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28 Oct, 2013

Iran Mulls Selective Visa-on-Arrival Facilities

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 28 October 2013 (23 Dhul Ḥijjah 1434). Pls click on any of the headlines to go to the story.




Malaysia will host the upcoming ASEAN Tourism Forum 2014, to be held in Sarawak, Malaysia from 16 to 23 January 2014. The ATF is a cooperative regional effort to promote the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region as one tourist destination where Asian hospitality and cultural diversity are at its best. This annual event involves all the tourism industry sectors of the 10 member nations of ASEAN: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Adopting the theme “ASEAN – ADVANCING TOURISM TOGETHER,” the ATF 2014 will explore the sustainable development of tourism and look at how tourism initiatives and plans can further support this decades mantra of “Tourism conserves, preserves and protects.” It will be a timely platform to think and act on implementing innovative and sustainable energy initiatives that will ensure the preservation of the natural environment for future generations. Each year, the hosting of ATF is rotated among the member countries. ATF 2014 marks the 33rd anniversary of this event since its inauguration in Malaysia in 1981. Kuching, Sarawak is all geared up to welcome over 1,600 delegates which includes some 150 ASEAN tourism ministers and officials, 800 ASEAN exhibitors, 400 international buyers, 150 international and local media as well as 100 tourism trade visitors. The ATF aims to: Project ASEAN as an attractive, multi-faceted single destination; Create and increase awareness of ASEAN as a highly competitive regional tourist destination in the Asia Pacific; Attract more tourist to ASEAN member countries; Promote intra-ASEAN travel; Strengthen cooperation among the various sectors of the ASEAN tourism industry. For the travel trade, ATF also provides a platform for the selling and buying of regional individual tourism products of ASEAN member countries, through the 3-day TRAVEX event. For further details, pls click here.

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 http://www.tourismmalaysia.gov.my

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.


Read Imtiaz Muqbil’s columns in Lookeast Magazine

Imtiaz Muqbil writes two columns a month in Lookeast magazine, one of Thailand’s leading consumer travel publications. Here are some of the recent columns:

Thammasat University – A Must-see Destination

Russian Visitors To Thailand: Women Outnumber Men

China is Now Dominant Force in Thai Tourism

Take Advantage of the Rail-tours

10 Fascinating “Factoids” about Thailand

The Next Big Thing: Northeast Thailand

Chiang Mai, North Thailand Set to Boom

Top 10 Reasons to Hold Your Next MICE Event in Thailand

Thailand’s Big Spenders

Phuket grows as Thailand’s Second Most Important Gateway

10 Reasons to Pursue Further Studies in Thailand

Promoting Sustainable Tourism Via ‘Designated Areas’ in Thailand

Japanese Market Rebounds After Four-year Slump




Needlework changes lives of 22,000 rural Bangla women

RANGPUR, Oct 19, 2013 (BSS) – Over 22,000 rural women have changed their fortune in the northern districts through various needlework like embroidering, spangling saree, ornamental stitching etc on female clothes in recent years. The prospective venture continues attracting more unemployed, poor and distressed rural women in earning through working at home or smaller enterprises locally to attain economic self-reliance.

According to the successful women, their home-based embroidery works add additional values to the female clothes being marketed at higher price in the country’s sophisticated markets including capital city. As result of growing success, the needlework has been getting a shape of growing cottage industry attracting local entrepreneurs to change the rural macro-economy in the northern districts.

Many of the rural women, who initiated the venture few years back, have launched smaller enterprises now after getting necessary training and assistances from different government and non-government organisations and local traders.

According to the sources in different NGOs, some 40,000 rural housewives, divorcees, unemployed young girls, adolescents, students and widows are now engaged with this profession and 22,000 of them have already achieved self-reliance.

With the assistances of RDRS Bangladesh alone, 2,000 unemployed and distressed women, victims of repression and violence, divorcees, widows and physically challenged women have so far achieved self-reliance through needlework at homes.

Entrepreneur of spangling industry Chand Mia here said he has expanded the venture generating employment for 350 poor families in Badarganj upazila of Rangpur through creating expert embroidery and ornamental stitching artisans.

He supplies simple saree, various spangles, anti- pipe, dhania puthi, tire puthi, pet-pipe, phooljori, laljori, sadajori, dhole spangle, stitching inputs, yarns and threads to women to make those more attractive through ornamental stitching, embroidery etc.

“After finishing needlework, each of the saree is being sold in Dhaka markets at Taka 8,000 to Taka 25,000 while the saree made by more skillful hand is sold at higher price of up to Taka 40,000 in the aristocrat markets in the capital,” he said.

As the venture continues expanding, most of the women of all ages in the village have turned into craftspeople to decorate saree with ornamental stitching and embroidery to earn minimum Taka 700 to 900 weekly.

Talking to BSS, successful craftswomen Mollika and Shameema said housewives, girls, adolescents, divorcees and distressed women of the village earn between Taka 2,500 and 4,000 monthly with double incomes before the Eid-ul-Fitr and Durga Puja festivities.

Similarly, over 900 women of all ages have changed their fortune through embroidery, ‘jari’, ‘puthi’ and spangling works on saree, three-pieces, scarf and other female clothes in seven villages under Sadar upazila of Thakurgaon in recent years.

Widow Sufi Begum, collage student Chompa Begum and school student Sadeka of Shibganj village there narrated as how they won poverty through earning conducting needlework on saree and other female clothes at leisure periods.

Local entrepreneur Mamuni Begum said she supplies inputs to 480 women of all ages of these villages and they earn excellent wages every week through ornamental stitching, embroidery, spangling etc on saree those are being at Dhaka.

Head of Programme Coordination of RDRS Bangladesh Monjusree Saha told BSS that thousands of rural women have changed fortune to dream better future for their children through the expanding needlework venture in the northern districts.

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Oman Air Hails Contribution of Women In The Work Place

Oman Air used the nationwide observation of Omani Women’s Day on 17th October 2013 to reaffirm its commitment to supporting, empowering and promoting women in the workplace.

The national carrier of the Sultanate of Oman pursues a proactive policy of recognising talented and qualified women and providing the appropriate levels of support to assist them in excelling within their chosen careers. The women staff strength of the airline currently stands at more than 30%, representing a range of roles, including cabin crew, flight operations, engineering, airport management, airport services, marketing, customer services, sales and communications.

Oman Air’s positive approach to the employment and career development of women is, in line with Sultan Qaboos’s directives regarding the empowerment of women, mirrored in broader Omani society. The country is now recognised as one of the Gulf region’s leading supporters of gender equality.

Oman Air’s Chief Executive Officer, Wayne Pearce, comments: “For some time, Oman Air has been in the vanguard of recognising the talent, experience and commitment that women offer within the field of employment. We have worked hard to ensure that their contributions and achievements are recognised and that barriers to progress are removed. As a result, women are making a vital contribution, in every area of our operations, to Oman Air’s ongoing success and are increasingly taking up positions at highest levels of management, both at Oman Air and with subsequent employers.

“It is therefore a pleasure and an honour on this Omani Women’s Day to reaffirm our commitment to employing women throughout Oman Air, to thank the many women who have contributed so much to Oman Air’s success, and to welcome those women who have just joined us.”

One employee who has seen Oman Air emerge as an acclaimed international carrier following its time as a regional airline is Jamila Al Hassani Staff Travel Manager, Commercial Unit. She comments:

“I have worked with Oman Air for more than 20 years and in that time I have seen it undergo many changes, not least in terms of the number of women it employs and the positions they now occupy within the company’s structure. When I first started, there were few women on the payroll and they were mainly employed as flight attendants. Now, of course, there are still a lot of women employed as flight attendants, but there are also women in key positions throughout the company, playing a really important role in Oman Air’s success. It makes me really proud, both as a woman and as a member of Oman Air’s staff, and the example being set for younger women is incredibly positive.”

Engineer Alia Al Qalam, Assistant Manager, Development Engineering, Oman Air, adds: “Oman Air’s very positive approach to women’s employment and career progression makes for a stimulating workplace in which I know that my contribution will be recognised. I am ambitious and hope to rise to the very top of the business, and the support and experience that Oman Air provides, together with the very positive attitude of the airline’s management, is a superb foundation for my future progress.”

Pilot, Maha Masti, within Oman Air’s Flight Operation Unit says: “It is an exciting time to be working at Oman Air, as the airline is currently undergoing rapid expansion. New aircraft, new routes and new products and services are being introduced all the time and this creates a positive, motivating atmosphere in which women can really make their mark and advance in their careers.”

Tawhida Al Kindy, Hygiene Manager, Oman Air Catering – Airport Services Unit, says: “As an employer, Oman Air has provided all the facilities and support that women need to succeed at work. And, as the airline continues to expand, with new routes and codeshares being regularly launched, there are increasing opportunities to see the world, work internationally and meet new staff. These opportunities are invaluable, on both personal and professional levels, and Oman Air has given me a window on the world that I might never otherwise have had.”

One of Oman Air’s most recent recruits is Maryam Hamad Ali Al Harthy, who started work as Lounge Manager, Airport Services, VIP Lounge, just a short while ago. She concludes: “Coming to work at Oman Air is the first step in fulfilling my ambitions. Oman Air is clearly making a great impression on the international air travel scene, with new aircraft, new destinations and countless awards being received. It is also recognised as a great place for women to work, as the training, career development and opportunities for promotion are open to everyone and are decided on talent and ability, rather than gender. Not only does that mean that I have the chance to really advance my career, but it also makes it a pleasure to work here. The atmosphere is positive and energetic and you are very much encouraged to fulfil your potential. I look forward to many happy years here at Oman Air, and to getting to the highest levels of the organisation.”

Oman Air’s commitment to employing and supporting women in the workplace is part of a broader human resources strategy for recognising the skills, abilities, commitment and contributions of all staff, regardless of their backgrounds. This has seen positive action being taken to offer employment opportunities to appropriately qualified and experienced Omani citizens, both men and women, throughout the organisation. More than 66% of Oman Air’s employees across its network of 43 global destinations are now Omani.

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Korea Seeks to Attract More Muslim Students

OnIslam & Newspapers, 24 October 2013 CAIRO – Pointing to challenges facing Muslims in South Korea, a new study has revealed that more mosques, halal restaurants and better understanding of Islam were needed to encourage more Muslims students to study in the Asian country.

“Islam is part of their everyday life and many felt there was little in the way of halal food and too few mosques,” Park Hyeon-uk, a member of El Naafidha College’s student group for Middle East studies, told UAE’s The National on October 23. “Also, meat that is not slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law cannot be consumed.

“It means many have difficulty eating out. Many Muslims we spoke to were not eating meat at all. They were suffering from a very unhealthy diet.” Seeking better educational standards, thousands of Arab students travel abroad for study, regardless of obstacles they might face.

A recent study, which was revealed at the Seoul’s forum, showed lack of mosques and halal food as main obstacles facing Muslim students in Korea. Misconceptions about Islam were also affecting the Muslim minority in the Asian country.

Another obstacle that Arab students face in Asia’s fourth-largest economy country is ‘language’. They have been facing difficulty in understanding the Korean language, especially in classes, the study stated.

“It would be nice if they graded foreign students different than Korean students,” said one Arab in a video broadcast to delegates. The study has suggested establishing more mosques and halal food restaurants, along with educating public on Islam in order to draw Arab students to study in S. Korea.

According to the Korea Muslim Federation (KMF), established in 1967, there are about 120,000 to 130,000 Muslims living in South Korea, both natives and foreigners. Picking multicultural Seoul for their studies, many Muslim students referred to lack of cultural understating as a main challenge.

“I think the people here need to learn more about the Middle East culture and vice versa,” said Farah Subedar, a presenter on K-Pop music station. Hijab was also a main target of “uncomfortable” comments and questions, an Emirati woman, who has been repeatedly asked about her hijab, said.

Citing the challenges that Muslims students face in Seoul, Koreans are urged to seek more education and understanding of the Islamic culture, to defy culture differences. “I think creating a sense of solidarity between Arab students and Korean students is essential for the next generation,” said Lee Yoo-jung, of El Naafidha College.

Fellow forum speaker Sohn Jie-ae, president and chief executive of Arirang TV and radio, said officials in South Korea should take note of the comments. “It shows we need to know a lot more about each other,” said Fellow forum speaker Sohn Jie-ae, president and chief executive of Arirang TV and radio, who urged officials to consider the study results.

The majority of South Korea’s population is made up of migrant workers from Pakistan and Bangladesh. The number of native Korean Muslims is estimated at some 45,000. Buddhists account for 52% of the population and Christians 20%. About 25.3% of citizens profess to follow no particular religion.

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Indonesia Hosts Islamic Fashion Week

OnIslam & News Agencies, 24 October 2013 JAKARTA – Tapping into the growing industry, Indonesia’s government is championing talented young designers to face increasing demand for clothing that adheres to Islamic rules emphasizing modesty for women. “We can be the trend-setter,” Mari Pangestu, the tourism and creative economy minister, told Reuters on Thursday, October 24. “We have the vision and mission that Indonesia can be the capital of Muslim fashion.”

Showing stylish, colorful and cool outfits, the Southeast Asian nation aims to be the global leader in the Muslim fashion industry, estimated at nearly $100 billion by some experts. To reach this end, Indonesia’s government has been championing young designers and the garment trade, which employs more than 3 million people and contributes about $15 billion to the economy.

At the fashion week, Muslim designers, supported by the government to create young talents for the international market, were challenging stereotypes with their ready-to-wear collections. Modesty and religion are the cornerstones behind the fast-growing Islamic fashion industry, which is making a mark on runways from Indonesia and Dubai to Monte Carlo.

Islamic fashion is part of a growing appetite for Shari`ah-related industries and assets, ranging from finance to halal food. The concept of halal — meaning permissible in Arabic — has traditionally been applied to food. Now other goods and services can also be certified as halal, including clothing, pharmaceuticals and financial services.

Participating in Indonesia Fashion Forward program, designers said they wanted to create clothes with broad appeal, including for women in Western countries.

“To make Muslim wear so the people look cool has always been my mission,” said 27-year-old Jenahara Nasution, who runs Eastern Opulence line. Her Jenahara brand is in talks with an agent from Milan to market the collection in Italy, Russia and Dubai.

She said her production capacity has nearly doubled since last year. “The agent had an initial order of 200 pieces per season,” Nasution said. “But after they checked out my collection, they wanted me to sign a three-year contract.”

Dian Wahyu Utami, whose parents started the Dian Pelangi brand 22 years ago using her first name, went to her first show five years ago in Melbourne. She got a “wonderful response” and plenty of interest in her next collections, she said. “I realized there is international potential for this Muslim fashion,” she said.

Dian Pelangi now has a branch in Malaysia and is expanding into Singapore and Brunei. It has buyers in Australia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Kuwait. The collections were also sold at shows in France, Germany, Hungary and other European countries.

“We haven’t reached the United States yet, so that is our next target. I also want to open my own stores in the Middle East, not just sell our collection in department stores,” Wahyu Utami said. “Korea is famous for its K-Pop culture and Indonesia is famous for its Muslim wear, so why don’t we focus on that?”

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Brussels’ Islamic Fair Returns

OnIslam & Newspapers Thursday, 24 October 2013 CAIRO – Witnessing a remarkable success in their fair’s first edition, Belgian Muslims are preparing for opening the second Brussels’ Muslims Fair, with a program of forums and symposiums tackling Muslims issues and challenges in the European country.

The event, hosted in its second edition, is scheduled this year from Friday 25 to Monday, October 28th at Tour & Taxis, Saphir News. Divided between shops and forums, the event is modeled on Le Bourget; an annual Muslim conference in France which has been taking place in Paris for 30 years.

It is deemed as a golden opportunity for Belgian Muslims to counter anti-Islam prejudices. The first edition of the Muslim Fair had received more than 20,000 visitors. This year’s event is organized by Gedis Company which has been hired by Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF) to organize Le Bourget for years.

Le Bourget has become a fixture in the French calendar, a chance for Muslims to meet, hear speeches from intellectuals and scholars, and buy the latest in Islamic literature and clothes. Thousands of Muslims come in droves to the annual gala, going through a miscellany of books and items on display, attending lectures and vying in contests for the memorization of the Qur’an.

Every year, tens of thousands of Muslims from across Europe attend the conference’s activities, with young women in their unmistakable hijabs and enthusiastic young men making up the bulk of attendees. Belgian Muslims are estimated at 450,000 – out of a 10-million-population – about half of them are from Moroccan origin, while 120,000 are from Turkish origin.

More than 20 percent of the population of Brussels is of Muslim origin coming from Morocco, Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other African countries. There are 77 mosques or prayer rooms in Brussels and over 300 across Belgium.

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Nigerian Muslim Girl On “World’s 50 Smartest Teenagers” List

OnIslam & News Agencies, 23 October 2013 NEW JERSEY – A Nigerian Muslim girl, whose name has been buzzing in the headlines lately as a promising talent, has reserved a place among “The World’s 50 Smartest Teenagers” list.

“If you are passionate about what you do, and I am passionate about many things, especially math and science, it will work out well,” Saheela Ibraheem, who lived in Edison, New Jersey, was quoted as saying in The Best Schools website, which announced her title.

The young girl, only 16, made it to headlines earlier this year when she was accepted into Harvard University, making her one of the youngest students ever to attend that school.

Making a record in the US, Saheela was accepted at 13 other colleges, including prestigious MIT, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, Brown, Princeton, Columbia, and the University of Chicago. In the end, Saheela chose Harvard, based on her seven-year-old brother’s advice who also dreams of being admitted to Harvard.

Saheela believes the key to success is knowing what you love to learn as early as possible, a knowledge she says she achieved at age five. Known as polite and humble, the Muslim prodigy said that her Nigerian parents, totally supportive of the young scholar, sometimes taught her subjects the schools didn’t offer.

The teen is also interested in languages, and knows Yoruba, Arabic, Spanish, and Latin, in addition to English.

Offering a role model to her colleagues, Saheela, who dons the Islamic veil, or hijab, plays softball, soccer, and the trombone. She also sings in the school choir and serves as president of the school’s investment club. The promising girl plans to major in either neurobiology or neuroscience, and hopes to become a scientist in order to study how the brain works.

Despite her activities, she said her number one priority was her family. “I try my best in everything I do,” Saheela said, confirming that there is nothing special about her brain. “Anyone who’s motivated can work wonders.”

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Islam Shines In Russian Culture: Putin

OnIslam & News Agencies, 23 October 2013, BASHKORTOSTAN – Appealing to the Muslim minority, Russian President Vladimir Putin has praised Muslims as ‘vital’ component in the country’s diverse and rich society during his visit to Muslim majority Bashkortostan..

“Our fathers and grandfathers never discriminated against each other on the basis of ethnicity or faith,” Putin told Muslim clerics meeting in Ufa on Tuesday, October 22, The Voice Of Russia reported. “They valued mutual respect, supported each other in joy and sorrow, and have left us a legacy of great, invincible friendship that we will allow no one to destroy or blacken.”

Putin was speaking during his meeting with Muslim muftis at an event on Tuesday marking the 225th anniversary of Russia’s Central Muslim Spiritual Administration, the governing body of the country’s large Muslim community. Citing the significant role of Muslim statesmen, artists, scientists, soldiers and businessmen in the Russian history, Putin stressed that Islam was a ‘shiny’ code of Russian culture.

He has also praised the Muslim community’s role to boost Russia’s interfaith relations. Bracing to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the Winter Olympics in February and the soccer World Cup finals in 2018, Russia has been disturbed by the recent attacks, which drew concerns over safe and successful games.

Bashkortostan, a Muslim autonomous republic, extends on both sides of the Ural Mountains, on the place where Europe meets Asia. Bashkortostan is Russia’s forth nation in terms of population, with strong national identity and very tragic history of fighting for freedom.

Bashkirs are half-nomadic Turkic Sunni Muslim people living in today’s Russia Federation with strong urge towards independence.

At the meeting, Putin urged the Russian Muslim organization to cooperate with the government to counter the ‘politicization of Islam’.

“A politicization of religion – not always positive – is going on among various tracks in Russia, including Islam,” he said. “The government and the Russian Muslim community are facing new problems and tasks in this setting, which can only be resolved jointly.”

Accusing foreign ‘foes’ attempts to weaken the Asian country, Putin argued that Russia rivals are using the radical trend of Islam to maintain conflict.

“Some political forces are making use of Islam – to be more exact, its radical trends, which, by the way are untypical of the Russian Muslim community – in order to weaken the state, to create conflicts, governed from outside, to split ethnic groups within the Muslim community and to incite separatism in the regions,

Despite a variety of schools and trends in Islam, Russia’s Muslims “have always been united in their service to the public and the state,” the Russian President said.

Seeking a wider sovereignty on the Russian religious education, Putin suggested restoring Russia’s Islamic theologian schools to guarantee ‘moderate’ Islamic education. “If the present-day challenges are to be tackled effectively, the high authority of Russia’s Muslim clergy and of the Islamic theologian school should be maintained,” Putin said.

“Among the most important tasks is that of recreating the national Islamic theologian school that would guarantee the sovereignty of the Russian religious space.”

The Russian president also referred to the repeated attempts to fuel the ongoing tension among the western powers and the Muslim world, underlying that Russia had never helped in creating that tension. “Today tension between Western powers and the Muslim world is growing. Some politicians try to take advantage of it adding fuel to the fire. We’re not interested in it,” he said.

He also referred to the growing Russian presence in the Middle East, and the Muslim world, adding that Russia had been seeking solidarity in the Islamic countries. “We should act more actively unmasking harmful for mankind projects which aim at manipulating countries and peoples, information and public opinion,” Putin stressed.

Islam is Russia’s second-largest religion representing roughly 15 percent of its 145 million predominantly Orthodox population. The Russian Federation is home to some 23 million Muslims in the north of the Caucasus and southern republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan.

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Islamic insurance markets thrive in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia

Riyadh, Sunday, 22 Dhul Hijja 1434/ 27 October 2013 (IINA) – The Saudi Arabian and Malaysian cooperative and Islamic insurance (takaful) markets are the only two that are seeing growth especially in new policies and profitability.

In a report, Global Takaful Insights 2013, international accounting and advisory firm, Ernst & Young has warned that apart from Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, “most other takaful markets and smaller Takaful operators appear to be struggling. Our discussions with industry executives suggests that too many operators are pursuing an insufficient number of risks to increase their gross written contributions (GWC).” The report added that not all takaful operators would gain market share at the right price to be profitable — and those that do will struggle to satisfy what have been very patient shareholders.

The compound annual growth of GWC, according to Ernst & Young, decreased to an alarming 16 percent in 2012 from 22 percent year-on-year from 2007 to 2011.Saudi Arabia uniquely operates a cooperative insurance model, which is Shariah-compliant. The Saudi Arabian Monetary (SAMA), which is the insurance industry regulator in addition to being the central bank and banking regulator, directed all insurance operators in the Kingdom to align with the cooperative insurance model of by year-end 201. As such Takaful operators had to adjust their internal accounting structures, remove the use of wakala (agency) and qard (benevolent loan) and amend product terms conditions.

This shift away from the pure Takaful model and regulatory harmonization has had a significant impact on the Saudi insurance industry, which is huge by the Takaful market standard, said Ashar Nazim, Global Islamic Finance Leader at Ernst & Young and Rauf Rashid, Country Managing Partner, Ernst & Young Malaysia. “The two biggest markets (Saudi Arabia and Malaysia) have considerably higher populations and GWC per operator — with profitability increasing through a combination of scale, risk diversification and improvements in claims and expense ratios,” the report noted.

The Kingdom and Malaysia had an average gross contribution per cooperative insurance/Takaful of $145m in 2012. Saudi Arabia by far has the most insurance operators – 34 cooperative insurance operators compared to Malaysia’s 11 takaful operators. Saudi Arabia’s cooperative insurance contributions is forecast at $5.645 billion for 2012 and projected to increase to $6.352 billion in 2013 and $7.149 billion in 2014. This compared to a forecast of $2.721 billion for ASEAN in 2012, $3.296 billion in 2013 and $3.993 billion in 2014. This makes the Kingdom the single largest Islamic insurance market in the world.

Malaysia has emerged as the world’s largest family (life) takaful market. With a proven model and regulatory clarity, the country is set to further build on this leadership position, added Ernst & Young. Malaysia is the most developed Islamic finance industry including the development of the sukuk market, and successive governments have proactively supported the growth of its Takaful sector. Malaysia currently holds a 71 percent share of ASEAN (Association of South East Nations) Takaful contributions.

In 2012, Malaysia’s Takaful industry grew strongly by 21 percent.Malaysia earlier this year brought into law the Islamic Financial Services Act (IFSA) 2013, which requires takaful operators to separate their life and general (motor and fire insurance) business and to have a minimum capital of RM100m ($30.1m). Moreover, new laws governing Malaysia’s Islamic finance sector, added the Report, will boost protection for depositors by making religious advisers legally accountable for financial products, and liable to steep fines and imprisonment.

Improved customer understanding and pricing could significantly enhance shareholder value for these operators in the future. According to the report, family and medical insurance dominate the business lines, with this segment accounting for 50 percent of the market in the ASEAN and 47 percent of the market in the MENA region. Motor insurance accounted for 27 percent and 25 percent respectively. The remainder of the market was made up of property and marine and aviation insurance.

The takaful industry is largely concentrated in specific markets and in limited segments and business lines. This suggests future opportunities to explore latent new markets. In the near to medium term, traditional growth markets, including Saudi Arabia, UAE and Malaysia, continue to ride on favorable market conditions and a young demographics structure.

In terms of the financial performance of Saudi and Malaysian operators, the latter have the highest return on equity of 13 percent in 2012 compared with 4 percent for Saudi Arabia. The claims ratio was also bigger in the Kingdom at 69 percent compared to 62 percent for Malaysia. “In Saudi Arabia, the claims ratio has been deteriorating over the last three years mainly due to increasing claims from the motor and health insurance businesses. In 2012, the property or fire insurance business recorded a hike of nearly 47 percent in claims paid,” said the report.

Recent growth in the GCC insurance market has been underpinned by government-driven mandates, particularly for medical insurance. As a result, entirely new markets have emerged in both Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, creating an unprecedented opportunity for insurers and takaful operators alike. However, warns Ernst & Young, these opportunities do not come without risks and competition has rapidly intensified in a nascent, untested and evolving marketplace.

Ernst & Young concludes that given that Saudi Arabia’s population is under-insured by international standards (only 0.75 percent penetration rate), with a population of 28 million and a moderate annual GDP growth rate of 4 percent between 2013 and 2015, there appears to be potential for modest growth. The growth of family takaful, however, may be limited by Saudi Arabia’s social welfare system, which for the most part is considered generous.

The Kingdom’s gross cooperative insurance contributions is forecast to reach $5.8 billion in 2013 and $6.7 billion in 2014. Saudi Arabia is seen as having the largest domestic market for nonconventional insurance with opportunities in health insurance; life insurance especially for expatriates; and to cover big ticket risks relating to the large infrastructure projects in the Kingdom. However, Saudi cooperative insurance operators lack scale to compete for the big ticket risk business; and the sheer competition in the market has meant artificially low prices; and the fact that market growth has largely been to the introduction of compulsory medical insurance.

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OIC adopts 10-Year Strategic Health Programme of Action

Jeddah, (OIC media release) – The 4th Islamic Conference of Health Ministers was held in Jakarta from 22-24 October 2013 under the Chairmanship of Indonesia. The Conference was attended by a large number of high level delegations, including Ministers and Deputy Ministers of Health of Member States, observer states and international organizations.

During the Conference, the OIC Health Ministers adopted the OIC Strategic Health Programme of Action 2014-2023 and its Implementation Plan which will provide a framework for focused national actions and international collaboration for the next ten years to deal with the most pressing challenges and needs of the OIC Member States in the domain of health.

The other highlights of the 4th Islamic Conference of Health Ministers Conference included the decisions taken by the Member States for promoting collective self-reliance in the production and supply of pharmaceuticals including vaccines, strengthening intra-OIC cooperation and international partnerships for the prevention and control of diseases, improving maternal and child health, promoting cooperation in health education, training and capacity-building.

With regard to promoting collective self-reliance in production and supply of medicines and vaccines, the Conference approved the establishment of Technical Committee for the Development and Harmonization of Standards in the OIC Member States and a Two-Year Action Plan for the Committee. It also approved the establishment of a mechanism for the vaccine manufacturers from the OIC countries to work together for the promotion of self-reliance in supply and production of vaccines in accordance with the Short, Medium and Long Term Plan of Action Towards Self Reliance of Vaccines in the OIC Region adopted by the Conference. The Conference agreed on the importance of exploring various options for pooling of procurement of pharmaceuticals and vaccines including the option of Group Contracting and individual purchasing among interested OIC Member States.

The Conference adopted several recommendations for strengthening programmes for maternal, newborn and child health and efforts for ending preventable maternal and child deaths through optimal prevention, treatment and care.

Among other thing, the Conference was briefed about progress towards the implementation of joint projects by the OIC General Secretariat, IDB and IAEA for the establishment of cancer radiotherapy centers in OIC Member States from Africa. A meeting of the OIC General Secretariat, IDB and IAEA is scheduled in Vienna in November this year to finalize plans for the implementation of the projects.

Member States took note of the increasing international interest in the OIC Educational Exchange Programme. They agreed to consider networking of medical universities, health education and medical research institutions, exchange of faculty members and joint training programmes and exchange of best practices in management of health institutions under the umbrella of the Programme. Some universities in the OIC Member States have already announced scholarships in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and allied health sciences under the OIC Educational Exchange Programme.

Member States expressed their support for the efforts of the OIC to strengthen its collaboration with international partners including the WHO, Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the Global Fund for fighting HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, GAVI, Stop TB Partnership, Roll Back Malaria and other relevant partners in the pursuit of the OIC health agenda.

During the Press Conference at the conclusion of the Conference, Ambassador Abdul Moiz Bokhari, OIC Assistant Secretary General noted that pursuant to the OIC Ten Year Programme of Action, which articulated a new strategic vision for the OIC, the organization has considerably widened the scope of its activities, inter alia, in the field of health. Since 2005, the efforts of the OIC have resulted in many positive outcomes and the OIC is now acknowledged as an important partner in health related initiatives at the international level.

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Palestinian gov’t launches int’l campaign to boycott Israeli settlements

RAMALLAH, Oct. 26 (Xinhua) — The Palestinian government launched a campaign against Israeli settlements built on occupied lands by urging foreign companies to boycott them, a senior official said on Saturday.

Ihab Bseiso, a spokesperson for the Palestinian government, told Xinhua they have written to hundreds of foreign companies in a bid to seek their support. “The Palestinian letters affirmed that dealing with illegal Israeli settlements breaches the international law and violates the anti-settlement resolutions issued by International Human Rights Council,” said Bseiso. “Some (companies of certain) countries have already positively responded.”

It was the first time that the Palestinian government has conducted such a campaign against the Israeli settlements. A well- informed Palestinian source revealed that letters were sent to 500 companies in 50 countries in Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa.

The source told Xinhua that the campaign is targeting Israeli companies that have ties with Israeli settlements and are operating abroad.

The launch of the campaign coincided with a recent European Union (EU) decision, which called for its member countries not to deal financially with Israeli institutions that belong to the Israeli settlements.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who on Wednesday visited Brussels, called on all European and international companies operating in the Israeli settlements to immediately stop working there “because this is a clear violation of the international law. ”

The settlement issue is considered by the Palestinians as a major obstacle for achieving a just and comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, and could lead to a possible failure of the direct peace talks between the two sides restarted in late July.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government is about to announce new invitation of tenders for building more housing units in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The Israeli Peace Now Movement said last week settlement activities in these territories increased by 70 percent this year, adding that from January to June, Israel built up to 1708 housing units in the settlements.

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My Navigator – Street Map to help tourists in Sabah, Malaysia

Insight Sabah – In an effort to further promote Sabah as a tourist attraction, the Public Media Group (PMG), a Sabah advertising team that focuses on the tourism and hospitality industry has introduced My Navigator – Street Map, which is a pocket-sized map that will be distributed around Sabah beginning 15 November 2013.

The map contains a list of popular restaurants, hotels and serves as a travel directory around Kota Kinabalu. This pocket-sized street map is endorsed by the Sabah Hotel Association and Star Cruises.It will be placed at places such as airports, F&B outlets and tourism information booths.

The map will be published on a quarterly basis, with 30,000 copies printed per issue. According to Christoper Chan, Chairman of the Sabah Hotel Association, My Navigator is a perfect guide for travelers as it provides information on the latest tourism destinations, F&B outlets as well as entertainment venues throughout Kota Kinabalu.

“It’s a great way to promote Sabah,” said Chan. “With My Navigator, tourists will be able to explore Kota Kinabalu at their own pace and this may encourage them to stay here longer,” he added. “We hope to be able to provide tourists with the best Sabah experience,” said Darren Yong of PMG.

As the Star Cruises SuperStar Aquarius cruise liner is expected to call at KK on 6 November, Vincte Lim, Marketing Manager of East Malaysia Star Cruises said My Navigation will help the visitors get around Kota Kinabalu without having to employ a guide.

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Gulf Air to operate 7 more flights on Bahrain-Riyadh route

Arab News – 23 October, 2013 – Gulf Air, Bahrain’s national carrier, has added seven flights to its existing schedule to Riyadh to meet increasing passenger demand.

Starting from Oct. 27, the airline will operate one extra frequency per day from Bahrain to the Saudi capital, increasing the number of weekly flights between the two destinations by seven, from 21 to 28.

Gulf Air’s decision to increase the frequency of its flights to Riyadh reinforces the airline’s strategy of strengthening its core network and maximizing convenience for its customers, Bahrain News Agency reported.

The report said passengers traveling between Riyadh and Bahrain who wish to conduct their business and return home the same day, saving the expense of a hotel, now have even more flexibility to do so. Furthermore, passengers traveling onward via Bahrain to other destinations in the Middle East, Europe and Asia, through Gulf Air and beyond to North America with codeshare partner American Airlines, now have access to more convenient connections.

Maher Salman Al-Musallam, Gulf Air’s acting CEO, said, “The introduction of additional flights between Riyadh and Bahrain emphasizes the importance we attach to Saudi Arabia, one of our key markets, and our business strategy to concentrate on high-demand point-to-point routes to ensure our core customer base is served effectively and efficiently.”

The departure and arrival times of the additional flights have been scheduled specifically to benefit international and regional business travelers. Customers from Riyadh now have over 200 weekly connections in less than three hours via Bahrain.

“I would like to thank Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation for their cooperation in securing additional traffic rights, permitting the additional frequency,” Al-Musallam added.

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Just walk through, no immigration queues at Dubai airports

Khaleej Times – 23 October, 2013 – Forget smart gates, Dubai is moving on to smart passengers, phasing out the need for rows of immigration officers and long-winded queues in the government’s latest technological conquest.

With 340,000 passengers having used the smart gates at the Dubai airports since installation early this year, the Directorate General of Residency and Foreigners Affairs said Dubai airports would progress from merely having smart gates to a ‘smart passenger’ system — a hi-tech piece of equipment adopted, according to the government entity, to save time, effort and money.

Assistant Director-General for e-Services Sector at the directorate Khalid Nasser Al Razouqi told Khaleej Times the all-new scheme, meant to enhance passenger flow and comfort, would come into effect within a maximum of 18 months. “The system shall be under study and development for one year and six months in trial, and then starts the exact implementation.”

He said the move was in line with the vision of Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who declared that a smart government must be within the reach of every user through hand-held devices. “The new smart system, under study and development, will help process arrival and departure procedures in no time and with no need for any immigration counter or officer at the airport.

“We simply want the inbound and outbound passenger never stops at any counter; just pass through a gate without presenting any passport or document, yet on condition that he or she has already been registered in the system,” he added.

Al Razouqi said the multi-cameras and scanner system would verify and compare the passenger’s finger and iris prints, along with the other information registered in the system while he or she passes through the gate with no stop. “We have started with e-gates which reached 88, and then moved to smart gates, amounting to 28, and all these shall be replaced with the new smart passenger system within 18 months.”

Al Razouqi said the smart gates installed earlier this year could configure and verify the passenger’s iris scan 1.5 metres ahead. “A passenger just puts his or her passport for scanning for free, and the whole process takes only 20 seconds.

“However, we do want to cut short the entry and exit processing time to no seconds, and therefore we are working on the smart passenger system, for the benefit of the passenger.”

He said the new system, to be available for all passengers from all nationalities, will be installed at the airports of the emirate. “Should a passenger have a problem with his entry or exit, there will be an immigration officer to check and solve his or her problem as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, the Directorate General of Residency and Foreigners Affairs in Dubai has introduced a five new electronic services to be available with 18 others on smart phones using Apple and Android operating systems.

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Upgrade to preserve historical Arabic manuscripts

Khaleej Times – 24 October, 2013 – Historical Arabic manuscripts and online Arabic content are set to get a digital facelift thanks to a new project to be funded by the Information and Communication Technology Fund (ICT Fund).

For the second consecutive day at a Gitex 2013 Press conference, the organisation revealed more plans to pump cash into its third new research project — following the announcement on Tuesday that the organisation will help set up a National Observatory and fund the construction of a Semi-autonomous Mobile Robotic System.

ICT Fund has signed an agreement with Khalifa University to provide financing of Dh1.045m towards the Arabic reCaptcha project.

ICT Fund’s acting CEO Omar Mohammed Al Mahmoud, said the project, in line with the Arabic Digital Content Initiative, aims to digitise Arabic manuscripts and improve Arabic content on websites. It will also enable the online search of Arabic text, including manuscripts, books, magazines and newspapers, and any material of historic value.

Arabic reCaptcha, which will commence by early 2014, will continue for two-and-a-half years, Dr Hassan Obaid Al Muhairi of Khalifa University told Khaleej Times. The project, which starts with the content to be provided by libraries, will later look into recapturing Arabic content of historical importance, he added.

The project also plans to involve Internet users in the Arab world in the digitisation process and to protect Arabic websites from online threats. During the p roject, old Arabic manuscripts will be digitised to preserve them and make them available through Internet. It will also serve as a guide for searching for specific Arabic text or phrases within the scanned images of the manuscripts as they become available online.

Dr Abdulqader Al Khayat, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the ICT Fund, said in a statement that the importance of the partnership with Khalifa University is in line with the vision outlined by the leadership of the UAE which calls for close partnerships between academic and technical institutions to work together to drive for the development of a knowledge economy.

Al Muhairi said the recaptured content will be made available in the Arabic language only.

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Now call a taxi through a mobile app in Saudi

Saudi Gazette – 24 October, 2013 – A taxi-ordering mobile application has attracted $ 7 million in investment to launch in the Middle East, one of four similar apps making inroads in the region.

The Germany-headquartered Rocket Internet told Al Arabiya that its Easy Taxi application will be launched this month in Saudi Arabia where a new law bans taxi drivers from random passenger pickups at public locations including malls, airports, commercial outlets and hospitals. According to the new law, which came into effect on Tuesday, passengers who require a cab will need to call and make a booking in advance.

The free taxi-ordering mobile application allows users to book taxis and rate drivers, with the driver paying a cut of the fare.

Rocket Internet sees the app being connected to 60,000 to 70,000 cars in Saudi Arabia, and “tens of thousands” in the UAE.

“In the region, it’s easily 100,000 to 150,000 cars that we want to get online,” Eyad Al-Kassar, Rocket Internet’s Managing Director for the Middle East, told Al Arabiya. “It really transforms the logistics in the countries where we launch this service.”

According to the new law, taxi companies will be obliged to meet traffic department standards and maintain a quota of vehicles on their operating license, depending on the size of the city and its population. Taxi drivers found guilty of violating the new rules will be fined SR200-SR400 and face possible license cancellation.

An Automated Vehicle Locater system, which will be placed in each vehicle for navigation purposes, will track and record information such as location, speed and duration of operation. Easy Taxi faces competition from three other car-ordering mobile applications that have launched in the Middle East or are in the pipeline.

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Qatar now a top family destination in region

Gulf Times – 24 October, 2013 – The substantial number of visitors, especially families, from some of the other Gulf countries during the just-concluded Eid al-Adha festivities, could be viewed as an indication of Qatar’s emergence as a preferred family destination in the GCC region.

The 12-day Eid al-Adha festival, hosted by Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), attracted more than 65,000 visitors from the GCC, and the hotel occupancy rates hit more than 90%, it was announced yesterday.

“QTA has recorded a 16 to 17% increase in tourist arrivals from other GCC countries during the Eid al-Adha holidays compared to the previous year,” chairman Issa bin Mohamed al-Mohannadi said.

Over the third quarter 2013, Qatar experienced increased tourism across all sectors, according to QTA. International tourists increased by 7%.

“QTA wants to contribute significantly to Qatar’s GDP,” al-Mohannadi had said on Tuesday while announcing that details of the “Qatar Tourism Sector Strategy 2030” which will be disclosed either before December this year.

From 0.7 to 0.8% in 2012, QTA is projecting a 2.9 to 3.3% growth by 2030. It also expects tourism-related jobs to grow from 19,000 in 2012 to 127,000 by 2030.

The Eid al-Adha festival was built on the success of the earlier Eid al-Fitr festival which saw more than 75,000 visitors from the GCC countries visit Qatar to enjoy the festivities.

“QTA’s strategy includes positioning Qatar as a preferred family destination in the GCC region via the facilitation of activities and events that appeal to all ages,” the chairman said.

This contributes to the larger aim of the strategy, to further tourism as a key factor that contributes towards diversification of Qatar’s economy, he explained.

“The considerable presence of Saudi Arabian families was evident at venues such as Souq Waqif and Katara – the Cultural Village,” observed a news photographer who has been working in Qatar for nearly two decades.

More and more Saudi-registered vehicles are being seen in Qatar during the Eid festivities over the past couple of years, he recalled. A number of Omanis and Emiratis could also be seen at the festival venues.

“A majority of the visitors from the other GCC countries came only to enjoy the festivities, especially the cultural events and not for shopping,” the photographer added.

The rush of such visitors is a testimony to the QTA chairman’s statement that the Eid al-Adha festivities in Qatar were one of the region’s largest events of its kind. The festival featured an extensive programme of numerous art exhibitions, cultural programmes, outdoor activities and entertainment shows, he pointed out.

Amusement rides, an international circus, music festivals, cultural and artistic sightseeing tours, theatrical performances, firework and laser shows, as well as outdoor activities, including paragliding and shooting, were among the attractions.

A total of 16 organisations from the public and private sectors took part in the festival, according to the QTA chairman.

A number of events will continue. These include the “Hajj – Journey through Art” exhibition at the Museum of Islamic Art, which will run until the end of the year, and Confusionism exhibition by Mahmoud Obaidi, at Katara, which will last until November 9.

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Saudi Arabia’s Caves potential tourist sites

Arab News – 25 October, 2013 – A geology professor has said that caves across the Kingdom’s deserts require study in order to be exploited for tourism. King Saud University professor Abdulaziz bin La’boun was quoted by the Saudi Press Agency as saying caves are rare natural sights and that they qualify as tourist destinations.

The “Dahl Alakdhar,” or green cave, located in the Summan area northeast of the Kingdom, is one of the most beautiful sights given it colorful stalactites that are not found in any other cave in the country, said the professor, who gave the cave its name.

“The algae and vegetation that has grown on its outer walls indicate that it contains water in the form of steam,” he said. A team of photographers visited the area to explore the caves. They stopped at the entrance, which bore a distinctive look among thousands of caves in the area.

“Entering the cave was risky because of the presence of toxic gases and a lack of oxygen, not to mention the possibility of rock slides and accidents caused by slippery rocks,” said La’boun. The team descended into the cave through an almost vertical passage with sharp edges.

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Greater Doha Metro to be ready in 2018

The Peninsula – 25 October, 2013 – The Greater Doha Metro Rail, which will link Messaieed to Al Khor and Ras Laffan via Musheireb and Hamad Hospital in Doha city, will be ready in 2018. Al Khor is some 42km north of Doha while Ras Laffan is about 90km away from here, also in the north. The metro will comprise four rail networks, some 80 percent of which will be underground.

The networks will crisscross one another at Musheireb rail station, which will be the main junction. The first network to be known as Red, will be 174km long and cover 20 stations and link Messaieed to Al Khor and Ras Laffan via Musheireb and Hamad Hospital in Doha and Lusail City. Lusail will have its own internal rail network.

The second Metro network, with a length of 128km, is to be known as Green. It will pass through 32 stations and link Doha city (Musheireb) to Education City and the South Industrial Area and stretch up to Umm Salal in the north.

The third Metro network will be known as Golden. It will link Hamad International Airport to Al Waab city via Doha from east to west. This network will also pass through Musheireb (the main junction), northern parts of Old Airport locality, south of Al Rayyan and Salwa Road.

Then comes the fourth and the last network, to be known as Blue. It will be a semi-circular network and will link the first three networks to one another. It will pass through the West Bay to the northern side of Hamad International Airport. The network will go around the C Ring Road.

The Education City station will be the second largest after Musheireb. The Musheireb station will have 190-metre long platform and will be located some 30 meters underground.

As for international rail lines, one will link Doha to Saudi Arabia while the other will pass through the proposed Doha-Bahrain causeway and link Doha to Manama. It is, however, not known if these two networks will also be ready for operation by 2018. The designs of all stations and related buildings will be based on Arab and Islamic architecture.

The initiation point for the Red network will be Messaieed, while that for Green will be Hamad International Airport. Messaieed will also be a large terminus.

Qatar’s rail project comprises three parts: The Greater Doha Metro networks, the international lines that will connect Doha to Bahrain and Doha to Saudi Arabia (and to other countries from there), and the Lusail City’s internal rail system. Some 32 percent of Qatar Rail Company’s employees are Qatari and include highly qualified and experienced engineers.

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Oman to develop livestock souq, handicraft centre

Oman Daily Observer – 25 October, 2013 – Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) yesterday announced it had signed an agreement to build a livestock souq and handicraft marketing centre in Wilayat al Jazir.

The Company is funding the construction of the one-storey complex as part of its Social Investment Programme to boost the commercial opportunities for Omanis living in its concession area. The building will house a market and abattoir on one side and a centre for locals to exhibit and sell their handicraft goods on the other.

There will also be a prayer room, administrative office, waiting room as well as other facilities. PDO External Affairs Director Mundhir al Barwani signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) committing to the project with Shaikh Hilal bin Salim al Busaidi, Wali of Al Jazir, at a special ceremony at the Oil and Gas Exhibition Centre in Muscat.

He stated: “The new building will serve as an important commercial and social hub for locals to meet and trade. We canvassed opinion in the area and there was an overwhelming demand for a livestock market and handicraft centre. “PDO has a long-standing commitment to support social investment projects that deliver sustainable benefits to local communities where we operate to help them develop and prosper and this building chimes with that vision.”

Shaikh Hilal bin Salim al Busaidy praised PDO’s contribution and said: “It is a great pleasure to sign this MoU with PDO, which reflects the Company’s commitment to improve the lives of local people. Wilayat Al Jazir will see the construction of a number of important projects funded by PDO, such as a livestock souq, a craft centre and a slaughterhouse.

“The people of Al Jazir are gratefully thankful for such initiatives that prove PDO’s good citizenship. I would like to congratulate the local communities for these projects which will promote local business and strengthen social interaction.” PDO is also embarking on a project to asphalt a 12 kilometre road and has funded the construction of a health centre in Ghubra South.

The Company has recently won a prestigious award from the Gulf Co-operation Council in appreciation of its role in, and contributions to, sustainable development in the Sultanate. Its Social Investment Programme was honoured at the 30th session of the Council for Ministers of Development and Social Affairs in Bahrain.

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Hotels, facilities boost Kuwait’s tourism market

Kuwait Times – 25 October, 2013 – Recent data show that Kuwait’s tourism sector had a good summer, with its hotels outperforming those found in many other GCC markets. Both public and private industry stakeholders are keen to build up the market further, although the limited scope of Kuwait’s tourist offering could make meeting targets difficult to achieve, at least in the short term.

A report by TRI Consulting Middle East, released in September, found that Kuwait and the UAE were the only countries in the Middle East and North Africa in which hotels performed well during August, traditionally one of the slowest months in the region. Kuwait benefited from the Eid Al Fitr holidays, which pushed up demand, particularly from domestic and Saudi Arabian visitors, the report concluded.

Hotel occupancy increased 3.4 percentage points to reach 37%, while the average room rate rose 12% to hit $ 271.72, resulting in a 23.3% jump in revenue per available room. While these are positive signs, the tourism sector remains largely underdeveloped and Kuwait does not have the variety of tourist attractions of some of its neighbors. Analysts are quick to point out that this does, of course, offer opportunities. Recognizing gaps in the industry, the government released a five-year tourism development plan in 2011.

By 2015, Kuwait hopes to welcome 1m tourists annually, according to Khaled Al Ghanim, deputy chairman and managing director of the state-owned Kuwait Touristic Enterprises Company (TEC). However, other forecasts are more cautious. The World Travel and Tourism Council expects international tourist arrivals to reach 331,000 in 2013, growing by 3.6% annually to hit 485,000 by 2023.

Experience over the past decade suggests that growth is possible. According to Alpen Capital’s GCC Hospitality Industry Report 2012, tourism receipts – including expenses incurred on hotels, restaurants, travel and communication – increased at a compound average growth rate of 12.8% between 2002 and 2011. While Alpen attributed this expansion primarily to a rise in business tourism, as of 2011 leisure spending still accounted for about 60% of the market.

This figure places Kuwait at the low end of the spectrum for the GCC region, where the leisure market on average accounts for around 70% of tourism spending, led by the UAE at 77.4%, according to the Alpen report. Boosting leisure tourism is an important part of the state’s plans. Earlier this year, Al Ghanim, told industry press that his organization plans to launch a host of entertainment, sports and tourism projects valued at $ 460m in the coming years.


New leisure facilities would complement the roll-out of a number of planned hotels. According to Hotelier Middle East, several four- and five-star resorts are slated to open by 2015, including four projects falling under the InterContinental Hotel Group umbrella, together with the Jumeirah Messilah Beach Hotel and Spa.

Kuwait’s Partnership Technical Bureau has listed the development of resorts, recreational facilities and a marina on Failaka Island as priority projects. In 2012, the Kuwait Hotel Owners Association (KHOA) said it expected 10,000 new rooms to be available by 2015, increasing the supply by almost a third.

Other developments include the re-opening of the Radisson Blu Hotel, following a $ 52m renovation, and the September 2013 announcement that Millennium and Copthorne Hotels had signed a deal with Gulf Real Estate Development House to manage its new Millennium Hotel and Convention Centre in Kuwait City. When complete, the new hotel will offer 307 fivestar rooms and 4000 sq meters of exhibition space.

The seven-star segment is also set for development. In September 2012, the Kuwait Municipality unveiled a proposal to develop a series of luxury hotels. Authorities plan to develop properties at the Fair Ground, Al Salam Palace and Sabah Al Salem University by teaming up with the private sector. However, hotel operators in Kuwait believe the market needs to mature before it is ready to receive a slew of new top-end resorts.

The KHOA has criticized Kuwait’s seven-star luxury plans, arguing that occupancy rates are already low. “Any new hotel coming to the market will definitely affect the existing hotels, as we are in a small country with little demand… I think that the planned hotels, which will be launched soon, deserve to be better promoted,” Wassim Mahdi, the director of sales and marketing at the Radisson Blu Hotel, told the local media in September. While Kuwait’s efforts to boost visitor numbers are gathering pace, increasing attractions and retail developments will likely be pivotal, if meeting targets is to be balanced with supporting industry players.

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Iran Plans To Offer Cheaper Fuel To Attract More Int’l Flights

TEHRAN, Iran, Oct 19 (NNN-MNA) – Iran plans to supply fuel to foreign airlines at 10 cents (per litre) cheaper than the regional countries, in a bid to attract more international flights, Iran’s Mehr News Agency (MNA), reported Iranian deputy transport minister, Ali-Mohammad Nourian as saying. He said that jet fuel is ordinarily supplied at nine cents higher than the Persian Gulf FOB rate.

“We supply foreign airlines with fuel 10 cents below the average price, which is supplied by the regional countries, in a bid to attract more international flights,” he explained. Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation has announced that it will liberalise ticket prices in order to encourage domestic airlines to improve services.

In Sept, the organisation’s head, Hamid Reza Pahlavani, said that the decision will take effect by the next four months. In May, Pahlavani announced that two new Iranian airlines will start operation in the current Iranian calendar year, which began on March 21.

A number of planes will be added to the national fleet in the current year, he said, adding that 19 planes were added to the fleet last year. In March, Pahlavani said that Iran has added two Airbus 340 planes, three Fokker 100 planes, and two other planes of different model to its national air fleet, adding that currently 18 airlines were operating in Iran.

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Malaysia Sets Up RM2 Bil Fund Set Up To Promote Tourism Industry

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 25 (NNN-Bernama) – A sum of RM2 billion will be provided to the Special Tourism Fund under Bank Pembangunan Malaysia to promote the tourism industry. The fund will provide soft loans at low interest rates between four and six per cent with the government providing a subsidy of two per cent, said Prime Ministeri Najib Tun Razak when presenting the 2014 Budget at the Dewan Rakyat (Parliament) today.

“The fund will be used to finance the cost of building infrastructure such as hotels, resorts and theme parks as well as purchase and replacement of equipment related to the tourism sector,” he said. To further promote Malaysia as a preferred tourist destination, he said the government would continue to encourage investments, particularly in new four and five-star hotels.

“The measure will ensure adequate supply of international standard accommodation and increase tourist arrivals, especially from the luxury and high-spending category. To support this, the government proposes the application period for pioneer status and investment tax allowance incentives be extended for another three years until Dec 31, 2016,” he said.

In continuous efforts to attract more tourists, Najib announced 2015 as the Year of Festivals, showcasing a variety of cultural programmes and festivals in the country. He also announced that the government would allocate RM1.2 billion for operating and investment expenditure, including for promotion and advertising, for this year and next year.

In view of the encouraging performance, 2014 has been declared Visit Malaysia Year, targeting 28 million tourists, he added. “The tourism sector is expected to generate RM65 billion in revenue and has the potential to contribute further,” he said.

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Intelligent rail transport system to enhance GCC’s $ 250b rail projects

Saudi Gazette – 19 October, 2013 – With approximately $ 250 billion worth of rail projects planned or under way in the GCC countries – and with plans to build more than 33,712km of mainline routes and 3,004km of metro, monorail and tramlines across the Middle East and North Africa – an “intelligent rail transport system” is vital to ensure an efficient, clean rail transport.

Intelligent rail system can help rail operators to reduce manpower requirements, meanwhile improving operational efficiency and passenger care capacity and reduce operational expenses.

Ahead of the upcoming “MENA Rail and Metro Summit 2013” to be held on Oct. 28-30, 2013 at the Beach Rotana Hotel, Abu Dhabi, Yiwen Wang Chief Technology Officer, MEA Government and Enterprise Business, ZTE, said intelligent as applied in rail transport has two aspects, “one is to introduce the mature next generation communication technology into rail transit system, (and) other is to integrate the IT innovations and ideas with rail transport system.”

ZTE Corporation is a globally-leading provider of telecommunications equipment and network solutions. With operations in 160 countries, the company is a leader in technology innovation, delivering superior products and business solutions to clients all over the world.

In an interview with the Saudi Gazette, Wang noted that that GCC countries have started great rail transportation construction plans, such as the Gulf railway plan jointly participated by all GCC countries, with Saudi Arabia’s 9000 km railway and high-speed development blueprint, Qatar and Kuwait’s grandiose plans for the subway and national railway, among others.

“To invest billions of dollars each year, the total investment will be up to hundreds of billions of dollars. ZTE is willing to join in the GCC countries’ grand construction plan, sharing our innovation capability and rich experience, to help the GCC countries to build the most efficient railway communication and management system with relative minimal investment.”

ZTE iRail includes a family of innovative solutions, such as GSM-R system which realize train-grand real-time communications, CCTV system with the ability of intelligent identifying, ZIFI systems which allows visitors to enjoy high speed Internet access while traveling at the speed of more than 300mph.

In conventional rail system construction, communication and signaling system take only less than 5 percent of the total investment. When use of the new generation of iRail system, the initial capital expenditure will be improved slightly, but the proportion of the total investment is minimal and negligible. However, there is a significant contribution to improve transport efficiency and reduce operational expenditure, Wang pointed out.

Intelligent transport system provides innovative services relating to different modes of transport and traffic management and enables various users to be better informed and make safer, more coordinated, and “smarter” use of transport networks. And ZTE capitalizes on its having over 15 years industry experience in both rail/metro communication and signaling system, he added.

Moreover, he emphasized that whether it is “modern or future, high-speed, high efficiency, safety, comfort, energy saving, will be the key to intelligent rail transport system needs.”

Asked about the suitability of its solutions in the terrain and temperature of the GCC countries, Wang said “ZTE iRail solutions share a large number of mature technologies and design concepts that ZTE had accumulated in the field of communication and information technology. So far, ZTE’s equipment have been widely deployed and verified in the climate of MEA region. We also provide flexible customization capabilities, so as to adapt to the culture of the Middle East.”

He added that ZTE has nearly 30 years of experience in the communications industry, also has over 15 years experience in railway industry, saying that it has participated and witnessed the China railway, especially the high-speed railway, in recent 10 years of its rapid development.

“At present, our solution has been widely used in railway projects in many Asian and European countries. Recently, we also noticed the MEA region, especially GCC countries, has become the world’s hot spots of railway infrastructure investment, greatly leading the global growth rate of 8.1 percent. After careful thinking, ZTE wants to enter MEA’s rail transport market and become an active partner in MEA’s great railway development plan.”

On whether the ZTE iRail solutions are economical, Wang explained that there are several aspects that iRail solutions have taken in consideration for saving investment. First, ZTE can provide end-to-end integration solution, greatly reduced the difficulty and manpower usage by the owner and the general contractor.

“Evidenced by more than 50 subway lines’ construction in China, the owner was inclined to cooperate with manufacturers with comprehensive integration abilities, like ZTE.”

When operational expenses are taken into consideration, on the other hand, iRail solutions adopt various types of network-based new front-end sensors and back-end software and data platform, allowing rail transit system to have the self-perception ability on the change of environment conditions and business volume, he noted.

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Uganda Seeks Renewed Efforts To Promote Swahili

KAMPALA, Oct 25 (NNN-NEW VISION) — Uganda’s Cabinet has directed that renewed efforts be made to promote the teaching and use of Swahili as an alternative language in Uganda, says State Minister for Karamoja Affairs Barbara Nekesa.

She told a media conference here Thursday: “This is cognizant of the fact that Swahili is a widely spoken language in the region and would go a long way in easing Uganda’s engagements with partner states under the East African Community (EAC).”

The Swahili language, or Kiswahili, is a Bantu language and the mother tongue of the Swahili people. It is one of the most widely spoken languages of Africa and is used by various communities inhabiting the Great Lakes region, including Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Nekesa, who was briefing journalists on outcomes of the weekly Cabinet meeting, said the government was stepping up efforts to have Uganda adopt and develop the speaking of Kiswahili. The efforts will include drawing up a comprehensive programme for training teachers in Kiswahili and delivering to students in schools.

She said the Ministry of Education and Sports had been tasked to prepare and submit to a Cabinet paper for the accelerated teaching of Kiswahili in all schools in the country.

The Cabinet has also ratified a memorandum from the Ministry of EAC Affairs to establish a Swahili Commission to give direction to EAC member states with regard to Kiswahili research, teaching and continuous development of the curriculum and standardizing of words.

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AFDB Grants to Aid Business Expansion In Cote D’ivoire, Tanzania

TUNIS, Oct 23 (NNN-AfDB) — Two businesses in Cote d’Ivoire and Tanzania have been awarded grants by the African Development Bank (AfDB) under its Agriculture Fast Track Fund (AFT). The awards announced on Oct 18 coincided with the celebration of the 2013 World Food Day.

The National Federation of Food Production Cooperatives (FENACOVICI) of Côte d’Ivoire and Tanzania-based Darsh Industries, a tomato processing company—have met all of the AFT grant requirements.

They will now work with the AfDB to finalize the paper work that will lead to the release of the resources, said Chiji Ojukwu, Director, Agriculture and Agro-Industry.

Ojukwa said: “These awards are a demonstration of the extent to which African countries and their development partners are willing to go to propel the African agriculture transformation through enhanced development of agribusinesses in a manner that is more consistent with how business and investors really work.”

The AFT Fund is a multilateral fund supported by USAID, the Swedish Agency for International Development (Sida) and the Danish International Development Agency (Danida).

AFT aim is to enhance food security by assisting Africa’s agricultural sector to “transform innovative ideas into bankable investments”.

Administered by the AfDB, the AFT funds the sponsors of public and private sector agriculture infrastructure investment projects to undertake the project preparation studies and analysis necessary to attract investment. The current donors’ pledges amount to US$ 26.8 million.

FENACOVICI is a national professional body of 11 food and agricultural cooperatives. The Federation plans to increase its members’ food production through investments in drip irrigation system and improve the marketing of this output with new fresh produce handing and food processing facilities. It will receive a grant of US$ 552,000 to cover the initial preparation.

Darsh Industries is planning to set up a new tomato processing plant in Iringa, Tanzania with a daily processing capacity of 150 MT. The factory will purchase tomatoes from local farmers, who often struggle to access markets.

In the past, lack of markets resulted in spoilage and market gluts that in turn led to depressed prices. Darsh Industries will also offer extension services to farmers. The grant award of US$221,000 will enable the company finalize the preparatory work including a feasibility study and Environmental Impact Assessment.

These two new grants follow on the successful completion of AFT’s first grants made to Bobo Dioulasso-based Fruiteq SA of Burkina Faso and Eden Tree Limited of Accra in May 2013, which are now fielding investors. The AFT will open a new call for applications for grants in early November, through its website.

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Gambia’s Tourism Minister Bags Two Awards

The Daily Observer – 22 October 2013 – The Gambia’s minister of Tourism and Culture has received two awards from the founder of African Diaspora World Tourism Award and Travel Expo, Kitty Pope, who also serves as the promoter of the Roots Festival.

The accolades – African Diaspora Minister of Distinction 2013 and the 2013 African Diaspora World Tourism Awards for inaugural Hall of Fame Certificate and the Minister of Distinction Plaque, recognises Minister Fatou Mass Jobe-Njie’s “outstanding contribution and dedicated services in cultural heritage tourism”, as well as her “outstanding contribution towards the development of tourism in The Gambia”.

She received the awards while on awareness promotional campaign about Destination Gambia ahead of the 2014 International Roots Home Coming Festival.

The promotional campaign team led by the minister herself was in Europe and the Americas recently to promote Destination Gambia ahead of the 11th Edition of the International Roots Home Coming Festival scheduled to take place from May 9th to May 17th 2014, in The Gambia.

The inaugural 2013 African Diaspora Award event, it would be recalled, was recently held in Atlanta Georgia, United States of America. It was described as a great success.

The biennial Festival has been reaching out to people residing within member States of the EU, the Caribbean Islands, the United States of America, Canada and Latin America, who wish to fulfill an ambition of returning to their “roots” and to experience the life and cultures of their people with whom they have been separated for hundreds of years.

While in the English capital as part of their Europe and America campaign tour, the promotional campaign team held presentations on the 2014 Roots Festival at the Hilton Hotel in the presence of more than 30 travel trade members, media and roots promoters in London.

Minister Jobe-Njie and her permanent secretary, Momodou Joof had telephone interviews with the WLIB Radio in the US and Galaxy Radio in the UK about the festival and the investment opportunities in The Gambia

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Russian Investors Eye Gambia’s Tourism Industry

The Daily Observer – 22 October 2013 – An Eleven-man delegation of Russian investors recently arrived The Gambia with the objective to, among other things, explore the investment potentials in the country’s tourism industry.

The delegation that comprised of tour operators and different agents were in the country courtesy of The Gambia Bird Airlines, and were received at the foot of the aircraft by the officials of The Gambia Tourism Board.

In a brief interview with the press, the director of Marketing at the GTBoard, Adama Njie, applauded the managing director of African Adventure Tours, Sallah Burgers, for what he called a very good job. He also thanked Dmitry Gorodenskiy, a tour operator, and his team for taking their time to visit The Gambia to get firsthand information about the destination.

Njie underscored the importance of the Russian market to The Gambia and what the tourists and investors stand to gain in the destination. He noted that the Russian market will help in solving the problem the destination always faces during the green season.

He assured Sallah Burgers of the GTBoard’s continued support in their collective objective of making The Gambia an all year round tourism destination.

The head of the delegation, Dmitry Gorodenskiy, explained that his team consisted of tour operators and different agents from across Russia that have a wealth of experience in selling destinations, particularly those in Africa such as Kenya, Tanzania, Morocco, South Africa. He told the gathering that the team will assess The Gambia’s tourism potentials.

The managing director of African Adventure Tours, Liane Sallah-Burgers, expressed her joy on the team’s visit to the country. She said the partnership started sometimes back in the month of March this year, expressing hope that it will yield a positive result in the drive towards promoting the destination to new markets.

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21 October 2013 – TODAY.AZ – Iran will issue instant visa for the tourists at the country’s airports, the head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization (CHTHO) said on Sunday. “The move aims at attracting more tourists from all around the world especially the neighbouring countries and the Southeast Asian states like China,” the IRNA News Agency quoted Mohammad-Ali Najafi as saying.

Najafi, however, said that the rule does not apply to the citizens of ten countries, including Great Britain, the United States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Najafi said on October 5 that Iran plans to lift visa requirements for tourists from the neighboring countries, East Asian and the European countries, in particular, in a bid to promote tourism in the country, Fars News Agency reported.

“Visa requirement will be lifted for some countries and will be eased for some other countries,” he added. He referred to China, Malaysia, and Indonesia as main priorities in this regard.

Afshin Azizi, a member of the country’s Tour Leaders Society said in July that foreign tourists are more interested in visiting Iran after the June 14 election. “Currently the requests for visiting Iran has increased by 50 per cent,” the ISNA News Agency quoted Azizi as saying.

Tourism accounted for 2.4 per cent of Iran’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2012. The figure can hit 4 per cent by 2022. Iran earned $118,695,000 through tourism in 2012. Over 3,729,000 foreign tourists visited Iran in the past Iranian calendar year which ended on March 20.The figure shows a 32 per cent increase compared to the previous year.

The foreign tourists were mainly from India, Azerbaijan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

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Nizami Ganjavi Center enriches collection with golden Holy Quran

22 October 2013 – TODAY.AZ – New manuscripts have been presented to the original collection of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center. The Center told that these are original 14cm x 20cm gold scripts of Surah Al Baqarah and Al Fatiha of Quran dated back 1126 A.H. (1709 A.D.). The most important manuscript is the Holy Quran written by the most famous calligrapher of Ottoman Empire Sheikh Hamdullah (1436–1520). Sheikh Hamdullah dedicated all his life to writing 47 amazing Qurans.

Nizami Ganjavi International Center has held about 15 exhibitions of the archive of original manuscripts and illustrations dedicated to “Khamsa” of Nizami Ganjavi that is one of the rarest pearls of the Eastern culture and history in Bishkek, Washington DC, Alexandria, Tbilisi. The original manuscripts and illustrations will be presented to a wider audience along with the Library of Alexandria, National Library of Turkey and Kuwait Foundation within the “Silk Road” project.

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Cultural promotion of Azerbaijan planned in Italy

23 October 2013 – AzerNews – The Heydar Aliyev Foundation has started a new project to further popularize Azerbaijan in the regions of Italy. The first event of the project, supported by Azerbaijani Embassy, was held in Florence, which is considered as one of the cultural centers of Italy.

Azerbaijani art masters once again demonstrated to the Italian audience the richness of Azerbaijani culture. Opening of the project supported by the foundation took place at the Municipal Theatre of Florence.

Speaking at the event, Vagif Sadigov, the Azerbaijani ambassador to Italy, said that this project would have an exclusive effect on culturally broadening relations between Azerbaijan and Italy. He appreciated the mutually serious endeavors of the heads of both countries.

Sadigov said that due to the efforts made by Mehriban Aliyeva, the president of the foundation, the foundation has implemented large-scale projects to promote the country in the world. The event was followed by a concert of the Azerbaijan State Chamber Orchestra named after Gara Garayev under direction of Azerbaijani People’s Artist Teymur Goychayev.

The orchestra performed works by Azerbaijani composers Uzeyir Hajibeyli, Gara Garayev, Tofig Guliyev and other well-known composers. Along with Florence’s officials and well-known persons of the region, the event was also attended by Executive Director of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation Anar Alakbarov.

Eugenio Gianni, President of Florence City Council, thanked the participants of the event and said that the project would contribute to strengthening of relations between Azerbaijan and Italy, particularly between Azerbaijan and Florence.

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Shahdag tourism complex offers novel services

23 October 2013 – AzerNews – The winter tourist season in Azerbaijan will offer new services to vacationers, who will have an opportunity to enjoy a new hotel, ride snow bikes, try horseback riding and mountain hiking.

The upcoming tourist season is scheduled to open in mid-December, but a more exact time of the season start still depends on weather conditions.

“Ski slopes require negative air temperature,” the winter and summer tourist complex Shahdag under Azerbaijani Culture and Tourism Ministry said. “If the cold weather settles down at the beginning of December, preparatory work will be carried out over 10-15 days, and the season will be opened in the middle of December.”

During the winter season, visitors will also be provided with activities including riding on ski slopes, cableways and paintball. Three hotels are to be commissioned here by the end of the year.

The facility is located 30 km north of the town of Gusar, in the region’s Daghlig Alayan village. Rich nature, crystal-clear air and favorable climate conditions, with temperatures ranging between minus 20-22 degrees in winter and 20 degrees in summer provide the opportunity to run a modern tourism complex meeting high standards.

The construction of the summer and winter tourism complex began in September 2009. A number of facilities have already been opened at the complex, including Zirva Hotel and Gaya Hotel.

Four overhead ropeways are available in the complex for ascending to ski slopes. The ropeways are of different types: those with chairlifts, rope tow; there will also be gondola ropeways. Alpine skiing tracks are of various levels of complexity — for children and beginners, and also for those who already have good skills.

All ski tracks are served by generators of artificial snow. This equipment allows to guarantee high quality of the ski tracks and also to extend the skiing season. Once the construction work is complete, the complex will be able to serve 10,000 visitors daily.

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Azerbaijan called to partake at OIC Trade Fair in Iran

24 October 2013 – TODAY.AZ – Azerbaijan invited to participate at the 14th Trade Fair of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Member States to be held at the Tehran International Exhibition Centre on October 28 -November 1, the Azerbaijani Economy and Industry Ministry reported.

The Islamic Centre for Development of Trade and the Iran International Exhibitions Company have allocated a free 21 square meter area for Azerbaijan at the exhibition, which is organized by the Iranian Ministry of Industry, Mining and Trade.

The organizers of the exhibition invite Azerbaijani entrepreneurs to participate in the exhibition . The ministry reported that the cost of the additionally equipped square meter of the area is $190, and unequipped – $175.

Additional information on participation in the exhibition can be obtained at the Iran International Exhibitions Co. as well as the Islamic Centre for the Development of Trade.

The State Customs Committee of Azerbaijan reports that, the trade turnover between Azerbaijan and Iran totalled $200.65 million and goods worth $55.77 million was exported to Iran from January-August, which is 24.13 per cent lower than in January-August 2012.

The import of the Iranian production in Azerbaijan increased by 22.95 per cent on the annual rate and totalled $144.88 million.

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‘Calligraphy, Miniature and Ceramics’ exhibition opens in Baku

25 October 2013 – TODAY.AZ – An opening of an exhibition entitled “Calligraphy, miniature and ceramics” has been held in Baku. The exhibition featured works by Azerbaijani artist Gulkhan Baydemir, as well as Turkish Aysha Betul Ozey and Ozgun Feride Ozgan.

Gulkhan Baydemir dealing with the art of stone carving had trained own followers. He mainly interested with calligraphy on stones, with the art of calligraphy that engraved on the stones and having perfect features. In 2006 he opened individual exhibition in Baku.

His exhibitions were opened in 2007 in Germany and Austria. Many works of Gulkhan Baydemir were purchased by collectors from Azerbaijan, Turkey, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Korea and France.

In 2006 at calligraphy competition, held in Istanbul, he won first place with work named “Ahmed – Muhammad”. In 2007, he won the 1st place in competition Hz Movlana calligraphy. In 2010 he had opened the second individual exhibition of calligraphy.

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Pakistan releases Rs63.476 billion for development projects

ISLAMABAD, Oct 21 (APP): The Planning Commission of Pakistan has so far released Rs63.476 billion under its Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) for various projects against the total allocations of Rs540 billion for the fiscal year 2013-14. According the data of Planning Commission of Pakistan, out of these allocations, Rs11960.403 million have been released for various projects of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, out of its total allocations of Rs52300 million earmarked under PSDP for FY 2013-14.

Similarly, a sum of Rs7312.961 million has been released to National Highway Authority out of total allocation of Rs63038.619 million for the current fiscal year. Out of the total funds of Rs25,739.199 million allocated for the National Health Service Regulations and Coordination Division for the current year, the Planning Commission released Rs5644.614 million so far.

The Commission also released Rs5589.679 million for Railway Division out of its total allocations of Rs30,964.894 million whereas Rs160 million have been released for National food Security and Research Division out of its total allocations of Rs750 million for the year.

Rs3698 million have been released for Higher Education Commission out of its total allocation of Rs18490 million for the year 2013-14 whereas out of total allocations of Rs2363.974 million earmarked for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Division, Rs489.401 million have been released so far.

According to the data, the commission released Rs4985 million for WAPDA (Power) out of its total allocations of Rs51543.425 million where as Rs596.666 million have been provided to WAPDA (Water Sector) out of its total allocations of Rs57840.211 million.

Rs1570 million have been released for Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) out of its total allocations of Rs100,00 million for the current year.

The commission also released Rs614.993 million for cabinet division, Rs.10,000 for Capital Administration and Development Division, Rs17.263 million for Climate Change Division and Rs158.200 million for Commerce Division.

In addition, Rs89.763 million have been released for Education and Training Division, Rs1577.931 million for Finance Division, Rs160.954 million for Industries Division, Rs1197.812 for Interior Division and Rs34.347 for Narcotics Control Division.

The Commission, released Rs10 million for Petroleum and Natural Resources Division, Rs95.430 million for Planning and Development Division, Rs413,347 million for Science and Technology Research Division, Rs38.932 million for SUPARCO and Rs63 million for Textile Industry Division.

Rs2654.400 million have been released for AJK (Block and other projects), Rs4342 million for Gilgit Baltistan (Block and other projects) where as Rs.3316 million have been released for SAFRON/FATA. The Planning Commission of Pakistan has been following a proper mechanism for the release of funds and accordingly funds are released as per given mechanism.

The commission releases 20% of funds in first quarter (July-September), 20% in second quarter (October-December), 30% third quarter(January-March) and 30% in fourth quarter (April-June).

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Foreign ambassadors impressed with Krakatau Festival

October 21 2013 Kalianda, Lampung (ANTARA News) – Several foreign ambassadors in Indonesia have expressed their enthusiasm for the 23rd Krakatau Festival 2013 held in Lampung Province to promote tourism in the region “We are impressed with the first event of the main festival held during our visit to Mount Anak Krakatau,” said Ecuador Ambassador for Indonesia Gonzalo Vega here on Sunday evening.

Vega remarked that this was his first time visiting Mount Anak Krakatau, and he was impressed with Indonesia`s beautiful scenery. He added that the Lampung administration has other tourist sites that should be promoted besides Mount Anak Krakatau.

“All potential tourist sites in Lampung such as cultural, natural, and wildlife (facilities and events) can be interesting to tourists,” Vega stated.

He believed Mount Anak Krakatau is a nod to the power of the Earth in creating a new mountain following the eruption of Mount Krakatau in 1883.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Ambassador Nail Mahmoud also noted that he was impressed with the festival even though he had participated in previous festivals. “I have joined the Mount Anak Krakatau festival 15 times and have never been bored,” Mahmoud said.

According to him, the Lampung administration should make several improvements to increase the influx of tourists, such as improving transportation facilities and the road infrastructure.

He added that the plans to construct Sunda Strait Bridge (JSS) will also positively impact the tourism sector in Lampung. The Greece Trade Attach Nicolas Aougoustinous said he was very interested in the tourist sites in Lampung. Aougoustinous also checked on the potential for investment in the culinary sector in Lampung since Greece has many restaurants in the region.

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Call to add ethnic languages as optional subject in schools

October 25, 2013 – Borneo Bulletin Online – THE call to increase research into traditional customs and heritage of the seven ethnic groups in Brunei Darussalam and the inclusion of the seven ethnic languages that can be chosen as an optional subject for secondary school students were part of the 13-point resolution presented at the conclusion of the country’s first ethnic Malay wedding cultural festival, which ended yesterday.

The resolution was handed over to Datin Hajah Shireen binti Hj Mustapha, Senior Special Duties Officer at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports (MCYS), who was representing Awang Hj Mohd Rozan bin Dato Paduka Hj Mohd Yunos, the Permanent Secretary at the MCYS, during the ceremony. The resolution highlighted the ministry’s vital role in preserving both the tangible and intangible aspects of Brunei’s cultural heritage.

A cultural mapping project and a continuously running heritage programme needs to be introduced to document and research the seven ethnic groups. The resolution also includes the importance of each ethnic group setting up an association to ensure each respective identity is preserved and the need to host networking sessions to build on the correlations between the seven ethnic groups.

Other stakeholders that need to play a big role in this endeavour include the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources, Information Department and Radio Television Brunei. Each of the seven ethnic groups need to also ensure that their culture and belief system are explained and passed down to the next generation as a way to preserve cultural identity. Events similar to the ethnic wedding festival should be conducted with more detail.

The resolution also calls for publishing documentaries on the separate groups and their associated traditions and culture.

Pg Dr Karim Pg Hj Osman, the co-chairperson of the organising committee for the event, in his welcoming remark said, “Brunei Darussalam’s ethnic Malay wedding cultural festival is an inaugural event, which is organised by the Art and Cultural Division at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports with the Language and Literature Bureau as well as the Museums Department, in efforts to preserve the cultural heritage of the seven ethnic groups in Brunei, so that they will not vanish and can be passed down to future generations.”

The festival, he said, “has gathered the seven Brunei ethnic groups – Brunei Malay, Tutong, Kedayan, Belait, Murut, Dusun and Bisaya”.

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Brunei an important source of tourism market for Malaysia

October 25, 2013 – Borneo Bulletin Online – A strong delegation from Tourism Malaysia is currently in the Sultanate to promote their flagship tourism product, the Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) 2014 which will kick-start in less than 70 days.

The delegation is led by Dato’ Mohd Khalid Harun, a member of the Board of Directors for Tourism Malaysia, who told reporters that the main aim of the visit is to underscore the importance of Brunei tourism market for Malaysia, besides highlighting the VMY 2014 which would be used to attract larger tourist arrivals in the country.

Brunei is an important source of market for inbound tourists to Malaysia showing impressive growth in the past decades.

Between the periods of January and June 2013, the number of visits by Bruneian tourists to Malaysia was 593,536, a slight increase of 0.9 per cent when compared to the same period in 2012.

Several key factors have contributed to the numbers, which according to Dato’ Mohd Khalid Harun, are based on the strong currency exchange, the increase of flights to different states in Malaysia including Kuala Lumpur, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu, as well as the close proximity especially to Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak.

A special seminar was also organised at the Rizqun International Hotel yesterday as part of their visit to explain to local tour operators and travel agents on Tourism Malaysia’s strategies and goals to increase tourism arrivals and shared views on the matter.

According to the Director of Tourism Malaysia (Brunei), Cik Zurina Abd Samad, the event was also a platform for various networking sessions to deliver presentations on Malaysia’s attractions and to arrange for meetings with trade and media partners.

She was delighted to announce upcoming attractions and openings in Malaysia, including the Legoland Water Park, which opened on October 21, 2013, adjacent to the Legoland Malaysia theme park.

The opening of the water park is the second part of the Legoland Malaysia Resort project, which will be completed when the third piece, the hotel, makes its debut.

Visitors can look forward to a year of festivities and celebrations, all offering a kaleidoscope of colours and thrills to capture the true essence of Malaysia. An extensive line-up of over 200 world-class events, including 50 cultural events, to celebrate VMY 2014 are being finalised to excite tourists to visit Malaysia.

VMY 2014 is a global campaign that will be heavily promoted in key markets. The campaign aims to attract 28 million tourists to the country next year, in efforts to reach their target of 36 million tourist arrivals by the year 2020 as outlined in their Malaysia Tourism Transformation Plan 2020.

More information regarding event schedule, important dates and venues can be obtained from their official website at http://www.tourism.gov.my.

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Brunei Underscores the Importance of History

October 24, 2013 – Borneo Bulletin Online – THE Brunei History Centre recently held a “History Discussion 2013” programme, which was also the first-of-its-kind. The discussion was based on the historic developments of Brunei Darussalam, which included topics such as political, economic and social aspects, as well as education, language, and culture.

The programme was an extension of a discussion with history teachers, which was held in January this year. The discussion was led by Pehin Jawatan Dalam Seri Maharaja Dato Seri Utama Dr Hj Awg Mohd Jamil Al-Sufri bin Begawan Pehin Udana Khatib Dato Seri Paduka Hj Awg Umar, the Head of Brunei History Centre.

It was attended by the directors, assistant directors and senior officers from the Ministry of Education as well as representatives from the Islamic Education Department, Ministry of Religious Affairs, as well as officers and staff of the Brunei History Centre.

This year’s programme focused on the subject of history, where the discussion was centred on strategies, problems and suggestions on improving and making the history subject more interesting or appealing, especially for students in the country.

The objectives of the programme, initiated by the Brunei History Department, are to establish a spirit of learning, particularly in the subject of history, and to identify the problems faced in teaching the subject. Techniques of teachings were also discussed, especially to get students more interested in history, and to empower the students to become more involved in the subject.

The importance of history has been under-valued as a subject, as history is part of what makes a society and nation. The subject is important in preserving and keeping alive the cultures, values and principles that people hold dearly. The programme was also aimed at fostering cooperative relations with the Ministry of Education in promoting activities related to the history subject.

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Bangladesh to lay foundation for metro rail Oct 31

GAZIPUR, Oct 23, 2013 (BSS) – Communications Minister Obaidul Quader MP today said the government has taken a number of development projects including metro rail to ease communications with the capital from Gazipur and Uttara. “Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to inaugurate the projects formally during her scheduled visit to Gazipur on October 31,” he told reporters while visiting the Bhawal Badre Alam Government College here.

Among the projects, he said, the prime minister will lay foundation stone of the Metro Rail project starting from Uttara-3rd phase (sector 16) via Shahjalal International Airport to Shapla Chattar. The communications minister said the Metro Railway project will be implemented at a cost of Taka 22,000 crore and the construction works will be start in 2014 and is scheduled to be completed by 2020.

Of the total fund, he said, JICA will provide Taka 16,000 crore and the rest of the amount will be provided by Bangladesh from its own resources.

During her visit, Quader said the prime minister will address a public rally here and inaugurate a number of projects like the 20-kilometer Bus Rapid Transit from Gazipur to Hazrat Shahjalal International airport, lay foundation stone of 70-kilometer four lane highway from Gazipur via Chandra to Alenga in Tangail.

Besides, the communication minister said Sheikh Hasina will also inaugurate the 16- kilometer long four lane Nobinagar-Chandra highway to be constructed at a cost of Taka 130 crore. The minister said the prime minister will lay foundation stones of the 2nd Kanchpur bridge, 2nd Meghna and 2nd Meghan – Gumti bridge soon.

Later, Obaidul Quader visited the place earmarked for constructing the Bus rapid Transit Project at Shib Bari intersection at Joydebpur town.

During the visit, AKM Mozammel Haque MP, distrct AL general secretary Azmat Ullah Khan, deputy commissioner M Nurul Islam,Roads and Highways Superintending Engineer M Shahabuddin Khan accompanied the communications minister.

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Khyber Pakhtunkhwa tries to boost tourism with train excursion

Centralasiaonline.com 2013-10-22 PESHAWAR – Pakistan Railways (PR) and the Tourism Corporation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (TCKP) are working to bring tourism back to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The two groups on October 3 operated an “Excursion Trip to Attock Khurd Railway Heritage” train voyage in an effort to portray KP’s softer, tourist-friendly side.

“Our motive is to keep citizens’ morale high and present a positive image of our province by promoting tourism,” TCKP Managing Director Tariq Jamil said. The focus is not to earn money, Zahoor Durrani, a consultant at TCKP, said.

“We are operating on a not-for-profit basis in order to revitalise KP’s tourist industry,” he said, though he added that if the project gains momentum, it could become a profit-maker in the future.

The train trip starts in the lush green fields of Peshawar and takes riders through the old Victorian Railway station built in 1880 at the foothills of the rugged mountains of Attock Khurd. The journey takes passengers over an iron girder bridge built over the Indus River in 1883.

The train schedule is not finalised yet, but it will operate on the basis of response by tourists, company officials said. Besides the introductory trip, two more trips are planned for this month, as the trip tries to get a foothold.

“This train trip is exhilarating and … will prove a substitute for the fascinating Khyber Steam Safari … which was closed reluctantly in 2007 because of the poor law-and-order situation,” Durrani said.

Durrani isn’t new to the business of pleasure train excursions. He pioneered the Khyber Steam Safari in the early 1990s as a private tour operator and ran the train for 17 years. “The Khyber Steam Safari train, which travelled between Peshawar and Landi Kotal, attracted a large number of foreign tourists and dignitaries from across the world,” he added.

He, like many others, was deeply affected when terrorism and militancy struck the area in 2007. The once-profitable and ever-growing tourist industry quickly disappeared, causing KP to lose US $400m (Rs. 42.4 billion) during the last decade or so, Durrani said.

The rise in militancy and violence scared tourists away. Organisers hope to run this venture with good security to restore confidence, which in turn should boost travel and other tourist activities, former TCKP consultant Dr. Ali Jan said. KP’s Tourism Department has launched several projects to further rekindle the sector’s success and to help youth.

The TCKP is working on Supat Valley in Kohistan, Kumrat at Upper Dir and Gabbin Jabba at Swat to attract tourists, TCKP Event Manager Muhammad Ali Syed said. The department also received allocated Rs. 70m (US$660,000) to establish youth centres in 25 districts, with seven to be built at various divisions’ headquarters, including Peshawar, Mardan, Swat, Dera Ismail Khan, Kohat and Abbotabad.

“Terrorism can be defeated only through persistent resistance based on high hopes of success,” Durrani said. Ali agreed and said the province is trying to build upon that by coming up with a “Tourism, not Terrorism” advertising campaign.

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Khyber Pakhtunkhwa beautifies Peshawar

Centralasiaonline.com 2013-10-23 PESHAWAR – Terror attacks have hampered development projects in Peshawar, but the KP government won’t let Pakistan’s war with militants delay the implementation of the city’s “Clean and Green Peshawar” campaign, officials say.

“This war and terrorism will end one day, and tourists from all over the world will start visiting this historic city again,” Shiraz Paracha, spokesman for KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, told Central Asia Online.

KP is carrying out the improvements in two phases. First, workers will clean up streets and roads. Next, they will repair damaged parts of the city and create a green belt, by planting trees from the junction of Ring Road and Grand Trunk Road to Hayatabad on University Road.

“The washing and cleaning and then the beautification of the city will change its entire look and will give a pleasant feeling to citizens,” Municipal Corporation of Peshawar (MCP) Chief Officer Javed Amjad said.

The campaign aims to preserve the city’s heritage and culture; build new parks with entertainment opportunities for children and women; and boost the local economy by designating some sections of some streets just for food vendors, Paracha said.

The government also plans to transform the Balahisar Fort – presently a base for security forces – into a tourist spot, with the hope of making it a “city within a city” similar to the Shahi Qila (Lahore Fort), he said. The revamped fort will offer eateries and a fun zone for children.

Another goal is to move the Peshawar Central Prison outside of the city, thus clearing space at the existing site for a large park.

“The government is also discussing the matter with the World Heritage Foundation and UNESCO of preserving historic sites not only in Peshawar but all over the province, including northern areas,” Paracha said. The plan is meant to renovate historic buildings and structures in Qissa Khwani, Ganj, Gor Ghatri, Saddar and other areas.

Another objective is to ease traffic flow in the city, and that involves stepping up the fight against illegal construction, which can sometimes hamper traffic.

The MCP and the Cantonment Board Peshawar October 2, for example, demolished more than 600 makeshift shops and vendor stalls along the Grand Trunk Road, the inner city and other parts of Saddar and Nauthia.

“The campaign against the encroachments will continue throughout the city, so not only the smooth flow of traffic can be ensured but also the beauty of the city will grow,” Javed said.

Traffic police and the transport department, MCP and Peshawar Development Authority are working through a co-ordination committee to execute various developmental projects and spruce up roads, squares and buildings along roads, Paracha said.

The government plans to ban more than 50,000 unregistered auto-rickshaws. Meanwhile, it is developing a system to ban old vehicles that lack roadworthy fitness certificates. The government has also ordered the owners of shopping plazas to build parking lots so customers won’t clog traffic by parking their cars in the streets.

“The KP chief minister and his cabinet also have discussed with Federal Railways Minister Khwaja Saad Rafiq the possibility of starting a mass transit train from Peshawar to Hayatabad,” Paracha added. “The project would greatly reduce the traffic burden on roads.”

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Historic venue to host Turkish concert

KAYSERİ – Anadolu Agency – The historic Kara Mustafapaşa Caravanserai in the central Anatolian province of Kayseri will host a special concert from piano virtuoso İdil Biret and violin virtuoso Cihat Aşkın, accompanied by the Presidential Symphony Orchestra. The concert will be held on Oct. 25 and will be attended by President Abdullah Gül and his wife Hayrünnisa Gül. Five hundred people were invited to the event, which will begin at 8 p.m.

The caravanserai and its social complex on the historic Silk Road were built during the time of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV in 1660. It was restored with a budget of 2 million Turkish Liras by the General Directorate of Foundations and rented to the private sector. The company that rented the caravanserai is using it for special various organizations and especially for weddings. The venue also serves as restaurant and café.

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Muğla’s Belen Café calls on tourists to take step back in time

MUĞLA – Anadolu Agency – A café in Muğla is continuing to pack in the visitors with its ability to take visitors back in time to the time of a ballad that continues to resonate in local folklore. Restored in 2005 by the mayor of Muğla, Belen café hosts a total of 40,000 people annually. The place around Belen, Çaybükü in Muğla, also reflects the past and the ancient culture in Turkey’s Anatolian villages.

Belen Café is famous for a particular Turkish song by the name of “Ormancı” (Forester). The song is a ballad that tells a story set in the 1940s, at the Belen Café itself, on the Çaybükü road and the surrounding village. The ballad was based on a real-life event in which two friends in the village who were fighting over a matter related to the government of the time. The fighting escalated, leading to one of the friends killing the other.

The Belen Café still depicts this event by way of the exhibition it has on display, including documents that it has hung around the café itself. The ballad is still played out at the cafe.

The mockups of the ballad’s heroes, Tevfik Cezayir and Mustafa (Mustafa Şahbudak), bring the characters to life as they wander the café today, attracting tourists and visitors from all over the world and also from Turkey.

The various interesting pieces hung on the walls each tell the story of the heroes and two friends involved, while the mockups and models in the café enliven the environment, adding a real and historical effect to the ambience.

“In the past, the event would sadden us all, so much so that we are still trying to forget those difficult times,” said the village headman, Necait Cezayir. “As the café becomes a touristic attraction, the destiny of the village will also change.” The café has been restored to be able to reflect the events that occurred in 1946, he added.

Cezayir said many people come to listen to the story of Belen Café. Noting that the café has changed many facets across the village, he said the villagers would be able to comfortably profit from the tourist activity.

The café welcomes tourists with ballads from Muğla and Ormancı, where the ballad involves two friends playing checkers and villagers play a more traditional game, which many people end up playing. The visitors are able to observe how checkers is played, in the café. The café is open 12 months a year, and the climate is suitable for visiting 12 months of the year.

“There is breakfast here and a lot of traditional dishes; we also have many traditional handmade clothes and accessories available for purchase. Tourists are attracted by such products,” Cezayir added. The place is of great value for Turkey, said tourist Fatma Aksoy, adding that it was very important to protect and preserve such places.

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Haram Presidency to hire 1,000 women guides

Monday, 21 October 2013 – IINA – The Director of Women Guides Department Sheikh Adel Al-Hamdan said the presidency has given its nod for the recruitment of 1,000 women who have the required qualifications, both on permanent and temporary basis. He said the presidency would also hold training courses to prepare the guides to give advice and guidance to women visitors on various aspects. Al-Hamdan said the women guides will be working in shifts around the clock, offering advice and instructions including the need to wear Hijab in compliance with the Shariah and avoid wearing make-up and cosmetics while visiting the Grand Mosque. Besides, they will ensure that women visitors are in the right queues to avoid mixing with men during prayers, and guiding them to their designated places for prayers.

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Saudi Arabia to expand ‘low-cost Haj’ project in 2013

Monday, 21 October 2013 – IINA – The “low-cost Haj” project seeks to provide domestic pilgrims with suitable Haj services at reasonable costs to combat the spiraling costs charged by Haj operators. Fayez Al-Barakati, manager of the domestic pilgrims affairs at the Ministry of Haj, said that companies offering “low-cost Haj” will be granted additional incentives. Such incentives will include an increase in the number of allocated pilgrims next year, and larger camp areas in the holy sites. This year, 23 companies had participated in offering the low-cost Haj program, which served around 19,000 domestic pilgrims. The ministry has already received 6 applications from new companies for next year. Naser Al-Ahmadi, owner of a domestic pilgrims company, said that the program is an excellent idea, but the Ministry of Haj committed some mistakes this year.

The Ministry adopted the program very late in the day, and deprived some companies from offering the program. He believes that companies who are allotted low pilgrims quotas should offer this service. Ahmad Al-Rasheedi, owner of a domestic pilgrims company, said that his company has offered this program during the last three Haj seasons. However, the Ministry of Haj has not kept its promises of allowing extra incentive for such companies, and consequently, he refrained from participating in the program this year. Badr Al-Qurashi, an investor in the Haj sector, said that low-cost Haj is required to defeat the high cost of Haj, however, the program is in need of more considerations to overcome some of its shortcomings.

Dr. Abdulaziz Suroohi, the dean of the Custodian of the Holy Mosques Institute for Haj and Umrah Research, said that the expansion of the low-cost Haj program will help in a more organized Haj. It will do away with the squatting phenomena of solo Hajis which create a problem to authorities in organizing Haj. He pointed out that the institute has conducted many studies on the squatting phenomena and that the main reason for this phenomena are the high charges of Haj companies. These studies have recommended a low-cost Haj program, which was adopted by the Ministry of Haj, and has achieved very good results.

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Dubai unveils first sandstorm forecaster

Dubai, Tuesday, 17 Dhul Hijja 1434/ 22 October 2013 (IINA) – Getting caught in a stingy blast of sharp sand will soon be a distant memory after a sandstorm forecaster was launched on Monday during the city’s GITEX tech tradeshow.

The system is based on a current 3D weather prediction model used by Dubai’s municipality, with the forecaster adding information on sand source areas, transport by wind and settling. “While sand storms are of natural occurrence, they can pose a great problem for human societies living near desert regions. The Arabian Peninsula experiences more frequent sand storms as compared to the other regions,” said Mohammed Mashroom, survey department director at Dubai Municipality, according to UAE-based news agency WAM.

The system will utilize – among other methods of verification – real-time satellite images and aerodrome reports, and will allow authorities to include sandstorms in weather updates and issue warnings. The device was developed by Dubai’s municipality and a Sharjah-based company.

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Qatar to provide $150 million in debt relief to Palestine

Doha, Tuesday, 17 Dhul Hijja 1434/ 22 October 2013 (IINA) – Qatar has agreed to provide $150 million in debt relief to the Palestinian Authority. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Monday, as talks between Israel and the Palestinians were intensifying.

The Secretary of State has praised Qatar’s move to provide the “urgently needed” debt relief for Palestinians saying that he was “confident” that other Arab countries would follow in its steps, AFP reported. Qatar’s Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah meanwhile said the Arab League was “concerned about the environment” surrounding the peace talks, referring to the expansion of Israeli settlements and the isolation of the Gaza strip. “We talked about the issue of Gaza and the futility of isolating Gaza,” he said. “There are millions of people living in Gaza and they are in need of food supplies and medicine,” Attiyah also said. “There must be a way to open the crossing points to all parties to enable the people in Gaza to live.”

Israelis and Palestinians negotiators have held 13 meetings including three meetings in the last four days, Kerry said at a joint news conference with Attiyah. “The pace has intensified, all the core issues are on the table and they have been meeting with increased intensity,” Kerry said. The Secretary of State has put many efforts into restarting peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, which were frozen in September 2010.

The two sides resumed direct talks for the first time in nearly three years in Washington at the end of July. “The Israeli and Palestinian people both have leaders who absolutely understand what is at stake and they have taken risks to bring both parties to the table,” Kerry was quoted as saying by AFP. Kerry is to meet later this week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Rome to discuss the peace talks.

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Makkah Exhibition showcases artifacts of holy mosques

Makkah, 18 Dhul Hijja 1434/ 23 October 2013 (IINA) – The Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques has set up an exhibition to document the history and artifacts of the Haram Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.

The manager of the Two Holy Mosques Exhibition, Mohammad Al-Jabri said that the exhibition will include artifacts, architectural and inscriptions from the Umayyad era until the present era. The exhibition seeks to document these items for the benefit of future generations. The exhibition includes old inscriptions of the Qur’an, historical items, rare photographs, and architectural models representing the various Islamic eras.

It is made up of different halls: The reception hall which has a model of the Haram Mosque and old and new photos of the Two Holy Mosques; and the Haram Mosque hall which exhibits a model of the Holy Kaaba stairs, made of wood dating back to 1240H. The hall also exhibits the kiswa (Kaaba cover) used through ages, in addition to a Kaaba door which dates back to 1363H.

It also includes one of Kaaba’s most important pillars which is made of wood, dates back to the year 65H and is one the most important historical items on exhibit. There is also a photographs hall which includes rare photographs of Makkah, Madinah and the holy sites. These photographs were taken during 1297H-1298H, and were presented to the exhibition by the late Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz. There is also inscriptions hall which exhibits a photocopy of the Qur’an that was written during the era of Othman Bin Affan (may God be pleased with him), in addition to rare copies of the Qur’an and other inscriptions.

The Prophet’s Mosque hall which includes one of the main doors of the mosque, dating back to 1373H, and the crescent of the main minaret, in addition to an old clock dating back to 1277H.The hall also includes the door of the Ottoman platform, which dates back to 998H, and a model of the Prophet’s Mosque in the center of the hall. There is also the Zamzam hall which includes parts of the old Zamzam well, and a vertical model of the well. The hall includes a sundial dating back to 1023H, that was used to determine prayer times in the past, in addition to the first clock in the Haram Mosque, dating back to 1352H during the King Abdulaziz era.

Al-Jabri added there are 2,500-3,000 visitors to the exhibition daily, and that studies are under way for the expansion of the exhibition. The expansion will include a hall for visual presentations, as well as for providing wheelchairs for the elderly and visitors with special needs.

The exhibition employees receive training in organizing visits and explaining the contents to visitors. The exhibition has received more than 1.9 million visitors since its opening until now, and visiting hours are from 7.30 a.m. until 11 p.m.

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