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21 Jan, 2013

Visit Malaysia Year Campaign Launched, Targets 28 Mln Visitors in 2014

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 21 January 2013 (09 Rabee’ al-Awwal 1434). Pls click on any of the headlines below to go to the story.



Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak launched the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 campaign on January 19 with a call for it to be turned into a “national mission” to achieve the target of receiving 28 million visitors next year. He said the project must involved every ministry, agency and state government, to ensure its success. “All of us have a role to play to make Visit Malaysia Year 2014 a success. From the entry point, Immigration officers who stamp the tourists, passports, Customs officers, taxi drivers, hotel staff, business people, tour operators and the Malaysian people. We must show our warm welcome. We must give them the feeling that if they visit Malaysia, they will be treated with warmth and courtesy from all of us.” With the PM at the launch his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen, Information Communication and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim and wife Datin Seri Masnah Rais and Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein and his wife. Najib also said the government would continue supporting the tourism industry which is targeting 36 million visitors by 2020. The Malaysian tourism industry provided 1.8 million jobs and contributed RM168 billion to the national gross income. “This year, we’ll implement all programmes, spruce up, plant trees and prepare everything. We must have all this in place. If we do this, I believe and am confident that 2014 will be a successful year,” he said. Click here to download the full calendar of exciting festivals and events planned for this year in the build-up to VMY 2014

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


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 Bangkok Post

For 15 years (January 1997-July 2012), Imtiaz Muqbil penned a hard-hitting fortnightly column called “Soul-Searching” in the Bangkok Post. 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.


New “Back to Nature” Attraction Launched Alongside Visit Malaysia Year 2014 Promotional Campaign

Bukit Jalil, 18 January 2013: The Minister of Tourism, YB Dato’ Sri Dr. Ng Yen Yen unveiled a new and unique tourism attraction near Kuala Lumpur that would literally bring city tourists back to nature.

The Tourism Minister launched the Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) Mother Nature Tour Trail during the soft launch and media walk-about of the three-day Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) 2014 Promotional Campaign tourism carnival here today.

“Besides being a well-established university, UPM also has an abundance of natural assets and we have encouraged them to develop these tour trail packages. Both local and international tourists will be amazed at the natural assets UPM has. We hope these packages will drive home the message that we need to preserve, conserve and protect Mother Nature – our tourism assets for the future,” she said.

The tour packages, which is a collaborative effort between UPM and the Ministry of Tourism as well as Tourism Malaysia, opens up UPM’s vast natural surroundings – estimated at 1,100 hectares — to the public. Tourists who purchase the special packages will get to experience various educational and agricultural tourism products such as the Ayer Hitam forest reserve, equine centre, deer farm, cattle farm where they can try a hand at milking cows, agricultural conservatory park, human anatomy museum, and the Serdang Gallery. Among the highlights is a natural waterfall and rapids in a self-contained jungle within UPM.

UPM, well known for its agricultural faculties, will also show tourists its vast bio-diversity collection — over 100,000 specimens in its museums and 16,000 life specimens. There are a total of 13 packages on offer by three local travel agencies namely TM Tours & Travel, Mitra Kembara and Poto Travel & Tours, priced from RM88 onwards.

The soft launch and media walk-about also revealed other exciting activities that would take place at the tourism carnival from 18 to 20 January including a dedicated KidZone for children operated by Legoland, KidZania and Hello Kitty.

Meanwhile, the parks and gardens area displays a depiction of the ideal homestay garden showcasing naturally existing tropical plants that are easy-to-grow and easy-to-maintain. A Malay kampong house is also featured alongside a pictorial exhibition of Malaysia’s parks and gardens.

The 1Malaysia Food Court will be abuzz with hawkers from all over Malaysia dishing out state specific dishes such as Jalan Davis rojak pasembur and cendol, braised duck in soy sauce, Otak-otak Muar, ikan celup tepung Terengganu, Laksa Sarawak, hinava Sabah, and rendang tok Perak.

More than 2,000 lucky draw prizes worth approximately RM450,000 are up for grabs for visitors to the Tourism Carnival throughout the three days, including the grand prize of a Chevrolet Orlando SUV worth RM118,888 sponsored by NAZA. Other prizes include 100 Malaysia Airlines flight tickets to Langkawi, Penang, Sabah and Sarawak worth more than RM100,000 as well as a chance to be driven in a Ferrari and Maserati.

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OIC Chief: Islamophobia to figure high at Islamic Summit in February

Jeddah, 08 Rabi Al-Awwal 1434/20 January 2013 (IINA) – Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said that the Islamic summit in Cairo will deal with major challenges facing the Muslim world including the Syrian crisis, the Palestinian issue and Rohingya and Mali issues, said. The OIC chief said Islamophobia would also figure high on the summit agenda.

“The Cairo summit is significant as it comes at a crucial time and will deal with major challenges facing the Muslim world,” Ihsanoglu told Arab News daily yesterday. He said all OIC countries would attend the summit, slated for February 6-7. He said the Cairo summit, which has been delayed by two years because of political developments in the region, is timely. “During the last two years many things have taken place in the Muslim world. There were political uprisings, the downfall of dictatorial regimes and the democratization process that has been going through difficult times,” Ihsanoglu said.

He said the two-day summit would discuss the war in Syria, the new fighting in Mali and other challenging issues. “We expect to have clear guidelines and a unified position on all these issues from the summit.” The OIC chief said Islamophobia would also figure high on the summit agenda. “We are facing new threats of Islamophobia and we need to have a new approach in dealing with such cases,” he pointed out.

Ihsanoglu, who has played a big role in dealing with Islamophobia in the West, said: “We have managed to get important diplomatic successes, through UN Human Rights Council and UN General Assembly. We have managed to convince Western countries to cooperate with us and agree on a consensual text dealing with stereotyping and attacks on Islam and the Prophet (peace be upon him).” He said the OIC is now in the process of devising legal instruments to deal with Islamophobia. “At the same time we continue our efforts to mobilize international support to deal with the issue. We want to mobilize the highest possible political support not only from OIC countries but also from the West,” he added.

He also spoke about OIC’s efforts to protect Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar who are facing ethnic cleansing. “I have received an invitation from the Myanmar government and would like to visit the country before the Cairo summit and I am waiting for their reply,” he added. A fact-finding OIC mission visited Myanmar last September to investigate the violence against Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine region. Asked about OIC’s efforts to solve the Syrian conflict, the secretary-general said: “We are cooperating with the international community. We support the plan of UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and we are looking forward to a peaceful solution.”

Ihsanoglu, who took charge as the ninth secretary-general of the 57-member organization in January 2005, has been instrumental in strengthening the OIC with the support of member countries. He coordinated the drafting and implementation of a reform program for the OIC aiming to increase its efficiency and effectiveness. The reform program’s components included the “Ten-Year Program of Action to Face the Challenges of Twenty-first Century” and a revised OIC Charter, which was adopted by the 11th Islamic Summit in 2008.

Ihsanoglu gave the credit of OIC’s successes to his team. “It is the outcome of a teamwork and I am blessed to have very good colleagues, particularly from the younger generation. They are working very well.” He also spoke about the marvelous design for OIC’s new headquarters in Jeddah. “It is the outcome of an international competition. About 100 design firms from all over the world took part in the contest and we selected the best with the help of an expert jury. I am sure it will become an icon of Jeddah,” he said.

The OIC has received construction permit for the new headquarters. It was handed to Ihsanoglu by Jeddah Mayor Hani Abu Ras. Covering an area of 91,500 sq. meters, the new cone-shaped building will be located in Khuzam Gardens. It will have a big conference hall. During the meeting Ihsanoglu and Abu Ras witnessed a detailed presentation of the project and its specifications. They also viewed video clips and an explanation of the project, delivered by Zuhair Faiz Company for Architectural Consultancies. The secretary-general thanked Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah for his support to the project, which will become an important edifice in the Islamic world. He also thanked the Saudi government for its continued support to OIC’s activities.

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Malaysian Premier to Become First Non-Arab Leader to Visit Gaza

GAZA, January 20, 2013 (WAFA) – Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, is scheduled to spend few hours in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, according to sources. He will be the first non-Arab ranking official leader to visit the besieged Gaza Strip. Razak, who will be accompanied by his wife and an official delegation including his foreign minister, will visit sites destroyed by the Israeli air attacks on the Strip in November and inaugurate projects.

In another development, Mr. Najib has called on the Southeast Asian region to be a catalyst for the revival of the golden era of Islam. However, he said Islamic Revivalism had to be of a wide scope and holistic, and that it should not be defined by just form but also substance.

“Islamisation should not just be superficial, but it has to encompass the basis and fundamentals of society. This includes economic growth, the preservation of the Syariah, political integrity and a more meaningful and positive regional cooperation,” he said at the Nusantara seminar titled “Islam in Southeast Asia: Challenges and Hopes” yesterday.

In a speech read on his behalf by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Jamil Khir Baharom, Najib also called for a second wave of Islamic renaissance which is independent and with an economic fortitude reflective of the current times. “We cannot be sentimental and melancholic with Islam’s past glories without looking forward at new challenges in an open market.”

At the same time, he said reviving Islamic values in Southeast Asia meant going back to the spirit of wasatiyyah (moderation) that the region was long known for. “Extremism, radicalism and terrorism are all concepts that are very foreign to this region,” he said.

He added that while Islam in Southeast Asia had been moderate in character, it was undergoing a process of revivalist change in some segments of society. “Some Southeast Asians returning from Islamic religious schools and Pakistan have returned with a new, radical, militant, and extremist form of Islam that is more likely to be anti-American or anti-Western in character,” he said, adding that Malaysia, too, was not spared from it.

Najib said that since the 1980s and 1990s, Malaysians were already exposed to extreme and antagonistic politics that had contributed to the split of the Muslims. “The Arab Spring is used as a new political template in the Southeast Asian landscape. In the name of democracy and the freedom of expression, they would rather bring the political debate to the streets.”

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$ 388 million IDB loans to boost Egypt economy

Arab News – 15 January, 2013 – Islamic Development Bank President Dr. Ahmed Muhammad Ali yesterday signed a number of loan agreements worth more than $ 388 million with Egyptian officials. IDB will give $ 250 million to finance a 1,950-megawatt electricity station in the country’s south, an official statement said.

The new power plant will eventually be linked to Egypt’s national electricity grid, with additional stations to soon be constructed. The ministry received an initial $ 200 million loan for the project from the IDB last summer.

IDB will give $ 50 million to support small and medium enterprises in the country and $ 32.3 million to finance a national agricultural development program. The bank signed a $ 31 million deal to finance a learning hospital at Al-Azhar University and a $ 25 million loan deal to support a youth training program.

Since its inception, IDB has given more than $ 8 billion to finance 66 projects in the country and $ 3.5 billion to finance trade.

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Palestinian film nominated for Oscar

Ramallah, 02 Rabi Al-Awwal 1434/ 13 January 2013 (IINA) –A Palestinian film portraying the life of a Palestinian photographer and his son in a village witnessing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on daily basis was nominated for an Oscar in the documentary feature category.

“5 Broken Cameras,’ the documentary directed by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi, tells the story of a Palestinian man who lives in the small Palestinian village of Bilin, northwest of Ramallah, which is most famous for its popular and nonviolent weekly protests which started back in 2005, WAFA news agency reported. The entire movie was shot in and around Bilin and presents the stories of the director, Burnat, who took upon himself the responsibility of documenting the Israeli violations, raids, peaceful protests, the life of his son who was born with the beginning of the nonviolent resistance movement in the village and other outstanding figures and friends in the village.

The title of the documentary refers to the five cameras that were smashed by Israeli soldiers while recording the struggle and steadfastness of the people of Bilin. “I started documenting what happens in Bilin from Israeli violations and raids to protests held by the residents as a way to expose the Israeli practices against Palestinians,” Burnat told WAFA.

“I later decided that I want to make a movie that tells the story of Bilin through authentic Palestinian voices.” Burnat said he asked the help of Davidi who used to come to Bilin a lot to film and participate in the protests. “I don’t think the help of an Israeli director has affected the movie in the least since I am well aware of Davidi’s position regarding the conflict,” he said.

When asked about Israeli media referring to the movie as an Israeli film, he said that the film is 100% Palestinian made by a Palestinian director and tells the story of the Palestinians of Bilin. He said “Israel is trying to take advantage of this nomination and attribute it to itself.” Burnat spent five years working on his documentary which received high ratings by both critics and activists around the globe and was screened in the United States and many European countries and received about 25 international awards.

A review published in the Observer said that the movie “presents with overwhelming power a case of injustice on a massive scale, and gives a direct experience of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of oppression and dispossession, administered by the unyielding, stony-faced representatives of those convinced of their own righteousness.” Burnat said that the movie is a huge success not only for him as the director or the people of Bilin, but for every Palestinian who believe in the lawfulness of the Palestinian cause.

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Iran to make own movie to counter ‘distorted’ Argo

AFP, 16 Jan 2013 – Iran is to make its own movie about the American hostage drama during the 1979 Islamic revolution to counter the “distorted” film “Argo” by Ben Affleck, which swept the Golden Globes awards, media said Tuesday.

Iranian actor and filmmaker Ataollah Salmanian was quoted in the reports as saying the screenplay for the Iranian movie was ready. “The draft of the movie, ‘Setad Moshtarak’ (The General staff), has been approved by (Iran’s) art centre and it awaits budget to start shooting,” Salmanian said.

“The movie is about 20 American hostages who were handed over to the US embassy by Iranian revolutionaries at the beginning of the (Islamic) revolution. This movie… can be an appropriate response to distorted movies such as ‘Argo’.” On November 4, 1979, Iranian students stormed the US embassy in Tehran and took American diplomats hostage, holding them for 444 days in an action that caused the rupture of diplomatic ties between Washington and Tehran.

“Argo” chronicles the hostage drama, with Hollywood actor-director Affleck playing a CIA agent who rescues six US diplomats from the Canadian ambassador’s residence in Tehran. The movie has been accused of taking liberties with history, notably by exaggerating the role of the CIA in getting the US diplomats out, at the expense of the Canadian envoy in Tehran at the time.

Affleck won both best dramatic film and director awards at the Golden Globes on Sunday for the movie. “Argo” has been banned in Iran but pirated copies are being circulated in the country. Iranian media dismissed the movie’s success and criticised the Golden Globes as a “political ceremony.”

“‘Argo’ is a sign of Ben Affleck’s attempt to recreate Tehran in 1980. While his attempt might be ridiculous for Iranians, it has delighted American experts and critics,” said the daily 7Sobh.

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Understanding Of Market Dynamics Drives Saudi Tourism Services Upgrade

Saudi Gazette – 15 January, 2013 – The Saudi tourism industry is witnessing a sustained upswing as evidenced by the numerous tourism projects and the constant flow of tourism investments into the country.

Moreover, the highly competitive market landscape has prompted tourism companies, hotels and other hospitality firms to constantly improve the quality of their services, ultimately driving the dynamism of the industry. The consistent performance and huge growth potential of the tourism industry has made it a key contributor to the Saudi economy and pillar of the government’s economic diversification program.

“It is very important to understand the dynamics of the tourism sector, particularly the religious segment because of the different nuances and distinct market requirements.

We have been a key player in Saudi Arabia’s hospitality and tourism sector for more than 30 years and this has given us a unique insight into the needs of the market. Leveraging our extensive experience and resources, our company has been constantly enhancing and updating our core offerings to ensure that we are able to consistently satisfy the evolving needs of tourists, particularly pilgrims in the Kingdom,” said Ziyad Bin Mahfouz, President of Elaf Group. “We have achieved exceptional results and have surpassed our targets, and this is all attributed to our deep understanding of the needs and requirements of our guests and clients.”

“In line with our continuing efforts to cater to changing market requirements, we have embarked on an aggressive growth plan that will expand our presence in different Arab countries and across Europe and Asia. Moreover, we have recently completed renovating our office in Riyadh to accommodate more of the inbound market, which is a priority of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA). We believe that it is crucial to align our growth plans with the strategic objectives of the SCTA, which will give us the momentum to further strengthen our position as the leading hospitality services provider in key tourism destinations across Saudi Arabia,” Bin Mahfouz noted.

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Muscat Festival to be bigger, better

Oman Tribune – 16 January, 2013 – This year’s Muscat Festival promises fun, entertainment, games, food and adventure on a bigger, better scale. The authorities expect a 15-20 per cent increase in visitors, both local and foreign, this year’s festival held from January 30 to February 28, it was announced at a press conference on Tuesday.

“We received between 1 to 1.5 million visitors last year, and given the recognition awarded to Muscat, as Arab Tourism Capital and the best second city by Lonely Planet, we are expecting a 15 to 20 per cent increase in the number of visitors to the different venues this year”, said Saif Bin Sabah Al Rasheedi, Director-General of Information at the Muscat Municipality.

The main venues for the festival will be Amerat Public Park and Naseem Garden, besides the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex, Bausher. Riyam Park will host the Muscat Fashion Week from Tuesday. ‘Tour of Oman’, the much-awaited cycling event involving 18 teams, will be held from February 11 to 16. The six stages of the event will cover a total distance of 938.5 kilometres.

This year’s festival will focus particularly on education, fun and entertainment for the youth. Both the parks will be open from 4pm till 11pm every day. A nominal fee of 200 baisas for adults and 100 baisas for children below 6 years will be charged. The three main venues of the festival will have the following activities for the whole family.

Naseem Garden will host the International Trade Fair and the Entertainment City, besides the main stage events. Concerts by Omani artists, acrobatic events, general events, roaming entertainment, food courts and a fireworks show are also on the agenda.

The major sponsors of the month-long event are Ministry of Tourism, The Zubair Corporation, Omantel and Bank Muscat. Oman Air, Suhail Bahawan Group, Nawras, Saud Bahawan Group, MHD, NBO, BankDhofar are the gold sponsors, while the silver sponsors are The Wave, Gulf Service, and Lulu.

Haya water, Towel Group, City Centre, Muscat Electricity, Strabag, OAB, Bank Sohar, Ahli bank, MGM, CCC are Simplex Infrastructure Ltd are the bronze sponsors. A number of private companies are also supporting the festival as participants like Khimji’s, Marah Land, Shell, Hasan Juma Backer, Dhofar Insurance Co. City Cinema, Oman Cables, QLNG, Oman Refreshment Company, Amiantitt Oman and Omzest.

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Jazan Economic City to attract investors

Arab News – 18 January, 2013 – The Jazan Economic City is set to attract investments of more than SR100 billion once the infrastructure of the city is completed, and eventually create 500,000 jobs, a local newspaper reported. The city is located 50 km north of the main city and was built by King Abdullah as a gift to citizens.

The city will depend on heavy industries that need considerable energy, and secondary industries, particularly in agriculture and fishing.

Jazan is the fourth integrated economic city being built under the supervision of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA). All infrastructure costs will be paid by SAGIA and a consortium of developers led by the Malaysian company MMC; Bin Laden Group Saudi Arabia; Dar International, Pan Kingdom Investment Co. (PKI); Bakri & Sons Holding Company, and WWDC.

The city has already attracted international industrial investments, with foundations established to build three gigantic factories worth SR4 billion in a joint venture with a Chinese firm. Other features of the city will include a logistics services center for trading and transporting agricultural, animal and fish products to neighboring countries.

A complex of power stations to produce 400 megawatts of electricity will be established in the first phase of construction. The city will provide different standards of accommodation for the 250,000 people expected to live and work there.

The city center will include plazas and vast squares; and cultural and educational events and activities. The residential area will include beach recreational activities, a hotel, a marine complex, luxury residential apartments, hospitals, medical centers and schools.

The Malaysian developer has paid for 10 students from Jazan to study in Malaysia. A further 1,000 scholarships will be awarded to Saudi students over the next four years.

Ahmed Mohammed Qanfidi, secretary general of Jazan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that the initial plans were drawn up to attract local and international investments. “We also coordinated with the Ministry of Petroleum and Minerals to establish a refinery in the city,” he added.

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Tourism job fairs a hit with Saudis

Arab News – 14 January, 2013 – A large number of Saudis have applied for more than 700 jobs in the travel and tourism sector during an employment fair organized by Takamul, an affiliate of Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities. A number of travel and tourism companies attended the event offering various jobs to Saudis with good salaries and benefits. Apart from housing and insurance, recruited Saudis will also get special training.

Abdullah Al-Washeel, director general of Takamul, said the companies were offering jobs in the areas of ticketing, reservation, accounting, tour planning and air cargo handling. “We have deployed a number of officials to work with these companies and the Human Resource Development Fund to conduct interviews with Saudis interested in travel and tourism jobs in various parts of the country,” Al-Washeel said.

The companies will sign contracts with Saudis who passed in the interviews, he said, adding that the training period will be calculated in the social insurance scheme.

The Saudis will get an allowance of SR1,500 during the training period, and a monthly salary of not less than SR4,000. They will be taught the English language and trained in computer science and other skills that would improve their employment chances.

Al-Washeel commended Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of SCTA, for showing his keen interest in nationalizing travel and tourism jobs. He said a similar job fair will be held in Dammam on Tuesday and Wednesday at Carlton Al-Moaibed Hotel, and another at Jeddah Meridien on Saturday and Sunday.

Meanwhile, a meeting of the Steering Committee of the Saudi Travel and Tourism Investment Market (STTIM-2013) recently held a meeting at the SCTA headquarters in Riyadh. The meeting reviewed preparations for the STTIM-2013, which will be held from March 31 to April 4 at Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center. “Tourism for all: Partnership for sustainable development” is the event’s theme.

The committee reviewed stages of preparations, which included reserving 80 percent of the space for the exhibition in the center three months before the launch of the event. The space of the STTIM this year has been expanded by 20 percent compared to the last conference.

The events of STTIM-2013 is expected to witness a large participation, nationally and internationally, including participants from public and private organizations that are engaged in tourism investment and development.

STTIM’s four key sessions will focus on topics such as “Saudi tourism competitiveness,” “Promising job opportunities in the hotel sector,” “Tourist and economic importance of exhibition and conference facilities.” In addition, a number of special workshops will be conducted.

The event includes the distribution of Saudi Tourism Excellence Award. During this ceremony, the most significant companies and organizations in different areas of tourism will be honored.

SCTA will organize tourism trips for the participants to a number of historical and cultural landmarks in Riyadh and special tourist trips to Eshaigir Heritage Village and Safari rides in the desert.

In a related development, the SCTA, represented by the Tourism Information and Research Center (MAS), has recently taken part in a conference titled “Tourism Subaccount and Planning for the Future”, which was organized by USAID Jordan in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism and the National Statistics Office of Jordan in Amman.

MAS participated by a working paper on Saudi Arabia’s experience in establishing a system of tourism information as well as preparing tourism subaccount in the Kingdom as “Guiding Model” for applying tourism subaccount. The working paper was presented by Monzer Al Ansari, the director general of MAS, which is the statistics arm of SCTA.

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Saudi missions issued 10.77 million visas in 2012

Saudi Gazette – 13 January, 2013 – Saudi diplomatic missions abroad issued a total of 10.77 million visas last year. “This is a record figure compared to previous years, and the increase was 13.6 percent over 2011 and 79.7 percent over 2005,” said Assistant Foreign Minister Prince Khaled Bin Saud Bin Khaled.

Speaking to the Saudi Press Agency, the minister said that Umrah visas made up more than half (51 percent) of the total visas issued last year. A total of 5,499,603 Umrah visas were issued followed by 1,960,703 (18 percent) employment visas. The number of Haj and tourist visas issued last year stood at 1,669,210 (16 percent) and 1,057,792 (10 percent) respectively. These visas were issued by 110 Saudi diplomatic missions and 13 temporary Haj missions abroad, Prince Khaled added.

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Air Arabia takes off to Sialkot, Pakistan

Emirates 24/7 – 13 January, 2013 – Air Arabia has announced the start of service to its third destination in Pakistan, Sialkot and becomes first UAE carrier to operate scheduled flights to Sialkot. The carrier now serves three cities in Pakistan, including Karachi and Peshawar.

Air Arabia offers daily services to Sialkot, departing from Sharjah International Airport at 22:45 and arriving at Sialkot International Airport at 02:45 (next day). Return flights depart from Sialkot at 03:25 and arrive in Sharjah at 06:15. The inaugural flight, G90567 took-off from Sharjah International Airport on Thursday, 10 January 2013.

“The launch of our daily service to Sialkot is a continuation of Air Arabia’s promise to offer value for money fares to multiple destinations in Pakistan,” said Adel Ali, Group Chief Executive Officer, Air Arabia. “Since launching operations to Pakistan five years ago, we have been committed to offering our customers a unique option for affordable air travel and a great connectivity between both nations.”

The launch of Sialkot follows the recent announcement of Air Arabia increasing flights to Karachi and Peshawar to daily. Air Arabia offers 21 weekly non-stop services covering three destinations in Pakistan. Sialkot is a city and capital of Sialkot District located in the north-east of the Punjab province in Pakistan at the foot of Kashmir hills near the Chenab River.

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Yemen promotes investment opportunities to Turkish companies

Yemen News Agency – 12 January, 2013 – The Minister of Oil and Minerals Ahmed Daris held on Friday a meeting with representatives of 35 Turkish companies to promote investment opportunities in Yemen. In the meeting, he reviewed the current level of Yemen’s oil industry as well as investment opportunities in the oil and gas sectors available to foreign companies wishing to invest in Yemen. Turkish businessmen showed attention and desire to invest in Yemen in the fields of oil and gas. Following the meeting, a memorandum of understanding was signed by the Ministry of Oil and Minerals and Turkish Lydia Company for Investment.

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Saudi Arabia urges lifting of Arab trade barriers

Arab News – 13 January, 2013 – Minister of Finance Ibrahim Al-Assaf has called for a review of the rules and regulations impeding the free flow of trade between Arab countries, to boost regional economic growth and job creation.

Addressing the opening session of the two-day Arab Private Sector Forum (APSF-2013) here yesterday, the minister said the only way to stimulate regional trade and investment is to dismantle the trade barriers by allowing duty-free access of goods manufactured in the region. He added that while the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has achieved significant progress in this regard, it is necessary to make the entire region a free trade zone.

Al-Assaf said that customs and tariff barriers are impeding the implementation of investment and industrial projects in Arab countries. “We will now have to review these regulations and double our efforts to achieve the goal through proper channels, in collaboration with the Arab League and with the support of our leadership, to ease the flow of Arab goods and capital between Arab countries.”

“Everyone knows that the private sector is the prime mover of economic growth and activities that provide job opportunities and stimulate the growth of the economy. Yet, we in our Arab region, with the exception of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), have not seen any notable progress in terms of inter-Arab trade and investment in the region. We will, therefore, have to review our policies that we adopted in our previous meeting aimed at enhancing mutual trade.”

Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri, assistant secretary-general, Economic Affairs for the Arab League, said Arab countries should learn from various global events, including the economic crises in 2008 and 2009, the financial recession in Europe and the Japan earthquake.

He said, however, there has been progress on the ground including in the maritime and air transport industries, electricity and food security. However, only a total of $ 175 million has been spent on various projects from a total of $ 253 billion earmarked for industrial initiatives in the entire region.

The opening was attended by a number of Arab ministers including Minister of Commerce and Industry Tawfiq Al-Rabiah. The event brings together 500 delegates. The joint organizers are the Council of Saudi Chambers (CSC), General Union of Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture for Arab Countries and the General Secretariat of the Arab League. It comes ahead of the major Arab Economic Summit on Jan. 21.

Delegates will discuss creating more than 70 million jobs over the next 10 years, developing small and medium-sized businesses, Arab food security, social housing, industrial development and information technology.

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Muslim tourists declare Malaysia as most halal friendly destination

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 18 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia’s recent selection by Crescentrating as the most halal friendly holiday destination is most fitting as the country provides extensive facilities for Muslim tourists. Malaysia Bumiputra Tourist Guide Association president Zulkifli Ismail said Malaysia deserved the title as there were many facilities and Islamic tourism products in the country.

“Besides easy access to halal food, Malaysia is a country that makes it easy for Muslim tourists to perform their prayers no matter where they are, including shopping malls and airports,” he told Bernama.

According to surveys by Cresentrating, a Global Muslim travel consultancy, Malaysia was chosen by Muslims travellers as the most halal friendly holiday destination in the world ahead of Egypt, Turkey, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Singapore. Malaysia scored 8.3 out of 10 points while Egypt ranked second with 6.7 points, followed by the UAE and Turkey both with 6.6 points, Saudi Arabia (6.4 points) and Singapore (6.3 points).

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Indonesia outlines plans to bolster tourism by 2014

JAKARTA, Indonesia Jan. 12 (NNN-Xinhua) — Indonesia’s government will boost 16 tourism destinations within the country and set up seven particular interests tour zones by 2014, according to the nation’s tourism ministry statement Friday. A total of 5 destinations, including Bromo-Tengger-Semeru volcano chain in East Java, Komodo dragon in East Nusatenggara, Wakatobi and Toraja in Sulawesi and Sanur in Bali, would be developed this year, Director General of Tourism Marketing of the ministry Esthy Reko Astuty said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the seven special-interest tours planned to be developed by the ministry were historical and cultural tour, nature and eco-tour, recreational sports (such as diving, surfing, sailing, trekking, hiking and golf), cruise ship, shopping and culinary, health and wellness, and convention.

“Until November last year Indonesia recorded a year-on-year growth of 5.09 percent growth in tourism sector,” Esthy said. Indonesia is aiming at attracting 9 million foreign tourists this year. The tourism and creative economy industry is the seventh largest sector contributing to the country’s growth.

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Jordan-Iraq-Syria economic forum on Saturday

AMMAN, Jan 17 (NNN-Petra) — A Jordanian-Iraqi-Syrian economic forum will be held on Saturday to promote Jordan’s national industries to Syrian and Iraq businessmen. The forum is organized by the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) in cooperation with Jordan Enterprise Development Corporation (JEDCO) and the Amman Chamber of Industry (ACI).

ASME President Fathi Jaghbeer said that the Syrian and Iraqi markets are considered strategic for Jordan, thanks for their close geographic proximity. He also stressed the importance of building a trading bloc among the three countries to boost economic cooperation and strengthen ties in all fields. “More than 200 Iraqi and 178 Syrian investors are currently investing in the Kingdom’s industrial sector,” he said, adding that such opportunity is important to enhance the Jordanian products’ presence in other markets as well as exchanging expertise.

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Rice production in Guyana reaches all time high

GEORGETOWN, Jan 13 (NNN-GINA) — The overall rice production in Guyana for 2012 has amounted to a historic 422,058 tonnes and, of that amount, exports accounted for 334,000 tonnes. The overall average for the country in terms of yield was 4.6 tonnes per hectare, an indication that the rice industry continues to be on the rise. The rice production target for 2012 was 412,000 tonnes.

Minister of Agriculture Dr Leslie Ramsammy disclosed that there will be a special meeting among the Ministries of Agriculture and Foreign Affairs and the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) to consider rice exports. “Presently, more than 60 percent of the exported rice goes to Venezuela… Venezuela is the preferred market for farmers and millers,” he said.

Additionally, there was a reduction in exports to Europe in 2012, not because the demand for Guyana’s rice in Europe has reduced. “We are hoping that in 2013 with greater production that we will be able to meet the demand in Venezuela, the Caribbean and Europe… the possibility of 500,000 tonnes of rice by 2015 now is real,” the minister emphasised.

In the original strategy it was anticipated that the 500,000 tonnes target would have been met by 2020 however, it looks as though that target can be met earlier. Given the amount of rainfall that was experienced and floods that resulted in the first crop, it is indeed a remarkable feat for Guyana’s rice farmers, Ramsammy had earlier said.

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Algeria to Redefine Role of Mosques

Maghrebia – 11 January 2013 Algiers — The Algerian ministry of religious affairs seeks to train imams to better understand the demands of the times and ward off extremist ideologies. The role of mosques is currently the subject of a hot debate in Algeria. Authorities want to eliminate extremist ideology from places of worship and protect them from the influence of political parties and community organisations.

Political parties and other organisations will no longer be permitted to preach or make speeches inside mosques. So says a draft decree on religious organisations drawn up by the Algerian government. Places of worship must revert to their main role, said Algerian Minister of Religious Affairs Bouabdallah Ghlamallah. “Mosques embody the unity of the nation in the sense that they represent the crucible in which the character of society is forged,” he said during a seminar held in Algiers on January 1st.

In his view, imams are not just “officials” but also preachers who instil human and spiritual values. He argued that imams “must be cultured and aware of the role that they must play in passing on the educational message of the mosque and instilling human and spiritual values into young people”.

Ghlamallah added that an imam’s task is to pass on this legacy to the next generations and show good judgement and unity of thought. “In Algeria, imams are an integral part of the nation, which is why they must be mindful of the respect shown to social authorities and work in complete harmony with all other state institutions,” the minister said.

The first step towards this goal is to invest in better training for imams. Future imams will have to “change in line with social development and changes”, Ghlamallah noted. To this end, the minister vowed to implement a “high-quality” training programme for imams. The goal is to train imams to understand “the realities of the society in which they live so that they are better placed to counteract proponents of fundamentalist ideology”, he concluded.

Institutes train an average of 1,200 imams each year. According to the January 8th addition of Echourouk, Ada Fellahi, an aide to the minister of religious affairs, issued a warning about the infiltration of salafists into Algerian mosques. She noted that they “have been given a great deal of room for manoeuvre so far”.

The Algerian government is now getting tough. The draft law on religious organisations stipulates that the latter will be disbanded in cases of “interference in the work of officials in mosques and Qur’anic schools”. “The Algerian government wants to close up the legal loophole which, at the beginning of the 1990s, allowed the now-dissolved Islamist FIS party to control mosques and so-called charities,” explained academic Ilham Saadi.

The FIS “turned Algerian mosques into recruitment grounds for thousands of terrorists who were manipulated by pseudo-imams who preached hatred of all those who did not share their political stance,” she added. Politics student Hadjer Mohamdi agreed. She told Magharebia that the Algerian government wanted to regain control of mosques to protect them from political manipulation.

Members of the Algerian public have welcomed the new measures. “Mosques must get back to doing their job. They are holy places which must spread messages of peace, brotherhood and unity,” said Amar Mehdi, a public-sector worker.

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Finland’s Top Musician in the Gambia, Vows to Promote Tourism

18 January 2013 – The Point – Finish musical sensation, Mr Tauski is currently in the country courtesy of The Gambia development company Africa (GDC-Africa). The top star has vowed to promote the country’s tourism back in the Scandinavia and is expected to return on Friday, 18 January 2013.

According to him, his experience about The Gambia is that of a great feeling, depicting the hospitable nature of the citizenry, the peace and tranquility, beautiful attractions, and unique cultures and traditions. He added that these are key ingredients that can be used to promote and sell the country in the Scandinavian markets, notably in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

The Finland musician said: “The Gambia is a beautiful and exotic country and to me this is a paradise of its kind; the people are real and hospitable and as such we will energize all our efforts to promote this great country back in the Scandinavia. “We will do this through organizing a host of activities and there is no doubt that with the fruitful collaboration of the Finish media and the aid of the worldwide web this goal is achievable.”

This is the first time the Finish top star has stormed the country and have said to have recorded his fifteenth album since he embraced the world of music. His words: “Our next recordings will contain classical Ndaga tracks that can attract ordinances in both The Gambia and Senegal.”

Mr Paul Granholm, CEO of The Gambia development company-Africa, has elucidated that his company has great plans for the country that will go a long way in the overall development of the country’s tourism and music industry, noting that efforts are on course to attract top models, brandish and fashioners to The Gambia soon.

According to him, March will be a very busy month for his company and as such the company will host a television crew from Finland, adding that others will follow suit including renowned celebrities such as Ms Sini Tarkkinen, Ms Yasmine Janhonen, Angels and Diamonds, Gossipkktl among others.

“We will be engaging in a host of activities geared towards marketing, advertising and promoting the smiling coast of Africa and currently over five thousand Finish tourists are coming into the country. Through our activities and engagements we are hoping to triple these figures with the aid of the internet, music and shows that will make the country known to millions of Scandinavians,” he noted.

Oko Drammeh, renowned Gambian music promoter who was also very instrumental in making the Finish icon coming into the country possible, said the future lies ahead for The Gambia’s tourism and music industry, especially with the coming of super stars in the country. He added that efforts are on course to train Gambians in Finland that will afford the chance to grab the opportunities available from the Scandinavian markets.

He described the Finish musician as a top class and a celebrity back home who can make a great impact in both the music and tourism industry of the country, stressing that though there is a long way to go in both the tourism and music industry of the country the requisite training and the right chemistry displayed, the sky is the limit for the country.

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Gabon: Agriculture to Generate 15 Percent of GDP By 2020

This Is Africa – 19 December 2012 – Gabon aims to increase the contribution of agriculture to its economy to 15 percent, from current levels of 1 percent by 2020, as part of its strategy to become an emerging country by 2025, according to the country’s agriculture minister. The West African nation is looking to develop its cash crop sector, with the aim of creating domestic food security and exporting into regional and international markets, Julien Nkoghe Bekale tells This is Africa.

“We want to develop intensive agriculture next to subsistence agriculture. We are going to develop agro-industry and cash crops: palm oil, sugar, rubber, coffee and cocoa, maize and soya, with the objective of reducing our food imports by 2020,” he says. Gabon imports the majority of its food, spending 250bn CFA ($504m) annually on goods from Asia, South America, the USA and Europe, but it wants to cut that figure by a factor of four by 2020.

The country’s population is small – around 1.5 million – meaning it should be able to service its domestic market relatively easily, before looking to build on its limited current exports of rubber and palm oil, the minister argues: “Initially we will be looking at the home market, but then the sub-regional market, because we are very well aware that we have a tiny market. The aim after that is to export internationally.”

Production has been boosted by Olam International, which is investing heavily in cash crops in the sparsely populated country. The Singapore-based company has entered an $800m public private partnership with the Gabonese government to develop 50,000 ha for palm oil production. It is also developing rubber plantations and ammonia and urea manufacturing facilities for the production of agricultural fertilisers. Belgium’s SIAT has also invested in rubber and palm oil production since it took over a set of state owned enterprises in 2004.

Buoyed by those inflows, Gabon aims to produce 250,000 t/y of palm oil by 2020, up from current levels of 50,000 t/y.

The development of the agriculture sector is aimed to diversify Gabon’s economy, which is heavily reliant on oil. The country is Africa’s fifth biggest oil producer and hydrocarbons accounted for around 52 percent of GDP in 2011. With structural reforms – including privatisation – on track, the government is keen to promote further foreign direct investment in the agriculture sector.

“We have the potential to move from a mining and oil-based economy to becoming an agricultural economy,” Mr Bekale says. “We have the land available; we have an attractive business environment; so we have all of the means available to develop sustainable agriculture, modern agriculture, and competitive agriculture.”

Gabon has 1m ha of land available for immediate arable use. “There are also tax breaks; there’s a very good tax regime; and there is security in land acquisition, you can lease land from 25-85 years,” the minister outlines.

Gabon’s small population means that, unlike other African countries, it lacks agricultural workers, and is therefore less preoccupied with smallholder-led production. “The government’s objective is to provide food security and to do that we need to increase production, which must happen by encouraging the development of intensive agriculture and cash crops,” he says.

“We have a weak labour force in terms of the number of workers available for agricultural labour. We are top heavy; we have well trained people right at the top but we don’t have agricultural workers or technicians.” As part of broader education initiative, the country is developing agricultural colleges. “Our ambition is to create a class of agriculture entrepreneurs, to make the farmers into businessmen,” the minister explains.

The Olam palm oil project will have a significant impact on employment, he says: “A project like Olam is already having positive effects on employment, society and on growth. We expect 7,000-14,000 jobs created from that project.”

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Egypt approves law to issue sovereign Islamic bonds

Reuters, Wednesday 16 Jan 2013 – Egypt has approved a draft law to allow sovereign Islamic bonds, the country’s finance minister said on Wednesday, as the government searches for new ways to finance an unsustainable budget deficit. The Islamist-led administration had amended the original draft of the law following criticism from religious scholars. The legislation still needs to be approved by the upper house of parliament, where Egypt’s ruling Islamists hold a clear majority.

“The cabinet today agreed to the draft sukuk law,” minister Al-Mursi Al-Sayed Hegazy told reporters. He said demand would be strong for the bonds, known as sukuk, and that in recent days the Islamic Development Bank, a multilateral institution, had said it could be ready to buy around $6 billion of them.

Egypt has never issued a sovereign sukuk. An international issue would help the government replenish dangerously low foreign reserves. The Muslim Brotherhood, which controls Egypt’s presidency, also wants to promote sukuk for religious reasons. Hegazy, an economist who is an expert on Islamic finance, said he expected the new law to attract fresh investment to Egypt. “I imagine that Egypt, with its great human and material resources, will attract many investors,” said Hegazy, who took up his post as finance minister earlier this month.

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Egypt plans to upgrade rail sector

Ahram Online, 16 Jan 2013 – Hatem Abdul Latif, minister of transportation, stated Wednesday that President Mohamed Morsi has agreed to increase the budget of the railway sector to buy new carriages and to keep up with routine maintenance following the Badrashin train crash Monday. “The Badrashin train had undergone maintenance over a month and a half; however, it is obvious that there is a problem in the maintenance and we are working on the problem,” he added at a press conference.

Abdul Latif explained that President Morsi approved a contract to buy 221 new carriages Tuesday, after meeting with Abdul Latif. There is also a tentative agreement grant the railway LE170 million for maintenance and LE300 million to renovate the fleet of rail tractors. Abdul Latif said that President Morsi asked him to urgently draft a long term plan for managing the railway sector effectively as the sector lacks discipline and faces behavioral issues, whether of labourers in handling carriages and carts, or individuals who cross train rails.

Earlier Tuesday, Abdul Latif conducted two meetings, first with officials at the Ministry of Transportation and then with railway sector employees, discussing at both ways to eliminate train accidents. Monday’s Badrashin train crash left 19 dead and 120 injured of new Central Security Forces recruits from Upper Egypt on their way to Cairo from Assiut. The crash took place when a carriage derailed and hit a goods train parked at a storage depot.

It is the second crash to take place in Badrashin in six months and the fifth crash since President Morsi was elected in June 2012.

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Indonesian Salai festival could be a national tourism activity

January 18 2013 Ternate (ANTARA News) – The government of Central Halmahera district in North Maluku is keen to include the Salai cultural festival in its list of annual national tourism activities. The Central Halmahera government’s spokesman, Basri Amar, said the Salai festival, which is held in January, should be included in the list of annual tourism activities.

“The festival is celebrated in January to mark the anniversary of the Central Halmahera district. We will work closely with the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy to ensure that the festival is included in the list of annual tourism activities,” he said. He said various cultural attractions, including the Salai traditional dance, will be performed during the Salai festival. “Many cultural attractions in Central Halmahera are at the brink of extinction, and therefore, we should preserve them,” Basri said.

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Indonesia potential driver of sharia economic development: banker

January 19 2013 Yogyakarta (ANTARA News) – Indonesia, the world largest Muslim country, could serve as the base and driver of development of Islamic economic system in the world, a bank leader said. Support from the government, however, is needed to develop sharia system not only the banking sector, Suhartono, a commissioner of a sharia bank PT Bank BCA Syariah, said here on Saturday.

Sharia banking business has flourished in this predominantly Muslim country. Sharia banking industry was first introduced in the country by the Association of Indonesia Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI) by establishing Bank Muamalat around two decades ago. Sharia banking is based on sharia law, giving and accepting no interest, and banning financing gambling and alcohol related business. Sharia bank depositors or investors earn from gain under profit sharing venture.

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An operetta on the Prophet Muhammad

Ahram Online, 16 Jan 2013 – The production of an operetta entitled “Innocence, O Messenger of God” — to be released soon across the Middle East and abroad — is underway in Amman, Jordan, the Arabic Al Ahram reported. Written by the poet Saleh El-Shady, distributed by Ayman Al-Abdullah, and directed by Sandra Kaawar, the operetta embodies the coexistence of Muslims and Christians across the Arab world, sending out a message about Islam as a religion.

“Innocence, O Messenger of God” comes in response to “The Innocence of Islam”, the independent film attacking the Prophet, made back in September 2012. “Innocence, O Messenger of God” is to be translated into five languages: English, Italian, French, Persian and Urdu; it will be broadcast over 150 television channels acoss the Arab region and beyond. The 50 operetta singers along with the entire production team are currently in Amman to finalise the recording and filming of the work.

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Dubai Jazz Festival to start in February

Ahram Online, 16 Jan 2013 – The Dubai Jazz Festival will bring together internationally acclaimed musicians, including OneRepublic, 3 Doors Down, Deep Purple, The Script, The YellowJackets, Chuck Loeb, Nicholas Cole, and the region’s leading fusion jazz artist Guy Manoukian. Sponsored by Emirates Airlines, the festival will feature 22 performances in total, including by jazz musicians Paul Brown, Marc Antoine, Brian Simpson, Oli Silk, Lin Rountree, Sax Gordon, Brian Templeton, Toni Lynn Washington, and Barrence Whitfield, to name a few. All performances will take place at the festival’s special park, Dubai Festival City. “Following last year’s huge turnout, we foresee continued success at the 2013 edition of the festival … The event gathered over 46,000 fans in 2012 and we anticipate even larger attendance this year,” says Anthony Younes, CEO of Chillout Productions.

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The Texas Arabs

Ahram Online, Wednesday 16 Jan 2013 – Arab artists will be highlighted in the Texas FotoFest 2014 Biennial, where they will exhibit photography, video and multi-media installations that tackle various aesthetic and societal values influencing contemporary Arab culture. The 15th International Biennale of Photography and Photo-related Art, which will take place in the spring of 2014 in Houston, Texas, will showcase work by more than 40 contemporary Arab artists, drawing on the emergence of photography and video as expressive media in modern-day Arab societies.

“The FotoFest 2014 Biennial will present a focused selection of the best contemporary photography, video and photo-based installation art being done by Arab artists in the Middle East and North Africa,” says FotoFest Senior Curator and Artistic Director Wendy Watriss. “The Biennial will emphasise ideas and subjects important to contemporary Arab artists working with these media.”

Karin Adrian von Roques, an expert who has spent 20 years working in the Middle East surrounded by contemporary Arab art, will be the commissioned curator for FotoFest 2014. “The FotoFest 2014 Biennial will be the first presentation of contemporary photo-based and video art from the Arab countries to be done in the United States in recent years,” she says. “We are looking at the work of the most important artists from several Arab countries.”

FotoFest 2014, scheduled to run from 15 March to 27 April, 2014, will showcase works with a number of recurring underlying themes, including the emergence of secular art and culture in modern societies, the desert as metaphor, religion and faith in everyday life, a sense of belonging and feelings of estrangement, the complexities of East-West relations, the rapidity of social, economic and environmental change, particularly in the Gulf, the position of women in Arab societies and the recent political changes.

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Kyrgyz cinema enters renaissance

Centralasiaonline.com 2013-01-17 BISHKEK – The Kyrgyz cinema industry in 2012 produced a record 100 films – 10 times as many as in previous years – pointing the way to a filmmaking revival in the country. “After the collapse of the USSR, there were periods of stagnation in Kyrgyz cinematography,” film critic Gulbara Tolomusheva told Central Asia Online. “Many directors aim for money, and by means of their pictures, they are programming society as a whole to take the same attitude.”

Now, with more investment from the government and private backers, industry representatives are hoping for a continued boost as the industry becomes more relevant to the lives of moviegoers. Cinema is “a powerful force, which can be used both for creation and for destruction,” Bakytbek Turdubayev, director of the Aytyshfilm studio, told Central Asia Online. “The question is only which way will this force be directed. Kyrgyz cinema could become a powerful tool in building society.”

For years, Kyrgyz filmmakers were producing sub-standard films that aimed for big profits, but now, some of those low-budget commercial films are giving way to more critically acclaimed movies. The Empty House was cited as one such example. It was Kyrgyzstan’s nominee for the 2013 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, though it did not make the short list for the Oscars. It tells the story of a country girl named Asel – whose father is an alcoholic – who faces the prospect of either marrying a drug dealer or running away with a young man she doesn’t love, even though he is the father of her unborn child.

“The Empty House leaves nobody indifferent,” Tolomusheva said of the film, which she said was a good example of a movie that harks back to the quality cinematic works of decades ago. “Now we need a powerful ideological film calling for a rebirth. We need a film to unite the nation.”

Director Sydyk Sher Niyaz’s project Kurmanjan Datka, expected to premiere in 2013, is a film that could do that. The film tells the story of Kurmanjan Datka, a female hero who united various tribes in Kyrgyzstan. What sets Kurmanjan Datka apart, and gives critics even more hope for the industry in the future, is that it received record financial backing of US $1m (47.3m KGS).

“No Kyrgyz director has ever received such a sum before,” Muktaly Bektenaliyev, director of the Department of Cinematography of the Ministry of Culture, told Central Asia Online. “The Kyrgyzfilm studio had a good material and technical foundation, trained its personnel and found and educated talented and original actors,” Bektenaliyev said in describing Kyrgyz filmmaking’s proud past. “Kyrgyz directors won first prizes at international film festivals and enjoyed tremendous popularity.”

Alongside big-budget cinema, “art house” or auteur cinema is also flourishing in Kyrgyzstan. It provides food for thought for cinema-goers and for film critics alike, because the films often reflect the creative vision of the director, analysts say. It is the genre most in demand in Kyrgyzstan, cinema critic Emilya Saliyeva told Central Asia Online. It is also one of the most profitable segments of the industry, she said. Generally comprised of short films, the genre relies primarily on the strength of talent, not on great financial backing, something to which many directors aspire.

Works from Kyrgyzstan have gained world attention as “Kyrgyz cinema professionals are wholeheartedly and successfully working along these lines and are winning prizes at prestigious foreign film festivals,” Saliyeva said.

About 50 such films were made in Kyrgyzstan in 2012, Turdubayev added. “The popularity of the auteur film genre and the demand for it led to the Aytysh foundation, the Culture Ministry Department for Cinematography … and local sponsors organising a festival of short films December 12-16 under the title of ‘Kyrgyzstan, the Country of Short Films,'” he said. Young directors from Kyrgyzstan, the CIS countries, Georgia and the Baltic states took part.

“Art house films should be predominant in Kyrgyz cinema,” Kyrgyz film director Aktan Abdykalykov told Central Asia Online, noting that it is “the best way of breaking into the world market, given the current economic limitations.”

“Our target is Europe, from where the necessary investments can be found,” he explained. “First of all we must make Kyrgyz films better known there and then focus on the Kyrgyz market. Otherwise it will not be possible to make money from the home market.”

As for the home market, moviegoer and housewife Aysulu Beishenaliva told Central Asia Online that she likes locally made films. She recently watched two Kyrgyz films, The Wedding Chest and Bos Salkyn, she said. “I liked them very much for their deep thought-provoking content,” she said, because “they raise issues that are of real concern to us.”

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Turkish film fest to start in London

ISTANBUL – Anatolia News Agency – A press conference announcing the 18th London Turkish Film Festival, which will run between Feb. 21 and March 3, was held yesterday in the IKSV building. According to Festival Director Vehide Kaymak, over 40 films will participate in the event, though not all of them can be screened, apologizing for not accepting all film submissions to the festival.

“We are trying to increase the screening figure and make it 25. Last year it was 17. London is a very expensive city and it is really hard to access cinemas,” Kaymak said. The festival’s Turkey representative, Sevinç Baloğlu, said Turkish movies have entered many festivals but London is an important center for the film industry, making the award more important.

The festival will open at the Odeon West End saloon in Leicester Square with a screening of “Kelebeğin Rüyası” (Dream of a butterfly) by Yılmaz Erdoğan starring Mert Fırat and Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ. Additionally, Turkish actor Kadir İnanır will receive a “Golden Wings Lifetime Achievement Award” at the opening ceremony.

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Turkish dramas receive tourism awards

ISTANBUL – Anatolia News Agency – Producers and actors of Turkey’s popular TV dramas were presented with plaques at a ceremony due to their great contributions to Turish tourism. The producers and actors of Turkish TV dramas, which receive international acclaim and are important in encouraging tourism in the country, were presented plaques recognizing their contributions to Turkey’s promotion at a ceremony held by the Tourist Hotel and Investors Association (TUROB).

In a speech during the ceremony, Culture Minister Ertuğrul Günay, praised those in the sectors of tourism and culture for objectively highlighting the beauty, richness and even the problems of the country to the world. He noted that in 2011 Turkey hosted the sixth-highest number of tourists holding foreign passports, surpassing Britain.

“In 2012, despite problems at our southern borders, we hosted some 32 million foreign tourists. Turkey gets nearly $25 billion in income from tourism. All people in the sector try to promote the country to the world but the most effective promotion is that of culture and arts. As a result of these efforts, the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry was chosen as the best tourism organization in Europe last year in Portugal. This is the result of our synergy.”

Günay said the ministry has aimed to support Turkish cinema in recent years, adding that they are preparing to develop a new cinema law. “TV dramas promote Turkey around the world on their own accord. I learned the names of many dramas and their actors while abroad over the years. I heard their names abroad for the first time and wondered about them. Many of my friends abroad joke that they organize their meetings and travels according to our TV dramas. They ask me ‘Is Turkey really so beautiful?’,” he said.

While the state had spent about 5 million Turkish Liras on cinema between 1990 and 2005, he said they have stepped up support to cinema since 2006 as in light of its prominence and influence.

“We have given some 110 million liras of support since 2006. We are working on a new cinema law. I will present it to the Council of Ministers in the coming meetings. We are trying to secure the rights of TV series actors. Once this law is made, we will have a more civilized cinema law.”

Günay also shared an anecdote of when he appeared in an episode of “Çocuklar Duymasın” (Children shall not hear) to promote the state’s then-newly initiated Müzekart (museum card) system a few years ago.

“I accepted the proposal to mention this card in the drama. I played for a few minutes and told the children in the drama about this card. When I went to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations a few days later, I asked about the sales of the card and they told me that the sales had recently increased thanks to the TV drama.”

TUROB Chairman Timur Bayındır said that Turkish TV dramas are world-class quality and they are proud to see Turkish dramas aired on prime time abroad. “These dramas promote Turkey to millions of foreigners.”

Turkish actor Halit Ergenç, an actor in one of the most popular Turkish TV drama abroad, “Muhteşem Yüzyıl” (The Magnificent Century) as the Ottoman sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, spoke of the criticisms the drama has received. “If a project is good, it can face such attacks.”

He said the popularity of Turkish TV dramas, particularly in the Middle East, was a source of pride. “We did not estimate that our international success would reach this point. Neighboring countries are closely following us. It is very pleasant that Arabs watch us, too.” Following the speeches, the actors and producers of TV dramas including “Muhteşem Yüzyıl,” “Kurtlar Vadisi” (Valley of the Wolves), “Ezel,” “Suskunlar” (The Silent), “Binbir Gece” (A Thousand and One Nights), “Öyle Bir Geçer Zaman ki” (Time Goes By) and “Yalan Dünya” (World of Lies), received their plaques.

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Uşak to reflect the art of carpet-making in Turkish museum

UŞAK – Anatolia News Agency – Turkey’s first carpet painting museum is set to be established in Uşak under the leadership of an artist and Istanbul Kemerburgaz University professor, Devrim Erbil. Erbil told Anatolia news agency that the museum would reflect both Turkish painting art and carpet art generally, and focus on traditional to modern carpets.

The art of carpet-making is a gift Turkey has given humanity, Erbil said. “When people say carpet, the first place that comes to mind is Uşak. That’s why we would like to open the museum in Uşak.” The museum will exhibit many carpets from Central Asia and Turkish carpet art. In addition to carpets the museum will also include Turkish paintings that relate to carpets, he added. The museum will be a visual archive of Turkish carpet art, said Erbil. The carpets will reflect famous paintings and Turkish painters.

The carpets will also have traditional Anatolian regional patterns and will reflect the culture of Anatolia. Noting that the carpets will have many different patterns, Erbil said these patterns reflected the culture of Anatolia and Turkey. “When we look at carpet patterns, we can see that they are different in the Mediterranean, Aegean, Black Sea and eastern regions of Turkey. Carpets are all different from each other and each of them reflects the culture of its origin.”

Today it is possible to see different kinds of carpets in museums, Erbil said, adding that their goal is to exhibit all of them in the same venue. “There are many exhibition showrooms in Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia. We aim to collect every kind of carpet here.”

Erdoğan said Uşak carpets were one of the most famous types of carpet in the world. This is a great opportunity to present Uşak carpets to the world, he added. When the team suggested this idea to Uşak Mayor Ali Erdoğan, he was very positive about it, according to Erbil. The project is supported by the local government and university as well as NGOs, he said. Work on the museum has begun, he said, adding that they would like make a Turkish carpet art archives.

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Riyadh prepares for Arab Social-Economic summit

Riyadh, 08 Rabi Al-Awwal 1434/19 January 2013 (IINA) – In preparation for the third Arab Economic and Social Development Summit, to be held in Riyadh on Monday, a ministerial panel met here yesterday to follow up on decisions adopted at the previous two summits in Kuwait and Sharm El-Sheikh.

The first Arab Economic and Social Development Summit was held in Kuwait in 2009 and the second in Sharm el-Sheikh in 2011. The meeting held yesterday had panelists from Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon, Egypt and Morocco. The meeting was followed by a detailed discussion by senior officials from the respective governments to finalize the agenda for the summit which will be attended by Arab leaders.

As a preamble to the summit, a meeting of finance and foreign ministers of the Arab states would take place today in Riyadh. Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal, his Egyptian counterpart Mohamed Kamil Amr and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El-Araby are slated to address the meeting. The summit, which is to take place on Monday and Tuesday at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center in Riyadh, will focus on the topics of interest recommended by the previous summits. They are pan-Arab investments, unified agreement to invest in Arab capitals internally, Arab strategy to develop uses of renewable energy from 2010 to 2030, development goals for 2015, fighting noncommunicable diseases (NCD) and the establishment of a youth forum in Arab states. The meeting will also take up the recommendation made at the Arab Private Sector Forum, which concluded last week in the capital.

Among the other non-communicable diseases (NCD) in the Arab world, diabetes will be the highlight of the discussions. Emphasis will be laid on helping Arab youth establish small and medium sized industries and introducing vocational guidance and training opportunities for youths as they pass out from their educational institutions. According to the Saudi Foreign Ministry, 21 Arab countries have confirmed their participation. King Abdallah of Jordan will participate in the summit, according to a statement from Jordan’s royal court which said the king would visit Riyadh on an invitation from Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. Several Arab leaders including Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi will also participate in the summit.

The conference is held under the umbrella of the Arab League “to develop joint Arab efforts and to support developmental issues in economic and social fields which were neglected due to the intense focus on political issues and crises. This summit is also an extension of joint Arab work on developing social and economic fields as well as enhancing and improving means of cooperation between Arab countries. The summit would aim at providing additional contributions to the Arab economic and social cooperation in a broader range for Arab projects by creating an economic base for supporting Arab countries’ economies and strengthening the Arab political systems ,thereby enhancing its role as a consistent group at regional and international levels.

Saudi Arabia’s membership to the G20, which consists of the world’s most powerful economies, has played a pivotal role in further boosting the world economy as the economy of the only Arab country in the group was based on firm economic and industrial pillars. In the Washington summit, the king noted that the default in the controlling process in the financial system led to the spread of the financial crisis to the rest of the world, calling for tightening control of the International Monetary Fund. He also reassured world leaders that Saudi Arabia would continue with its oil policy to maintain the crude oil flow and keep its prices at reasonable level.

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Bangladesh hosts world’s second largest Muslim gathering

Dhaka, 03 Rabi Al-Awwal 1434/ 14 January 2013 (IINA) – At least three million Muslims gathered to pray on the banks of a river near the Bangladeshi capital as the world’s second-largest annual Islamic congregation ended today. They flocked to the River Turag at Tongi, some 40 kilometers north of Dhaka, as an imam from India led the concluding prayer of the Biswa Ijtema or World Muslim Congregation. Tablig Jamaat, a non-political religious group, organized the three-day gathering.

Local television stations broadcast images of pilgrims crying as they raised their hands in prayer on both banks of the river, and on bridges, roads and rooftops along the venue. Nurul Islam, one of the chief organizers, said that around 30,000 foreigners from more than 100 countries also joined the congregation this year. He said Indian Imam Jobayer Hasan, a leader of Tablig Jamaat, conducted the prayer in Urdu, seeking divine help for the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims.

“We’ve estimated that more than three million people joined the final prayer. Some eight to 10 kilometers of road leading to the venue were clogged up with people,” he said, adding that canopies stretching for more than a kilometer, erected on open ground on the banks of the river were filled with the gathering. Special trains and ferries have been arranged to transport the faithful to the event, while army engineers have set up dozens of makeshift bridges and water tanks.

The normally congested streets of Dhaka looked deserted on Sunday, a week day in the Muslim-majority country, as people took trains, buses and private cars to attend the prayer. For the last three days devotees have braved chilling temperatures as they prayed and listened to Islamic scholars in marquees, with Bangladesh experiencing its coldest winter since independence in 1971.

Tablig Jamaat, which has tens of millions of followers across the globe, urges people to follow the tenets of Islam in their daily lives. The Biswa Ijtema is the second largest annual gathering of Muslims in the world, after the Haj pilgrimage to Makkah in Saudi Arabia. The gathering at Tongi was first held in 1964. It became so popular among Bangladeshi Muslims, mostly rural poor who can’t afford the Hajj, that the organizers started hosting the event in two phases last year. The second phase, which also lasts three days, will begin on January 18. Bangladesh is the world’s fourth-largest Muslim-majority nation, with Muslims making up nearly 90 percent of its 152 million population.

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Former ASEAN Secretary-General launches auto-biography

BANGKOK, 18 January 2013 (NNT) – Former Permanent-Secretary of ASEAN Dr. Surin Pitsuwan has unveiled a book he wrote based on personal life experience, while urging Thais to be more enthusiastic about the formation of the ASEAN community. After stepping down as ASEAN Secretary-General, Dr. Surin has written a book based on his personal experience of 64 years and his coming from nothing to becoming an extraordinarily successful person.

Readers will be inspired by his efforts in life given Dr. Surin was born and brought up in a poor Muslim family, which had to struggle to make ends meet. When he was at a young age, Dr. Surin wanted to be a sheriff, so that he could commit to improving the lives of the people in the community he was growing up in.

The former has also written another book regarding the ASEAN community, narrating what he did while he was the ASEAN permanent secretary. The book also contains guidelines to and tips on surviving in the ASEAN community. He also expressed his concerns over Thai people’s lack of skills in the English and other Asean countries languages, as it is vital to the country’s becoming part of the Asean formation.

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India Gives Special Scholarship for Afghan Nationals

Ministry of External Affairs 17-January, 2013 – The Union Cabinet today approved of Rs. 492.55 crore for the enhancement of scholarships to Afghan students from the existing 675 during the period 2012-13 to 2020-21. Scholarships to Afghan students in various universities in India will significantly contribute to the human resource development of Afghanistan and provide scholars, the necessary skills to contribute towards the development of the country.

The scholarship scheme will be implemented by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) till 2020-21.The enhancement of scholarships was announced during the State Visit of the Prime Minister to Afghanistan, in May 2011. The ICCR has been entrusted with the task of administering the Afghan Scholarships Scheme. The expenditure will be met from the Non-Plan budget of the Ministry of External Affairs under the Head ‘Aid to Afghanistan’

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Muslim Youth Urged to Seek Balance Traditional Values, Scientific Progress

Rabat 17/01/2013 – Dr Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri, Director General of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), called for providing the youth with an intellectual and cultural environment that strikes a balance between the values and ideals of authenticity, and scientific breakthroughs and modern innovations of scientists, the ultimate aim being to make good use of youth potential in Member States as they are the engine of development in the Muslim world.

In an address delivered today morning at the opening of the workshop on “Excellent and Talented Young Scholars” which is being organized by the International Union of Muslim Scouts (IUMS), in collaboration with ISESCO, on 17-18 January 2013, at ISESCO permanent headquarters, in Rabat, Dr Altwaijri said, “youth are part and parcel of the fabric of our societies. They are faced with enormous difficulties and huge challenges that increase in scope and magnitude amid the current global mutations. Among the distinctive features of these changes are the ever-growing hegemony of globalization, the fierce and large-scale competition, the rapid pace of scientific and technological progress and the globalized markets”.

In addition, Dr Altwaijri underlined that in spite of the efforts deployed in this regard, there are still inadequacies between education outputs and the labour market’s needs in terms of human resources. He also pointed out that unemployment has increased among the youth with higher education graduates having the highest rate.

In the same vein, ISESCO Director General stated that the Organization is exerting great efforts for the youth of the Muslim world by implementing various programmes and activities for qualification and training of the youth. He went on saying that ISESCO Action Plan for the years 2013-2015 which was adopted by the 11th session of the General Conference features numerous programmes and activities geared to the youth of Member States and aimed at upgrading youth capacities, improving their situation, honing their skills, and helping them achieve their aspirations to effectively contribute to the development of their societies.

Other speakers at the opening session included Dr Zuhair Hussein Ghuneim, Secretary General of the International Union of Muslim Scouts (IUMS), who lauded the efforts of ISESCO and its Director General in the civilizational edification in the Islamic world, and in the promotion of educational, scientific, cultural and communication fields in the Member States. Moreover, he underlined that international trips to exchange visits and experiences among university students are an activity approved by the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers to increase awareness and knowledge and promote exchange of expertise and experiences among the students of the universities of the Islamic world.

At the close of the opening session, the IUMS Shield and the shields of some Saudi universities were presented to ISESCO Director General, in recognition of his devoted efforts to promote the youth’s issues, and in appreciation of his leading role in enhancing intercultural dialogue, alliance of civilizations and inter-religious coexistence. By the same token, a memorandum of understanding was signed between ISESCO and the IUMS on cooperation programmes in the fields of common interest.

The workshop’s opening session was attended by Dr Mokhtar Ahmed, ISESCO Deputy Director General, as well as by the directors and heads of ISESCO’s directorates and divisions, the supervising experts and the students of some Saudi universities.

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ADB to give $21m for SASEC Trade Facilitation Project

DHAKA, Jan 20, 2013 (BSS) – The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will give $21 million in soft loans for SASEC Trade Facilitation Project. ADB and the government today signed an agreement for the project to help goods move more smoothly in and out of Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal, by overhauling time-consuming, costly, and often opaque customs procedures that are inhibiting intraregional trade, said the ADB.

Md Abul Kalam Azad, Secretary, Economic Relations Division (ERD) and M Teresa Kho, Country Director of ADB’s Bangladesh Resident Mission, signed the agreement for the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) Project on behalf of Bangladesh and ADB respectively, at a ceremony at ERD, Sher-e- Bangla Nagar.

The project will help the three countries, all members of the South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) programme, adopt an international customs administration protocol, upgrade existing automated customs management systems, and establish web-based electronic trade portals.

These measures will give importers and exporters accurate information timely. India, which is also a SASEC member, is not included in the programme as it is funding its own trade facilitation reforms and is significantly ahead of its neighbors. “Removing the many non-tariff barriers which currently impede trade will have a major multiplier effect on trade volumes across South Asia,” said M. Teresa Kho.

“Automated, user-friendly, transparent customs systems will cut business costs, reduce informal activity, and give a real lift to importers and exporters, including women entrepreneurs,” Teresa Kho added. Despite healthy growth, South Asia’s low levels of intraregional trade make it one of the least integrated regions in the world. Of the total regional trade, intra-regional trade is only 6 percent in South Asia against 55 percent in East Asia.

Processing and export delivery times are more than 30 percent slower than in East Asia and the Pacific, while administrative fees and storage and handling costs are 43 percent more expensive. Weak logistics systems, poor infrastructure and a lack of cross border transit agreements are other impediments to trade which is nearly all land based.

Informal trading has sprung up to avoid excessive documentation and goods inspections, resulting in sizeable government revenue losses. The introduction of international customs practices, streamlined management systems including the planned establishment of “single window” systems to simplify transactions and web-based information for traders, will make cross border trade more efficient, cost-effective, transparent, and secure.

The project, which targets a 7.5 percent rise in intraregional trade volumes by 2018, will complement SASEC cross- border transport projects to improve connectivity, and planned investments in projects across the transport, trade facilitation and energy sectors.

SASEC was set up in 2001 as an initiative of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal. It aims to promote domestic and regional prosperity through stronger transport links and increased trade and cooperation across sectors ranging from energy, tourism, the private sector and the environment. ADB acts as Secretariat for SASEC. The National Board of Revenue will execute the project scheduled to be completed in 2015.

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Indonesia to see robust tourism trade at ITB Berlin

Jakarta, Jan 19 (ANTARA) – Indonesia is expected to see robust tourism trade at the Internationale Tourismus-Borse Berlin, better known as ITB Berlin, in Germany this year. Recognised as the world`s largest travel trade expo, ITB Berlin will be held at the Messe Berlin International Convention Center for five days from March 6 – 10, 2013.

Indonesia has participated in the travel trade expo since 1967, playing a significant role over the years, and now, it is the first Asian country to be named an official partner country for ITB Berlin 2013. “By becoming an official partner country for ITB Berlin 2013, the government of Indonesia will attempt to capture the European tourism market,” the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry`s promotion director, Esthy Reko Astuti, said.

Esthy noted that during the event, European tourists will be encouraged to visit not only the main tourist destination of Bali but also other tourist attractions across Indonesia. “Therefore, we are going to intensively promote other potential tourist attractions in Sumatra, Java, Lombok, Flores, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku, and Papua,” she went on.

According to www.indonesia.travel, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is expected to attend the opening ceremony of ITB Berlin 2013 on March 5. The opening ceremony is also scheduled to be graced by German Chancellor Angela Merkel; Indonesia`s Minister for Tourism and Creative Economy, Mari Pangestu; Governing Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit; President and CEO of ITB Berlin, Raimund Hosch; and more than 4,500 distinguished invitees, delegates, and members of the press.

As the co-host of the Opening Dinner, Indonesias cultural troupes of musicians as well as master chefs from a number of provinces around Indonesia will be specially flown in to provide an exquisite Indonesian atmosphere and warm hospitality at the Opening Dinner. Guests and delegates at the Opening Dinner will be warmly welcomed by traditional dancers from Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, and Bali, who will perform Indonesia’s dramatic and colourful dances to traditional music.

Dancers from the province of Aceh will perform the highly synchronized Saman Dance, a UNESCO Intangible World Cultural Heritage icon. Meanwhile, the deputy minister for Tourism and Creative Economy, Sapta Nirwandar, has said Indonesia would offer great potential for Germany, its foremost trading partner in the European Union.

“Our participation in ITB Berlin 2013 will provide a long-term boost to our popularity in the German and international market, and with our wide range of tourism products, we will send out a positive signal to both trade visitors and the general public,” he stated.

About 91 companies from various parts of the Indonesian archipelago, and offering all tourism services, will be ready to network with German and other international tour operators, airlines, and agents from the worldwide travel industry. Nirwandar said last December that Indonesia would promote itself as a tourist destination not only at ITB Berlin but also at Cruise Shipping Miami and IMEX Frankfurt in 2013.

IMEX Frankfurt from May 21- 23, 2013, is a unique international trade show that will host thousands of meetings and will attract incentive-travel executives and buyers from around the world, including Indonesia. More than 8,500 visitors from 90 countries, including thousands of German decision-makers, are expected to attend the world`s third-largest outbound-meetings and incentive-travel market.

Meanwhile, the Cruise Shipping Miami event to be held from March 11 – 14, 2013, in Florida in the United States is one of the most professionally organized trade shows in the global cruise industry.

Nirwandar pointed out that funding for the nine major events would be provided by the Marketing Directorate General of the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy. “Some Rp607,700 billion will be required for tourism promotion programs and the improvement of Indonesia`s image, among other things. The state budget has allocated Rp2,052 trillion to the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy in 2013,” he noted.

Besides this, six other tourism events being held at home this year include the Semarang Marathon in Central Java in June; the Pilgrim Tourism event in Surabaya, East Java, in June 2013; the Tour de Singkarak V in West Sumatra in June; Sabang International Regatta II in Sabang, Aceh, in September; Festival Timoresia II in Ambon, Maluku, in October; and Musi Triboatton II in Palembang, South Sumatra, in November.

In light of the intensive promotion, Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Mari Elka Pangestu remarked that Indonesia saw a significant improvement in the contribution of the tourism and creative economy to the nation`s gross domestic product throughout 2012.

Marie said the industry has a strategic role in advancing the national economy since it has made a significant contribution to the countrys GDP growth and workforce recruitment and has helped boost business amongst small-middle enterprise firms. Marie explained that the tourism industry alone has contributed four percentage points to the GDP growth, amounting to Rp296.97 trillion (some US$30.8 billion), and has employed 8.53 million people, which accounts for 7.72 percent of the countrys overall workforce recruitment in 2012.

Marie noted that Indonesia will see robust tourism trade in 2013 as it gains the trust of the international community in hosting many international events across the country.

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Jordan exports to Iraq resume after border reopens

Amman, Jan 19 (Petra) — Dozens of trucks loaded with Jordanian farm produce crossed into Iraq as exports resumed after Baghdad reopened the border. Iraqi authorities yesterday reopened the post of Treibel, a key conduit between the two neighbours that was closed on Jan. 9 along with two border crossings with Syria.

Iraqi officials confirmed that cross-border travel and trade are back to normal after the post reopened Friday morning. Jordan Exporters and Producers Association for Fruit and Vegetables, Zuheir Jweihan, told Petra that about 80 trucks loaded with vegetables had crossed to Iraq on Friday and Saturday. He said 50 trucks had entered the Iraqi market today reviving Jordanian farmers’ hopes of marketing their farm produce in Iraq, Jordan’s major trading partner.

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Palestinians gather at new West Bank protest camp

Ramallah, 08 Rabi Al-Awwal 1434/20 January 2013 (IINA) – Some 200 Palestinians gathered yesterday at a new encampment in a West Bank village, protesting for the second consecutive day Israel’s intention to confiscate land.

“We have settled on the lands of the Beit Iksa village to prevent its confiscation by the Israeli army,” AFP reported quoting Osama Zayed, village resident and one of the organizers of the initiative, as saying. The activists erected four tents since Friday and were building a structure to serve as a mosque. Ziad Abu Ein, an official from Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’ Fatah movement, told AFP that “many such villages should be created, to remove the occupation and the settlements.” Activists say the Israeli army recently announced it would confiscate over 500 dunams (124 acres, 50 hectares) of land by the village, located on the northwestern outskirts of Jerusalem.

The village extension was named Bab Al-Karama, Arabic for Gate of Dignity. The Israeli Army was monitoring the developments, but yesterday had no comment on the activities. Two military jeeps had arrived at the site, but were blocked by the activists, who stood in the way to the tents singing songs. The vehicles turned around and left. During the night between Wednesday and Thursday, Israeli police dismantled a different Palestinian protest camp of 24 tents set up on a controversial piece of land on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Activists established the camp, which they dubbed Bab Al-Shams, or Gate of the Sun in Arabic, in a bid to draw attention to Israeli plans to build in the area, known as E1.

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Kosovo seeks recognition by all OIC states

Jeddah, 02 Rabi Al-Awwal 1434/ 13 January 2013 (IINA) – Enver Hoxhaj, Kosovo foreign minister, paid a special visit to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) headquarters in Jeddah yesterday, meeting with the OIC’s Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.

Hoxhaj expressed his hope that more OIC member states will recognize Kosovo as an independent country. So far, only 31 of the organization’s 57 members have granted recognition to Kosovo. “I think after the International Court of Justice decision in July 2010 that determined our country’s declaration of independence on Feb. 17, 2008 did not violate general international law, it is the right time for those countries which did not give political or legal reasons for not recognizing Kosovo to do so now, especially after the Arab spring,” he said.

Hoxhaj said the last country to recognize Kosovo was Pakistan. “Pakistan is one of the important members of the OIC and in the world. I hope other counties will follow Pakistan and recognize Kosovo. This will actually support peace, security and stability in Europe and, of course, will show support for the people of Kosovo, the majority of whom are Muslims.” Kosovo has been recognized by all GCC countries and has received 100 diplomatic recognitions as an independent state. Hoxhaj said he will be in Cairo on Monday and will make another statement there. Egypt has not recognized Kosovo as an independent state.

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