term to disingenuously claim they only hate “political” Islam, not the faith itself. Yet they fail to explain how a practicing Muslim can be active in the political arena without attracting the label “Islamist.”

If the term is retained, media professionals should modify its use to reflect language similar to that used in the AP Stylebook reference to “fundamentalist,” which states that the label should not be used unless a group applies the term to itself.

By not dropping or modifying use of the term, the media are making a political and religious value judgment each time it is used.

That is hardly fair or balanced.

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Fajr Film Fest Conference On How Hollywood Portrays Arabs/Muslims

PressTV, Jan 5, 2013 — Iran is planning to hold the third international conference on Hollywoodism and Cinema during the 2013 edition of Fajr International Film Festival. A number of Iranian and international cineastes and film experts are slated to attend the conference, which will be held from February 2 to 7 on the sidelines of the 31th Fajr film festival.

This year’s conference is set to focus on the aims and philosophy of Hollywood for making anti-Iranian and anti-Islamic movies as well as scrutinizing the connections between Hollywood and Zionism. Hollywood economics, the role of independent cinema in the awakening of the world, Hollywood and human values, and Iranophobia in Hollywood productions are among the other subjects that will be discussed during the conference.

The first Hollywoodism and Cinema conference was held in 2011 covering a variety of subjects such as War, Terrorism and Hollywood, Hollywood and American Life Style in Hollywood. The 2012 edition of the conference reviewed last year’s uprisings in US and European cities and their impressive messages for film adaptation as well as other related subjects such as ‘Hollywood and Holocaust,’ ‘Palestine on the Line of Fire,’ ‘Hollywood and Apocalypse,’ ‘Hollywood,’ and ‘Darwinism and Liberalism.’

About 48 foreign scholars from France, the US, Canada, Belgium, Greece, Spain, Tunisia, Italy, Egypt, Russia, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Palestine and the UK took part in last year’s conference. This year’s edition of Iran’s most important film presentation and competition, Fajr International Film Festival, is set to take place in the country’s capital of Tehran from January 31 to February 10, 2013.

Iran holds the international Fajr film, theater, music, visual arts and poetry festivals every year to mark the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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Take Prophet’s wife as model for female entrepreneurship, TOBB president says

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet – There should be more female entrepreneurs in Turkey, the chairman of the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB) has said, pointing to the Prophet Muhammad’s first wife, Khadijah, as a role model for women in business, Doğan news agency has reported. “Everyone takes someone as a model. As Muslims, (we) are trying to adhere to the Prophet’s tradition. So what was the Prophet’s wife Khadijah doing? (She) was not only a trader, she was the biggest logistician of her era,” Rıfat Hisarcıklıoğlu said. “We say that (we) are taking the Prophet as a model, but we forget Khadijah at the same time. No way. If you imitate the Prophet, motivate your daughters for entrepreneurship.” Over half of Turkey’s population is female, yet only 6 percent of Turkish women are entrepreneurs, Hisarcıklıoğlu said.

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MAS Offers Attractive Fares To 15 Destinations

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 3 (Bernama) — Malaysia Airlines (MAS) is offering attractive fares to 15 local destinations starting Thursday. MAS Regional Senior Vice-President for Malaysia and Asean, Muzammil Mohamad said among the attractive Economy class all inclusive round trip air fares offered were deals between Kuala Lumpur and destinations in Peninsular Malaysia from RM276.

He said it also offered a fare of RM458 for selected direct flights between Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah or Sarawak. “Return travel between Kuala Lumpur and Sandakan starts from RM372 while the direct connection between the Malaysian capital and Tawau starts from RM558.

“Likewise Business class travel within Peninsular Malaysia starts from RM770 or a special RM1,570 to Kuching, RM1,770 to Miri, RM1,970 to Kota Kinabalu and RM2,070 to Labuan and Bintulu,” he said in a statement here.

Muzammil said MAS also offered return fares for travel within Sarawak for economy class travel between state capital Kuching and the cities of Miri, Sibu, Bintulu as well as Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, which started from RM276 and for business class travel from RM770.

He said similar attractive fares were also offered for point to point intra Sabah travel covering Kota Kinabalu, Tawau and Sandakan starting from RM276 and RM770 for business class. He said the special fares were open for booking from today until Jan 17 and was valid for travel from Jan 5 till March 31, except during embargo periods.

Muzammil said customers could book and pay for these offers through several channels which included www.malaysiaairlines.com or call MAS’s 24-hour toll-free number at 1-300-88-3000, MHmobile, MAS ticket offices and appointed travel agents throughout the country.

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Malaysia Expects 20,000 Medical Tourists From India

NEW DELHI, Jan 3 (Bernama) — The Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) sees India as a major market to promote its medical services as the Indian economy gets more linked with Southeast Asia. MHTC, a government-linked industry body, has endorsed 72 private healthcare facilities in Malaysia to promote medical tourism, a growing travel segment that brings together various stakeholders from healthcare and tourism sectors.

“India offers us new growth prospects. We are looking for collaboration with players in the medical tourism industry such as travel agencies, insurance companies, nursing homes, private investment and those working in traditional and complementary treatment,” MHTC Senior Manager Wong Toon Keng told ‘Travel News Alliance’, an independent travel news service provider.

He said Malaysia was an affordable option for quality healthcare for Indians who travel abroad for treatment. “In Malaysia we offer treatment at the same price to both foreigners and citizens. With our presence at this event we want to showcase our facilities to India. Earlier we participated in two promotion events organised by Matrade (Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation) in Pune and Kochi to raise awareness,” said Wong.

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Terengganu To Spend RM4 Million To Boost Soccer Stadium

KUALA TERENGGANU, Dec 31 (Bernama) – The Terengganu government will spend RM4 million to upgrade the floodlight at Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah Stadium (SSINS) so that Malaysian League matches can be played in the evening. However, before this could happen, the Terengganu team and T-Team have to put up with afternoon matches for three months.

Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Said said the upgrading would involve replacing the four floodlight poles around the pitch to meet the lighting standard set by the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM). “The contractor will take about three months to complete the upgrading of stadium floodlight,” he told reporters watching a pre-season match between Terengganu and T-Team at SSINS last night.

The stadium’s floodlight would be upgraded from 1,000 lux to 1,400 lux. Ahmad said the existing poles would have to be replaced as they could not hold more bulbs under the floodlight upgrading project. “As such, this stadium can only host Super League matches during the day. We have no other choice, as Sultan Mizan Stadium in Gong Badak is under repair.”

SSINS was one of several stadiums not approved by FAM to evening matches next season as the floodlight did not reach 1,200 lux. “We are going to install floodlight with 1,400 lux because the lighting will be reduced from time to time.”

Ahmad hopes that Terengganu supporters would be patient and continue to support both teams although the matches would be played in the afternoon. He was happy with the performance of Terengganu and T-Team players and confident that both teams would go far in the Malaysian League.

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Malaysia Airlines Aims To Enhance Profitability This Year

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 3 (Bernama) — Malaysia Airlines eyes to maintain its positive fiscal reporting trend this year, fuelled by a consistent and aggressive implementation of its Business Plan. Group Chief Executive Officer, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said Malaysia Airlines will continue to accelerate implementation of its Business Plan this year, with added focus on increasing revenue and yields through aggressive marketing and promotions, and better capacity management.

He added the delivery of more new fuel efficient aircraft as part of its fleet renewal programme, including the entry of Airbus A380 into Malaysia Airlines’ fleet as well as the entry into the oneworld alliance by Feb 1, 2013 are expected to have a positive effect towards improved products and services delivery to its passengers and ultimately return the Group to profitability.

“At the same time, the airline group will actively continue to lower costs through improved cost management and driving productivity for better efficiencies system-wide,” he told Bernama.

Malaysia Airlines posted a net profit of RM37 million for its third quarter ended Sept 30, 2012 after six consecutive quarters of losses and a significant improvement compared with the RM478 million losses it recorded in the previous corresponding period.

Ahmad Jauhari said a key element in the national airline’s turnaround is putting the funding plan in place, designed to strengthen the balance sheet, increase working capital and provide a solid funding platform for delivery of the new, fuel efficient aircraft.

Malaysia Airlines, which is currently on a fleet renewal plan which involves 45 Boeing 737-800 aircraft, 15 new Airbus 330-300 aircraft and six Airbus 380 aircraft, will continue taking delivery of these aircraft progressively in 2013 until 2017. “The new deliveries are very essential to maintain relevance in a competitive market,” he added.

He said apart from being more technologically efficient and lowering the overall fuel bill, which currently rakes up to 38 per cent of the carrier’s monthly operating costs, the new aircraft will enable the airline to offer a heightened level of products and services to guests at better yields.

On the oneworld alliance, Ahmad Jauhari said the alliance, slated to be sealed next month, will boost and strengthen Malaysia Airline’s competitive position considerably with an increased network that expands global coverage to 840 destinations in 156 countries.

“The oneworld alliance will also improve visibility of our network which serves more than 60 destinations in nearly 30 countries and enables the airline to tap the financial benefits that come from being part of a global alliance through additional passenger feed and cost reduction opportunities,” he added.

Meanwhile, on Malaysia Airline’s wholly-owned subsidiaries, Firefly and MASwings, Ahmad Jauhari said the airlines are expanding their network and capacity ahead of the full implementation of Asean Open Sky policy in 2015.

The RM3 billion worth of 36 ATR72-600 model turboprops aircraft ordered by Malaysia Airlines from French-Italian aircraft maker Avions de Transport Regional (ATR), will also enable the two subsidiaries to gain a stronger aviation footprint upon the liberalisation of the industry.

Some 20 out of the 36 turboprop orders will be slated for Firefly while the rest are for MASwings, and the order is scheduled for delivery by the second quarter of 2013 and will span over the next five years. Firefly will gradually replace its existing fleet of ATR72-500 and use the new turboprop for its network spanning Peninsular Malaysia, East Sumatra, Singapore and the southern islands of Thailand, while MASwings will continue to focus on East Malaysian operations and secondary routes in the East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) region.

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Malaysian Performing Arts must keep abreast of the nation’s transformation

Insight Sabah, 3 Jan 2013 – The Ministry of Youth and Sports has always been supportive of any programmes that will hone the skills of youths in arts and music, said its Minister , Datuk Peter Pang En Yin. Pang, who is also the Sabah Musical-Theatre Society Patron said the efforts of the government and its mission to motivate and inspire youths through music could also bring a similar change to society.

In a speech at the gala dinner and premiere concert Broadway musical adapted from Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, “Bennny and the Emerald Forest”, Pang said the arts field especially the musical theatre society in Sabah is consistent with the government’s efforts to curb and prevent social ills among youths.

“The involvement of youths in this field such as joining musical theatre can be a positive influence,” he said. He explained that there is a connection between the performing art and the National Key Results Area (NKRA) in that all high income nations support the arts as an integral part of the nation’s development.

The support for arts can be taken as a corporate social irresponsibility (CSR) initiative, Pang added. At the gala dinner, the 40 who took part in the audition had undergone an intensive 80-hour rehearsal stretching 10 days. They performed well in their rendition of the medleys from the original musical The Wizard of Oz.

Pang said his ministry would continue to support the productions made by the Sabah Musical Theatre Society and look forward to seeing more performances in the future. -Insight Sabah

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Afghanistan Pavilion opens at Global Village in Dubai

January 5, 2013, Gulf News, Dubai: Take home a piece of Afghanistan—be it leather, carpets or agricultural products from the newly-opened Afghanistan Pavilion at Global Village. Afghani Counselor Fazullah Reshten, Afghani Consul-General Atiqullah Atifmal, and Global Village CEO Saeed Ali Bin Redha opened the pavilion last week as part of the growing number of pavilions in the theme park this season. Known for its famed dried fruit and nuts, Afghanistan will showcase its harvest for the year at Global Village. This includes mountain almonds, pistachios, pine, walnuts and dried black and white berries, apricots, figs, and raisins, among others. Visitors may also try the Afghani confetti, ‘Noqol’, which is made from sugar-coated mountain almonds.

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Kazakhstan Carrier Air Astana Expands Asian Network With Vietnam Launch

Air Astana, Kazakhstan’s flag carrier, continues to expand its Asian network with the launch of a new service from Almaty to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on 4 January 2013. This follows the start of services to Hong Kong in August 2012 and increases of frequency to several Asian destinations in recent months. Air Astana currently operates services to Bangkok, Beijing, Delhi, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Seoul.

The flight to Ho Chi Minh City will be operated via Bangkok, with a total flight time of nine hours. The return flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Almaty will be operated non-stop and take only seven hours. Flights will initially be operated on Wednesdays and Fridays using a Boeing 757 configured in a 16 business class / 150 economy class layout. Fares from Almaty to Ho Chi Minh City start from US$590 including governmental taxes, airport fees and charges.

Air Astana offers flights from Almaty to nine domestic destinations including the capital Astana and Atyrau on the Caspian Sea, as well as regional services to cities including Baku (Azerbaijan), Dushanbe (Tajikistan), Moscow, Kazan, and St Petersburg (Russia), Tashkent (Uzbekistan), and Tbilisi (Georgia).

“Air Astana continues to grow in strength and reputation as Central Asia’s leading carrier, with the development of our Asian network being a very high priority. I’m delighted that Ho Chi Minh City is destined to become our next exciting destination from the region and confident that with its range of attractions, it will prove popular with tourists from Kazakhstan and neighbouring countries,” said Peter Foster, President of Air Astana.

Air Astana commenced regular flight operations in 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, nine Airbus A320s, and six Embraer 190s. 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.

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

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U$400 billion invested in Iranian ports this year

Noushahr, Jan 3, IRNA – Managing Director of Ports and Sailing Organization Seyyed Ata’ollah Sadr said here Wednesday this (Iranian) year (1391, ending March 20th, 2013) Iran invested some 400 billion US dollars in country’s ports’ development projects.

Speaking at a press conference at Mazandaran Province Ports and Sailing Head Office, Sadr added, ‘This is the volume of investment made by the Iranian private sector and due to the legal bonuses, it is mainly invested in country’s special economic zones, special trade zones, special industrial zones and ports.’

He said constructing a silo for commercial transactions in Behshahr’s Amirabad Port, putting to use a sugar refining factory, and oil refining factory, and a paper manufacturing firm in this port city are among the samples of the investments made by the Iranian and foreign firms at the port cities of the country’s special economic, and free trade zones.

The deputy roads and rural development minister referred to provision of infrastructure facilities, construction of jetties, construction of structures to break heavy tidal waves, timely clearing of the ports’ pools and canals of mud as some of the activities of the country’s Ports and Sailing Organization aimed at encouraging the private sector investors.

He said, ‘For development plans in areas behind the coasts of the port cities, too, we are taking advantage of the private sector investments.’

Sadr said that the construction of the road for direct access to Noushahr Port, too, was approved during the third round of the provincial tours of the president and cabinet ministers, adding, ‘Although this project has been approved by various commission members in the cabinet, but it has not been implemented yet.’

He said that creating new jobs, increasing the capacity of ports, boosting the national economy, and noticeable increase of the private sector have been among the objectives of Noushahr Port’s development plan, adding, ‘By construction of this access road in fact Noushahr Port, as a logistical port city, would be able to provide the needs of Tehran, Alborz, Qom, and Central provinces.’

The managing director of Ports and Sailing Organization meanwhile referred to the recent sanctions imposed by the global oppression system against the Islamic Republic of Iran, arguing, ‘Although throughout over three decades after the glorious victory of the Islamic Revolution the enemy has been after inflicting losses against our country by imposing sanctions, threatening, and cultural onslaughts, but fortunately all these troublemaking efforts have turned into opportunities at the service of impregnating new capabilities in country’s ports.’

He said that the process of physical progress of the infrastructure plans being implemented in Noushahr Port is satisfactory, adding, ‘Although we are facing land shortage for the approved development plans for this port, but the process of physical progress of the infrastructure plans, including providing land by pushing back the sea at a 14 hectare area on the northern side of this port have noticeably proceeded.’

According to official statistics, the country’s ports have the annual nominal capacity of transferring some 172 million tons of goods, which must be increased to 210 million tons by the year 2015. The Head Office of Mazandaran Proving Ports and Sailing Organization in located in Noushahr.

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New Road Leads to Better Life for Rural Afghans

SUMARA VALLEY, Afghanistan (World Bank Press release) – Sometimes, a good stretch of road can mean the difference between life and death. Sharbat Ali believes this because he lost his wife at age 22 as she travelled, semi-conscious, on a donkey’s back down a mountain path for medical help.

“She died on that trail,” Ali, now 63, recalls. “I never knew what was wrong with her. We just couldn’t get to hospital.”

Today, Ali thinks things might have been different. About four years ago, construction was completed on a 15-kilometer stretch of road that winds through the Sumara valley, connecting Ali’s isolated village and nine others with a main thoroughfare to Bamiyan city in Afghanistan’s central region.

The road was built under the Afghan government’s National Emergency Rural Access Program with funding and assistance from the World Bank and Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF).

The purpose of the program is to provide remote communities with year-round access to basic services like hospitals, schools, and shops in larger towns, while also providing jobs on road construction. This program is supported by another World Bank project, the Afghanistan Rural Access Program. The total funding for both programs provided by the World Bank and ARTF is $564 million.

The projects target is to rehabilitate nearly 5,000 kilometers of rural road, construct over 5,600 meters of bridge, and construct 5,400 kilometers of rural road for routine maintenance. So far, more than 2,000 kilometers of road have been rehabilitated, some 1,900 meters of bridge constructed, and a contract signed for maintaining 1,360 kilometers of roads, generating over 2 million labor days. The projects cover all 34 provinces, which include thousands of villages.

Ali says the Sumara road represents a real lifeline for his family and about 2,000 other people in his valley. Recently, carrying the long-handled spade used by potato farmers in his region, Ali stopped on the road to explain that his neighbors also rely on the route to deliver produce to markets quickly and efficiently.

“Now cars come to us and take our crops to town, or we can get out to buy our supplies,” he says. “It takes much less time.” In the past, even those who could afford donkeys might spend a full day travelling back and forth to Bamiyan.

Ali was one of many local men hired as laborers when the road was first built, he says. “It was good that I earned so much money from this, too.”

Farmer Abdul Qayom thinks the road brought his community good fortune. A new primary school is being erected on a nearby hill because more people are moving into the valley and want to invest in its future, he notes.

“We used to have so many problems,” recalls Qayom. “It was really bad when people got sick, or when we needed things, especially in winter or rainy times. But now everyone is coming here.”

Communities help upkeep road

Tilling his crops in a nearby field, Piwand Ali says he moved his family to the valley one year ago after he saw its fertile fields, abundant water supply, and impressive road winding through the middle. “People can see this is a good place,” said Piwand Ali.

Eighteen-year-old Nawrooz Rasuli says he still walks two hours to and from high school each day, but it’s much simpler by road now.

“Before, the trails would get clogged with mud and snow, and we would be very wet and dirty at school,” recalls Rasuli, clutching a bag of dried tomatoes that his mother ordered from town. “I can pick up her groceries, but the rickshaws can also drive right to our door with everything now.”

Dur Mohammed Sultani, 76, said three community councils, representing three segments of the road, were unanimous about the need for it. And they’re still contributing to its upkeep.

A black and white striped pole, every 1,600 meters along the road, indicates a section where one resident is responsible for maintaining, clearing, and keeping the way navigable.

“Together, we all decided this road was the most important thing to us,” said Sultani, who is council head of the road’s middle section. “Now, life is much better. But we have to work hard to make sure the road stays open.”

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Afghanistan ranks fourth in terms of sending tourists to Iran

Tehran, Jan2, IRNA — Afghanistan ranked fourth in terms of sending tourists to Iran, an Iranian tourism official said on Wednesday. Ladan Jafari Tehrani, director of marketing and advertising of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization said that Afghan tourists come to Iran with the aim of pilgrimage or medical treatment.

Jafari Tehrani who was addressing the First Joint Forum on Iran-Afghanistan Tourism Cooperation, said the meeting is aimed at removing obstacles in the way of promoting tourism.

She said that ICHHTO held the same meetings with tourism officials from Russia, Japan, Italy, Georgia, China and Indonesia which yielded good results. She expressed hope that the meeting would be fruitful for both countries’ tourism industry thanks to Iran-Afghanistan cultural, language and religious affinities.

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Egyptian Art Exhibition to be held in Switzerland

3 Jan 2013, AlAhram Online – The Across Borders (AB) Gallery located in Lucerne, Switzerland will host a group show featuring contemporary Egyptian artists Khaled Hafez, Mohamed Abou El-Naga, Ahmed Badry, and Hazem El-Mestikawy starting 3 February 2013.

The show, entitled “Egyptian Art Today,” may as well have been called “Egyptian politics today” or “Egyptian identity today.” The works of these four established artists showcase the interplay of politics with society in modern-day Egypt, as each artist interprets the unfolding revolution and its effect on culture in paintings and installations.

Mohamed Abou El-Naga, founder of Elnafeza Centre for Contemporary Art and Development and former participant at the Venice Biennale, exhibits a photography series entitled “Four Trees in Tahrir Square.”

Abou El-Naga’s trees are clothed in posters, banners and newspaper pages that reflect the struggles and utmost hopes of revolutionaries in Tahrir. “For Abouelnaga, the tree represents the relationship of Egyptians with their homeland: rooted in the country’s ancient culture and religious heritage, the collective consciousness strives for freedom,” reads the press release.

Another participant to this collective exhibition is emerging artist Ahmed Badry, who has been globetrotting in recent years and was awarded residencies at the Cité des Arts in Paris, the Swiss Art Residency of Canton, the Delfina Foundation in London and Rome. Badry exhibits a series of intriguing mixed media installations that probe slightly ridiculous ideas of contemporary lifestyle. For instance, one installation shows an electric iron used as a pizza heater, a suggestion from the artist to poorer nations to creatively handle daily life situations.

Hazem El-Mestikawy, an Egyptian artist recently short-listed for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s esteemed Jameel Prize, and awarded the grand prize at the 13th Asia Art Biennial in Dhaka, presents monochromatic cardboard and recycled paper works at the AB Gallery. The installations attempt to showcase duality between light and shadow, positivity and negativity, and in effect stir questions over identity and the future of Egypt: Did Egypt go forward or backward after the fall of Mubarak (‘11.02.2011’, ‘White Cairo’)? How constant or rather how transitory is freedom (‘Alhoriya Panel 2’, ‘Vienna’)? And is Egyptian identity defined more by Arabic or Egyptian heritage?

Finally, Khaled Hafez, whose work was featured in the Saatchi Gallery and the Tate Modern in London, the MuHKA Museum of Art in Antwerp, the Kunstmuseum in Bonn, the State Museum of Modern Art in Thessaloniki and the Centre George Pompidou in Paris, presents acrylic and collage works previously exhibited at the Safarkhan Gallery, Cairo, in a January 2012 show entitled “On Codes, Symbols and the Stockholm Syndrome.”

Inspired by the January 25 Revolution, Hafez’s paintings are sprawling with codes and symbols that help map his perceptions of, and experiences with, the uprising that changed the fate of Egypt. The paint that trickles down the length of his canvases represent the masses that flooded the streets in the early days of the uprising, while the tulips that grow on many of his canvases symbolise hope and fertility. Ancient Egyptian gods also appear in Hafez’s artwork, prompting reflections on the lines between past and present, East and West, and the sacred and the immediate.

The four artists exhibited provide a panoramic view of today’s art scene in Egypt — creative, experimental, and bound by sociopolitical undertones.

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Jeddah Shopping Festival 2013 expects SR1 billion in revenue

Saudi Gazette – 31 December, 2012 – The 2nd edition of Jeddah Shopping Festival under the slogan “Haya Jeddah” will be held from Jan. 9 to Feb. 8, organized by Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), in collaboration with the Higher Committee for Tourism and Monuments.

Mazen Batterjee, deputy chairman of the JCCI, said the festivalaims to build on the success of last year’s event and promises a rich and varied program of events for Jeddah residents and visitors.

“The number of our strategic partners and sponsors from the government and private sectors is growing this year and we are planning to capitalize on this partnership and reaffirm this statement through a diverse offering of shopping, competitions and entertainment,” he said. Batterjee, along with the General Secretary Adnan Mandoura and Hassan Dahlan, Vice Secretary General of JCCI and Director of the organizing committee, announced that this years’s festival is expected to draw around one million and half visitors throughout the month and would achieve SR1 billion in revenue.

Mandoura said, “I am very optimistic that this year’s festival will be much different due to the success of last year’s various event held in Jeddah. During the month-long event, we will present the best of everything we have to offer in a festive mood with a unique blend of shopping, prizes, promotions and entertainment to put Jeddah on the map as one of favorite tourism destinations.”

Dahlan added that 6 major shopping malls are taking part this year and they intend to offer bargains, promotions, sales and special offers. He said “beside these spectacular malls, some 2,000 retailers will participate. As well as discounted shopping, visitors to Jeddah during Haya Jeddah Shopping Festival can look forward to hundreds of events and activities.”

Mohammed Al Saad, marketing manager of JCCI highlighted the advantages of participants and pointed out that last year’s sales were up to 70 percent. The idea of Jeddah shopping festival was adopted by SCTA Jeddah Branch in 2010 when the idea had encountered some organizational challenges last year. This year, the festival is held by the Commission in cooperation with the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry under the patronage of Prince Khalid Al Faisal, Makkah Governor; Mishal bin Majid, Governor of Jeddah and Chairman of the Tourism Development Council in Jeddah.

According to a report in Arab News, the festival aims to enhance tourism and business of the port city locally and regionally, and is expected to draw about 1.5 million visitors. The JCCI is targeting the Saudis as well as the people from the Gulf region. Jeddah will serve them for multi-purpose activities.

He said that with the participation of six major malls and a number of companies and shopping stores, visitors will find numerous activities as theater, entrainment programs, fireworks, artistic performance, contests, competitions, games and a large discounted sale. Gifts to be distributed on the occasion will include six cars and more than 20,000 other gifts that will be given out every day at different locations, he told the media.

JCCI General Secretary Adnan bin Husain Mandoura said the festival, combined with the opening of new North Corniche, will bring a new wave of enjoyment in the western region. The North Corniche has been refurbished with facilities meeting international standards of family tourism.

Ibrahim Dahlan, the deputy general secretary, said that retail sales last year grew to 70 percent, and this year with the participation of 2,000 shops and six malls the fair is expecting to have a bigger sale. Dahlan also said that JCCI will try to organize more festival with the cooperation of Supreme Commission for Tourism to promote domestic tourism, as festivals will be held on Eid-ul-fitr and Haj holidays.

Visitors can log on Jeddah festival website for festival information and activities; the information will also be available on twitter, facebook and YouTube.

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30-year tourism development strategy in Oman

Oman Daily Observer – 31 December, 2012 – Tourism Minister Ahmed bin Nasser al Mehrzi has said that the government has tasked the Ministry of Tourism to evaluate the tourism sector and prepare a clear-cut, comprehensive long term strategy to be entrusted to an international house of expertise, following the Council of Ministers’ recent approval of referential terms for the strategy.

In a statement before the Majlis Ash’shura here yesterday, Al Mahrazi explained that a three-year period is needed for the implementation of the tourism strategy with effect from 2013 and that a plan for these years will be drafted in co-ordination with the Higher Council for Planning, with special emphasis domestic tourism. The Majlis Ash’shura hosted the minister during the its 5th session of the second annual convening of the 7th Term under the auspices of Shaikh Khalid bin Hilal al Maawali, Chairman of the Majlis Ash’shura.

In his statement, Al Mehrzi pointed out that the current tourism policies focus on encouraging local and foreign investors to set uup tourism projects outside Muscat and the main cities of the Sultanate. The statement touched on updating land development agreements, the tourism law, the system of ownership of properties by non-Omanis in “integrate tourism complexes” and the alternatives available for the ministry to deal with investors involved in “suspended or delayed projects or integrate projects whose owners are likely to withdraw”.

Then a question and answer session was held during which the minister replied to queries raised by the members of Majlis Ash’shura. A member pointed out that after spending scores of millions of rials on the tourism sector over the past years to enhance the added value of the sector to the Omani economy (probably RO 100 million), the revenue is still weak compared to lavish spending, particularly on promotion programmes.

The minister said that most of the visitors to the Sultanate are of the businessmen category. He added that revenue from domestic tourism was RO 800 million over the past years of the current five year development plan, compared to a mere RO 140 million from external tourism. In reply to the member’s comment, the minister noted that “The type of tourism we have achieved so far is a ‘hosting of visitor’ sort”. He agreed that the sums spent on the tourism sector are much beyond the aspirations.

Another member complained against a sharp shortage in tourism facilities and services in the governorates and wilayats. The minister replied saying that, as per the policies known to all, the Ministry has a right to withdraw land from inactive or unresponsive investors in any location. Another member criticised the insufficient number of basic services such as water closets and restaurants. The Minister explained that a comprehensive study is being conducted to specify where basic service facilities should be located.

In reply to another member who demanded the establishment of a unified body to regulate ‘dispersed efforts’ in the field of tourism, the minister dismissed the comment as inaccurate, saying that tourism development efforts should be considered in a positive way. He explained that the Ministry of Tourism started a partnership with Oman Air to co-ordinate efforts and that joint work is an ongoing process involving many departments concerned.

Another member claimed that the contribution of the tourism sector to the Gross Domestic Product is very weak. The minister replied that previous statistics about the contribution of the tourism sector in the GDP are inaccurate as it focused, in earlier studies, only on the hotels and restaurants sector, ignoring the transport sector, the aviation sector, car rentals, etc.

The Minister said that studies have to be comprehensive and accurate and that the National Centre for Statistics is exerting great efforts “to rectify this deficiency” in co-operation with international experts to draft a database for related strategies. At this point, the Minister reiterated the need for emphasis on domestic tourism which was, in earlier years, neglected while more importance with accorded to tourism promotion abroad.

Another member demanded equality in according projects for investment in “tourism lands”. In reply to this, the minister said that a general revision of land development is under way, noting that usufruct agreements have to be respected. One of the members inquired about the obstacles against the setting up of a zoo. The minister agreed that the zoo was one of the projects covered by a recent study which showed the high cost of such a facility and the lack of resources to set it up. Asked why no specific Omanisation percentage of Omanisation should be imposed on tourism investment projects.

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KPMG AAOIFI workshop adds value to Islamic banking

Oman Daily Observer – 30 December, 2012 – KPMG, a leading international firm providing audit, tax and advisory services, organised an intensive 3-day workshop on Financial Accounting Standards (FAS) issued by the Accounting and Auditing Organisation for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI) from December 23 to December 25, 2012 at Crowne Plaza Muscat.

This was the second in a series of accounting workshops that KPMG is planning to hold over the coming months. This workshop brought together the finance people involved with Islamic banks, Windows, finance companies, regulators and the support organisations.

AAOIFI financial accounting standards are mandatory for Islamic banks and Windows as prescribed by the Islamic Banking Regulatory Framework (IBRF) recently promulgated by the Central Bank of Oman. The workshop covered FAS issued by AAOFI encompassing all Islamic Modes of Financing normally used by the Islamic Banks, Windows and Finance companies.

The participants took active part with questions, practical problems and suggestions throughout the workshop which made it very interesting and knowledgeable to the participants.

Tassaduq Hussain from CBO commented on the workshop: “As Islamic banking is new in Sultanate of Oman, these kinds of workshops will certainly contribute a lot in understanding the necessary aspects of Islamic banking and achieving the overall objectives. KPMG trainers were well knowledgeable and professional. Please keep it up.”

Vithal Nerulkar from Muscat National Holding noted, “The workshop almost made me an expert in Islamic banking/finance accounting. Now I am confident about my knowledge about Islamic finance accounting.”

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Saudi grants aviation licenses to Qatar Airways and Gulf Air

JEDDAH – Agence France-Presse – The Saudi aviation authority has awarded Qatar Airways and Bahrain’s Gulf Air licenses to operate domestic flights in the vast desert kingdom. The national carriers of the two neighboring Gulf states will be the first foreign airlines to operate domestic flights in the oil-rich nation, competing mainly with the government-owned Saudia and budget carrier NAS.

“The best bids came from Gulf Air and its partners, and Qatar Airways,” the General Authority of Civil Aviation said in a statement late on Dec. 28. It said 14 companies had competed for the licenses, adding that the decision took into consideration the accumulated experience of the companies in air transport, as well as operational efficiency and financial solvency.

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The renaissance of Saudi aviation

Arab News – 30 December, 2012 – With the entry of new airlines, a tough competition is expected in Saudi Arabian domestic and international flight operations. Qatar Airways and Gulf Air and its associates have been selected as the new airline companies to operate domestic and international services to and from Saudi Arabia. This decision was announced Friday and will be implemented within the next six months.

Currently there are only two airlines operating in the Kingdom. They are the state-owned Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) and low-cost carrier National Air Services (NAS). The country’s third carrier, Sama Airlines, ceased operation last year as talks with the government failed to yield a commitment to support the company. Nesma Airlines also operates flights from Saudi cities to many popular destinations in Egypt, like Sharm El-Sheikh, Hurghada, Marsa Alam, Luxor and Alexandria.

Tourism experts welcomed the new decision aiming to see a change in the services in Saudi aviation. Faisal Al-Turki, vice president of Nesma Airlines, said that such a decision is very healthy to promote the aviation sector in Saudi Arabia and boost the standards in domestic flights.

“Qatar Airways and Gulf Air have presented a very good offer, which is why they got the licenses. I expect the new airlines to attract more passengers than the current airlines like Saudia. Saudia will still give a special offer to students, and workers in the military sector, so these passengers might keep traveling with Saudia to enjoy these special offers,” he said.

Nesma Airlines was one of the companies that competed in the selection process and ranked third. “We tried our best to start operating domestic flights, but we were unlucky in getting the licenses. We will keep trying by presenting better services. To boost our service and expand it in Saudi Arabia, we will start operating flights from Ahsa, Jouf, and Baha to several cities in Egypt,” he said.

Bader Al-Hokair, CEO at Al-Hokair Group, said that the Saudi market is big enough to receive more aviation companies. “This step will increase the number of flights and decrease chances of overcrowding, especially in the pilgrimage seasons and summer,” he said. “I don’t think that passengers will abandon the current available airlines, as the market is too big and more airlines can join.”

Al-Hokair expects domestic tourism will increase, especially when passengers have been suffering from overcrowded domestic flights for a long time.

Mohammed Shams, economist, said the entrance of new airlines would fuel the competition, raise the present standard and reduce prices. “We are expecting a tough competition that will create a new aviation market with special standards.” For a long time, Saudia monopolized the Saudi aviation market, which led to a stable service and fixed prices. This is unhealthy for the Saudi tourism or local economy,” he said.

Shams added: “New laws will emerge in the Saudi aviation market due the entrance of new airlines.” He believed Saudia would have to rethink its service levels, and reduce its prices. “I know that the Council of Ministers imposes the prices, but Saudia will notice a decrease in the rate of passengers, which is why they will be forced to reduce the prices. In Europe there was an airline that dominated the market. When new airlines entered the European market, the company collapsed,” he said.

Shams would expect more tourism agencies to join the Saudi market. “We might see new GCC travel agencies offer special services. Travel agencies will also present new packages with special prices, which will definitely activate the tourism sector in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

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Singapore To Remain Malaysia’s Top Source Of Tourist Arrivals

SINGAPORE, Jan 4 (NNN-Bernama) — Tourism Malaysia expects Singapore to remain the most important source of foreign tourist arrivals in Malaysia, registering more than 50 per cent of total arrivals annually. Its director for Singapore, Zalizam Zakaria, said more Singaporeans were expected to visit Malaysia in the coming years, especially during Visit Malaysia Year 2013-2014.

Malaysia ranks third, after Indonesia and China, for Singapore tourist arrivals. Zalizam said 7.930 million tourist arrivals from Singapore were recorded between January and August last year, a drop of 7.5 per cent compared to the corresponding period in 2011.

He explained that the decrease was due to the change of the “Country of Residence” to “Country of Nationality” in the data registration/entry format by the Malaysian Immigration Department from January last year. “Since more than 25 per cent of Singapore residents are expatriates or foreigners, their visits to Malaysia has been registered under their own respective countries.

“This new format will no longer require visitors to fill up the embarkation card, thus smoothening the process at the Malaysian CIQ (Customs, Immigration and Quarantine) complex and make the visit more interesting and enjoyable with less hassle,” he said.

Zalizam also said that Malaysia and Singapore had been complementing each other in the tourism sector. He said the opening of new products/attractions in Malaysia, such as the Johor Premium Outlet, Legoland, KidZania and Hello Kitty Town (Cartoon Character) at Puteri Harbour, offered a variety of choices to Singaporeans to spend their weekends and holidays in Malaysia.

Likewise, the opening of new attractions like the Gardens by the Bay park and extension of the Universal Studios Singapore (marine park) have attracted Malaysians to spend their holidays here, he added. Zalizam also said that by adapting some new approaches, Singaporeans now had more choices to spend their holidays in Malaysia and what was more important was that they increased their frequency, which translated into an increase of arrivals.

The new approaches he had implemented so far included promoting less popular destinations like the east coast states of Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang and Perak as well as having more advertorial of products and destinations in the print media, which provided more information for the readers and translated into new interest.

“Promoting homestay, including homestay by rail, is another new approach,” he said, adding that this product offered some unique experiences with a kampong (village) lifestyle rich in traditions and culture and a hassle-free environment.

Zalizam said he also encouraged more Malaysian private sector players (product owners) to participate in consumer fairs in Singapore, whereby they could sell their products/packages directly to the consumers.

Another approach, he said, was to encourage cycling in Malaysia, which was now becoming a new sport in Singapore. Self-drive through motoring clubs to experience Malaysia on one’s own was also encouraged, he added.

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Constantine In Algeria Declared Capital Of Arab Culture For 2015

TUNIS, Dec 31 (NNN-APS) — The Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALESCO) has adopted a recommendation declaring the Algerian city of Constantine, located some 430 km east of the capital, Algiers, as the Capital of Arab Culture for 2015. In his speech during the 21st session of ALESCO here Sunday, Algerian Minister of National Education Abdelatif Baba Ahmed expressed his gratitude to the Arab ministerial delegations which voted for the recommendation proposed by the Culture Committee.

It is a cultural event to which Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika attached a special interest, he said. Algeria is honoured by the choice made by ALESCO, which declared the city of Constantine, the cradle of knowledge and scholars such as the pioneer of the reformist thought, Sheikh Abdelhamid Ben Badis, as the capital of the Arab culture for 2015, he added.

In this regard, Baba Ahmed said the Algerian Ministry of Culture would begin the preparations to ensure the success of this cultural event.

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President Calls For Preservation Of Uganda’s Culture

KAMPALA, Dec 31 (NNN-NEW VISION) — President Yoweri Museveni has urged cultural leaders and institutions in Uganda to promote the preservation of the nation’s culture by capturing and retaining all the qualities and values for the future generations. That is the main reason, he said here Sunday, that the country’s ruling party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), had deliberately re-instated cultural institutions. President Museveni was closing the three-day Lango Conference organized by the cultural leadership of Lango sub-region to chart ways of developing the region.

The conference was attended by the leaders of 152 clans from the eight districts of the Lango sub-region which include Apac, Amolatar, Alebtong, Dokolo, Oyam, Otuke, Lira and Kole. President Museveni, who commended the Lango cultural leader, Won Nyachi Odur Yosam, for convening the conference, noted that African culture was very strong because African tribes were very rich in language, arts, science and food.

“I never eat European food like bread and rice. I eat our foods every day like millet that contains carbohydrates, proteins and iron. Why do you abandon our food and start eating rice that has mainly carbohydrates?” he asked.

The president also cautioned against using tribes in politics saying it weakened the cohesion of the African people. He emphasized the need to work for the continent in general as a tribe in the modern world could not survive on its own. “In politics, if you put forward tribes too much, there will be a lot of danger. That is why our tribal chiefs were defeated by the Europeans. They were fighting their wars alone. But if they were united at the beginning, Africa wouldn’t have been conquered”, he observed.

Museveni told participants of the conference of his resolve to preserve the Ankole culture by writing a dictionary. He disclosed a plan to promote the use of some words that bear similarities and incorporate them into the Kiswahili language. He particularly singled out the word “Lubala” which is the Anthem of the Acholi and “Mubala” is used in Buganda to mean the same. Let’s get African words and use them, he said.

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RO 15 m for Dhofar tourism

Oman Daily Observer – 01 January, 2013 – Sultan Qaboos has issued Royal Orders to allocate RO 15 million to raise efficiency and improve services at tourist sites in the Governorate of Dhofar, serving primarily visitors to the Governorate of Dhofar during the Khareef season and to be executed in a schedule that begins in 2013. The Supreme Council for Planning yesterday held its third meeting for 2012 under the auspices of Ali bin Masoud al Sunaidy, Minister of Commerce and Industry, Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Council for Planning.

The Council approved the strategic plan for fisheries sector development (2013-2020) submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, giving priority to production projects and marketing-support projects in implementation during the remaining years of the current plan so as to complete studying the funds for these projects.

The Council approved the proposal to establish a fishing company in the Governorate of Al Wusta, as well as the establishment of aquaculture company in a location determined by the technical studies whereas the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to prepare a feasibility study for the establishment of these companies in co-ordination with the competent authorities.

The Council was briefed on the progress of work in the consultancy study to develop a comprehensive strategy for economic development and comprehensive outline in the Governorate of Musandam carried out by 38 consulting companies, and a report of the visit of the competing companies on a consultancy study to Musandam Governorate.

The Council was also briefed on the steps that have been taken in the preparation of the study on the comprehensive strategy for economic development in the North and South Al Batinah Governorates, whose tenders are expected to be bid by the end of March 2013. The Council also approved the use of diesel fuel for train and speed of 200 km per hour so as that the Ministry of Transport and Communications to complete the detailed studies for the railway project in preparation for public tender.

The Council also approved the second human development report of the Sultanate of Oman, which addressed the human development in the Sultanate and what has been achieved in this regard and what should be done in the upcoming years. In addition, the Council discussed a number of applications for accreditation to a number of development projects upon which it took appropriate decisions.

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R Hotels to boost tourism sector in Ajman

Gulf Today – 31 December, 2012 – R Hotels, the hotels and hotel management arm of R Holdings, introduced Ramada Beach Hotel Ajman, a four-star deluxe property that is expected to further boost the already booming tourism industry and will help position the emirate of Ajman as a preferred tourist destination of travellers looking for a relaxing holiday getaway. Located on the Corniche Road, the 107-rooms and suites Ramada Beach Hotel Ajman overlooks the beach and beautiful waters of the Arabian Gulf, an ideal place for both business and leisure travellers.

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Kuwait Finance House report projects future of Islamic finance in Hong Kong

Kuwait News Agency – 02 January, 2013 – Hong Kong managed over five years to establish Islamic Shariah compliant organizations, authorities, products and services, a report by Kuwait Finance House (KFH) said here Tuesday. KFH-Research highlighted high potential for Islamic banking in Hong Kong, because Hong Kong has high liquidity, free economy, strong presence of foreign banks and simple taxes’ system, which makes it a great candidate to become a major Islamic financial hub.

Hong Kong is also considered, according to the report, to be a gate to China that has a robust market. In addition, Hong Kong held cooperation agreements with Dubai to reinforce cooperation in the field of promoting and developing sectors of Islamic banking, in order to take advantage of the liquidity in the GCC region. Hong Kong works on issuing a legislation that organizes Sukuk, so that it can attract more Sukuk issuance from neighboring countries, such as Malaysia, that took many initiatives in Hong Kong for the past six years.

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JCCI to train 5,000 Saudis in social responsibility

Arab News – 04 January, 2013 – The Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) plans to train more than 5,000 young Saudis in eight social responsibility programs in 2013. The social responsibility programs will be rich in areas of training in management, human resources and industry leadership, personality enhancement by aspects of creative expertise and quality of work.

The JCCI signed a contract for the training program with Nobles Comprehensive Training Center for specialized training in development and investment in human resources, personal development, relevance and effective leadership, art of thinking, implementing skills that are useful for business development, influencing leadership for the family and also in child education.

Adnan bin Husain Mandoura, general secretary at JCCI, and Hashim bin Muhsin, director general of the Nobles Comprehensive Training Center, signed the contract of training programs. Muhsin said these eight training programs are to develop the skills of thinking and mental mapping to solve problems in a creative way.

Mandoura said the JCCI is interested in organizing such courses and programs as its strategic objective to support social responsibility. The JCCI will expand its participation in this area as role of the chamber and its commitment to community service and to cooperate with the various sectors and institutions to provide training courses for members of the community because the investment in the human element is the focus of any nation.

He revealed that the JCCI is offering these courses free with the aim of targeting self development of the Saudi youth in different categories.

“The JCCI is ready to open all its facilities for Saudi youth and hold lectures and training programs. We will start the programs as soon as we receive schedules for these courses from the training providers involving a group of specialists in the training and preparation of training packages approved by the General Organization for Technical and Vocational Training,” he said.

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KSU’s tourism efforts commended

Arab News – 03 January, 2013 – Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, has commended the efforts of King Saud University in Riyadh in producing qualified manpower required for the sector by conducting a number of relevant courses.

He thanked the university’s rector and the general supervisor of Prince Sultan bin Salman Chair for the development of national cadres in tourism and antiquities and the members of the Scientific Committee and researchers on the activation of the chair and for the fruitful efforts they exerted to develop outstanding scientific research in the Kingdom.

A recent report issued by the chair shed light on SCTA president’s contributions to support and develop human resource capabilities and qualifications in the tourism sector. “Prince Sultan’s keenness has been manifested in all SCTA strategies and work plans that prioritize human resources requirements,” the report said.

The SCTA highlighted the chair’s recent practical achievements, including its participation with three research projects in several regional and international conferences and the issuance of two books: “An Introduction to hospitality and tourism studies” and “Traditional rural houses in Unaizah.”

In this respect, the SCTA’s efforts were backed by the initiative of King Saud University for founding a scientific chair under the auspices of SCTA, which stands high among all scientific chairs supported by the university, in addition to launching 12 tour guidance and hotel management courses joined by 262 tourism and archaeology students and tourism and heritage enthusiasts.

The report detailed the main educational programs of these courses as follows: opera hotel room booking program, ‘Amadeus’ flights booking program, ‘Micros’ restaurants program, program of development of hotel departments supervision skills, tour guides qualification program, program of interactive and effective communication in hospitality and tourism industry, program of historical manuscripts and documents preservation methods, program of developing technologically modern display methods, program of graduation projects skills and program of modern strategies of archaeological excavation.

The chair plays a key role in training and qualifying specialists and experts in tourism, archaeology and museumology sectors and works on improving professional performance of teaching staffs and developing educational syllabi, relying on benefiting from experience of international experts in research fields and educational syllabi development.

Meanwhile, Prince Sultan received the Best Governmental Institution Award in the Arab region for social networking and digital media, which was given by the Amman-based 3rd Arab Media Forum for effective usage of social networks and digital media.

This came on the sidelines of the 30th meeting of the SCTA’s board of directors chaired by Prince Sultan at SCTA headquarters in Riyadh recently.

The award was a big honor for SCTA as it came in appreciation of its achievements in the use of social networking for promoting its activities and events, depending on the most widely known and frequently visited websites; Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, together with several effective digital solutions, such as events’ live broadcast on the web and different Internet interactive applications.

SCTA’s efforts in this respect aimed at communicating with the public and getting them acquainted with tourism services information and all recent tourism programs.

Previously, the SCTA won several awards in the same field, most notably the award for website in the field of informatics, which was awarded by the Dubai-based institute of the Middle East Award for Distinction. SCTA’s Sales and Contracts gate garnered the Best Website Award given by the World Web headquartered in the USA.

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Qatari Plan to turn Al-Shamal into a tourist destination

Gulf Times – 03 January, 2013 – Qatar is putting finishing touches to a master plan to convert Al-Shamal municipality into a major tourist destination, senior officials yesterday said. Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) Chairman Issa bin Mohamed al-Mohannadi revealed the project would include building a modern harbour and developing the area’s archaeological heritage that traces back to pre-Islamic times.

He told journalists the government was pushing ahead with both the money and the technical expertise to develop Al-Shamal as a town that offers a lot to potential travellers from outside the country. He, however, did not mention the amount proposed to be spent on the project.

Al-Mohannadi was speaking to the representatives of Qatar’s newspapers during a guided tour to the municipality some 100km north of the capital Doha.

Hussain bin Ibrahim al-Fadala, Director of Control Department, Municipality of North, said the first step of the project was to identify sites that could be developed as tourist attractions.

The QTA chief said Al-Shamal—an area that was the preferred living place for a majority of Qataris before oil exploration in the south during last century—has a great potential to become a tourist attraction for multiple reasons. “It is a mix of history and modernity…serenity and mystery. One can anticipate people being lured into exploring it,” said the chairman, whose authority is the key government arm to undertake tourism-related projects across Qatar.

“People think Doha is the only option when it comes to exploring Qatar. It is not the case…we have this place as well, less buzzing though but having its own flair to offer.”

Al-Shamal is a municipality in the State of Qatar. The name means ‘city of the north’—although the population is barely over 5,000. The municipality will be home to the proposed 45,330-seat Al-Shamal Stadium, one of 12 venues to be used to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Al-Mohannadi said that the new move could prove to be a game changer for the area by bringing in a lot of investment in tourism-related projects. Al-Fadala said building infrastructure including hotels, roads and other facilities was the main objective of the project. Already yards away from the municipality compound excavators are seen digging the soil, bulldozers are levelling the ground and several dozen engineers and some architects are busy developing a site, quietly but vigorously.

Along the sealine a new harbour is also taking shape. Around the multilane highway that goes through the historic town one can notice a modern city emerging. The QTA chief said the idea is to boost local economy not only to promote tourism but also to control migration of people from Al-Shamal to Doha.

The journey from Doha to Al-Shamal goes through a sprawling sandy landscape, offering what can be called the essence of the desert. On both sides of the highway, there are several houses long abandoned by their inhabitants who moved to other places for better opportunities but structures are still intact as monuments.

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Emirates begins flights from Dubai superjumbo concourse

The Peninsula – 03 January, 2013 – Emirates Airlines began operations yesterday from the world’s first concourse dedicated to Airbus’ A380 super jumbos at Dubai’s rapidly expanding airport. Concourse A, which cost $ 3bn to build, gives Emirates — one of the fastest-growing carriers — an additional airport capacity of 15 million passengers a year, the company said.

The expansion takes place as the CAPA Centre for Aviation said Emirates could become this year the world’s second-biggest carrier in terms of capacity, right after United Airlines, and way ahead of legacy European carriers. Flight EK003 took off to London Heathrow from Concourse A, which will become “home of the Emirates A380,” Emirates said.

The new extension to Terminal 3, featuring 20 gates specifically designed to accommodate the long-haul planes, will open gradually, with just four gates operational yesterday, Dubai Airports chief executive Paul Griffiths said in another statement.

The government-owned carrier is the largest operator of A380s, with a fleet of 31 and another 59 on order. The new concourse spreads across 11 floors with a total area of 528,000 square metres (5.7 million square feet).

Dubai Airports has earmarked $ 7.8bn to further expand the capacity of the international travel hub, as it expects to handle 75 million passengers by 2015 and 98 million by 2020. It expected the number of passengers who used Dubai International airport in 2012 to be around 57 million.

The new facility will be available to A380 flights to Europe operated by Australia’s Qantas, as per the global partnership announced recently and awaiting the approval of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Emirates said.

Emirates has a fleet of 195 wide-body Airbus and Boeing, and has some 204 units on orders worth more than $ 74bn, it said. It flies to 128 destinations in 74 countries. The carrier, which began operations in 1985 with two leased planes, has become a major competitor of legacy airlines, turning Dubai into a major transit hub for travel between Europe, Asia and Australasia.

Sydney-based CAPA said this week Emirates remained last year third in global ranking of world’s airlines by capacity, with 4.993 billion available seat kilometres.

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US$7 billion east-west railway project on target in Saudi Araiba

Arab News – 03 January, 2013 – The $ 7 billion railway project linking Riyadh with Jeddah gathered steam yesterday with the state-owned Public Investment Fund signing a SR 270 ($ 72) million contract with Fluor, a US company, to provide management consultancy. Fluor is contracted to oversee the work of the contractors and experimental operation of the railway project over a period of 84 months, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

The contract is part of the plan ordered by King Abdullah to complete the railway infrastructure of the Kingdom and in line with a decision of the Council of Ministers to construct a railway line connecting the Kingdom’s west coast with its east coast. PIF will fund the massive project and a supporting team drawn from the ministries of Transport, Finance and Saudi Railways Company (SAR) was formed to supervise the project.

SAR Board Chairman Mansour Al-Maiman said the line would start from Jeddah Islamic Port to Riyadh to be connected with the existing 450 km line between Riyadh and Dammam, with a second 115-km new line planned to connect Dammam with Jubail on the Arabian Gulf.

The 958-km dual track railway passing through different geographical areas will necessitate construction of a series of tunnels and bridges. The SAR will closely work with Fluor for scheduling all construction work based on the highest quality and standards, he said.

The SAR is fully owned by the PIF and is currently implementing the North-South Railway (NSR) project. It is the world’s largest railway construction and the longest route to adopt the European Train Control System (ETCS) to date. It is a 2,400-km passenger and freight rail line originating in the capital city Riyadh, in the northwest of the country, to Al Hudaitha, near the border with Jordan.

Al-Maiman, chairman of SAR, said Fluor was picked from five international companies that had offered their bids to win the contract. Fluor will work with Parsons Brinckerhoff to review the engineering designs. The Saudi Landbridge Project is part of the Saudi Railways Organization’s railway expansion program. It will be the first rail link between the Red Sea and the Gulf.

Transport Minister Jabara Al-Seraisry said: “The land bridge along with the North-South Railway and the Haramain Railway will have a big impact on the social and economic development of the country.”

The project is expected to have a significant impact on the transport potential of the country. It will allow freight of cargo imported from East Asian countries via King Abdul Aziz Port in Dammam, and from Europe and North America via Jeddah Islamic Port. This would result in more transit cargo and savings in regional freight economy.

With the construction of the Jeddah-Riyadh rail link, the time taken for passenger transport will be six hours instead of the current 10 to 12 hours by bus. For freight, trains the maximum travel time will be 12 hours.

The design speed of passenger trains is expected to be 250 kph and 140 kph for freight trains, making the trip between Dammam and Jeddah around 12 hours for cargo. Sea-borne freight can take up to nine days to travel between the two destinations.

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Bangladesh moves to boost exports to Iran

Tehran Times – 02 January, 2013 – Amid continuous downtrend of the export volume Bangladesh has moved forward to increase shipment to Iran, officials said. Bangladesh mainly exports raw jute and jute goods to the Muslim nation and due to various sanctions export of the items there fell drastically.

Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) statistics show that in fiscal year (FY) 2010-11 Bangladesh’s export to Iran was worth US$ 97.25 million which, in FY 2011-12, fell to $ 83.32 million, marking a 14.32 percent decline. During the July-November period of the current fiscal year goods worth $ 30.19 million were exported to Iran.

Alongside jute and jute goods, Bangladesh’s exports to Iran also include oil seeds, pharmaceuticals, kitchenware, plastics, vegetables, textile fibres, paper yarn, woven fabric, electronic equipment and stainless steel blade. The EPB recently suggested the Bangladesh embassy in Tehran to take various measures so that export to Iran is boosted.

The Bureau asked the embassy officials to identify potential exportable items from Bangladesh to Iran, market size and market trend, sending samples of products marketed in Iran for adaptation requirements, packaging and presentation requirements and quality requirements.

The embassy officials are also being asked to study the nature of competition in the Iranian market, trend of prices of the items, tax structure, non-tariff barriers, distribution channels and market penetration strategy. The EPB asked the embassy personnel to collect report on prospective products from the local research institute, chamber of commerce, university or any other institute as effective tools for market promotion and enduring into the market with the existing produce.

To promote the market of Bangladeshi products the officials have been asked to build up good relationship with the local importers. Officials said financial transaction with Iran faces various hurdles because of the sanctions imposed on it by the Western nations that discourage exporters to trade with the Muslim nation.

Statistics show that due to the sanctions the transactions among nine member-countries of the Asian Clearing Union (ACU) mechanism declined sharply. Currently Iran is holding the chairmanship of ACU where Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and the Maldives are members.

In first ten months of this calendar year total transactions among the ACU members were worth $ 15.90 billion, marking a negative growth of 37.77 percent. During the period Bangladesh’s transaction through ACU mechanism saw a negative growth of 19 percent.

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Gambia: Forum On the Use of Media in Preaching Islamic Culture Held

31 December 2012 (The Daily Observer) – The Islamic Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ISESCO) in collaboration with NATCOM on Thursday held a three-day sub-regional forum on the use of media in preaching Islamic culture in West Africa. ISESCO and the Dawa of Sudan within the framework of their cooperation programme for 2012, funded the synergy which was held at the Baobab Holiday Resort in Bijilo.

The forum brought together 12 participants from Senegal, Mali, The Gambia, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Guinea Bissa with the aim to strengthen the knowledge of Islamic preachers on the use of the media for the development of a culture of peace and dialogue in the context of Islamic culture.

In his welcome remarks, Yahya Al-Matarr Jobe, the acting secretary general of the Gambia National Commission for UNESCO, said that currently, the print and electronic media are playing a significant role in informing the world about Islam. He noted that this sub-regional forum would offer innovative ideas about using them creatively to explore the role played by mass media and information technology in effectively educating people about Islamic doctrines.

He said that this makes the hosting of this invaluable forum in The Gambia at this particular time more relevant and benefiting because the year 2012 was declared the National Year of Science, Technology and Innovation by the president of the Republic.

For his part, Papa Touman Ndiaye, a representative of ISESCO, said ISESCO is pleased to join hands with Munazzamat Al-Dawa Al-Islamia in organising this training with the support of the Gambia National Commission for UNESCO. He informed that this development came about due to the good cooperation between The Gambia and ISESCO.

Abdul Ahmad Drammeh, the public relations and a representative of the Munzamat Al-Dawa Al-Islamia West Africa Region, talking about Munazamat Al-Dawa Al-Islamia and its mandate, said itis a charitable, non-governmental organisation, serving mankind in diverse areas of humanitarian services, among which are education, health, agriculture, provision of safe drinking water, personal assistance, bursary to students, support to orphans, widows and the needy families, among others.

According to him, this organisation has a long standing relationship with ISESCO in grooming the youth in becoming responsible leaders, as well as facilitating them to withstand the current challenges of the world through civic education.

For Drammeh, the use of the media is an important means of communication that plays a vital role in the lives of individuals. He expressed optimism that participants would benefit from what they would learn from this workshop and would make the best use of it in their communities.

In her official opening, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure, Nancy Niang expressed appreciation to be associated with this very important forum, describing it as a laudable initiative. She affirmed that the forum is meant to improve their skills of the participants in the dissemination of the values of Islamic culture in the media in a bid to strengthen the culture of peace and to promote dialogue, among others.

PS Niang however pointed out that the aim of this sub-regional forum is not to present media as a threat to their religious and cultural identity, but to explore and discuss the potentials that the mass media have if used as a tool to build an Islamic society.

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Gambia: Camp for Excellence in Science, Mathematics for Girls Kicks Off

28 December 2012 (The Point) – The Islamic Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), in collaboration with NATCOM, is organizing a three-day camp of excellence in science, mathematics and physics for young girls. Delivering the keynote address on behalf of VP Njie Saidy at a ceremony held at the Girls Guide premises in Kanifing, Hon. Fatou Lamin Faye, minister of Basic and Secondary Education, told the gathering that basic scientific knowledge forms the stable foundation on which all current and future technologies are built.

According to her, science and mathematics education and their applications are fundamental prerequisites for the advancement of economies and societies of all nations including The Gambia. “This is predicated on the firm belief that basic sciences and technology underpin the pursuit of knowledge that leads to increased levels of improvements in human conditions, sustainable development and, in general, the advancement of civilization,” she said.

Minister Faye added that the need to provide science, mathematics and technology education, in the context of universal basic education to any country’s population is traced to the argument that today and even in the future, science, mathematics and technology are part of the general education required of every contributing member of society.

She said that planting the seeds of a scientific and technological education in schools will indeed germinate for every citizen, particularly girls and women to harvest as a valuable tool for investment. She explained that President Yahya Jammeh has indeed been highly proactive in the promotion and utilization of science, technology and innovation in The Gambia since the birth of the new republic in 1994.

She added that his commitment to advance science, technology and innovation is demonstrated in the establishment of the UTG, the Kanilai Institute for Science and Technology and the overwhelming numbers of scholars that have been trained in the country and overseas.

“This science camp for girls is an initiative that is aimed at bridging the gap in excellence in science, mathematics and physics between boys and girls. The gender disparity in the number of performing students in sciences in basic and senior secondary education is enough testimony to support this venture,” she remarked.

Dr Mamadou Tangara, Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, expressed gratitude to the organizers for organizing this kind of camp in promoting science and mathematics. He noted that some of the best scientists and mathematicians in the world today are Muslims, which has been described as scientific miracles.

He said being a scientist is not only for men but also for women, urging the girls to build confidence in themselves. For his part, Papa Toumane Ndiaye, a representative from ISESCO, said the camp will not only contribute towards promoting science education in young girls but will also provide encouragement, inculcate in them confidence and build their character.

He revealed that the event has marked the 9th camp of excellence being organised in The Gambia by ISESCO. Yayah Al Matarr Jobe, acting Secretary General of UNESCO-NATCOM, in his welcoming remarks, said the camp for excellence will provide participants with an excellent opportunity to discuss girl’s participation in the field of science, technology and innovation in an attempt to redress the imbalance between both sexes.

The training, he noted, would enable the participants from the different educational levels and backgrounds to explore together the transformative potential of science, technology and innovation for improving girl’s access to education, health and economic resources in order to help them become active participants in developing their economy and society.

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Mauritania Politicians Seek Ideas From Youth

31 December 2012 (Magharebia) Nouakchott — Mauritanian government officials and young people recently met for two days in Nouadhibou to discuss ways to improve the city. The Youth Dialogue Forum in Nouadhibou, “Citoyennes et Citoyens Debout” (Citizens Standing) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) organised the December 16th-17th event.

The “Integrating Young People in the Political Process” forum allowed young people and elected officials to collaborate on “solving problems in their cities, such as health and environment”, NDI official Mohamed Habib Allah Ould Mohamed Lamine told Magharebia. “The activity is part of a tour to be organised in the coming weeks for Mauritanian youth in the cities of Kaédi, Kiffa and Nouakchott. Ten young people will be chosen from each province to take part in a final meeting in which the reached conclusions will be discussed,” he added.

Young participants enjoyed the event but said they had hoped for greater attendance by elected officials. “I was greatly disappointed because the mayor and city sheikh didn’t attend to answer our questions,” UNESCO Club member Ba Cheikh Oumar told Magharebia. “Yet, we benefited from information provided by NDI on the role of elected officials in development, and also from learning about many of the issues in the same field,” he added.

Citoyennes et Citoyens Debout official Alpha Ibrahima Thiam also shared his observations with Magharebia. “I can say that the success of the meeting was relative as compared to the goals and conclusions that we expected,” he said.

“Youths discussed issues related to the work of elected officials in certain areas such as health, environment and education. However, some of the elected officials who are directly concerned with these issues, especially Nouadhibou mayor who is more concerned than others, didn’t attend,” Thiam said.

Ba Cheikh Oumar told Magharebia, “Until now I couldn’t talk about tangible, positive results because the main party that is supposed to implement young people’s recommendations, namely the elected officials, such as the mayor, were absent.”

“As to the moral, I can say that the meeting generated a desire in us as young people to work and make achievements, and made us feel that we are active and have a mark on public life more than ever,” he added.

Youth activist Souleiman Mahmoud Allah had similar views on the event. “As far as the aspects of organisation, form and training are concerned, they were good because they made us learn about the role of elected local officials towards the town and citizens in general,” he told Magharebia.

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Morocco Counters Extremism With Culture, Creativity, and Community

3 January 2013 (Moroccan American Center for Policy) Rabat, Morocco — A chorus of voices in Morocco is calling for culture to be used as a means of boosting national identity and protecting young people from extremism.

Extremists should be tackled not only directly by the authorities, but also by instilling the country’s values in young people, according to Culture Minister Amine Sbihi. This, he said, will protect them against the extremist thinking that is spread everywhere, in particular by certain satellite channels.

Sbihi argued that young people are leaving the country in droves not only because of unemployment and poverty, but also because they have not been taught to be committed to their country.

For 2013, Morocco has allocated 571 million dirhams (52 million euros) for the culture ministry, including 217 million dirhams solely for investment purposes. Several experts and MPs are calling for special attention to be paid to the sector because of the role that culture plays in boosting identity and fostering social values.

The ministry has come up with a new community-based strategy to enable a larger number of young people to benefit from cultural opportunities. The minister has also said that his department wants to help young people to be creative.

MP Rachida Bensaoud lamented the small budget that has been allocated to the culture ministry, arguing that there should be a link between politics and culture. Bensaoud added that culture should be present everywhere within society so that it can play its role.

Sociologist Samira Kassimi echoed the sentiment, saying that the promotion of culture serves as a bulwark against extremism, especially since Moroccans have long been known for their open-mindedness and tolerance.

“It is important to develop the culture of society and encourage young people to take pride in their identity. To achieve the desired goals, we need to improve Morocco’s audio-visual media so that people are no longer forced to watch satellite channels which convey messages that may incite extremism. There is also a need to boost youth clubs and libraries,” she said.

Political activist Jamal Sendoussi has been critical of state youth clubs, saying they need to be renovated in order to play their part in helping youths.

Young people can easily fall prey to fundamentalist groups due to the lack of cultural provisions, according to the activist. In his view, a proper strategy to promote culture among young people with clear goals is needed. This will develop the minds of young people by giving them opportunities to share their passions and better themselves under sound guidance, he said.

The culture ministry has said that this year will see further efforts to provide community cultural facilities across the country. That programme includes the opening of fifteen new arts centres, three conservatories, two theatres, and 15 new culture centers to be run in partnership with local authorities.

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Morocco Celebrates Amazigh Culture and History At Festival in Rabat

31 December 2012 (Moroccan American Center for Policy) Rabat, Morocco — Ever since a post-constitutional amendment recognised Tamazight as an official language, “all actors are now required to pay attention to the promotion of this culture,” Chems Bladi Association head Fatime Ferhate said at the festival finale on Saturday (December 29th).

Fine arts, cinema and various workshops highlighted the “overlap of Amazigh and Moroccan-Arab culture”, said Ferhate, whose association partnered with the culture ministry and the Moroccan Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture (IRCAM) to organise the event.

“We believe that the Amazigh culture is not restricted to the Amazigh, and that the Arab culture is not restricted to Moroccan Arabs, but that there is a Moroccan culture that contains all that is Amazigh and Arab. This is what we wanted to express by involving Arabs and Amazighs as part of this event,” she said.

Ferhate added, “Even if the Amazigh language itself is divided into several dialects based on regions, the adoption of Tifinagh script has now unified it, and they also belong to one nation. Therefore, we’re bilingual Moroccans.”

IRCAM head Ahmed Boukouss also noted that the festival followed the constitutional amendment recognising Tamazight. “That culture was officially recognised for the first time in Morocco’s history, and therefore, we can consider this to be a cultural and legal revolution,” Boukouss said. “Now the state can budget sufficient financial and human resources to activate the constitutional amendment.”

“We’re waiting for the issue of regulatory laws in order to activate the official nature of that culture,” he added. “We’re also having a discussion in which some believe that Tamazight has the right to be as important as Arabic; while others believe that Arabic alone must be the official language.”

Culture Minister Amine Sbihi noted, “With its multiple cultural components and rich linguistic expressions, Morocco represents the truest example of a cohesive nation as part of multiplicity and unity.”

The minister added that the government was in the process of implementing a programme “to establish a public policy in the cultural field, including the enhancement of national identity with all of its multiple sources and highlighting the Amazigh cultural component in particular”.

For his part, Driss El Yazami, President of the National Human Rights Council, said that “the recent constitutional amendment represented a new stage of reconciliation by recognising plurality and equality between Arabic and Tamazight.”

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Uganda: Makerere Ranks High in Sciences

4 January 2013 (New Vision) – Makerere University’s ranking has improved to the ninth overall best university in Africa, according to the findings of a new study. The Scimago Institutions Ranking (SIR) World Report 2012 shows that Makerere has leaped from the 11th position in which the Wobemetrics rankings placed it last August.

SIR is a comprehensive ranking of worldwide research institutions, with the goal of rating every institution around the world that does meaningful scientific output. The ranking includes 3,290 institutions worldwide that together, are responsible for more than 80% of worldwide scientific output during the term 2006-10 as indexed in Elsevier’s SCOPUS database.

The SCOPUS database is the largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature and quality web resources with smart tools that track, analyse and visualize research. The report, which annually considers the number of scientific articles, reviews and conference papers contained in the database, is good news to Makerere’s research efforts.

In Africa, the top five universities are in South Africa. The University of Cape Town is number one followed by that of Witwatersrand. The University of Pretoria is third, Stellenbosch University is fourth, while the University of KwaZulu-Natal holds the fifth position.

Nigeria’s Ibadan University is sixth followed by Tunisia’s El Manar University in seventh place and Sfax University, also from Tunisia, in eighth position. Makerere is in the ninth position before South Africa’s University of the Free State, which is 10th. The University of Johannesburg is 13th, while Rhodes University is 14th. These two are also from South Africa.

Regionally, the University of Nairobi is 23rd, while Kenya Medical Research Institute is 25th. Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences from Tanzania is 56th, while the University of Dar-es- Salaam, also in Tanzania, holds the 57th position.

According to a statement from Makerere, the improvement in ranking implies that a greater worldwide audience is being impacted by research publications and output from the university. Makerere is the only institution in Uganda that featured in the ranking and is competing with directly funded institutions from South Africa, Nigeria and Tunisia.

Reacting to the improved performance, Dr. Vincent Ssembatya, the director of Quality Assurance, said: “This report is a good point on which to convince our Government to directly fund research and publications/ publishers so as to elevate our profile as a research-led institution.”

He noted that the Government’s direct involvement in funding research in South Africa has made the country an attractive destination for scholars from all over the globe. As a result, South Africa came next to Australia in a world survey of the highest paid professors by country.

By steadily improving and increasing her research output, Ssembatya added, Makerere University is committed to reaching a wider audience of policy makers, development partners, researchers, media and the general public with the aim of remaining relevant to the communities it serves.

Last August, the Webometrics rankings showed that Makerere had improved by four positions globally from 1,177th position as of January 2012. Webometrics is another organisation that monitors university performance worldwide.

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Egyptian ‘Khoroug Lel Nahar’ wins at Algerian film festival

Ahram Online, Sunday 23 Dec 2012 – Egyptian film ‘Khoroug Lel Nahar’ (Coming Forth By Day) by director Hala Lutfi has won the Golden Wihr for best feature film at the end of the sixth edition of the Oran Arab Film Festival in Algeria on 22 December. Khoroug Lel Nahar is about the plight of a poor family in a working class suburb of Cairo, which includes a disabled father, a nurse, and a 30-year-old daughter who cares for her ill father. The film stars Dina Maher, Salma El-Nagar, and Ahmed Lutfi.

The film competed against 12 Arab feature films in the same category. The festival was held from 13 December to 22 December at the city of Oran, western Algeria as part of the country’s celebration of its 50 years of independence from France. Khoroug Lel Nahar debuted at this year’s Abu Dhabi Film Festival in October. In its review, the Hollywood Reporter commented that, “Cinema is more than ready for an exciting new female auteur from the Arab world, and, on the basis of her long-gestating debut Coming Forth By Day (Khoroug Lel Nahar), Egyptian 39-year-old writer-director Hala Lutfi might well be it.”

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Cairo’s landmark Egyptian Museum to receive facelift

Nevine El-Aref , Monday 17 Dec 2012 – Following a brief inspection of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square on Sunday, Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim gave the go-ahead for a long-awaited initiative aimed at developing the famous museum.

Egyptian Museum Director Salwa Abdel-Rahman said the development project would be completed in three phases. The first phase will involve the development of Hall 32, home to a large collection of Old Kingdom artefacts unearthed at the Saqqara Necropolis; and Hall 37, which displays the funerary collection of Queen Hetepheres, mother of King Khufu, the builder of Egypt’s Great Pyramid.

Abdel-Rahman says that displays in both halls will be revamped to provide visitors with a better view of the artefacts. The museum’s main dome will also undergo a thorough cleaning and its long-broken widows will be replaced. A new lighting system has already been installed to provide better lighting that will not harm the ancient objects on display.

Ibrahim told Ahram Online that financing for the project’s first phase would be provided by the Association of Lovers of the Egyptian Museum and not from the ministry’s budget. He added that the three phases of the planned development project would be carried out one after another until their final completion in 2015.

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Indonesian Aviation boom promotes domestic tourism

December 31 2012 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Air transportation has been an important factor and so far played a significant role in the development of domestic tourism, the director of domestic tourism promotion of the ministry of tourism and creative economy, M Faried, said here on Monday. He said the capacity of national airlines with scheduled domestic flights this year reached 99.82 million seats. The airlines served flights to 117 cities, a significant rise compared to last year`s number. “Last year the domestic flight capacity only reached 81.7 million seats while the number of cities served was recorded at only 104,” he said.

Faried said Java with nine airports has a domestic flight capacity of 48.63 million seats or 48.72 percent of the national capacity. Sumatra follows second with 29 airports with a domestic flight capacity of 16.88 million seats while Kalimantan in the third place with 20 airports and a domestic flight capacity of 10.51 million seats or 10.53 percent of national capacity.

Sulawesi with 11 airports has a domestic flight capacity of 10.36 million seats or 10.53 percent, Bali 5.7 million seats or 5.7 percent and Papua with 20 airports 3.56 million seats or 3.57 percent. “Except for Jakarta and Banten, inter-provincial travels still dominate domestic tourist travels,” he said.

Faried said transportation spending remained the biggest one comprising 40 percent. He said the meeting, incentives, conference and exhibition (MICE) sector has also helped boost domestic tourism. “MICE activities balance the business activity especially during a low season,” he said.

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Sleman to develop traditional markets

January 3 2013 Sleman (ANTARA News) – The Sleman District administration, Yogyakarta special region (DIY), will develop a number of traditional markets to attract more customers in 2013, official of the district market office said. “We will develop six traditional markets in Prambanan, Sleman, Godean, Gamping, Kebonagung and Ngino,” said Head of the Sleman district market office, Tri Endah, on Thursday.

According to her, the Prambanan Market will be developed close to the border of Klaten and Central Java in 2013. Rp 7.2 billion will be used to develop the market. “The Prambanan Market will attract consumers who live beyond Yogyakarta,” she said, adding that the Prambanan Market will be spread over 18,000 square meters. “Currently, the district government of Sleman only has 2,000 square meters of land. The government will acquire additional land for Rp20 million,” she said.

Tri Endah said the Prambanan Market will have one and a half floors. It will cost Rp 7.2 billion to develop the Prambanan Market. “We plan to build three floors. There will be a parking lot on each floor so that vendors can load and unload goods. At the Prambanan Market, there will be day care centres, restrooms and other facilities,” she said.

She said other traditional markets will be renovated. “At the Godean Market, we will shift the fried eel shop to the district`s office area, which will be developed into a snacks centre,” she said. She also said the klitikan (junk) shop, which displays merchandise along a street, close to the traditional market, will be relocated to another place.

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Tourism contributes US$8.5 billion to Indonesia revenues

January 4 2013 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – The tourism sector became the fifth largest contributor to national revenues by generating US$8.5 billion last year. Citing Central Statistics Agency (BPS) data, Deputy Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Sapta Nirwandar said the tourism sector contributed US$9 million to national revenues in 2011, increasing from US$7.6 million in 2010.

“In terms of contribution to national revenues, tourism ranked right after oil and gas, coal, palm oil and manufactured rubber,” he noted. The tourism sector contributed Rp296.97 trillion to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Indonesia, constituting 4 percent of the national GDP.

Nirwandar noted that the sector employed 8.53 million people, accounting for 7.72 percent of the national workforce. “Total wages in the sector amounted to Rp96.57 trillion, up by Rp11.77 trillion from 2010,” he pointed out.

“Tourism’s contribution to indirect tax revenues in 2011 was Rp10.72 trillion, accounting for 3.85 percent of total tax revenues,” Nirwandar said, adding that revenues came from restaurant tax (2.28 percent), hotel (0.35 percent) and recreation and amusement (0.28 percent).

Earlier, Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Mari Elka Pangestu had stated that the tourism sector would continue to perform well in 2013. “According to official data, the tourism sector of Indonesia grew by 5 percent in 2012, which is higher than the global average of 3 to 4 percent,” she noted.

“We achieved our 2012 target of having 8 million visitor arrivals. Therefore, we are optimistic that the numbers will continue to rise this year,” Pangestu added.

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Indonesia`s economic growth best after China

Sat, January 5 2013 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Finance Minister Agus Martowardojo said Indonesias economic growth in 2012 was good, rating it as the best after that of China. "Indonesias economic growth was likely the second best after that of China in 2012. The economic growth of other countries like India and Brazil is below ours,” the finance minister said here on Friday.

He said that the present condition enabled Indonesias economic growth to reach 6.3 percent at the end of last year. Indonesias economic growth was outclassed only by that of China which reached 8.6 percent. “If in the fourth quarter of last year the Indonesian economy grew 6.1 to 6.4 percent that would mean that Indonesia`s year-on-year economic growth would reach 6.3 percent. So, this is what made us optimistic,” the finance minister said.

Acting Head of Fiscal Policy of the Ministry of Finance Bambang Brodjoegoro said Indonesia`s economic growth did not reach the target at 6.5 percent because the capital expenditure was not realized based on expectation.

“We should be able to reach 6.5 percent but we miss the target, reaching only 6.3 percent. This could be because we were not able to realize our expenditure, particularly capital expenditure,” he said. The Central Statistics Agency (BPS) said the domestic economy grew by 6.3 percent in the first quarter of 2012 on a year-on-year basis, or 1.4 percent on a quarter-to-quarter basis, with the farming, forestry, and fishery sectors being the top contributors to the growth, with 20.9 percent.

Yet, the nation missed its economic growth target of 6.5 percent for the first quarter of 2012 by 0.2 percent. Of note, the Indonesian economy surprisingly picked up 6.4 percent in the second quarter of last year, fueled by strong domestic consumption and investment. The high growth in the quarter ending June 2012 suggested that Indonesia remained resilient, in spite of global financial woes.

At the same time, the domestic economy fell to a two-year low of 6.17 percent for the quarter ending September 2012 due to low demand from the nation`s major trade partner, China. According to the BPS, the third-quarter growth was boosted by a hike in fixed gross capital formation by 10.02 percent and household consumption expenditures of 5.68 percent.

Further, the largest quarter-to-quarter growth in the third quarter was recorded in the agricultural sector at 6.15 percent, due especially to a 23.43 percent hike in the agriculture sub-sector. “The figures show our agricultural sector made a significant improvement from 2.34 percent in the second quarter, following abundant harvests,” BPS chief Suryamin said.

The growth in the GDP in the third quarter was contributed mostly by the transportation and communication sector that grew 10.48 percent. Indonesia`s central bank predicted the full-year economic growth would reach 6.3 percent in 2012, fueled by high domestic consumption. Overall, the Indonesian economy in 2012 and 2013 is predicted to expand 6.1 to 6.5 percent and 6.3 to 6.7 percent, respectively, Bank Indonesia Governor Darmin Nasution said.

In its evaluation of the Indonesian economy, the banks board of governors said the domestic economy is expected to grow at a high pace this year, although the growth will not be as high as expected. However, officials at Asian Development Bank (ADB) project Indonesias economic growth by the end of 2012 will be below 6.4 percent, or lower than April`s forecast of 6.4 percent.

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E-healthcare system coming to Kazakhstan

2013-01-02 (Centralasiaonline.com) ALMATY – Kazakhstan is moving to reduce time-consuming paperwork, streamline the work of doctors and give patients easier access to their records by building a system to store people’s medical information online and in a unified database.

With the Unified Health Management Information System (UHMIS), patients won’t have to stand in long queues at clinics, Kazakhstani health officials and medical practitioners say. Instead, patients will be able to make dcotor’s appointments via the internet and see the results of any medical tests online.

“Medical centres will be able to reduce the bureaucratic costs, as report forms will be automated, there will be no duplication of information, and doctors will have access to the medical records of their patients and will be able to make faster diagnoses,” said Daniyar Melibekov, a Ministry of Health spokesman. The programme, which started in Almaty in 2010, has expanded to Astana and Akmola Oblast and will cover the rest of the country by 2015.

The system, using software that is being supplied to hospitals nationwide, will store information patient histories, medication records, doctors, clinic operating hours and evaluations of clinics in computerised databases. System users will be able to rate clinics with a multi-star system and comment on them.

The UHMIS will consist of several sub-systems, Melibekov said:

• The medical and statistical system will generate a medical e-passport, listing a patient’s medical information and history.

• The resource management system will help address general and local logistical problems, such as shortages of equipment for the disabled at hospitals, as well as staff shortages.

• The sanitary-epidemiological monitoring system is designed to solve problems related to collecting and analysing information about the country’s epidemiological risks, as well as to inform the relevant officials.

• The medication supply management system will control the production, distribution and use of drugs within the country.

• And the medical service quality management system will allow authorities to use objective criteria to monitor medical centres and their staff.

The UHMIS also will reduce doctors’ workload, said Molder Suyunbayeva, a physician and therapist at an Almaty private clinic. “It will be very convenient to enter a patient’s name into the programme and see his or her entire medical history,” she said. “Conventional medical records are often lost, require a lot of time to fill out or wear out after a certain time.”

Zhibek Zholdas, a psychotherapist at the Almaty Central Hospital, likes the concept. “The system will provide a clear picture of every patient’s health, since many people try to hide certain facts about their medical history,” Zholdas said. “The system should shorten queues in clinics and streamline the work of the doctors, while increasing their efficiency.”

Standard medical records will become part of history, she said, adding that only patients and doctors registered in the general medical database will have access to e-records.

However, the new system isn’t flawless, Zholdas and Suyunbayeva said. Older doctors might need to be taught how to use the computer system, Suyunbayeva said, adding, “The issue of staff training will definitely need to be considered with the implementation of the UHMIS.”

And technical challenges exist. “The system freezes, and there is not enough time to process the information received from various centres,” Zholdas said. “At certain hours you can’t log into the system at all because it’s overloaded.”

In addition, the system needs security measures built in to safeguard patients’ medical records and protect their privacy, said Nurlan Kulkeyev, a lawyer and social activist. “Our IT professionals need to focus on improving the level of protection against hacking, so that the system does not have any vulnerabilities, as the information that is stored there is very personal …, ” he said. “We cannot allow outsiders to use it for illegal purposes.”

In the three years the Ministry of Health has been developing the system, the UHMIS has given patients more freedom and choice in their medical treatments, Melibekov said. “Now the patient has the right to choose a medical centre, regardless of where he or she lives and has a residence permit,” he said. “The choice of vendors and provision of services themselves has become more transparent, regardless of the form of ownership of the centre.”

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Arab tourists discover Turkey’s ‘cotton castle’

ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News – Turkey has recently become a place of attraction among Arab tourists. One of the most famous tourist destinations, Pamukkale, is among those receiving its share of the growing Arab tourist market

Pamukkale (meaning cotton castle), a natural formation in the Aegean province of Denizli and one of the popular tourist attractions in the country, has typically been visited by tourists from Europe. However, recent figures show that there has been a notable increase in the number of Arab tourists visiting the area.

Speaking to Anatolia news agency, Denizli Special Provincial Administration Secretary General Adem Oklu said Pamukkale, which is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, had been visited by 1,602,195 tourists this year, 1,257,509 of whom are from foreign countries.

“The visitor profile shows that mostly European tourists visited Pamukkale in the past, but now the whole world is curious about it. Lots of tourists from Russia and the Far Eastern countries come here. In the recent period, the number of Arab tourists also increased due to Turkey’s popularity in the Islamic world. There has been a 100 percent increase in the number of Arab tourists this year.”

Oklu said that a similar increase had taken place in the number of tourists from the Turkic Republics. “With promotions, our goal is to increase the number of countries sending tourists to Pamukkale and to reach 2 million tourists annually,” he said.

The most popular month for tourists in Pamukkale was August. “We got the most number of visitors last year in July, but we reached 234,800 visitors this year in August, while this figure was previously 222,355,” Oklu said.

Information was also provided about the works continuing at the Pamukkale ancient ruins. “We have planted 175 flowers in the ancient pool and other landscape areas in the Pamukkale ruins, and we have cleaned the travertine. The restoration work is continuing in the second floor of the ancient theater under the leadership of an Italian excavation team. Also, we finished work and reopened the St. Philippe Bridge on the route to the St. Philippe Martyrdom, which is very important for faith tourism. Projects will continue to make Pamukkale Turkey’s cleanest, safest and the most beautiful area.”

To cater for the growing Arab tourist market, the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry recently opened a website in the Arabic language, www.tourismturkey.ae. The ministry’s director general for promotions, Cumhur Güven Taşbaşı, said the Arabic-language website would increase the number of tourists from the region visiting Turkey.

The website aims to make things easier for Arabs to acquire more information about Turkey, and works are also continuing to provide the same service to tourists from the Turkic republics.

In particular among Arab tourists, Turkey has also proved popular among Algerians, especially for the New Year holiday this year. Due to the revolution that shook the country last year Tunisia, which had previously been favored by Algerians, fell behind countries like Turkey and France this year. Istanbul and the southern province of Antalya were particularly popular among Algerian tourists.

Other countries popular among Algerian tourists are France, Morocco, Dubai and Tunisia.

Algerian investor Es-Seyyid Rabih first visited the southern province of Antalya three years ago and told Anatolia news agency that he was now a devotee of the city. “Antalya is a very clean city; it looks like a western city rather than an eastern one. Service in the city is high-quality and the hotels are very comfortable.”

Tourism agency owner Hamdis Masinisa said at least 15 customers made reservations to go to Istanbul every day. “If the number of daily flights increased, this number would increase too,” he said, particularly calling on Algerian Airlines to increase its number of flights to Istanbul.

Masinisa said Istanbul was not only a touristic and economic route, but also a gateway to Asian countries such as China, Taiwan and Bangkok.

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