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10 Feb, 2014

Iraq’s National Museum plans April reopening

Compiled by Imtiaz Muqbil & Sana Shamsi

A compilation of progressive, positive, inspiring and motivating events and developments in the world of Islam for the week ending 10 February 2014 (10 Rabee’ al-Thaani 1435). Pls click on any of the headlines to go to the story.



The Minister of Tourism and Culture Malaysia, Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, declared the 33rd ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) a resounding success. “From humble beginnings 33 years ago, we are now on the threshold of realising our goal of One Vision, One Identity, One Community for ASEAN by 2015. I would like to take this opportunity to extend my sincere gratitude to the State Government of Sarawak for its unwavering support and cooperation.” The closing ceremony was held at the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK). Sarawak Minister of Tourism and Housing Development of Sarawak, Datuk Amar Abang Haji Abdul Rahman said, “The ATF 2014 has provided us with an excellent platform to showcase the state’s tourism attractions and position Sarawak as the Tourism Gateway to Borneo.” The presence of over 1,600 delegates, including 100 foreign and local travel trade media, offered Malaysia an opportunity to showcase its diverse tourism products, particularly those in Sarawak and Sabah, and raise awareness of the celebration of Visit Malaysia Year 2014. The Travel Exchange (TRAVEX) attracted a total of 450 booths set up by 353 exhibitors. Director General of Tourism Malaysia, Dato’ Mirza Mohammad Taiyab, also promoted Visit Malaysia Year 2014 during the ASEAN NTOs Media Briefing. Various awards were also presented, namely, the 27th ASEANTA Awards for Excellence in Tourism and the ASEAN Green Hotel Award. The latter is held biennially and is presented to hotels for their efforts to be environmentally-friendly and adopt energy conservation measures. A total of 86 hotels from 10 ASEAN countries received the honour, with ten being Malaysian hotels including the Mandarin Oriental, Riverside Majestic Hotel, and Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort.


The internationally renowned “1001 Inventions” is on display at the National Science Centre in Kuala Lumpur. The award-winning exhibition, which was declared the world’s best by the European museums Industry in 2011, is welcoming visitors until 28 February 2014. 1001 Inventions has already received more than three million visitors at blockbusters residencies in London, New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Istanbul, Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dhahran and recently began a new European tour in Sweden. The exhibition highlights a thousand year period of history when Muslim Civilisation led the world in scientific, technological and cultural achievement – known as the “Golden Age of Muslim Civilisation.” Ahmed Salim, Producer and Managing Director of the brand, said: ”1001 Inventions features a diverse range of exhibits, hi-tech games, interactive displays and dramatisation that bring to life historic role models from Muslim Civilisation who will serve as an inspiration for ASEAN young people to pursue careers in science and technology.” The exhibition has been immensely popular in Europe, America and the Middle East, where a dual language Arabic-English version enjoyed blockbuster residencies across the Arabian peninsula. 1001 Inventions was voted the world’s best touring exhibition by the Museum and Heritage Excellence Awards in London in 2011, and currently has more than three million online fans on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. 1001 Inventions is a partnership with Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives. Open 9am-5pm daily.


Visit Malaysia Year 2014 is the nation’s biggest and grandest tourism celebration with Malaysia Truly Asia’s endless wonders of events, festivals and activities all-year round. This is the perfect time to see, feel and experience Malaysia! The fourth Visit Malaysia Year will bear the theme “Celebrating 1Malaysia Truly Asia” to reflect the diversity in unity of all Malaysians. The Proboscis Monkey has been chosen as the mascot. VMY 2014 will be the biggest and grandest ever tourism celebration with hundreds of events and festivals all lined up to welcome the world. Overall, it is hoped that VMY 2014 will contribute to the Government’s target to receive 36 million tourist arrivals and RM168 billion in receipts by 2020, as outlined in the Malaysia Tourism Transformation Plan (MTTP) 2020. Click here for full details on the VMY 2014 website.

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.





Bangladesh inaugurates light and sound show at Lalbagh Fort

DHAKA, Feb 7, 2014 (BSS)-The country entered a new era of technology today as a light and sound show was launched at Lalbagh Fort, an archaeological site, in the capital. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina formally inaugurated the show this evening through a function expressing the hope that it would be a new attraction for the visitors and tourists coming to the historic Lalbagh Fort.

With the technology, she said, the visitors could know the continuation of the centuries-old history of Dhaka very attractively in the light and dark environment. Cultural Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Noor was the special guest at the function, organized by the Department of Archaeology under the Cultural Affairs Ministry.

Secretary of the ministry Ranjit Kumar Biswas and Director General of the Department of Archaeology Shirin Akhtar also spoke on the occasion. The Prime Minister said Lalbagh Fort, an incomplete 17th century Mughal fort complex in Dhaka, is an unique evidence of our history and tradition.

She said her government during its tenure from 1996-2001 had undertaken a scheme to project the glorious history and unique architectural view of the fort before the people of the country. Sheikh Hasina said the project has been completed smoothly with the extensive supervision of the experts comprising the Department of Archeology and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).

The Prime Minister said her government considers the country’s history, archeology, heritage and culture with utmost importance. She said Bangladesh is a prosperous country from the sides of history and heritage, though it is small in size. Such an attraction among the foreigners to our resources and people has been seen since the ancient period, she said.

With the rotation of time, Sheikh Hasina said, the foreigners moved away from this country, ending the long colonial rule. But the establishments that carry their memories remain as our very precious resources, she said.

The Prime Minister said these establishments remember our rich history and heritage. These installations are only not important historically but also known as vital tourist sites, she said.

“The country’s eminent poets, litterateurs, actors, reciters, historians and archeologists were involved in the project,” she said thanking all of them.

Sheikh Hasina said her government has already taken initiatives for development of archeological sites across the country side by side with development of other places that bear the memory of the great War of Liberation.

“We have taken these initiatives so that generation after generation could know our rich history and heritage,” she said.

The Prime Minister said her government has been given a scope to continue and implement the development works that her pervious administration initiated.

She said the people not only want food for filling their stomach, they also want other basic amenities including entertainment.

“We have been working ceaselessly to fulfill their fundamental demands as well as to build a hunger and poverty-free Bangladesh,” she said.

Later, the Prime Minister along with the audience enjoyed the spectacular light and sound show that features special lighting effects onto the building’s facade synchronised with a recorded script and music to dramatise the fort’s history.

Between mid- November and mid-March, there will be two 30- minute shows every day, except Sunday, one between Maghrib and Esha and another after Esha prayers, Cultural Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Noor told a press conference at Press Information Department yesterday.

The show’s ticket costs Tk 20 in addition to Tk 10 entry fee for Bangladeshis, Tk 100 for visitors from SAARC countries and Tk 200 for others, he said.

Preparations took Tk 2.83 crore and the monthly revenue is expected to be Tk 5 lakh. Eminent writer and poet Syed Shamsul Haq crafted the script of the show, which will let the visitors know details about the fort, while cultural personalities Shimul Yousuf and Asaduzzaman Noor gave their voice.

The show will be introduced in many of Bangladesh’s 448 archeological sites, including Buddhist Vihara of Paharpur, Shaatgombuj Masjid in Bagerhat, Kantajew Mandir and Mohasthangar, added Asaduzzaman.

The construction of Lalbagh Fort began in 1678 by Mughal Subedar Prince Muhammad Azam Shah, son of Emperor Aurangzeb, who later became Emperor himself. His successor Shaista Khan, however, did not continue the work.

According to officials concerned, around 40,000-50,000 visitors were visiting the fort daily and number of ticket sale was high during the weekends, adding that sale of tickets would be further increased following the inauguration of the new project.

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Malaysia Identifies Four Megatrends To Attract Tourists

MELAKA, Malaysia Feb 7 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia has identified four megatrends in attracting tourists, ranging from the lower end to the elite, for the country’s tourism sector, said Najib Tun Razak.

The prime minister said the megatrends were the creation of a global elite, faster pace of life, trading up and down and the rise of new market leaders.

He said the creation of a global elite referred to the increasing number of high income or high net worth consumers worldwide. “As such, the importance of offering high-end products and high service levels is growing ever greater,” he said when officiating the Melaka Gateway master plan in Pulau Melaka here today.

The Melaka Gateway, with an estimated gross development value of RM40 billion, comprises 15 project features including the Malaysia Eye, international designer street, sunset beach, Melaka cruise shopping gallery, Melaka international cruise and ferry terminal, and the Melaka Gateway Marina.

Also present at the event were Melaka Chief Minister Idris Haron and KAJ Development Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Michelle Ong. Najib said the Melaka Gateway, with its luxury offerings of an international cruise jetty and the largest marina in Asia, was therefore, poised to bring in the crowd.

Malaysia, he said, had done well in cargo and container ports and it was now time to focus on cruise ports. “We are confident that the success of the Melaka international cruise jetty, which is part of the Melaka Gateway project, will not only bring in high yield international cruise visitors but also lead to the opening up of other potential cruise port sites in the East Coast of Peninsular and also Sabah and Sarawak,” he added.

Meanwhile, the prime minister said the faster pace of life referred to the consumer who was interested in having many short holidays as a means to alleviate stress such as holiday experiences, spa and wellness getaways.

The third megatrend, he said, was in reference to selective spending which consumers might choose to splurge on one item while economising on others.

Hence, it is important that Malaysia was able to offer a wide variety of tourism offerings which were low, mid to high range, he added. Najib said the fourth megatrend focused on penetrating new market leaders such as China, India and Middle East countries.

He noted the tourism industry’s contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) was on the uptrend. For 2014, the sector is expected to contribute about 12.5 per cent to GDP, an improvement over the contribution of nearly 12 per cent the previous year.

“In absolute terms, a 12.5 per cent revenue from tourism would amount to some RM125 billion. This is based on our country’s GDP in 2013 which is expected to reach over RM1 trillion,” said Najib.

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Old manuscripts get facelift at Al-Aqsa Mosque

Jerusalem, Saturday, 01 Rabi Al-Thani 1434/ 01 February 2014 (IINA) – Half of the books are already undergoing restoration funded by the Waqf, Jordan’s Islamic authority which manages the holy site, and with assistance from UNESCO.

In the 1920s, an urgent call went out to the literati across the Middle East from Arab leaders in occupied Jerusalem: Send us your books so that we may protect them for generations to come. Jerusalem was soon flushed with writings of all kinds, to be stored and preserved at the newly minted Al-Aqsa Mosque library. But many of those centuries-old manuscripts are in a state of decay. Now, religious authorities are restoring and digitizing the books, many of them written by hand. They hope to make them available online to scholars and researchers across the Arab world, who are unable to travel to Jerusalem, The Associated Press reported.

Hamed Abu Teir, the library’s manager, called the manuscripts a “treasure and trust.” ‘’We should preserve them,” he said. The Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, is located on a hilltop compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount. The holy site is ground zero in the territorial and religious conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The library and its 130,000 books are housed in two separate rooms in the compound, where modern steel bookshelves are affixed to ancient stone walls. Among the collection are some 4,000 manuscripts, mainly donations from the private collections of Jerusalem families. UNESCO, which is providing assistance for the restoration project, says the library contains “one of the world’s most important collections of Islamic manuscripts.”

The drive to restore the manuscripts and get them online is part of a greater global trend that has seen an array of historical documents digitized and uploaded to increase access to researchers worldwide. Here, the gap to be bridged isn’t just physical distance. Residents of countries with no diplomatic relations with Israel, including much of the Arab world, are unable to visit Jerusalem and Palestinians living in the nearby West Bank or the Gaza Strip need to secure a permit from Israel to enter the city. Officials hope to circumvent those hindrances by putting the manuscripts online. “A student in the Arab and Muslim world can’t access it. A student in Algeria or Saudi Arabia for example can’t come here and access (the manuscripts). We want to grant him the knowledge in his own house,” said Abu Teir.

Most of the manuscripts were donated in response to a call in the early 1920s from the Supreme Muslim Council, a religious governing body, said Walid Ahmad, an education professor at Israel’s Al-Qasemi Academic College who has researched the library. He said the council sought to prevent Arabs from selling old manuscripts to foreign and Jewish buyers and preserve the Islamic heritage in one of its holiest sites. The oldest book dates back 900 years, with some of the newer titles from the 19th century. Most of the texts are religious, but other subjects include geography, astronomy and medicine. Some of the pages contain personal letters about travel in the Middle East of the 18th century. Radwan Amro, who is leading the restoration process, said the most well-known manuscript in the collection was written by Imam Mohammed Al-Ghazali, an Islamic scholar from the 12th century.

The manuscripts were stored in a library for the first few years of the 1920s, but when riots erupted in 1929 over disputes surrounding Jewish and Arab access to the sacred compound, the manuscripts were stored in bags and closets in a separate building nearby, Ahmad said. They would remain there for nearly half a century, when a new space was created for them. But upon unpacking the books, officials realized they had been pillaged, with many snatched or destroyed.

About a quarter of the 4,000 manuscripts are considered in poor condition. Half of the books are already undergoing restoration, but the other half lie exposed in a small room in the library. Many are in tatters. Shards of paper crumble off their pages. Insects have dug deep trenches into the unprotected leafs. Thousands of loose, fraying pages lie on a long table where an expert is attempting to match them to their original book. The restoration and digitization project, funded by the Waqf, Jordan’s Islamic authority which manages the holy site, aims to preserve what remains.

In the six years since the project began, Amro said the 10-person team has restored 200 manuscripts as well as old maps, Ottoman population and trade registers and hand-written documents from the Mamluk period of the 13th to 16th centuries. But the painstakingly slow process of treating every individual page to protect the intricate text and the paper’s delicate fibers means restorers have a long road ahead of them. Amro would not give an estimate as to when the restoration would be complete, joking that it could take “hundreds of years.” But he said nearly all of the manuscript pages have been digitized and hopes that by the end of the year they will be put online.

Ahmad of the Al-Qasemi college said that in order to stay relevant in the Arab world from which it is physically disconnected, the library must put its collection online. “Presenting materials to the greater public is the essence of an important library like Al-Aqsa’s,” said Ahmad. “That’s how you stay on the map as a library.”

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Islamic Studies Flourish in Australia

OnIslam & Newspapers Wednesday, 05 February 2014 CAIRO – Islamic studies programs in Australian universities have been attracting a growing number of Arab and Muslim students, giving younger generations a chance to better understand their rich cultural heritage and brilliant civilization.

“The younger generation of Muslims seriously want to study but don’t want to go overseas for various reasons,” Mehmet Ozalp, who teaches religious and Islamic studies at Charles Sturt University, told Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday, February 5.

“They might not know the language, or maybe it’s risky growing up in those countries. Not everyone can make that step so the convenience of studying Islam in Australia has flourished,” he added.

Programs for Islamic studies were first introduced at Charles Sturt University three years ago with a Bachelor of Islamic studies.

Next year, the university will add a Master of Classical Arabic to its curriculum, bringing the number of enrolled students to about 340, most of them from a Muslim background.

The recent turmoil that rocked the Middle East over the past few years has also helped in flourishing the number of Arab and Islamic studies at Australian universities.

“Some of them are ex-soldiers who have been to Afghanistan or somewhere and now want to study Islam properly,” Ozalp said. “It’s productive. They really give a different perspective. Students in the class need to hear (that perspective) and non-Muslims need to hear what Muslims are saying.”

Charles Sturt is not the only university to offer Islamic and Arabic studies around New South Wales. At the University of Western Sydney enrolments have leaped from 60 in 2008 to about 200 in 2013.

“Students have employed their Islamic Studies skills and knowledge in a number of differing areas over the years, however, they mainly seem to focus on utilizing these in primary school teaching and secondary school teaching,” UWS’s senior lecturer in Islamic studies Jan Ali said.

“A student of mine who took one Islamic Studies unit as an elective some while back is working in social welfare and says that Islamic Studies unit has helped him better interact with people from a non-English speaking background.”

The University of Sydney began teaching Arabic and Islamic studies in the 1970s, but didn’t set up a dedicated department until 2000. “The department is flourishing at all levels,” Nijmeh Hajjar, associate professor at the university, said.

“It’s not only because of what’s happening in the world, it’s because . . . we have students who actually want to learn about the Arab world and about Islam and learn the language.”

The Islamic courses offered Australian students a chance of a better future. “I was always interested in the language, culture and the politics so I knew from the start it was something that would be suited to me,” Sonia Diab, who hopes to use her studies to work for the United Nations, told the Herald.

The 21-year-old is studying a combined law and international-studies degree at the University of Sydney, majoring in Arabic and Islamic Studies. Diab, whose father is Lebanese, says she enjoys the subject so much she is considering a PhD in Arabic Studies when she finishes her course.

For her, the recent revolutions in the Arab world have added to interest in the Islamic studies. “Revolutions got a lot of people interested, especially when there was so much happening in Tunisia and Egypt – it’s only natural stuff that happens around the world would make people think ‘I’d like to learn more about that country, or that place, or that language’,” she said.

Hajjar, the associate professor at the University of Sydney, has also found a better career by teaching the poplular subject. “I’m an Arab-Australian, member of the Australian community and I believe in multiculturalism and the Arab communities in this country and their contribution,” she said.

“This is part of my contribution as an Arab-Australian citizen and part of my contribution to this great Australian country. This is what I’m doing, it’s what I’ll continue doing – teaching Arabic and Islamic studies – it’s part of me.”

Ozalp, one of the first in the Muslim community to teach Islamic courses in English, believes the courses will help combat damaging perceptions about the Islamic world. “This course is very brave work in addressing extremism and radicalism in Australia,” he said.

“The Muslims created a brilliant civilization . . . science, technology, commerce, even legal terms, some of the norms that Europe eventually learned from, used to develop western civilization – a lot of people don’t know that.”

Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population. Islam is the country’s second largest religion after Christianity.

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Islamic School Among UK’s Top 100

OnIslam & Newspapers Thursday, 06 February 2014 CAIRO – After quarter a century of hard work, a British Islamic high school has been recognized as one of the top 100 schools in UK after achieving excellent GCSE results in summer.

“We were very pleased with our GCSE results in the summer which had gone up by 19 per cent from the previous year, but we didn’t expect this,” Mufti Javid, head teacher of Preston Muslim Girls’ High School, told Lancashire Evening Post on Thursday, February 6. “We had no idea that we were in the top 100 schools in the country.”

The school received the good news when David Laws MP, the Minister of State for Schools congratulated them on achieving excellent GCSE results last summer.

“When I received the letter marked House of Commons I had no idea what it was. I was thrilled to read the letter and pleased to be able to pass on what it said to all of our parents, staff and pupils,” Javid said.

A letter to the headteacher from David Laws MP said the school was one of the top 100 performing non-selective state funded schools in England. “Your school is clearly equipping its pupils for success in both further study and future employment,” the letter said. “The results are a shining testament to the hard work and success of your staff, governors and pupils. I would like to offer my thanks to you and all at your school for your pursuit of the highest standards of educational achievement.”

This achievement is not the first for Islamic schools in UK. In February 2013, Tauheedul Islam Girls’ High School was rated as the highest-achieving learning institutes in Britain.

In March, the school was shortlisted for ‘Secondary School of the Year’ by the Times Educational Supplement annual awards. In May, the school was rated as “outstanding” following an Ofsted inspection, the first and only secondary school in the Borough to receive such an award.

In their report, inspectors praised “highly effective” teaching, a “culture of high expectations” and “exceptionally polite and considerate” students. In London, the Tayyibah Girls’ School topped 22 schools in Hackney with a whopping 100 percent of all students achieving 5 + GCSEs at grades A*-C (including English and Maths) a 17 percent improvement on its 2011 results.

The school officials praised the recognition as a “great credit” to the spirit of the school. “This is a very happy and safe family school,” Javid said. “I am exceptionally proud of all of our pupils and everything that they do. It’s nice to have our achievements recognized in this very public way and I know that our parents and the community will be delighted with the way the school has developed.”

He added that the achievement crowned years of hard work since the school opened its doors 25 years ago.

“The school has come a long way from its from very humble beginnings. It opened 25 years ago as an independent school and joined the state sector in 2011,” he said. “Back then it occupied two rooms in an old mill building and had only a handful of pupils and two part time teachers. In those days the school had little money and only a few resources.

“It is amazing to see the transformation that has taken place. To be recognized as one of the top 100 schools it is a dream come true. Who would have thought it?”

British Muslims are estimated at 2.7 million. There are 400,000 Muslim students in British schools, according to the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).

About 7,000 state schools in Britain are faith schools – roughly one in three of the total – educating 1.7 million pupils. Of the 590 faith-based secondary schools five are Jewish, two Muslim and one Sikh – the rest are Church of England, Roman Catholic and other Christian faiths.

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Australians Urged to Try the Islamic Hijab

OnIslam & News Agencies Saturday, 01 February 2014 SYDNEY – As thousands of Muslim women around the world plan to don hijab on Saturday, February 1, Australian Muslims are holding a celebration in Sydney, encouraging all women to try on a hijab for a day.

“We’re inviting all women to come and experience the life of a day of a hijabi (a female who wears a hijab), and see what all the fuss is about and just try to create bonds and answer questions,” Rebecca Kay, devout Australian Muslim revert and mother of four, told SBS on Saturday, February 1.

“A lot of the time we see men speaking on behalf of women when it comes to our dress attire and the women are coming out and saying that it’s our time to speak and that we wish to represent ourselves.”

On February 1, one million Muslim and non-Muslim women wearing a traditional Islamic head scarf are going to march on the streets of 116 countries to mark the second anniversary of World Hijab Day.

The event, held for the second consecutive year, was first suggested by New York Muslim woman Nazma Khan to encourage non-Muslim women to don the hijab and experience it.

It was designed as part of a bid to foster better understanding and counteract controversies surrounding hijab as a Muslim choice. Moreover, it was urged to counter anti-hijab campaigns and laws in different countries which were spearheaded by France’s ban on hijab.

Arranging a special celebration to mark the day, Kay announced a celebration in Sydney’s Pitt Street Mall to encourage all women to try on a hijab. She added that the day’s plan was to promote sisterhood in women around the country and around the world.

Lydia Shelly, a solicitor at Osborne Howell, praised the day for encouraging Australians to walk in the shoes of a Muslim women with the aim of improving religious harmony.

“The biggest assumption about Muslim women who wear the hijab is that we are one big homogenous group,” Ms Shelly wrote on Facebook. “Muslim women who wear the hijab are from all walks of life, nationalities and have different ways that they express their modesty through their wearing of the hijab. Yay for diversity in the hijabi community!”

Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population.

Islam is the country’s second largest religion after Christianity. Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.

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Canada Muslims Spread Flowers For Peace

OnIslam & News Agencies Sunday, 02 February 2014 MONTREAL – Spreading a message of peace and love, a group of young Muslims have stood outside a Montreal square, handing flowers to passersby in a plea for greater acceptance and a gesture of Muslims’ goodwill.

“We want to show to the world that (Islam) is not a bad religion,” Massouma Al-Bahely, one of the organizers of the event, told CBC News on Saturday, February 1. “It’s not, like, terrorists; everybody thinks that but we are not. I’m like everybody in the world. I’m a human,” she added.

Organized by Muslim Youth Montreal group, the event was held to mark the recent anniversary of the birth of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It also coincides with the second annual World Hijab Day celebrated around the world on February 1.

According to the event’s organizers, the roses were a subtle gesture of goodwill meant to spread the true message of Islam as a peaceful religion. The Muslim initiative won plaudits from McGill University professor Daniel Weinstock who specializes in political philosophy.

He said gestures like this do help in building bridges between Canadians of different faiths. “Nobody should have to be put in the positions that Muslims are put in today, which is have to remind people that at the end of the day there are just like everybody else,” Weinstock said.

Muslims are the fastest growing religious community in Canada, according to the country’s statistical agency, Statistics Canada.

Canada’s Muslim population increased by 82 per cent over the past decade — from about 579,000 in 2001 to more than 1 million in 2011.

The survey of almost three million people showed that Muslims now represent 3.2 percent of Canada’s total population, up from 2.0 percent recorded in the 2001 Census.

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Book on Muslim Men Battles Stereotyping

OnIslam & Newspapers Sunday, 02 February 2014 CAIRO – A new book has been released in the US to share the private stories of dozens of Muslim men on love and intimacy, in a bid to counter stereotypes and portray them as leading normal American life.

“So much has been said about Muslim men,” Ayesha Mattu, co-editor of “Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, and Intimacy”, told The Washington Post.

“We thought it was time for them to tell their own stories in their own words about what’s important to them.”

The idea of the book followed the success of the groundbreaking “Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women” in 2012.

Comprising the stories of 25 Muslim women, the earlier book aimed to chatter the stereotype of the American Muslim women as oppressed, submissive by giving them an opportunity to share their personal accounts on love and relationships.

“Love, InshAllah” has prompted requests for a male version for the book. However, the editors were reluctant that Muslim men will be willing to share their own stories.

Announcing their plans for the male version of the book five months ago, the editors received 100 submissions from Muslim men. “What surprised us was how many men were willing to share their stories and be vulnerable and talk about their feelings and emotions and love,” said Nura Maznavi, the co-author of the book.

“And all of these topics we don’t necessarily associate with men or think that men would want to talk about,” she added. The new male version of the book comprises the stories of 22 Muslim men, offering glimpses into the romantic lives of the Muslim men.

The Muslim men stories come from a broad spectrum of cultural and racial backgrounds, ranging from secular to orthodox with various relationships status. Though there are no official estimates, the US is home to an estimated Muslim minority of six to eight million.

The editors of the book believe that the stereotyping of Muslim men has been emphasized by the repeated news of women’s oppression from the Muslim world. Yet, they say that stories by Muslim at “Salaam, Love” may reflect a wide segment of the unknown part of Muslim men lives.

“We believe those stories are the exception to the norm in all communities and the men in this collection are tackling difficult issues, racism, homophobia, infidelity, issues that are impacting their lives and they’re telling stories they feel are reflective of their lives,” the editors wrote.

The opening chapter of the book, Soda Bottles and Zebra Skins, shares the story of Sam Pierstorff, a writing professor at Modesto Junior College in California whose mother was a Syrian Muslim. The chapter includes tales from Pierstorff’s ranging from teenage and puppy love to courtship and true love.

“I definitely jumped at the chance to write about anything that connects me to my cultural background,” said Pierstorff.

Sharing his story openly, Pierstorff invites Muslim men to do so. “I don’t recall ever having a conversation with my Muslim friends about sex, virginity, who’s been going out with whom,” said Pierstorff. “They’re real conversation starters. What’s wonderful about this book and the previous book is you get to hear stories about all these Muslims who reveal all these stories, and you feel less alone.”

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First Muslim Fraternity Expands Across U.S.

OnIslam & Newspapers Friday, 07 February 2014 CAIRO – Created a year ago at the University of Texas, the US first Muslim fraternity is gaining national attention as two chapters have been created at the University of California, San Diego and Cornell, and plans are being made to establish chapters at Pennsylvania, San Diego and the University of Florida.

“Companions are very valuable in Islam,” Haroon Masood, who is majoring in neuroscience and physiology, told the New York Times in an article planned for publish next Sunday, February 9. “They keep you in check. We believe your character is strongly influenced by who you hang out with.”

Deemed America’s first Muslim Fraternity, Alpha Lambda Mu was established in February, 2013, at the University of Texas.

Alpha Lambda Mu, which stands for Alif Laam Meem, three letters that start several chapters of the Quran, was founded by Ali Mahmoud, a junior biology and sociology major at the University of Texas, Dallas, as a national fraternity for Muslim college students.

A total of 24 members now make up the Texas chapter. A year after the first chapter was formed, Texas chapter set off in November on a wilderness retreat, with canoeing and cozy campfires on which to roast halal marshmallows, and an imam for lectures and prayers.

The new Cornell chapter, which has eight members, has also hosted an all-night party in November which was held in accordance with Islamic teachings.

The men-only party was alcohol free as around two dozen men prayed together, downed pizza, played games and crashed in sleeping bags on the floor of the event room the university had lent them.

Members of the San Diego chapter, which started up in the fall, meet twice a month in one another’s apartments to discuss spiritual texts, and they try to gather for at least one of the day’s five calls to prayer.

The idea is still gaining attention as students at Penn State, San Diego State and the University of Florida are hoping to start chapters in the fall.

New Frontiers

With this sense of brotherhood, the fraternity hopes to one day grant its members the networking opportunities that every other fraternity provides.

The formation of a fraternity represents a really thoughtful reflection on their part,” Dr. Lori Peek, the author of “Behind the Backlash: Muslim Americans After 9/11”, told NY Times. “It moves these students out of the private sphere and into a more public space where they are effectively spanning two cultures.”

Brian Calfano, an associate professor of political science at Missouri State University who has conducted extensive research on Islamic and American identities agreed.

“The fraternity itself is a hallmark of the modern American college experience,” he said. “In other words, these students are saying: ‘We want to live out our identity. We want to be protected within our group. But we also want to exercise our capacity to enjoy our college life’.”

Though there are no official estimates, the US is home to from 7-8 million Muslims. An earlier Gallup poll found that the majority of Americans Muslims are loyal to their country and optimistic about their future in the United States. Two reports by the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies indicate that an evolution has indeed occurred.

In 2009, 40 percent of Muslim Americans ages 18 to 29 said they were thriving, the lowest percentage in that age group. By 2011, 10 years after the terrorist attacks, that number had risen to 65 percent.

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Dallas Museum Hosts Rare Islamic Collection

OnIslam & News Agencies Tuesday, 04 February 2014 TEXAS – Celebrating the rich heritage of the Islamic culture, Dallas Museum of Art will host one of the largest and most important private holdings of Islamic art for the next 15 years.

“We are deeply grateful to the collection’s trustees for entrusting us with this unparalleled collection, which will enhance the Dallas Museum of Art’s (DMA) growing strengths in the area of Islamic art,” DMA director Maxwell Anderson said in a prepared statement cited by Dallas News on February 3.

Anderson was speaking about the Keir collection which has been collected over decades in Britain by Edmund de Unger, a Hungarian real-estate magnate who died in 2011.

According to a long-term renewable loan agreement, signed last Friday, the collection will go to Dallas for at least 15 years from next May.

The agreement will give the museum the right to lend pieces to other institutions and to make objects widely available to scholars.

The Keir collection “is recognized by scholars as one of the world’s most geographically and historically comprehensive, encompassing almost 2,000 works in a range of media that span 13 centuries of Islamic art-making,” Anderson said.

The rich Keir collection comprises 2,000 Islamic pieces, including ceramics, weaving and miniature paintings, textiles, carpets, lusterware, as well as the rare Fatimid-period rock crystal vessels from the 10th to the 12th centuries.

The precious collection presents a wide range of geographic territories from the western Mediterranean to South Asia.

The new collection will give Dallas, which has only a few dozen Islamic pieces, the third most important Islamic collection in the US, after the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington.

Placed for years at a mansion southwest London, the collection was designated to be secured the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin.

Yet, the administration of Dallas Museum has convinced the trustees of the collection to place the collection in Texas where it will reserve high protection.

“They were looking for really a larger commitment for the whole collection and we could give them that,” Anderson was quoted by The News York Times.

Culture Bridge.

The new heirs of the collection expressed pleasure that Islamic art collection will bridge the gap between cultures. “We are pleased,” said Richard de Unger, the collector’s son. “That my father’s collection is being transferred to the care of a museum whose commitment to fostering cross-cultural dialogue has made it a leader among its peers. Our late father believed that Islamic art and culture was the bridge between the Far East and the West.”

The process of handing the rich Islamic collection to Dallas was a result of the efforts of Sabiha Al Khemir, the museum’s first senior adviser for Islamic art, who persuaded the collection’s trustees.

Describing the collection, Al Khemir, who was the founding director of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, said, “There is a kind of mystique about it, a curiosity about it, because it is known but has not been seen or studied by many. I usually have problems with collectors — it’s about amassing, amassing,” Al Khemir said.

“But he had serious knowledge and serious joy in these things,” Al Khemir added, who met Unger once when she was a young scholar.

“You could see it in the glint of his eyes when he looked at them,” she added.

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Three Interfaith Centers Will Be In Sochi

Islam-Today / 06 Feb 2014 – Three interfaith centers for followers and representatives of the five world religions – Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism – will work in all clusters of Olympic Sochi. Priests will provide spiritual assistance to participants and guests of the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. All premises meets the canons of prayer and spiritual practice of these religions. Work in the centers will be provide by more than 100 volunteers, who have passed the required tests, and specially invited clergies of Russia.

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Halal meat production on rise in Russia

islam.ru / 06 Feb 2014 – According to the analysts, only 25% of halal food is consumed by Muslims, and the rest 75% is consumed by Orthodox Jews, and other consumers. “Halal food attracts not only Muslims but other people who want to eat useful and healthy food. The word “halal” bring up an association with such notions as “bio”, “eco” and farm products.” – said the president of Europe Association of Poultry Breeders, Sergei Shabaev, during the “Belok” forum, which took place in Moscow.

Heads of many Russian poultry factories express willingness to receive the certification of their production according to halal norms, because it is the only way to attract consumers from Islamic countries. The Russian factory “Jaroslavskiy broiler” has already certificated and now it will provide the supplies of halal chicken meat on the Indonesian market. And what is “halal”? It is “the key which open a door to Islamic world” – said the expert. “For this purpose we created “Europe Association of Poultry breeders on export and import of chicken meat”. The members of the association are Belorussia, Kazakhstan and Russia”.

Shabayev believes that the slaughter of animals in accordance with the canons of halal can be an opportunity to reach new level on the European market, because many Muslims living in Europe, refusing to buy European broilers slaughtered by electrocution method.

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35,000 tourists visited Chechnya in 2013

Islam.ru / 07 Feb 2014 – About 35,000 Russian and foreign tourists visited Chechnya in 2013, compared with 7,000 in 2011, according to Ellina Batayeva, Head of the Chechen Governmental Committee for Tourism, Grozny Inform reports.

Four hotels opened in Chechnya in 2013, making a total of 16 in the republic. Chechen hotels have a capacity of over 1,000 rooms.

Two tourism operators in Chechnya offer 13 routes. The Central Mosque of Akhmat-Haji Kadyrov, waterfalls in Buni and Boskhoy and the Kezenoy-Am Lake are the most popular tourism sites.

Chechnya is realizing the Veduchi and Kezenoy-Am tourism projects and reviving Soviet tourism routes.

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Iraq’s national museum plans April reopening

World Bulletin / 08 Feb 2014 – The National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad may reopen in April for the first time since it was closed after being partially damaged and ransacked in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion of the country, the director of the museum said Wednesday.

“We’ve been working on rebuilding the museum in cooperation with Italy,” museum director Qais Rashid told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday.

The director added that the final step of the planned renovation would be the building of a new main gate, which will likely be completed in April.

“The reopening of the grand museum – after it was looted and vandalized in 2003 – is great news for Iraq’s cultural scene,” Iraqi archeologist Adel al-Azzawi told AA.

He also called for establishing more museums in all Iraq’s provinces, citing the fact that the Iraqi museum could not contain all the country’s antiquities.

Established in 1923, the National Museum of Iraq is located in the eastern Baghdad neighborhood of Al-Salihiya. Elaborately constructed, it boasts some 200,000 ancient artifacts, including many pre-historic ones, organized into 18 halls according to their respective historical eras.

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Int’l Investment Exhibition Opens In Kish Island

KISH ISLAND, Feb 7, (NNN-IRNA) – Iran’s Kish Island in the Persian Gulf is hosting the 5th International Exhibition of Investment Opportunities in Iran.

The Fifth Kish Island International Investment Opportunities in Iran Exhibition opened in the permanent grounds of Kish Island Exhibitions.

The exhibition has been set up in an area of 14,000 square meters with more than 120 domestic and foreign organizations, governmental and private companies, ministries and governmental organizations with actual projects participating in the exhibition.

The main purpose for holding the exhibition is to provide investment opportunities and display achievements of the successful complexes in the development, building construction, architecture, urban management and planning, oil, gas, petrochemical industry, tourism, environment and sustainable development.

Other sections of the exhibition include transportation, traffic, roads, banking, insurance, bourse and capital market, industry, mining and agriculture, telecommunications, energy, municipalities.

Introduction of opportunities and priorities of investment in different sectors to investors and finders of investment opportunities, introduction of companies, organizations, and investment companies to project holders and providing goods with investment capabilities are among other objectives of the international exhibition.

Training workshop, holding specialized meetings for exchange of experiences and providing opportunities for investment are also included in the exhibition.

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Uganda To Spend $100m To Boost Private Sector, Tourism

KAMPALA, Feb 07 (NNN-NEW VISION) — Government of Uganda with support from the World Bank has embarked on a five-year project to support private enterprises and government sectors to boast the country’s economic development.

The project which is to cost 100m $ (about sh248bn) will be implemented under the Competitive and Investment Climate Strategy (CICS) funded by the World Bank.

CICS National Coordinator, Dr. Peter Ngategize said the project is aimed at addressing issues that are geared towards improving the business environment in different sectors.

Speaking at the Business Regulations Feedback Portal workshop in Kampala, Ngategize said the project focuses on five components including; supporting the modernization of business licensing and registration to allow efficient operations in the private sector.

“We want a simpler and less costly process in licensing and registration of businesses. This will help to reduce the cost of business and create a friendlier environment to the business community,” he noted.

They intend to promote tourism through modernizing Hotel and Training Institute in Jinja.

Other components include a matching grant meant to support other enterprises like agriculture to promote value addition and improve the capacity to offer quality services to easily compete at the international market.

The CICS will act as a one stop center to provide information to investors.

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East Java to build science museum in Trowulan

Mon, February 3 2014 Surabaya, East Java (ANTARA News) – The government of East Java province plans to build a science and technology museum in Trowulan, the location of the capital city of the Majapahit Kingdom in Mojokerto District, according to Governor Soekarwo.

“Expected to become acenter of information for the younger generation, the science and technology museum will also make the Trowulan area a global tourist destination,” the governor said here on Monday.

Soekarwo noted that the new museum will be a learning facility for the young generation to learn about the greatness of the Majapahit kingdom and be proud of the the nation’s culture.

“The local government will also renovate the sacred places of Walisongo, Batu Ampar and Talangu Madura to balance the development of cultural areas in East Java,” the governor noted.

He said these places of pilgrimage would be renovated to attract as many domestic and foreign tourists as possible.

He added that the construction of the science and technology museum in Trowulan was proposed by the Director General of the Ministry of Culture and Education, Prof. Kacung Marijan.

“Such a museum is necessary because it will arouse the curiosity of the younger generation to study the culture of the nation in the past, the present and the future,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kacung Marijan said the museum will make Trowulan an icon of culture in East Java Province. According to him, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will lay the cornerstone of the museum in mid-2014 as part of the restoration of the Majaphit site.

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Indonesian President sees bright future for Indonesia’s batik

February 5 2014 Pekalongan, Central Java (ANTARA News) – President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono predicts a bright future for the Indonesian batik, given the huge numbers of the middle class population and the nations batik-loving life style.

“I just remarked that the future of batik or the creative economy is bright. My statement is not to please anybody; the contribution of the creative economy, including batik, to the national economy has increased over the past few years,” President Yudhoyono asserted during his visit to the International Batik Center (IBC), here on Wednesday.

Indonesia’s middle class population figure stood at 50 million in 2013, and is expected to reach 135 million by 2030, according to the President.

“This number is several times that of Singapore’s population. All of them prefer to buy and use batik as part of the current life style. Therefore, lets produce batik,” he stated.

He instructed governors and district heads to continue helping and supporting batik producers, for instance, by providing low-interest credits for those who need them.

After holding a dialog with Batik producers, the head of state and First Lady Ani Yudhoyono toured the IBC that accommodates 200 stands.

Later, they proceeded to Kauman Batik Kampong, where most of the residents are home-industry batik producers.

After attending the commemoration of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) birthday celebrations in Kanzus Sholawat building, the President and his entourage are scheduled to leave Pakalongan for Jakarta by train. They are expected to arrive in Jakarta on Wednesday evening.

The presidents entourage includes Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Hatta Rajasa, Coordinating Minister for Peoples Welfare Agung Laksono, Minister/State Secretary Sudi Silalahi, and Creative Economic Minister Mari Elka Pangestu.

President Yudhoyono began a four-day working visit to a number of cities in West Java and the Central Java provinces on Sunday.

While in West Java, the President visited Majalengka, Cirebon and Kuningan districts.

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Indonesia Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry to assist entrepreneurs

Sat, February 1 2014 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – The Indonesian Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry will assist the marketing efforts of start-up entrepreneurs in design, media and information technology (IT) sectors.

The Tourism and Creative Economy Ministrys General Director of Creative Economy, Harry Waluyo, said here on Saturday that a lack of marketing information was the single factor hampering new entrepreneurs in media, design and IT, along with start-up funding and operational funds.

“Therefore, we want to assist the new start-up entrepreneurs through a program called Business Incubator that provides mentoring and consultations on business, legal and technology,” Waluyo said.

In the marketing sector, the Business Incubator program will allow new entrepreneurs to participate in exhibitions and business meetings held by the ministry.

Through the Business Incubator program, new entrepreneurs would also be assisted in expanding their access to funding through capital ventures, investment, banking, and other financial institutions.

Waluyo stressed that the Business Incubator was an effective solution to assist entrepreneurs in media, design and IT businesses, as the ministry had begun to select and recruit eligible candidates to participate in this years program.

“We are sure that the Business Incubator program will end those obstacles faced by new start-up entrepreneurs,” he said.

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Nigeria: FG to Build Hajj Terminal in Sokoto

Daily Trust – 4 February 2014 Sokoto — The Federal Government will construct the largest hajj terminal in the country at the Sultan Abubakar III International Airport, Sokoto, Minister of Aviation Stella Oduah has said.

Inspecting work at the airport, Oduah said the Federal Government has already awarded contract for construction of the hajj terminal.

“We are going to have the largest hajj terminal in Nigeria built in Sokoto. That is what this administration is doing; redesigning airports to ensure that every airport has value,” she said.

On the remodelling projects at the airport in Sokoto, she expressed satisfaction with the quality of work being executed. She added that the ministry was working to ensure safe operations in airports across the country.

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Nigeria: Lokoja Will Be Nigeria’s Tourism Hub – Wada

Daily Trust – 5 February 2014 Lokoja — The Kogi State government has said that with the tourist attractions abound in the state, it will not rest on its oars until it becomes the tourism hub of Nigeria.

Wada, who stated this at the commissioning of a hotel in Lokoja, said his administration invested heavily in the development of the hospitality sector with a view to boosting tourism. The governor, who was represented by his deputy, Yomi Awoniyi, said the availability of good hospitality architecture is a necessary condition for the promotion of a vibrant tourism industry in the state.

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Gambia: Pact to Promote Sustainable Tourism

The Daily Observer – 5 February 2014 – The Gambia Tourism Board (GTBoard) and the Department of Parks and Wildlife have formalised their partnership through the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), designed, among other things, to promote sustainable tourism.

The pact that was inked on Monday by the director general of GTBoard, Benjamin A. Roberts and director DPWM, Momodou L. Kassama, also seeks to facilitate collaboration between the GTBoard and DPWM in the development of responsible and sustainable tourism in the protected areas.

Both parties also agreed in the MoU to develop, enhance and promote eco-tourism products, biodiversity conservation, and social and economic participation of local communities. Through this agreement, they will also jointly provide tools, data, maps and relevant information to visiting tourists, by improving on standards and encourage partnership to develop projects for local communities.

In his remarks, the deputy permanent secretary, Ministry of the Environment, Parks and Wildlife, Yam Bamba Njie-Keita, thanked the two parties for signing the agreement, expressing hope that the two institutions will be committed to promote tourism aspects in the country. She urged the two parties to adhere to the principles enshrined in the agreement.

For Benjamin A. Roberts, there are quite a number of opportunities in the collaboration, saying the two parties can work together to bring about some changes within the wildlife sector. Roberts stressed that if the goals are to be met, there is the need for the DPWM and its Ministry to work together with the technical teams of both parties. Such, he noted, will enable them bring business to the rural communities in a very responsible manner, thus enhancing ecotourism.

Momodou L. Kassama said the formalisation of the partnership marks a significant point in his Department, noting that nature cannot be left out in the tourism promotion of the country. Kassama assured of his Department’s commitment to work with GTBoard in realising the aims and objectives of the MOU.

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Women across the globe celebrate World Hijab Day

Jeddah, Saturday, 01 Rabi Al-Thani 1434/ 01 February 2014 (IINA) – On February 1, women from all regions of the world celebrated World Hijab Day.

Awareness events are being held at schools, universities, and places of worship where women are coming together, wearing the hijab (headscarf), and spreading understanding of what the hijab really represents. Muslim women who have not taken the step to wear the hijab and even non-Muslim women will wear the hijab for just one day, in solidarity with their sisters across the world who do wear the hijab. The goal is to dispel the common stereotypes about the hijab; that it oppresses women and limits them and that women who wear the hijab are repressed, docile, passive, and have no say in their lives.

The idea is that before non-covering women make judgments about covering women, they should try covering up for one day and they will discover that women shrouded in the headscarf and loose, flowing clothes are surprisingly strong, determined, active, and extremely decisive of how they choose to lead their lives.

Muslim women wear the hijab or headscarf in adherence and devotion to their faith. The hijab in the past was not foreign to followers of other religions. The headscarf was a requirement in many other religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism. The headscarf has faded in most other cultures and lived on to the modern day mainly among Muslims. However in America, women in Amish and Mennonite communities cover their hair to this day.

The message of one woman celebrating World Hijab Day in Asia is, “I wear hijab because it is part of my faith and I feel liberated with what protects my modesty.” A beautiful Christian woman married to a Muslim said that she will wear the hijab for a day in support of the Muslim women who wear it every day. Female staff and students at Pleckgate High School in East Lancashire in the UK celebrated World Hijab Day last year and are celebrating it again today. Teachers and girls of all faiths wore the hijab for one day to understand and appreciate the culture of their Muslim friends.

Shahiesta Raja, at Pleckgate High School, said: “Staff and pupils, Muslim and non Muslim wore the hijab all day as a way of increasing understanding and promoting the spiritual, moral, cultural and social awareness of our pupils.”

A group of students, from diverse backgrounds, majoring in religious studies at Nelson and Colne College in the UK also took part in the hijab awareness day.

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Two Saudis among top 20 Muslim women scientists

London, Sunday, 02 Rabi Al-Thani 1434/ 02 February 2014 (IINA) – Muslim Science, a UK-based online magazine, has named two Saudis in its top 20 list of most influential Muslim women in the scientific field.

The two women are Samera Ibrahim Islam and Hayat Sindi. Samera Islam, the drug safety advocate, is a board member of the Arab Science and Technology Foundation and head of the medicine unit at King Fahd Center for Medical Research at King Abdul Aziz University. She is the first Saudi woman to earn a doctoral degree in philosophy and the first Arab and Muslim woman to receive the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Award for Women in Science. She is also the regional consultant for the World Health Organization’s medicines program.

Hayat Sindi is described as an innovator. A panel of judges drew up the top 20 from an international list. It focuses on Muslim women who have achieved scientific and technological advances and helped achieve social justice in their countries. The magazine said women play an important role in developing a knowledge economy in the Muslim world.

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SR36 billion infrastructure projects for northern Saudi city

Turaif, Saudi Arabia, 05 Rabi Al-Thani 1434/ 05 February 2014 (IINA) – The King Abdullah Project for the Development of Waad Alshamal City in the Northern Border Region got a major boost on Tuesday, with the awarding of several mega construction and infrastructure projects and setting up of investment projects worth a total of SR36 billion.

The contract signing ceremony was held under the aegis of Prince Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Bin Mosaed, Emir of the region. The awarded projects included construction of a number of factories, 1,000 megawatts power plant, a main road and other projects. The contracts also covered projects for linking the city of Waad Alshamal with Saudi ports along the Arabian Gulf, as well as raw material supplies and sanitary water treatment. The contracts included an agreement on a feasibility study of constructing a factory for solar panels and a training center.

Minister of Finance Dr. Ibrahim Al-Assaf, Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali Al-Naimi, Minister of Water and Electricity Abdullah Alhussayen, Minister of Transport Jubarah Al-Suraysiri, Prince Saud bin Abdullah Bin Thunayan, Chairman of the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu, and several other senior officials and top company executives also attended the signing ceremony.

Speaking on the occasion, Prince Abdullah said that the King Abdullah Project will give abundant investment opportunities for Saudi contractors and open up a large number of jobs for Saudi youths. Al-Naimi highlighted the efforts to diversify sources of national income, saying that the expected investment in factories and infrastructure signed at the city would reach SR36 billion. The Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources and Saudi Arabian Mining Company (Maaden) are implementing the projects in cooperation with a number of government agencies and leading Saudi and international companies.

Maaden signed the contract for building a sulphuric acid plant and a power generation facility, valued at SR 2,865 million ($764 million) with SNC-Lavalin International Inc. & Sinopec Engineering (Group) Co. Ltd. SNC-Lavalin Arabia LLC (SLA) & Sinopec E&C Middle East Co.Ltd will implement the project. The sulphuric acid plant, consisting of three sulphuric acid lines, will have a production capacity of 4.9 million tons. The contract includes detailed engineering, procurement, and construction, and will take 35 months, starting from the date of the award, with completion expected in the fourth quarter of 2016.Maaden also signed the contract for building a phosphoric acid plant worth SR3,506 million ($935 million) to Hanwha Engineering & Construction Co. Ltd & Hanwha Saudi Contracting Co. Ltd. The phosphoric acid plant which will consist of three phosphoric acid lines when completed will have a production capacity of 1.5 million tons.

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China considers manufacturing cars in Saudi Arabia

Riyadh, Thursday, 06 Rabi Al-Thani 1434/ 06 February 2014 (IINA) – China is considering manufacturing cars in Saudi Arabia to meet rising local demand, the country’s Ambassador Li Chengwen said recently.

Li said this would establish a vital market in the two countries. “There is a strong will by Chinese investors to produce automobiles here in the Kingdom, but the whole idea is under consideration and study.” He said there were initiatives currently in place to promote cooperation and mutual investment. There are 150 Chinese firms operating in Saudi markets, mainly in the construction, infrastructure, communication, alternative and renewable energy sectors, he said. “New Chinese companies will enter Saudi markets during the coming period. We seek to develop work mechanisms between the two countries, to find and increase mutual work trajectories within the different economic sectors. Saudi Arabia and China have always been on good terms as trade partners.”

He announced earlier that 30 Chinese government-owned and private companies in the alternative and renewable energy sector would sign partnerships with Saudi firms. The main goal of the recent Chinese delegation visit to Saudi Arabia was to support technical, executive and planning cooperation between the two countries, he added.

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IDB approves $704 million to finance new projects

Jeddah, Thursday, 06 Rabi Al-Thani 1434/ 06 February 2014 (IINA) – The 295th meeting of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) Board approved $705.18 million of new financing projects focusing on infrastructure and human resources development in member countries and non-member countries. The meeting was chaired by IDB Chairman Dr. Ahmad Mohamed Ali.

The financing worth $ 630.05 million was set aside for infrastructure sector, and these included $ 224.4 million for upgrading and reconstruction of Ujar-Zardab-Agjabadi Road in Azerbaijan, $ 220 million for Assiut (El-Walidia) Thermal Power Plant Project in Egypt, $ 87.45 million for the Rural and Water Supply and Sanitation Program in the countries of WAEMU (West African Economic and Monetary Union comprising Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali Niger, Guinea Bissau, Senegal and Togo), $ 58.2 million for upgrading the Dedougou-Tougan Road Project in Burkina Faso, $ 20 million for Rural Electrification Expansion Project in Barisal Division in Bangladesh and $ 20 million for contributing to completion of the Extension and Modernization of the Bamako-Senou International Airport Project in Mali.

The Board meeting approved $ 73.83 million for human resource development projects. These included $ 60 million for Health System Strengthening Project in Surinam, $ 9 million for Basic Education Support Project in Priority Areas in Cameroon, and $ 4.83 million as additional financing for Health System Development Support Project in Benin. The Board approved $ 790,000 under the IDB Waqf Fund as grant to a number of educational projects in Muslim communities in Fiji, New Zealand, Rwanda, and the United States.

The meeting also took note of the financing of operations approved by the IDB president between the 294th and 295th sessions including a $ 127,000 for contributing to devising the strategic health program of action of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), $ 200,000 for providing technical assistance to rural development projects and creating employment opportunities for the local residents in the city of Baha, Saudi Arabia, and $ 150,000 as technical assistance for the preparation of a feasibility on twinned “mahadra” (traditional schools) and modern schools in Mauritania.

Among several reports reviewed by the Board Members were a detailed report on the course of partnership strategy of the Bank with member countries, a report on the subscription to the capital of the Bank as per the Bank’s fifth general capital increase as well as two progress reports on two emergency assistance financing approved in the previous meeting. The assistance include an additional $ 2 million for Syrian war-affected refugees and internally-displaced persons and a US$ 2 million aid for assisting Palestinian farmers who suffered damage to their crops as a result of unexpected winter storm.

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Kyrgyzstan improving access to drinking water

Centralasiaonline.com 2014-02-06 OSH – Water-rich Kyrgyzstan has developed a 10-year programme to help citizens who lack access to clean drinking water. Addressing a Bishkek conference about the programme January 17, Vice-Prime Minister Tayyrbek Sarpashev emphasised the urgency of guaranteeing drinking water for the public.

“Kyrgyz …. have intermittent or untimely access to drinking water and have every right to criticise their local governments,” he said. ‘Today more than 40% of the population, particularly in rural regions, faces shortages and poor access to centralised drinking water.”

The situation remains dire even though Kyrgyzstan, with help from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank (WB), is striving to improve the rural water supply, Sarpashev said.

“From 2001 to 2012, water systems that serve more than 1.2m people were built in 545 villages, but these results are still disappointing,” he said. The State Programme for the Development of Improvement of Drinking Water Supply and Discharge for 2014-2024 aims to improve that.

Kyrgyzstan is the Central Asian country with the most water resources. “We don’t have a water shortage. The problem is management,” said Elmira Djoldosheva, executive director of the Osh-based Central Asian Alliance for Water (TsAAB).

The country has 1,890 villages, cities and towns, according to government statistics. Of the country’s 1,805 villages, 396 have no plumbing, while those that do have water mains that were built between the 1950s and 1980s.

During the early years of independence, water supply problems became acute. “After the (1991) collapse of the Soviet Union, our rural water supply systems … almost ceased to function,” Jamiyla Abylkasymova, deputy chief of the Aravan District, Osh Oblast, government, said.

As the Soviet model broke down in the early 1990s, everything became decentralised. The government transferred the authority to manage water resources to rural water user associations (SOOPPVs), Djoldosheva said.

“The main challenge wasn’t the technical issue of supplying water but rather changing people’s thinking, so that consumers understood that you have to pay for water,” Djoldosheva said. “We often started by doing repairs, but we should have started with teaching consumers to understand their responsibility for their own decisions.”

TsAAB was the first organisation in the Fergana Valley to set about creating SOOPPVs, which operate not only in Kyrgyzstan, but also Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Twenty-three SOOPPVs are part of TsAAB.

One of the successful SOOPPVs in southern Kyrgyzstan is Zilol-Suu, which covers four villages and the center of Aravan District,Osh Oblast, Kandolat Mominova, director of the organisation, said, adding that in the beginning it lacked knowledge, skills and the ability to work with consumers.

“Our water committee was left with debts and fines amounting to 500,000 KGS (US $9,820), which accumulated from consumers not paying for their water,” Mominova said. “We received a lot of help from TsAAB employees, who told us how to work with water users and helped us found a governing board and establish water rates.”

Consumers pay 15 KGS (29 US cents) per month for access to wells and 10 KGS (20 US cents) per month for running water, while government agencies and businesses pay according to listed rates, she said.

“All this is decided with the approval of the village (or town) council and the anti-monopoly committee,” she said. “Village governments finance only the renovations of water systems. Our bill collectors’ salaries are drawn from the payments they collect, so they have an incentive to work closely with the public.”

A success story

Zilol-Suu success is credited to its partnership with local governments and consumers, Abylkasymova said.

The 113,000 residents of Aravan District suffered from an inadequate and unclean water supply in the early post-Soviet years, but they rallied to solve the problem, she said.

It would serve as a good model for other villages, Djoldosheva said.

“Our goal is the institutional development of local organisations working on making (access to) drinking water sustainable,” she said. “Only after we become convinced that a given SOOPPV has begun functioning efficiently do we give it things to do.”

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Archive established for Turkish public culture

ANKARA – Anadolu Agency – The Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry is forming an archive of public culture with 172,435 documents including notes, gramophone records, photos, videos, ethnographic tool and Karagöz depictions.

Scientific works that started in 1910 in the field of public culture are being recorded in the Public Culture Information and Document Center, which was formed in 1966 under the name Public Culture Archive.

This center is the first and only official archive regarding Turkey’s public archive. It scientifically determines the cultural products of the society that have been produced for centuries.

The center has an electronic information retrieval system that provides all kinds of information sources regarding Turkish public culture. Also, intangible cultural heritage elements such as minstrels, poets, traditional handicrafts and theater artists are also archived. The works are set to finish by the end of this year.

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Safranbolu retains its best-protected site title

KARABUK – Anadolu Agency – Safranbolu, located in the central-northern province of Karabük, has been declared by UNESCO as one of the 20 best-preserved sites around the world in its list of world cultural heritage cites. It maintains the title of best-protected tourism site with its Ottoman traditional houses built in the 18th to 20th century.

Despite its small size, it has one fifth of Turkey’s cultural attractions. Having once been a center for caravan trade for centuries, it has a large variety of historic buildings, the oldest one dating back to the 14th century with its preservation reflecting its authentic heritage.

The town continues its restoration of its Ottoman buildings and 60 percent of the 865 houses have been restored over the last 35 years. Karabük governor İzzettin Küçük said roughly 100 mansions were currently under restoration and were being run as hotels for accommodation for visitors from all around the world.

Around 300 of the historical Turkish baths, bridges and mansions have been renovated through the cooperation of state institutions and Safranbolu residents.

The town has seen an increase of visitors in 2013 with 240,000 tourists, a 7 percent increase from last year, and a fifth of them are foreign tourists. With day visitors, the numbers tripled and reached 750,000. It is also estimated that about six million tourists visited Safranbolu in the last 19 years.

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Transport Ministry launches ferry schedule SMS service

Sun.mv – February 1, 2014 – Ministry of Transport and Communication has launched a service through which the public can check inter-island and inter-atoll ferry schedules via SMS. Ferry schedules are received by sending a SMS to 3434. The same number applies for Dhiraagu and Ooredoo customers.

According to an official from the Ministry, the service was developed in conjunction with the National Centre for Information Technology (NCIT).

Customers can check ferry schedules for all atolls across the country. The three atolls that do not have ferry services have been excluded, along with schedules for Hulhumale’ and Vilimale’.

“This this is an arrangement only for public ferries. For example, if a ferry gets cancelled, you can confirm though SMS,” the official said.

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Kuwait offers to help Maldives airport development

Sun.mv – February 3, 2014 – Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah has shared with Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, the Kuwaiti government’s eagerness to assist the Maldives in the development of the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.

The Emir said this during a meeting with the Vice President on Sunday. Noting that the Maldives and Kuwait have always shared close relations, the Emir of Kuwait assured of their support in achieving the Maldives’ developmental aspirations.

He also thanked the people and the government of Maldives for the continuous support to Kuwait, especially during times of distress. He also conveyed his congratulations to President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom on assumption of office.

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UNESCO to help Egypt museum recover from blast

AP / 1 Feb 2014 – A UNESCO team will travel to Cairo to assess the damage inflicted on a renowned Islamic art museum by a bombing targeting the nearby security headquarters, Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities said Sunday. The museum will also receive $100,000 from the U.N. cultural agency to help the museum recover from the explosion, which damaged much of the museum’s artifacts, Mohammed Ibrahim said.

The trick bombing on Friday was one of four attacks across the capital targeting police that killed six people. The huge blast shattered the facade of the security headquarters, while propelling steel and ceiling plaster onto artifacts in the museum across the street.

Centuries-old glass and porcelain pieces were smashed to powder, a priceless wooden prayer niche was destroyed and manuscripts were soaked by water spewing from broken pipes. Though a complete account of damaged artifacts has not yet been taken, Ibrahim said, the damages would mean serious losses for Egyptian and Islamic history.

UNESCO spokeswoman Sue Williams confirmed that a mission is being planned and that emergency funds of $100,000 have been set aside. Inside the museum, glass from broken display cases and splintered woodwork littered the vast halls. A ministry worker wearing a white coat and rubber gloves picked through rubble, collecting broken pieces.

Construction workers tried to remove steel rebar and splintered wood from felled structures. A wooden prayer niche was nearly broken in half.

Built in 1881, the Cairo Museum of Islamic Art is home to the world’s richest collection of artifacts from all periods of Islamic history. It houses nearly 100,000 pieces representing different Islamic eras, 4,000 of them on display and the rest in storage.

According to its official website, the museum houses works from the seventh-century pre-Islamic era to the end of the 19th century, including carpets, coins, ceramics, jewelry, manuscripts, marble carvings and woodwork. A water fountain made of colored mosaic is among the most impressive pieces on display and dates back to the 13th-16th century Mamluk era.

A recently completed $14.4 million renovation included 25 exhibition halls, as well as state-of-the-art security and lighting systems, a fully-equipped restoration laboratory, a children’s museum and a library, much of which was gutted by the blast.

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Turkey’s Antalya home to longest tunnel aquarium

World Bulletin / 3 Jan 2014 – Not content with being one of Turkey’s top tourism spots, the country’s coastal Antalya province has now gone one better – it hosts the world’s longest tunnel aquarium.

The tank containing the 131-meter long, 3-meter wide tunnel hosts more than 10,000 species of fish and sea creatures from all around the globe.

Visitors watch as fish swim around life-sized replicas of an Italian warplane that crashed into the Mediterranean during World War II, a ship and submarine wrecks.

The complex housing the main tank contains over 40 theme tanks, with titles such as “World Oceans,” “Turkish Seas” and “Three Islands,” and was built on a 30,000 square-meter area.

It also includes “Snow World,” a special snow-covered 200-meter square section featuring igloos, a “Santa Clause” house and cafes.

Kemal Kumkumoglu, the aquarium’s chief-executive-officer, said: “In terms of its tank capacity, the aquarium is the world’s fifth largest, and Europe’s second largest one.”

The complex is expected to soon become a member of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), which will help staff share international know-how and address any health and adaptation problems suffered by its water-dwelling inhabitants.

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Sochi “Olympic” chefs learned to cook halal

Islam-Today / 4 Feb 2014 – Samat Sadykov, a representative of the International Centre for Standardization and Certification “Halal” Russia Muftis Council, trained chefs and technologists who will prepare food for the guests and participants of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Employee of the Muslim department acquainted workers of the restaurant complex on the ridge Psekhako and dining room on the Imereti lowland, near Sochi, where athletes will eat, with the rules of halal food preparation.

It is noteworthy that both catering establishments demonstrated their compliance with “halal”, – the press service of the Muftis Council reports.

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Moroccan Dates, Factor of Regional Development

Morocco World News / 05 Feb 2014 – Activity of the Moroccan dates production sector is expected to be revived under a new development program launched by Morocco in early October, says the London-based Oxford Business Group.

The strategy launched by National Agency for the Development of Oases and Argan to enhance date and argan oil production, is in line with the government’s broader goals of boosting agriculture exports and income in rural areas, as set out in the Green Morocco Plan (Plan Maroc Vert, PMV), initiated in 2008, says the business intelligence group which notes that while Morocco is a major agricultural exporter to Europe, the country has consumed more dates than it has produced.

The Agency forecasts investments of up to MAD 92bn (8 billion Euros) through 2020 under the new scheme, including MAD 1.3bn (982.7 million Euros) for the province of Errachidia, a centre for date cultivation.

Morocco produces around 90,000 tons of dates a year, compared to domestic consumption of about 120,000 tons, and imports from Algeria and Tunisia to fill the gap, says the group which also notes that the government would like to see a reduction in imports, as well as open up the opportunity for exports, which today are nominal.

“Authorities have targeted annual production of 160,000 tons by 2020, with a minimum of 5,000 tons for overseas sales”, it also writes explaining that higher production levels are to be achieved in part through the planting of more palm trees.

The government is targeting 8 million trees by 2020 and around 1 million new trees have already been planted in 2008,. Moreover, steps are being taken to rehabilitate existing trees and develop more disease-resistant varieties.

While the Moroccan government is looking to encourage investment in processing and packaging facilities, policymakers are also taking steps to boost local demand for Moroccan products, by setting up a new labeling system.

21 products have been awarded the “protected origin designation” label, including Majhoul dates. In the same vein, recent campaign called “Terroir Maroc” was launched by the National Agency for Agricultural Development to make customers aware of these labeled products and encourage the consumption of local goods.

Further labeling and marketing of other varieties could potentially result in higher demand from local consumers, as well as perhaps pave the way for an increase in exports.

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Masjid Al Haram workers start training to improve skills

World Bulletin / 05 Feb 2014 – The workers at Masjid Al Haram in Mecca will take part in special training courses designed to provide better services for the 15 million pilgrims who visit the holy sites each year.

Saudi Directorate General for the Holy Sites, which aims to provide better services for pilgrims visiting the holy lands of Hajj and Umrah, has decided to collaborate with Umm Al-Qura University in Mecca, Saudi Arabia for this purpose. Training courses are the first step for the cooperation.

The courses aim to familiarize workers with the traditions of the pilgrims; the trainees will also be given English, Urdu, Persian and French language courses to help them to communicate with the pilgrims.

The pilgrims and workers sometimes have problems due to lack of communication and misunderstanding. The courses are expected to be help towards the establishment of harmony between the workers of Saudi Directorate General for the Holy Sites and the visiting pilgrims.

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Saudi Arabia to launch $9.5bn mining industrial city

Al Arabiya / 5 Feb 2014 – Saudi Arabia signed contracts worth 36 billion Saudi riyals ($9.5bn) for the establishment of a new mineral industrial city in Waad al-Shamal.

The kingdom’s mining company, Maaden, also signed a number of deals worth $3.6bn for the establishment of five new plants in the new city.

The new industrial city will focus on mining, a “promising sector that started contributing to the national economy,” Dr. Ibrahim al-Assaf, Saudi finance minister, told Al Arabiya News Channel.

The project will bring larger diversity to the country’s exports and increase economic growth to the kingdom and the region, according to officials’ remarks during the launch.

According to the minister, the project is important on a domestic level, but also more important on a regional scale, “in terms of (providing) employment, and finding services to support the mining sector.”

The Ministry of Finance, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, the national Saudi Railway Company (SAR), the Industrial Development Fund, and Sanabil Investment Company were among the parties involved in the development of the new industrial city.

“The Ministry of Finance (participated) directly through financing the infrastructure of the project, and through institutes associated with it, such as the Public Investment Fund, which participated directly to the investment of the project, or indirectly through providing loans for projects to be established within the city,” Assaf explained to Al Arabiya News Channel.

Ministers of petroleum, electricity and economy were among the officials that attended the ceremony. Maaden, the Gulf’s largest miner, recently announced expanding its aluminum exports after signing several contracts to supply Asian markets during 2014, reported the Saudi Gazette in January.

The company reported a net loss of $7.8m in the fourth quarter of 2013, mainly due to low prices for its petrochemical products, Reuters reported.

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Uzbekistan works to improve e-government

Centralasiaonline.com 2014-02-03 TASHKENT – The Uzbek cabinet wants better government websites than the ones it has seen so far.

“The main problem is a lack of skilled system administrators to run the websites,” Salimjon Faizullayev, manager of the government’s ZiyoNet educational clearing-house website, noted. “Also, some high-ranking officials consider their agencies’ websites an ‘excessive burden.'”

Under the 2013-2020 National Information and Communication System Development Programme, the country plans to establish an electronic government (e-government) system enabling citizens to request every form of government service via the internet.

“Implementation is going full speed ahead, but the government wants it to still go faster and to ensure high quality,” Majit Abdurasulov, a spokesman for the Co-ordinating Council on the Development of Computerisation and Information and Communication Technologies, told Central Asia Online.

The government resolution about the internet service, issued December 31, calls for the websites of all government bodies to be modernised by March 1, Abdurasulov said.

“The website of a government body, such as a ministry, other agency, a local government, etc., must be fully functional if accessed from a cell phone and be easy for the disabled to use,” he added. “As a separate requirement, (the authorities must) introduce technologies enabling them to gather data on public opinion and to communicate with individual citizens. We mean chat forums, blogs, guest-books and polls.”

“The … criteria will include the existence/non-existence of a website as such, as well as its information security and stability of operation,” Abdurasulov said. Many government websites need considerable work, computer specialists and ordinary users say.

“Creating a website for each government agency was a very good idea, but its implementation … has been far from perfect,” Tashkent website developer Arkadiy Merkulov told Central Asia Online.

Many of the agencies’ websites are vulnerable to hacking because they are based on freeware, Merkulov warned, adding that such issues evidently prompted the latest decree.

Establishing a common portal for interactive government services is a major state project – part of the general e-government programme – designed to give Uzbeks maximum access to government services online.

“The common portal (My.gov.uz) takes upon itself the functions of all government websites; a user can apply for information, request copies of documents, register a legal entity, and receive dozens of other services,” Dilshod Khairullayev, a spokesman for the State Committee on Communications, Informatisation and Telecommunication Technologies, told Central Asia Online. “One of the most important services is the chance for the public to contact government officials. Formerly, you had to write an (old-fashioned) letter to do that; now you can exercise your lawful right (to contact an official) without leaving your home.”

“At first, I had my doubts … about this common portal,” Tashkent woman Darya Khalmurzayeva said. “But I decided to try it. … I e-mailed the local utility, complaining about the dilapidated condition of (our apartment building)’s inner courtyard. To my surprise, someone called me five days later from the district government. … Workers actually came and filled in the potholes with asphalt.”

The authorities want to broaden the range of services Uzbeks can request via the internet.

“Uzbeks are supposed to exchange their passports for new biometric documents before 2015,” Khairullayev said. “With only a year left before that deadline, long lines have formed at the country’s passport offices. To help the public, Uzbekistan has integrated a system for requesting one’s biometric passport online. This online service has been available since January 10 to residents of one Tashkent district so far, but soon it’ll be available to everyone nationwide.”

“The innovations include an app for letting cell phone users access the common portal,” Khairullayev added. “Such an app is already available for free at … Google Play. … Accessing the portal by cell phone is convenient, for example, when you’re witnessing a violation that you want to photograph on the spot (and want to report).”

One obstacle to widespread e-service use in Uzbekistan is the low average internet speed – the country ranked 168th out of 188 in average consumer download speed in the latest results from Speedtest.net – but state-owned UzbekTelekom said it would be possible to quadruple the speed of Uzbekistan’s internet connection to the outside world this year.

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Ornamental stitching brings fortune to 30,000 rural women

RANGPUR, Feb 04, 2014 (BSS) – Over 30,000 distressed and unemployed rural women have changed their fortune through various ornamental stitching works like embroidering, spangling (putting ‘Chumki’) etc in the northern districts in recent years.

These successful women have also contributed to driving away the decades-old seasonal ‘monga’ to make the government’s poverty alleviation programme successful.

As the popular venture expands faster, many of the rural women of all ages, especially from the poorer and distressed families, have been following the same footsteps to achieve self- reliance everywhere in the region.

Talking to BSS, the successful women said they are always passing busier time following more demand of their handwork that adds additional values to the products being marketed at the country’s sophisticated markets including in the capital city.

Head of Programme Coordination of RDRS Bangladesh Monjusree Saha told BSS that said thousands of rural women have already changed fortune after winning over poverty, driving away monga and are dreaming better future for their children.

Many of them have now launched small-scale enterprises after getting training and assistances from government and non-government organisations to expand the sector in association with the local traders and entrepreneurs.

Executive Director of Northbengal Institute of Development Studies Dr Syed Samsuzzaman said ornamental stitching, embroidering, spangling ‘Chumki’ works etc have already become blessings for hundreds of rural women brining fortune for them.

Talking to BSS, successful entrepreneur Chand Mia of village Chandkuthi Danga said he has expanded the venture generating employment for 400 poor females in Badarganj upazila of Rangpur through creating expert ornamental ‘Chumki’ and embroidery artisans.

He generally supplies simple saree, ‘Chumki’, anti- pipe, dhania puthi, tire puthi, pet-pipe, phooljori, laljori, sadajori, dhole Chumki, stitching inputs, yarns and threads to the women to make those more attractive by stitching ‘Chumki’, embroidery etc.

He informed that each of the saree is being sold in Dhaka markets at Taka 8,500 to Taka 25,000 on an average while the saree made by more skillful hand is sold at higher prices of up to Taka 40,000 in the aristocrat Dhaka city markets.

Local elite Abdul Haque and Sunil Kumar said women of all ages in the village have turned into craftspeople to decorate saree with ‘Chumki’ and embroidery on at least one saree a week to earn Taka 700 to 900 weekly.

“Monthly additional income of these housewives, girls, adolescents, female students, divorcees and distressed women varies between Taka 2,800 and 3,800 and they earn double before Eid-ul-Fitr and Durga Puja festivities,” they added.

‘Chumki’, craftswomen and artisans Nargis, Kamola, Sohana, Shameema, Marjina, and Mollika said they have become self-reliant through these ornamental works like many other women and adolescent of the village after seeing off poverty.

Similarly, some 1,000 women of all ages have changed their fates through embroidery, ‘jari’, ‘puthi’ and ‘Chumki’ works on saree, three-pieces, scarf and other female clothes in seven villages under Sadar upazila Thakurgaon district in recent years.

Lutfa Begum, Sufi Begum, students Sabiha and Sadeka Begum of Shibganj village have also achieved self-reliance like others after winning over poverty by earning additional wages through handworks at homes, local entrepreneur Mamuni Begum of Shibganj said.

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All but eight countries to get visa-on-arrival

NEW DELHI, Feb 6, 2014(BSS) – The Government of India approved a plan to extend visa-on-arrival facility to almost all countries yesterday.

The move aims to make it easier for tourists to visit India and has been extended to 180 countries. But Pakistan, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Somalia are eight countries that have been kept out of the list due to security risk.

The decision was came from a meeting by the planning commission of India that include Prime Minister Office, Ministry of Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs and Tourism.

Minister of State for Planning and Parliamentary Affairs, India, Rajiv Shukla, said the proposal had been cleared at a Planning Commission meeting attended by Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh and top PMO officials.

“It is a major move and we hope it will boost tourism in a big way. We hope to implement this from the next tourist session beginning October,” Shukla said.

While Indian intelligence agencies had been resisting the relaxed visa regime due to security concerns, they have now agreed to the proposal.

The move is expected to usher in a major revamp of India’s tourist visa system. The model likely to be put in place will do away with the need to visit an Indian mission but will require tourists to make an online application before their departure.

The Bureau of Immigration will set up a website for this and upon submission of an application, it will email an electronic visa/travel authorization within 2-3 days, allowing the tourist to enter India and also facilitate easier verification at airports.

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Govt. proposes to SAARC to launch language conversion project

DHAKA, Feb 6, 2014 (BSS) – The government has proposed to the visiting SAARC delegation to launch a project on language conversion aimed at enabling people of eight SAARC countries to get various information including knowledge, tradition and culture in their national languages.

Information and Communication Technology Secretary N I Khan gave this proposal to the SAARC delegation headed by Director of Department of ICT of Bhutan Phuntosho Tobgay during a meeting at the former’s office today.

Now the SAARC web portal is providing information about the member countries in English language, but if a language converter is introduced the information in English will automatically be converted into national languages of respective member countries, he told the delegation.

He said this will actually enhance the communication skills, cooperation and help people of SAARC countries to know about knowledge, development, and culture of each other’s country.

Officials present at the meeting said the SAARC delegation responded positively to it and asked the ICT secretary to submit a proposal immediately to SAARC Development FUND (SDF) so that they could raise the issue for taking a decision at the meeting of SDF to be held in Bhutan on March 10 next.

“We are already working to make a proposal involving various components including development of a software about language converter and hopefully we will submit it to the SDF this month as the SAARC delegation requested me to do the same,” N I Khan said.

Officials of the Department of MoICT of Bhutan including Lachman Acharya, Kezang and Sangay Tenzim and Additional Secretary of ICT Ministry Kamal Uddin Ahmed and Joint Secretary (Admin) Sushanta Kumar Saha were present at the meeting.

In the meeting, the SAARC delegation was also appraised of the progress by the Bangladesh side about the implementation of the SDF funded ‘Empowering Rural Communities: Reaching the Unreached Project’.

The delegation expressed satisfaction over rapid implementation of the project which is expected completed by March next, said Susanta Saha.

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Azerbaijan to join ten int’l tourism exhibitions in 2014

06 February 2014 – TODAY.AZ – Azerbaijan plans to participate in ten international tourism fairs in 2014, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Culture and Tourism told Trend on Feb. 5. The Azerbaijani delegation participated in EMITT tourism exhibition in Istanbul in 2014, according to the information.

Azerbaijan will be represented at international tourism exhibitions in Berlin (March 5-9), Moscow (March 11-22), Kiev (March 26-28), Almaty (April 23-25), Dubai (May 5-8), Frankfurt (May 20-22), Paris (September 23-26), London (November 3-6), and Barcelona (November18-20) in 2014.

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Guba, Azerbaijan’s youth capital of 2014

07 February 2014 – AzerNews – The city of Guba in Azerbaijan has been chosen as the “Youth Capital” of 2014. About 600,000 people took part in the an internet poll conducted as part of “Azerbaijani Youth in 2011-2015” state program. The voters could pick up one out of fifteen cities offered.

After the voting, Head of the Guba Youth and Sports Department Mustafa Nohbalayev was awarded a key, symbolizing the victory of the city.

The voting of the “Youth Capital” is held regularly to expand the scope of programs for the youth. It paves the way for more active participation of young people in the social, political and cultural life of the Youth Capital. Moreover, the city pays more attention to implement creative ideas for involving young people in social life.

The process of selecting “Youth Capital” is carried out in two stages. At the first stage the organizing committee, according to the documents, offers a list of cities and regions, and at the second stage, internet voting takes place.

Earlier, Azerbaijan’s “Youth Capital” was respectively Ganja (2012) and Bilasuvar (2013). With its amazing nature, Guba, located on the north-east of Azerbaijan at the distance of 168 kilometers from Baku, is one of the favorite tourist destinations.

The beautiful mountainous Khinalig village, located at the territory of this district stands at the altitude of 2500 meters above sea level. The population of this settlement is an ethnographic group. They speak an archaic language like no other modern languages. Moreover, the famous Krasnaya Sloboda (Red Village) which is a home to one of the larges communities of Mountain Jews in the world is also located in Guba.

Some amazing architecture like Juma mosque, the mausoleum of the 16th century, Sakina Khanum mosque and ancient baths are located in the vicinity of the city, which also has a historical museum of famous public figure of the 20th century, educator and writer Abbasgulu Aga Bakikhanov.

Guba was visited by legendary French writer Alexander Dumas, his Russian counterpart Alexander Bestuzhev – Marlinskiy and famous Norwegian scientist and traveler Thor Heyerdahl, who believed that Aesir, mentioned in the Poetic Edda, which is a collection of Old Norse poems, were the most ancient ancestors of Azerbaijanis, who moved to northern Europe during the Great Migration.

The beautiful Azerbaijani region is also famous for its apples which have long become its symbol. Guba residents confirm that there are more than 40 different varieties of apples. Besides, Guba is a recognized center of carpet weaving. Meanwhile, local people believe that traditional Chichi, Ag Gul and Pirabadil carpets are unique across Azerbaijan.

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Morocco Invites Investors For US$9 Bln Solar Project

RABAT, Feb. 6 (NNN-AGENCIES) — Morocco has recruited foreign investors to fund a US$9 billion solar power project, even though some European lenders have balked due to the location of some planned plants in the disputed Western Sahara.

Lending sources at German state-owned banks and at multi-lateral lenders such as the World Bank, the European Investment Bank and the European Union said they would not finance projects based in Western Sahara.

“That is their problem. We have no financing problems. We have several (investors); there are Japanese, Chinese, Gulf countries,” Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar said Tuesday in Madrid, where he was meeting with Spanish business leaders.

He declined to give details on the financing contracts with specific parties.

Morocco, a net energy importer, wants to develop renewable power to reach 20 percent of its energy supply in 10 years, up from 8 percent now, Mezouar said.

The solar project involves five plants, two of them planned in Western Sahara, that would produce a total of 2,000 megawatts.

Morocco has controlled most of the sparsely populated Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, since 1975. But the Algeria-backed Polisario Front seeks independence, and a United Nations mission was formed more than 20 years ago ahead of an expected referendum on Western Sahara’s political future, which has never taken place.

European investor sources said earlier this year they did not want to support any project in Western Sahara, because it would mean abandoning a neutral position over the conflict.

The solar project is focussed on building the first of the five plants.

“The other four plants will also happen. The goal is to achieve 2,000 MW, and we will continue with our plan. The Western Sahara issue has nothing to do with it. The financing is not conditioned on whether plants are in Sahara or not,” the minister said.

“Western Sahara needs renewable energy, and the investment will be made. If some people don’t want to come, others will.”

Saudi Arabia’s Acwa Power International won the $1 billion contract for the first solar plant, which is scheduled to start operating next year in Ouarzazate with a capacity of 160 MW. It awarded the construction to a consortium of three Spanish companies – Sener, Acciona and TSK.

Hundreds of Spanish companies do business in Morocco, and more than half of Spain’s entire investment in Africa is in Morocco, according to Moroccan figures.

Overall, Morocco aims for 15 to 20 percent growth in foreign direct investment a year in the economy, up from 13 percent last year, Mezouar said.

Mezouar said that Morocco, which has been more stable than most of its neighbours during the so-called Arab spring in recent years, offers yet more potential for Spanish investors as a base for textile and automotive manufacturing and as a springboard for trade to the rest of Africa.

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4,600-Year-Old Step Pyramid Uncovered In Egypt

CAIRO, Egypt, Feb 4 (NNN-MENA) – Archaeologists working near the ancient settlement of Edfu, in southern Egypt, have uncovered a step pyramid that dates back about 4,600 years, pre-dating the Great Pyramid of Giza by at least a few decades.

The step pyramid, which once stood as high as 43 feet (13 metres), is one of seven so-called “provincial” pyramids, built by either the pharaoh Huni (reign ca. 2635-2610 B.C.) or Snefru (reign ca. 2610-2590 B.C.). Over time, the step pyramid’s stone blocks were pillaged, and the monument was exposed to weathering, so today, it’s only about 16 feet (5 m) tall.

Scattered throughout central and southern Egypt, the provincial pyramids are located near major settlements, have no internal chambers and were not intended for burial. Six of the seven pyramids have almost identical dimensions, including the newly uncovered one at Edfu, which is about 60 x 61 feet (18.4 x 18.6 m).

The purpose of these seven pyramids is a mystery. They may have been used as symbolic monuments, dedicated to the royal cult that affirmed the power of the king in the southern provinces.

“The similarities from one pyramid to the other are really amazing, and there is definitely a common plan,” said Gregory Marouard, a research associate at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, who led the work at the Edfu pyramid.

On the east side of the newly uncovered pyramid, his team found the remains of an installation, where food offerings appear to have been made — a discovery that is important for the understanding of this kind of pyramid, since it provides clues as to what they were used for.

The team also found hieroglyphic graffiti, incised on the outer faces of the pyramid. The inscriptions are located beside the remains of babies and children, who were buried at the foot of the pyramid. The researchers think, the inscriptions and burials date to long after the pyramid was built and that the structure was not originally intended as a burial place.

Initial results of the excavation were presented at a symposium held in Toronto recently by the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities.

Though scholars knew of the existence of the pyramid at Edfu, the structure had never been excavated before Marouard’s team started work in 2010, he said, in the study. His team found that the pyramid was covered by a thick layer of sand, modern waste and remains from the pillaging of its blocks.

It didn’t look like a pyramid he said, and people in a nearby village even thought the structure was the tomb of a sheikh, a local Muslim saint. As the team went to work cleaning the monument, the ancient pyramid was revealed.

Built of sandstone blocks and clay mortar, it had been constructed in the form of a three-step pyramid. A core of blocks rises up vertically, with two layers of blocks beside it, on top of each other.

This made the pyramid look like it had three steps. The style is similar to that of a step pyramid built by Djoser (reign ca. 2670-2640 B.C.), the pharaoh who constructed Egypt’s first pyramid, at the beginning of the third ancient Egyptian dynasty. The technique is close to that used at the Meidum pyramid, which was built by either Snefru or Huni and started out as a step pyramid before being turned into a true pyramid.

“The construction itself reflects a certain care and a real expertise in the mastery of stone construction, especially for the adjustment of the most important blocks,” said Marouard, in his paper. Marouard also noted that the pyramid was built directly on the bedrock and was constructed entirely with local raw materials. The quarry where the sandstone was extracted was discovered in 2011, and is located only about a half mile (800 m) north of the pyramid.

The growth of a modern-day cemetery and village poses a danger to the newly uncovered pyramid. In order to help prevent further looting, a fence was built around the structure, thanks to financial assistance from the American Research Centre in Egypt and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

As the team uncovered the pyramid, they found that inscriptions had been incised on its outer faces. They include hieroglyphic depictions of a book roll, a seated man, a four-legged animal, a reed leaf and a bird.

“These are mostly private and rough inscriptions, and certainly dedicated to the child/babies’ burials, located right under these inscriptions at the foot of the pyramid,” Marouard told Live Science in an email. One of the inscriptions appears to mean “head of the house” and may be a reference to the mother of a buried child.

Marouard said, his team would be publishing these burials and images in more detail in the future.

The archaeologists found that by the time of the reign of Khufu (the pharaoh who built the Great Pyramid), ca. 2590-2563 B.C., the pyramid at Edfu had been abandoned, and offerings were no longer being made. This occurred less than 50 years after its construction, Marouard said.

This suggests the seven small pyramids stopped being used when work on the Great Pyramid began. It seems Khufu no longer thought there was a need to maintain a small pyramid at Edfu, or elsewhere in southern Egypt, Marouard said. Rather, Khufu focused all the resources on building the Great Pyramid at Giza, which is close to the Egyptian capital at Memphis, he added.

Khufu may have felt politically secure in southern Egypt and saw no need to maintain or build pyramids there, Marouard said in the email. The “centre of gravity of Egypt was then at Memphis for many centuries — this region, draining resources and manpower from the provinces, all regions being put to use for the large construction sites of funerary complexes.”

At Wadi al-Jarf, a port found on the shore of the Red Sea that dates to Khufu’s time, papyri (written documents) dating to the end of Khufu’s reign were recently discovered, that supports the idea that the pharaoh tried to converge all the resources he could toward Giza and the ancient wonder being constructed there.

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4th Jeddah Tourism & Travel expo kicks off

Saudi Gazette – 06 February, 2014 – On behalf of Jeddah Governor, Prince Misha’al bin Majed, Dr. Hani Abu Ras, Mayor of Jeddah inaugurated Tuesday evening the 4th Jeddah Tourism and Travel Exhibition (JTTX) with an objective of identifying tourism destinations and promoting internal and international tourism for Saudi tourists.

After touring the exhibition with other dignitaries and representatives of participating agencies and airlines, the Mayor said “this year’s JTTX comes as a strong indicator of the vital role the travel and tourism industry plays in the region’s socio-economic development.”

More than 80 Saudi and international tourist companies are taking part in the three-day exhibition which is organized by 4 M in collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry with the support of Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities and Jeddah Municipality.

The three-day trade event expects to attracts well over 20000 visitors, delegates and decision makers from the travel, tourism, hospitality, airlines and related industries, said Maya Halfawi, chairperson of the exhibition’s organizing committee.

At the opening ceremony, she noted that the exhibition presents seven types of modern tourism targeted by the show in its fourth edition, and include medical tourism, environmental, marine, conferences, shopping tourism and sports tourism of all kinds and leisure tourism, too.

She also confirmed that the show has established itself as one of the leading tourism events in the region since its inception four years ago, by providing the space which allows professionals in the sector to communicate with each other on the one hand and communicate with visitors to offer their services and their offerings on the other.

“This exhibition is a great opportunity for travel and tourism companies to promote their businesses and exchange experiences and ideas with one another. In addition, this event is a powerful medium in which we can share with international representatives our travel promotion programs and highlight the provisions of our tourism industry,” she added.

The exhibition was inaugurated in the presence of Ziad Bassam Al-Bassam, Vice Chairman, Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Director General of the General Authority for Tourism and Antiquities in Makkah Muhammad bin Abdullah Al-Omari, and a number of business owners and representatives of the economic community.

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Oman signs $35 million railway deal

Gulf Daily News – 07 February, 2014 – Oman has signed a 13.6 million rial ($ 35.3m) deal with Italferr, the Italian state railways engineering firm, for consultancy services on the initial design of its multibillion-dollar railway project, its state news agency ONA said.

A pre-qualification tender for railway construction will hopefully be launched soon, Minister of Transport and Communications Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Futaisi said.

“The first contractor will be awarded the actual work early in 2015,” he said, adding that field preparations had started including geographic and geological surveys.

The state-funded, 2,244km rail network would link the desert town of Buraimi, bordering the UAE, to six major settlements in Oman, including the industrial city of Sohar and the port of Salalah, seen as the region’s future gateway to Africa.

Officials have estimated the eventual cost of the project at around $15 billion. It would ultimately connect to a planned rail network across the GCC, and eventually to Yemen.

Oman, which will face challenges in financing its state budget and generating employment for its citizens in coming years, has said it expects its railway network to be fully operational by 2018.

The railway could help diversify Oman’s economy beyond oil and gas by facilitating trade and industrial projects, while increasing the geopolitical security of Gulf states by giving them a major trade route bypassing the Strait of Hormuz.

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Salalah City, Al Roya get Arab Tourism Media awards

Oman Daily Observer – 07 February, 2014 – The Arab Centre for Tourism Media unveiled its annual awards for the different sectors yesterday. Salalah City won the best tourism destination award and Al Roya newspaper captured the private journalism award.

The annual awards have been unveiled on the sidelines of the sixth tourism forum that was held in Luxor, Egypt under the theme “Arab Tourism, Fundamentals and Challenges’, which lasts till today.

It is worth mentioning that Mustafa al Maamari from Al Watan newspaper of Oman co-shared the best tourism journalist award with Atef bin Mohammed Eid al Qadhi from Saudi Arabia. Oman Air also won the tourism media sponsor award.

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Qatar’s hotel market growth on track

The Peninsula – 08 February, 2014 – Organisers of the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC 2013) discussed Qatar’s long-term vision for the tourism sector and reviewed local and global hotel performance indicators and projects.

Reviewing key global hotel performance indicators with a focus on Qatar, Philip Wooller, Area Director for Middle East and Africa at STR Global said, “Despite another year of increased supply (6.5 percent) Doha continues to improve its reputation as a destination for business and leisure.

“Demand increased by 17.7 percent resulting in occupancy increases of 11 percent. However, room rates achieved dropped by 7.9 percent which was perhaps more to do with the perceived impact of the 2012 new supply numbers which increased by 35 percent as hotels sought higher market share through competitive pricing,” he added.

The Middle East and Africa region reported positive performance results during December 2013, according STR Global.

It reported a three percent increase in occupancy to 59.5 percent, a 4.2 percent increase in average daily rate to $ 180.65 and a 7.3 percent increase in revenue per available room to $ 107.44.

Demand increased in the Middle East by 6.6 percent at YE while supply increased by 10.2 percent. Highlighting the importance of planning ahead, as it pertains to successful hotel developments, Kees Hartzuiker, Chief Executive Officer of hospitality consultancy firm Roya International, said, “When it comes to hotels vs hotel apartments, the past couple of years have shown that including both components in a property offers the flexibility to react to ever-changing market trends which in turn helps optimise performance and protects owner’s returns.”

The Doha hotel market continues to show positive results with an increase in occupancies not only during November, but throughout 2013.

This is a positive sign for the Qatari market given the increase in supply during the year and can be attributed to the increase in passenger numbers achieved by Qatar Airways through its expanding operations, global network and the Doha Stopover Programme.

Edmund O’Sullivan, Chairman of MEED Events, said, “We have chosen Qatar for the second year to host one of our pre-AHIC regional briefings, because we believe in continued efforts by this country to invest heavily in the hospitality and tourism sector, which is expected to boost job creation in the next few years.

“With 81 hotels operating and 110 under construction, Qatar promises almost 1,27,000 jobs for hospitality professionals by 2030,” he added.

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