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11 Aug, 2014

US$100M ADB Loans For Bangladesh Railways Upgrade

Compiled by Imtiaz Muqbil & Sana Shamsi

A compilation of stories of interesting events and developments in the world of Islam for the week ending 11 August 2014 (14 Shawwal 1435). Pls click on any of the headlines below to go to the story.



The Islamic Tourism Centre in Malaysia has launched a vibrant new website presenting Malaysia as a prime destination for Islamic tourism and a global halal hub. The website offers a wealth of information on Mosque trails, Islamic Museums, Ramadan & Eid-ul Fitr, Muslim-Friendly Tour Highlights, as well as a Muslim Visitor’s Guide, Halal Directory and Souvenirs Directory. Located strategically at the heart of Southeast Asia, Malaysia is well-known for its natural beauty and diverse cultural landscape. At its social core are three of Asia’s oldest civilisations – Malay, Chinese and Indian – as well as the ethnic communities of Sabah and Sarawak, resulting in a unique and inspiring blend of cultures. With an abundance of halal food, prayer facilities and Islamic attractions, Malaysia perfectly caters to the needs of Muslim travellers. The ITC plays a pivotal role in bringing Malaysia to the forefront of Islamic tourism. It works with industry players to build their capacity in Islamic tourism, thus ensuring that the needs of Muslim visitors are better served. ITC has also taken several initiatives in standardising industry’s best practices through research, seminars, workshops and industry outreach programmes. Now is the perfect time to experience the country’s multitude of Muslim-friendly tourism products – Islamic architectural heritage, halal gastronomic delights, vibrant Islamic festivals and world-class Islamic events – all guaranteed to give visitors an incredible time.

Click here to see the fabulous new 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.




Malaysia On Track To Reach 28 Mln Tourist Target

GEORGE TOWN, Malaysia Aug 2 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia is on track to achieve its target of 28 million tourists this year despite the challenges, said Tourism and Culture Minister Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz.

“Our goal this year is 28 million tourists. In recent months, we have been subjected to inconveniences such as kidnapping (in Sabah), the loss of our two planes, many feel it will affect our target.

“I would like to report we are still on track because tourist arrivals between January and May has increased 10 per cent to 11 per cent compared to the same period last year,” he said at the launch of the George Town Festival (GTF) last night. Also present was Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.

Nazri said the GTF was undeniably one of the top tourist attractions not only in the country but also in the region, and the ministry was proud to be part of it.

“I am pleased with the progress of this festival because agencies under my ministry have partnered with GTF as this is in line with Visit Malaysia 2014 in our efforts to draw more tourists to Malaysia,” he said.

The month-long GTF is a celebration of Penang’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and showcases 147 art and culture programmes.

Nazri noted that art had always been a significant part of society; the 1Malaysia Comtemporary Art Tourism festival (1MCAT) was introduced to establish Malaysia as a reputable art destination, he added.

The fifth GTF kicked off with ‘Circus Circus’, a unique circus ensemble by four countries, Finland, Japan, China and Thailand.

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Qatar Summer Festival Off To A Colourful And Exciting Start

DOHA, Qatar, Aug 5 (NNN-QNA) – The Qatar Summer Festival, organised by the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), began yesterday with the opening of the Entertainment City, at the Doha Exhibition Centre (DEC) and the launching of various activities across the country.

Visitors, who came as early as 4.00pm, were surprised to see new and exciting games and attractions, not only for children but for the whole family as well.

Festival organisers have created six different zones to house numerous activities: the interactive sports, summer freeze, extreme adventure, kids’ zone, food court and the stage.

A staff organiser, who did not want to be named, said, they adopted a summer concept that will give visitors a “cool feeling” inside the venue.

Some of the new attractions included the Ski Tube (designed for kids under five) and the Ski Slope (for 12-year-olds and above).

The Austrian-inspired activity charges QR15 for at least 15 minutes of skiing. A staff said, it was their first time to come to Doha and hopes to entertain, teach and give residents and citizens “a unique skiing experience during the summer season.”

“I brought my 13-year-old son Ahmad for him to learn something new and it’s a good thing they have these events this year,” said Mohamed al-Mutawah.

Like other visitors, he expects more families to come to DEC in the coming days.

The summer freeze zone also hosts small activities for kids, such as, the Ice Hockey game and the Snow Globe. But for those who want to experience more fun and excitement, the Snow Ball fight would be the perfect choice.

Remote-controlled car race, organised by staff from Slovakia, have also attracted a number of children to play, using the off-road racetrack at the interactive sports zone.

The circus school, skateboard and bike park at the extreme adventure zone offer lessons and basic trainings. “It is probably the right place for thrill seekers,” said one of the staff from Holland.

At the kids’ zone, children will have the chance to play various games and try some activities, such as face painting, small bump car race, drawing, painting and wall climbing.

Ticket prices for every game and activity located at different zones range from QR5 to QR30.

The Entertainment City also has a food court which hosts a number of eateries for those who want to sip a cup of coffee, have a snack or take their dinner. Just on the opposite side are shops selling stuffed toys, souvenirs and various other items.

Some expatriates said, they liked the set-up at the DEC this year, since it promoted exercise (wall climbing) and inspired people to try other physical activities.

A stage also presents a series of wholesome programmes for everyone.

The festival also started the dancing fountain show, across from Al Murjan Restaurant on the Corniche.

The water and light show, that is switched on after 6.00pm, was appreciated by the public and motorists who passed by the area.

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Oman Takes One Step Closer To Becoming Air Transit Hub

MUSCAT, Oman, Aug 6 (NNN-ONA) – Oman’s civil aviation sector received a boost, with the official opening of the Transitional Air Traffic Control (ATC) Centre, at Muscat International Airport by Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed al Futaisi, Minister of Transport and Communications and Chairman of the Public Authority for Civil Aviation (PACA).

According to a statement, the centre will help air traffic control operators familiarise themselves with the state-of-the-art equipment recently installed, and help in ensuring an easy transition to the new ATC centre. The centre is part of the expansion projects of Muscat and Salalah airports.

Dr Futaisi said that, launching the new air control consoles is an added achievement to the civil aviation sector. He added that, the new state-of-the-art systems will enhance the safety of aircraft and traffic in Omani airspace, which deals with between 1,000 and 1,200 aircraft transits every day.

“By the end of this year, the first stage of the new airport will be opened (and) the air traffic management will shift to the new tower and runway. When the airport is opened in full, the air traffic control will move to the new air traffic complex and passenger terminal. This gradual shift is very important for ensuring that operators are familiarised with the modern and advanced systems,” Dr Futaisi said.

Nasser bin Salim al Mazro’ee, head of ATC Centre, said that, the shift to the new transitional centre would meet the growing needs and help the growth of transit air traffic in the sultanate. The new system ensures high-level safety network and provides both air safety and excellence in rendering civil aviation services.

He added that the new systems will provide controllers with additional information, directly from the aircraft to the radar screen, using an additional safety network that was not present with the old system.

The statement added that the opening of the centre will help Oman enjoy a leading international position, in terms of providing air navigation services for the aviation sector, as the services provided by PACA to users of the sultanate’s air spaces will be improved.

The opening ceremony was also attended by Dr Mohammed bin Nasser al Za’abi, CEO of PACA and a number of PACA officials.

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Etihad Airways Sets New Record For Passenger Numbers

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, Aug 6 (NNN-WAM) – Etihad Airways has enjoyed the busiest four days in the history of the airline with 181,333 passengers flying with the Abu Dhabi-based airline, during the post Eid al-Fitr period, reports Emirates News Agency (WAM).

On Saturday, 46,572 passengers boarded Etihad Airways flights, with 45,981 flying on Sunday, 44,443 passengers on Friday and 44,331 passengers on Thursday.

The 181,333 figure for the four days is an increase of 36 per cent over the same period at the end of Eid al-Fitr in 2013, when 133,007 passengers took Etihad flights, WAM said. The load factor for this period also rose from 79.3 per cent in 2013 to 88.1 per cent in 2014.

Each Etihad Airways cabin experienced a significant increase, with First Class load factors rising by 6.1 per cent, Business Class by 12.1 per cent and Economy Class by 8.6 percent.

Peter Baumgartner, Etihad Airways’ Chief Commercial Officer, said that successfully carrying more than 180,000 passengers during the four days was a fantastic achievement for the airline. “We thank our guests for choosing to fly with Etihad Airways and helping set these records,” he said.

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Oman Likely To Become India’s Wedding Destination

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Aug 6 (NNN-ONA) – Oman is likely to become a preferred destination for Indian weddings, thanks to its close proximity and blend of modern infrastructure and old world charm.

India’s wedding market is estimated at US$25 billion and is growing at a rate of 25 to 30 percent annually, Press Trust of India (PTI) reports, quoting the Times of Oman.

Indians are constantly on the lookout for new wedding destinations, the report said.

“Muscat is likely to witness two large-scale Indian weddings, featuring 700 and 1,000 guests in Nov and early next year,” said Omani Tourism Promotion Board’s official, Lubaina Sheerazi.

“More potential guests have been there and the Indian government has recognised Oman as a wedding destination, which is a promising move,” Sheerazi said. Oman has conducted familiarisation trips to India, to learn more about wedding planning there.

“We feel Oman has great potential to become a wedding destination for Indians. Oman is close to India, not only geographically but has close cultural ties,” Sheerazi said.

The Tourism Board recently participated in the Experiential Wedding Planner 2014, in the cities of Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad in India.

“Following the nascent steps we took in the past one year, we received some good wedding enquiries,” Sheerazi said.

Statistics from the National Centre for Statistics and Information, showed the number of visitors staying at Oman’s four- and five-star hotels grew by 23.8 percent in the first four months of the year, compared to the same period last year.

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Oman House Owners Rent Out Properties To Tourists

MUSCAT, Oman, Aug 7 (NNN-ONA) – For those who often complain about the lack of enough budget hotels in Salalah, there is good news.

Citizens in the wilayat and nearby areas are renting out private apartments to tourists, a trend which seems to be catching up.

Mohammed Ali Qatan, a resident of Salalah, who rents out apartments to visitors said, “I thought of this business after I heard visitors complaining about lack of budget hotels in Salalah. Last year, I rented out a part of my house to tourists, during the Khareef season and found it quite lucrative.

“This year I got a building built with four apartments, so that I could rent them out to tourists. I charge between RO70 and RO80 per day for each apartment. Usually groups of families come and take all four apartments on rent and stay for five to seven days. I make around RO1,000 a week.”

He added, “The rates are negotiable. Our apartments are for those who are looking for budget options with all the facilities.”

According to the National Centre for Statistics and Information, 148,800 tourists visited Salalah, from the beginning of the Khareef season (autumn – from June) till Aug 3, compared to 67,300 during the same period last year.

Of these, 69.3 per cent tourists were Omanis, 11.3 per cent were from UAE and 3.8 per cent from other GCC countries.

Officials of luxury hotels, however, said that despite the increased footfall, occupancy is around 85 per cent. “Despite an increase in the number of tourists to Salalah this year, we haven’t had 100 per cent occupancy unlike last year. The rising trend of renting furnished private apartments could be a reason for this, as most tourists look for cheaper options,” said a marketing representative of a five-star resort in Salalah.

A hotel owner in Salalah said, “This is the third Khareef season for us and I would say the business has remained the same, as compared to the last year. Emiratis top the list among travellers followed by Saudis.”

He added, “Budget hotels are not affecting our business, as we have 18 apartments which are quite popular with tourists. We have clients who prefer luxury and convenience over cost.”

For Laila al Ghassani, a teacher, the new trend means an increase in income, “We usually rent out our house during the Khareef and stay in tents. But this year, my husband got ten apartments constructed.

“We have regular customers from the UAE and Qatar, who book in advance and pay a good price for the accommodation.”

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Middle East Airlines Record High Passenger Growth Amid Growing Risks

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Aug 7 (NNN-XINHUA) – Middle East airlines recorded a 10.8 percent increase in demand in June — the largest increase for any region.

Growth in the region “reflects the continued strength of regional economies and solid growth in business-related premium travel,” said the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in its monthly report.

Risk profile in civil aviation has also increased, Xinhua news agency reports IATA as saying.

Global average passenger growth stood at 4.7 percent.

IATA chief executive officer, Tony Tyler, said, the overall development was encouraging, even though it was a slight weakening on May’s performance.

“Whether the conflict in the Middle East, sanctions and an impending trade war with Russia, possible default in Argentina or the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa — all have the potential to dent demand,” he said.

Tyler considered the spread of Ebola virus in West Africa, as one of the biggest challenges.

“IATA continues to work with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), to ensure that airlines are well-prepared to deal with the situation, however it unfolds,” he said.

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“Islam Message” Exhibition Launched At Cambridge University

LONDON, England, Aug 7 (NNN-ONA) – “Islam Message” exhibition, which now reached its 49th destination, was launched at Cambridge University in UK today.

Launching the exhibition coincides with the annual Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme. The seven-day programme is organised, in collaboration with the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, in the Sultanate of Oman.

Professor David Ford delivered a speech, during which he thanked the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs in the Sultanate, for its efforts to promote tolerance and peaceful coexistence culture.

Mohammed bin Said al-Ma’amari, Scientific Advisor at the Office of the Minister of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, delivered a speech on the message of the exhibition, and the efforts made by Oman, to promote peace and tolerance throughout its history epochs.

A number of Cambridge professors, officials and participants at the Inter-Faith Programme attended the opening ceremony.

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Kuwaiti Support To Development In Yemen Lauded

SANAA, Aug.8 (NNN-KUNA) — Yemen’s Minister of Local Administration Ali Al-Yazidi has commended the support by the State of Kuwait to comprehensive and sustainable development in his country.

In a meeting with the Kuwaiti Charge d’Affaires in Sanaa Shukri Nasser Al-Sherim, Al-Yazidi highlighted the bilateral relations and “the leading and important role of Kuwait in support of the development and educational projects nationwide” topped with the University of Sanaa and the Faculty of Medicine.

“Besides, Kuwait financed the building of hundreds of schools, institutes and hospitals,” he said, noting that Kuwait “has been a beacon of Arab culture, national tide and enlightenment.”

The minister also stressed the country’s pioneering role in the field of municipal councils and the importance of benefiting from its experience, especially that Yemen is witnessing a significant political transformation towards the federal system.

For his part, Al-Sherim underlined the importance of boosting cooperation between the Kuwaiti ministries and other official bodies and their counterparts in Yemen.

He said the embassy is ready to organize visits for the ministry’s officials and cadres to Kuwait, so that they can benefit from the country’s expertise in the fields of legislations and training and rehabilitation.

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Kuwait Seeks To Turn Into Hub For Islamic Banking

AMMAN, Aug.8 (NNN-KUNA) — Kuwait plans to be a regional hub for Islamic banking, said Head of the Supreme Consultative Committee on the Implementation of the Provisions of Shariah (Islamic Law) Khaled Al-Mathkur.

In statements to KUNA on the sidelines of his participation in the First Islamic Banking Conference, which concluded here Thursday, Al-Mathkur said Kuwait plans to benefit from the successes it achieved in this domain to materialize this goal.

“Kuwait’s strategy now ensures co-existence and harmony between both Islamic and traditional banking systems,” he said.

Al-Mathkur lauded the conference which highlighted the different aspects of Islamic banking systems.

The two-day conference, attended by religious scholars and economists from Kuwait, Qatar, Syria, Algeria, Britain, Malaysia and Jordan, discussed over two days, the most prominent challenges facing the work of Islamic banks, including dealing with the central banks and the issue of deposit insurance and capital adequacy.

In their final statement, the conferees asked the central banks to reconsider the legislations governing banks to take into account the peculiarities of Islamic banks and to set up special units at each central bank to supervise the performance of Islamic banks.

They urged the monetary authorities to introduce new regulations to guarantee that deposits are managed in accordance with Islamic law and protect all parties, to reconsider the rate of monetary reserves and compulsory capital adequacy ratio of Islamic banks in line with peculiarities of Islamic financing and investing products.

They also called for the development of governance standards for the terms of Islamic finance instruments and products.

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Khazanah Nasional Offers 27 Sen For Each Malaysian Airline Share

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 8 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysian Airline System Bhd (MAS) has received notice of national government corporation Khazanah Nasional Bhd’s intentions to take full ownership and de-list the airline from Bursa Malaysia.

“Our board of directors will be deliberating this proposal and an official response from the company will be issued later. During this period, our business operations remain unchanged,” it said in a statement today.

Earlier today, Khazanah Nasional issued a statement saying that it has submitted a formal request to MAS’ board of directors to undertake a selective capital reduction and repayment exercise of the airlines’ ordinary shares, which would lead to its de-listing from the local bourse.

Minority shareholders will receive a capital repayment amount of 27 sen per ordinary share, amounting to RM1.38 billion, representing a 12.5 per cent premium to the closing price on Aug 7 and a 29.2 per cent premium to the three-month volume weighted average market price.

According to a report in the STAR newspaper that the offer by Khazanah Nasional of 27 sen for each share in the company it does not own, amounts to nearly 1.4 billion ringgit (US$435 million) to take the troubled airline private.

Khazanah, which owns 69.37 percent of MAS, will undertake a comprehensive review and restructuring of the airline, which has suffered two jetliner disasters this year, MAS said in a statement after announcing the suspension of its shares.

The move to de-list MAS from the Malaysian stock exchange is due to the airline’s unfavourable financial performance, having recorded a net loss for the past three years, it said.

Private ownership will allow room for Khazanah to introduce an appropriate capital structure for MAS to meet its “substantial funding requirements” in the next few years, and to sustain operations amid a high level of debt, the statement said.

Khazanah said in the statement that its proposed “complete overhaul” of Malaysia Airlines (MAS) will take six to 12 months after it has secured approval from shareholders.

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DHAKA, Aug. 7 (NNN-ADB) — The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will provide US$100 million in loans to the government to help improve the capacity, efficiency and safety of the Bangladesh Railway.

The fund is the third tranche of the $430 million multi-tranche financing facility agreed upon between ADB and Bangladesh government in 2006 to revamp the Bangladesh’s entire railways system through the Railway Sector Investment Programme.

The loan will have a 25-year term, including a five-year grace period and an annual interest rate determined in accordance with ADB’s London Inter-bank Offered Rate (LIBOR)-based lending facility.

Economic Relations Division (ERD) Secretary Mohammad Mejbahuddin and Country Director for ADB’s Bangladesh Resident Mission Mr Kazuhiko Higuchi signed an agreement Wednesday at ERD in Dhaka for confirming the $100 million loan.

Under the programme, ADB has already provided $130 million and $150 million in loans as the first and second tranches respectively for double-tracking the Tongi-Bhairab Bazar section, implementing reforms, rehabilitating yards, extending loops at different stations in the Darshana-Ishwardi-Sirajganj section, and upgrading signalling at 11 stations between Ishwardi and Darshana.

The last tranche will help finance commissioning of 50 broad-gauge passenger carriages and 100 meter-gauge passenger carriages for the railway’s main line network.

ADB’s Dhaka office said the new carriages will be added to BR’s fleet of rolling stock and increase the transport capacity provided by the railway. The new carriages will use the increased line capacity created with ADB assistance provided earlier, and thus improve Railway’s position in the passenger market.

The assistance will help increase the number of annual railway passengers by 10 per cent by the year 2017 from 66 million in 2011. By the year 2019, BR is also expected to operate an additional 916 million passenger kilometers per year versus 8,787 million passenger kilometers in 2011, the lender said.

Given Bangladesh’s high population density, extreme vulnerability to floods, and scarcity of land, the railway is recognised as an environment-friendly and safe mode of transport for people, bulk freight, and containers, the ADB said.

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Egypt To Dig New Canal Alongside Suez Costing $4 Billion

CAIRO, Egypt, Aug 6 (NNN-XINHUA) – Egypt announced that it will launch a project, to dig a new 72-km canal, alongside the original Suez Canal, head of the Suez Canal Authority, Mohab Mamish, said, during the opening ceremony of the Suez Canal Corridor project.

He said, the new project aims to create “a new Suez Canal parallel to the current canal,” Mohab Mamish told a televised conference, attended by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in Ismailia province, located on the west bank of the Canal.

The new project will be implemented one year from now, and is expected to provide more than one million job opportunities, said Mamish.

He also noted that, instead of entrusting the project to foreign investment, Egypt intends to allow the country’s own companies to build the giant waterway.

Preliminary estimates show that the project is going to cost Egypt a total of four billion U.S. dollars. The canal, once completed, will reduce passing ships’ waiting time from 11 hours to as short as three, and will, accordingly, increase the number of current containers in the course, up to 97 in 2023 from the current 23.

Mamish also said that Cairo has yet to consult any foreign country over the new canal, adding that the armed forces, along with the Suez Canal Authority, have managed to clean all land mines in the future construction sites, that were planted in the 1973 Egyptian-Israeli war.

The new artificial waterway, which is part of a larger project to expand Suez port and shipping facilities, is designed to raise Egypt’s international profile, and build the nation as a major trade hub.

Opened in 1869, the current 163 km-long Suez Canal is an artificial sea-level waterway in Egypt. It connects the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, with its northern terminus at Port Said and the southern terminus Port Tawfiq, at the city of Suez. More than 100,000 Egyptians lost their lives to build it.

“I know that the Egyptians are very sensitive regarding foreign capitals, in establishing the canal,” Sisi said, adding that only the Egyptians will participate in the subscription for the project.

All the interests of the new project will go only for the Egyptians, Sisi said, in a reference to Britain, France and Israel, which shared the benefits of the canal, before the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised it in 1956.

Meanwhile, five industrial, tourism zones, along with housing and shipping services projects around the new canal will be offered for both Egyptian and Foreign companies.

“The new canal project is for the Egyptians,” Sisi asserted.

Up to 27 Egyptian firms could be involved in the project, but the armed forces will be directly responsible for supervising the development of the new canal projects, the former military chief added.

The current Suez Canal generates an annual revenue of nearly five billion dollars. It has been an essential source for hard currency, except tourism, which has been withering since the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

The new project will be established at the east bank of the current canal, on the borders with restive Sinai Peninsula. For national security concerns, Egypt couldn’t build the new parallel canal with the same length of the current one, Sisi added.

Mohamed Omran, chairman of the Egyptian stock exchange, announced that the country is ready to provide the funding needed to develop the canal and the new zones.

The Suez Canal projects will be the development centre in the near future, due to it’s advantages in attracting investments in different fields, Omran was quoted by state-run Ahram newspaper on its website.

However, Mahmoud Othman, member of the Egyptian Industries Union, urged the government to cut the red tape, and streamline the procedures, so that it would be easier for the private sector to invest.

Egypt is in dire need for diverse projects, so that its ailing economy could survive and even rebound, Othman said, adding that there are still walls, ceilings and floors that limit the private sector’s participation in these giant projects.

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Malaysia Strong Trade Performance In First Half Of 2014

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia Aug 6 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysia registered a strong trade performance in the first half of 2014 (H1 2014), with the total trade expanding 9.9 per cent from the corresponding period in 2013, while trade surplus improved by 81.8 per cent, said the Department of Statistics.

The country’s total trade for H1 2014 expanded by RM64.55 billion to RM715.6 billion from the same period a year ago.

Malaysia’s exports recorded a double-digit growth of 12.5 per cent to RM380.14 billion, compared to a decline of four per cent in the first half of 2013.

The growth in exports was broad-based with all sectors and major markets recording increases, the department said in a statement Wednesday.

Meanwhile, imports expanded only by 7.1 per cent to RM335.46 billion, with increases in capital, intermediate and consumption goods.

The trade surplus for H1 2014 was valued at RM44.68 billion, it said.

Significant growth in trade was recorded in all major markets. Malaysia’s trade with Asean rose by 7.3 per cent; the People’s Republic of China ( 7.7 per cent); the European Union and the United States ( 8.2 per cent) while Japan grew 5.4 per cent.

Other markets which registered expansion in trade with Malaysia were Taiwan, ( 30.6 per cent); Australia ( 31 per cent); Hong Kong ( 27.9 per cent); and the Republic of Korea ( 16 per cent).

The Department of Statistics said trade with the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) partner countries also increased by 8.4 per cent to RM450.72 billion.

Exports to the group rose 10.8 per cent to RM244.31 billion while imports were higher by 5.7 per cent to RM206.41 billion.

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Dubai Centre Issues Report On 2013 Global Islamic Economy Summit

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Aug 6 (NNN-WAM) – The Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre, DIEDC, in partnership with Thomson Reuters and the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, has launched a report, outlining key findings from the Global Islamic Economy Summit, GIES, 2013, Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.

The GIES 2013 Review, details the discussions of 25 sessions held at the summit and outlines key recommendations across the six pillars identified by DIEDC, to articulate Dubai’s vision of developing, as the capital of Islamic economy.

The pillars include Islamic finance, Halal food, Halal travel, Halal lifestyle, SME development and Islamic economy infrastructure.

Essa Kazim, Secretary-General of DIEDC, said that the GIES 2013 Review was a valuable repository of information, on the effectiveness and efficiency of efforts by industry leaders to drive the global Islamic economy, and serves as a roadmap for its growth.

“We are proud to share with the world the milestones Dubai has achieved in positioning itself as the capital of the Islamic economy. We will continue to bridge ideas and aspirations to achieve better outcomes at the Islamic Economy Summit 2015,” he said.

A consensus highlighted in the review is that, global growth of the Islamic economy must revolve around a more integrated interplay of three C’s: Common standards, Convergence, and Cross-border trade, or risk inefficiency and slower growth, if the status quo of fragmented markets and disparate efforts persist.

It added that development of the Islamic economy has to yield to common standards and governance structures, notwithstanding cross-country differences.

This is imperative for the Halal sector, where the multiplicity of certification and accreditation standards is a handicap for market players, which are predominantly SME’s struggling to grow and reach new markets.

For Islamic finance, common standards and contract templates for banking, capital market, Takaful, and asset management will facilitate higher levels of cross-border flows currently blocked by different Syaria interpretations and legal practices.

The review reflects repeated calls for ‘passporting’ regimes to be implemented, to break down barriers to cross-border flows, especially for funds and the coordination of Takaful operators.

At the same time, convergence of the Islamic finance and Halal sectors is recognised as being long overdue, with the Islamic finance industry being asked to dedicate more resources to the financial requirements of SME’s in the Halal sector.

These SME’s, in turn, need to upgrade their business savvy to appeal better, to potential investors and financiers.

Common standards and convergence will lead to greater cross-border links, while at the same time, trade barriers must be reduced through preferential trade agreements, especially to increase intra-OIC trade.

GIES 2013 Review has detailed key recommendations for each of the six pillars of the Islamic economy. While speaking in different terms, Islamic finance and the Halal sectors recognise that what the ‘Halal’ or ‘Syaria-compliant’ labels represent, will require transformation; this includes the management of Awqaf (endowments).

In the Halal sector, there is a clear shift towards ‘Tayyab’ (wholesome), that incorporates a concern for animal well-being, organic food, and end-to-end sustainable value chains.

In Islamic finance, the focus is towards moving from ‘form’ to ‘form and substance,’ where Islamic banks, Takaful operators and fund managers are recognising the need to take back the ‘ethical’ label, in order to gain a larger and mainstream market share.

The review also presents recommendations based on key insights from industry leaders for the fledgling sectors of Halal travel and lifestyle.

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AirAsia Launches Direct Flights From Johor Bahru To Bandung

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 5 (NNN-Bernama) — AirAsia will be re-connecting its direct flights from Johor Bahru to Bandung, Indonesia with three times weekly frequency effective Oct 16, 2014.

In a statement, AirAsia said promotional seats will be available for booking online at www.airasia.com with all-in fares from RM99 one way starting Aug. 5 until Aug 10, 2014, for the travel period from Oct 16, 2014 to July 31,2015.

“The three times weekly direct flights will operate every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, marking AirAsia’s fourth Indonesian destination connected with direct flights from the airline’s southern hub, Johor Baharu, apart from Yogyakarta, Surabaya and Lombok,” it said.

Booking is also available on AirAsia’s mobile apps through iPhone, Android devices, Blackberry10 and the Windows Platform.

The direct flight was previously operated by AirAsia Indonesia (flight code QZ) and will now be operated by Malaysia AirAsia (flight code AK), AirAsia is the only airline providing direct flights from Johor Baharu to Bandung.

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Malaysian Halal Exports Can Be Significantly Increased By Strengthening Trade Hub

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia Aug 2 (NNN-BERNAMA) — Malaysia’s halal exports of between RM30 billion and RM32 billion a year can be significantly enhanced by strengthening the country’s position as a halal trading centre and be less dependent on domestic production.

Managing director/chief executive officer of Halal Industry Development Corp (HDC), Jamil Bidin, said the industry was still not crowded and firms must grab the opportunities not only as manufacturers but also as trading companies.

He said the country was already the world’s leading exporter of halal ingredients required in various industries, such as food and beverages (F&B), cosmetics, emulsifier and medical and wellness.

Jamil said to kick-start the drive, HDC has enlisted 10 anchor companies, out of 801 exporting companies registered with the agency, to lead the initiative with the corporation’s guide and assistance.

“These companies are encouraged to focus on growth market such as China and West Asia with huge Muslim population,” he told Bernama in an interview.

Jamil said non-traditional halal markets, among them Japan, were quickly catching up.

He said Japan was aggressively developing its own halal industry due to increasing demand for halal products and the expanding halal market.

“Recognising Malaysia’s experience and expertise in halal products, Japan, China and Latin America countries seek HDC’s assistance to increase halal awareness and develop their own halal industry.

“This is a healthy progress. We need connectivity and network. We cannot be alone in this industry,” he said.

The global halal market is currently estimated at US$2.3 trillion covering both food and non-food sectors. The estimated Muslim population worldwide is over 1.8 billion.

In the first quarter of this year, Malaysia exported halal products worth RM9.2 billion.

Jamil said this growing acceptance has also shown that Malaysia’s halal companies had the capabilities and capacities to cater to the needs of the global market.

The main products exported are halal F&B, which continued to be the leading sector, with exports valued at RM3.5 billion, or 39.9 per cent, of total halal exports.

This is followed by halal ingredients valued at RM3.0 billion, palm oil derivatives (such as oleochemicals) at RM1.4 billion, cosmetics and personal care at RM573 million, industrial chemicals (such as manufacturing processing aids) RM524 million and pharmaceuticals at RM113 million.

In the F&B sector, the top five products exported are edible products and preparations; cocoa and cocoa preparations; prepared cereal and flour preparations; coffee; and, margarine and shortening.

The top five halal export markets are China, US, Singapore, Indonesia and Japan.

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Smoking ban at Saudi sports facilities

Arab news / 08 Aug 2014 – Saudi Arabia has banned smoking in sports stadiums across the country as part of efforts to encourage its young population to quit the bad habit, which has been costing it billions of riyals in terms of treatment for tobacco-related diseases.

The ban comes into effect in the new sports season and covers all sports competitions, said Prince Abdullah bin Musaed, head of the Presidency of the Youth Welfare. “The measure was taken to protect spectators from the harmful effects of smoking,” he said.

“We also want to create a healthy atmosphere for sports competitions in the country,” the prince said. “We will soon announce the punishment for law violators,” he added.

According to a study conducted last year, smokers inhale only 15 percent of the puffs they take, while the remaining 85 percent harms the health of passive smokers at stadiums.

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Muslim visitors to Japan forecast to hit million by 2020

AFP / 02 Aug 2014 – Muslim visitors to Japan are expected to reach one million a year by 2020, triple the 2013 level, as it further opens up to tourists, a specialist travel firm said Friday.

Singapore-based CrescentRating, which promotes “halal” or Islam-compliant travel, said Southeast Asia would be a key source for Muslim tourists after Tokyo eased visa requirements.

Muslim visitor arrivals in Japan grew at an average of 7.2 percent from 2004-2013 and this pace is likely to accelerate to an average 18.7 percent in the next seven years, the company said ahead of a halal travel conference in Tokyo starting Monday.

“The main drivers are the lifting of visa requirements for ASEAN countries and the increasing awareness of the halal travel market’s potential by Japan’s travel industry,” said CrescentRating chief executive Fazal Bahardeen, who will speak at the conference.

Japan announced in June 15-day visa-free entry for Indonesians and has relaxed entry requirements for Malaysians and Thais as well. Indonesia is the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation and Malaysia has a predominantly Muslim population.

In 2013, the top three source markets for Muslim travellers to Japan were Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, according to Fazal.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made tourism development a key plank of his administration.

Karun Budhraja, vice president for corporate marketing and communications at travel booking and technology firm Amadeus Asia Pacific, said tourism would also get a boost from Japan’s hosting of the Olympic Games in 2020.

“A positive move by Japan last year was to introduce visa exemptions for some 66 nations, including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, each with Muslim populations,” Budhraja told AFP.

Fazal said there was still a lot of room for growth of Muslim tourism in Japan but it “needs to continue to ensure that a steady growth of services and facilities are made available for the Muslim travellers.”

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Interfaith house of prayer to be built in Berlin

IINA / 04 Aug 2014 – An imam, a rabbi, and a priest start praying together under the same roof. It may sound like the start of a joke, but hopes are high it will become reality in Berlin, The Associated Press reported.

The three men are working together to build a common house of worship – the “House of One” – in the center of the capital that will include a church, a mosque and a synagogue, as well as a joint meeting hall at the center of the building. “We have noticed, as a community here in the middle of the city, that a lot of people want to meet people from different backgrounds and religions and that there is a strong desire to show that people from different religions can get along,” Pastor Gregor Hohberg of Berlin’s St. Petri parish told AP. “We want to make a point and show that religions can be a cause of peace.”

Hohberg came up with the idea for the House of One, and teamed with Berlin Rabbi Tovia Ben Chorin and Imam Kadir Sanci.

The trio hope Christians, Jews and Muslims will soon study and pray together. “I believe in the power of dialogue,” said Rabbi Ben Chorin. “In the world we live in we have two possibilities: war or peace. Peace is a process and in order to achieve it, you have to talk to each other.” The future interfaith meeting place is planned for the Petriplatz square in downtown Berlin. Currently there’s nothing but a few old sycamore trees on a sandy parcel of land that is surrounded by a busy street and old east German tenement buildings.

But the spot has a long history: It is the place where the city was first settled in the 13th century, and for hundreds of years was home to Berlin’s St. Petri church, until it was heavily damaged during World War II and eventually torn down by East German authorities in 1964.

The city, which inherited the plot after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, has already given its OK for the construction of the House of One. The design by Berlin’s architect company Kuehn Malvezzi envisions a building 40 meters (130 feet) tall with a tower that will be accessible for visitors. The central meeting hall will be able to seat 380 people, with the separate church, synagogue and mosque all adjacent to it. Construction costs are estimated at 43.5 million euros ($58.3 million), and funding is entirely through donations.

In an online crowd-funding campaign, the three clerics are asking people from around the world to contribute by buying bricks for the building for 10 euros ($13.40) each.

Since launching the campaign at the start of June they have received a little more than 35,000 euros ($46,800). The three are also seeking corporate sponsorship and larger donations from private individuals, and the plan is to start construction work in 2016. There is no estimated time of completion. Meanwhile, believers of the different faiths have already used the future site of the House of One for joint open-air prayers. Last week, around 150 people came together to pray for peace in the Middle East and an end to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

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Umrah provides $1.6b boost to Saudi economy

Saudi Gazette / 07 Aug 2014 – The head of the transportation committee at the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry said this year’s Umrah season has provided a $1.6 billion boost to the local economy.

Saad Al-Qurashi told Al-Watan daily that this figure includes accommodation, transport and food services.

“The average Umrah visitor spends about $270 and Umrah pilgrims visiting Makkah spent at total of more than $1.6 billion, which allowed for a very profitable Umrah season,” he said.

He pointed out this year’s Umrah season was very good and complaints have significantly declined from last year.

He noted five-star hotels in Makkah central area reported 100 percent occupancy rates, while accommodation around the central area had an average 60 percent occupancy rate.

“Umrah companies have become very experienced and can manage to avoid losses and deal with any obstacles they may face,” he said.

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Saudi couple makes SR3,500 a day selling ‘prophetic food’

Abha, Thursday 11 Shawwal 1435/ 07 August 2014 (IINA) – Hard work and a nose for innovation helped Ali Said Al-Ahmari and his wife Jumai’ah to pool their resources to earn a quick buck.

The Al-Ahmaris kept it simple when they used their knowledge and skills to good effect during the holy month of Ramadan. They hit upon the idea of selling food that included ingredients used by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and also include foods mentioned in the Holy Qur’an, Al-Watan daily reported. And their efforts earned them SR3,000 to SR3,500 daily. Ali holds a master’s degree in education and works as a teacher in one of the schools in Asir. His wife also holds a master’s degree and works as an education supervisor in the region’s Education Administration.

But after work, they join forces to sell their specially-cooked food in the Ramadan market of Khamis Mushayt. Throughout the holy month, the 50-year-old Saudi national stayed in the market from 3.00 p.m. until sunset to sell food prepared by his wife Jumai’ah. “I benefited from reading books on prophetic medicine and the scientific miracles in the Holy Qur’an as well as books on herbal cure. I used this knowledge to make some money for my family, and daily my take home was between SR3,000 and SR3,500,” Al-Ahmari said.

“After attempts to prepare special meals, most of which contain ingredients mentioned in the Holy Qur’an like ginger, sweet basil (raihan) and olives, among others, the idea came upon us to prepare and sell these meals. “My wife, who is an education supervisor and holds a master’s degree, is the one who gives us inspiration in many of the recipes. She prepares the meals daily at home while I and my two sons Muhammad and Said sell the meals.”

Al-Ahmari joked that big firms too are making use of his ideas, but they rebuffed him when he approached them. He said: “I approached one of the big dairy companies with a project for the production of special kinds of juices, but they rejected the suggestion. However, after some time I found similar types of juices in the market.” Al-Ahmari, however, was happy with his humble serving. For the stall got packed not only for the quality of food, but the additional services the owner provided. Al-Ahmari went beyond selling the meals; he used his knowledge to provide eating tips to customers. He asked customers about the diseases that afflicted them and he accordingly advised them to take certain foods that are beneficial and avoid some that could prove unsafe.

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First Muslim female martial arts star to fight in Islamic country

Dubai, Monday, 08 Shawwal 1435/ 04 August 2014 (IINA) – Malaysia’s first female mixed martial arts (MMA) professional Ann Osman is due to make history in Dubai this month by becoming the first Muslim female to fight professionally in an Islamic country, Gulf News reported.

“Initially when I took up MMA, I never actually thought about how being a Muslim woman mattered with my involvement in the sport,” Osman said. “But after making my MMA debut, and receiving words of encouragement and messages from fellow Muslim friends on how it has inspired them too, then only I realized what I have actually been doing,” she added. Osman, who will participate to the One Fighting Championship’s (One FC) “Reign of Champions” in Dubai, will face former boxing world champion Ana Julaton. The 28-year-old athlete, whose background is predominantly in muay thai, will take part in the sports event that due to be held at Dubai World Trade Centre on August 29.

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British Minister Warsi resigns over government’s Gaza policy

London, Tuesday, 09 Shawwal 1435/ 05 August 2014 (IINA) – Sayeeda Warsi resigned from her position as a senior minister in Britain’s Foreign Office on Tuesday, saying she could no longer support the government’s policy on the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Warsi, a baroness who sits in Britain’s upper house of parliament, became Britain’s first Muslim to serve in Cabinet in 2010 but was later demoted to be a senior minister of state at the Foreign Office and a minister for faith and communities. “With deep regret I have this morning written to the Prime Minister (and) tendered my resignation. I can no longer support Govt policy on #Gaza,” Warsi, 43, said on her official Twitter feed.

Though no longer a full member of Cabinet she still had the right to attend Cabinet meetings. It was not immediately clear whether she was resigning from both her ministerial roles. While the British government has repeatedly called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, Prime Minister David Cameron has come under criticism from the opposition Labour party for refusing to describe Israel’s actions as disproportionate. Last week, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the situation in Gaza had become “intolerable”.

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Zeyve Bazaar, a haven in Taurus

KARAMAN – Anadolu Agency – The Zeyve Bazaar Promenade is in an area connecting the district of Ermenek with Mersin’s Anamur and Gülnar districts. It is a protected area and considered a wonder of nature amid the Taurus Mountains

A 600-year-old historical bazaar, located within the borders of the Yayla Pazarı village in the central Anatolian province of Karaman’s Kazancı district, charms visitors with its centuries-old plane trees and streams flowing with pleasant noise.

The Zeyve Bazaar Promenade is in an area connecting the district of Ermenek with Mersin’s Anamur and Gülnar districts. It is a protected area and considered a wonder of nature amid the Taurus Mountains.

The area is home to more than 300 plane trees between the ages of 800 and 200 years. Springs began flowing 300 meter above the promenade and create waterfalls of different sizes in the promenade.

The region has been a place for people to gather for centuries. The Yuruks, who migrated from the Mediterranean region to the tablelands and those living in the villages in the area, met in Zeyve. The region takes its name from the bazaar, which has been active in the area for the last 600 years.

The bazaar is set up on Sundays, selling fruits and vegetables that grow in the nearby villages in July, August and September, as well as regional hand-made products. Because of its proximity to the Mediterranean, this is a promenade where tourists can easily arrive through Kazancı and Gülnar. It is a special haven-like area, according to visitors.

Kazancı Mayor Uğuz Tekin said the Zeyve Bazaar was an authentic place with trees and cold water. He said the area was a protected site, adding, “It is even forbidden to break the historical trees’ branches. There is no new structuring. Water is flowing everywhere. It is windy even in the hottest days.”

Tekin said the Zeyve Bazaar was visited by thousands of local and foreign tourists especially during the summer and spring.

“This is close to the Mediterranean. People who are tired of hot weather in Anamur and Gülnar come here. People from central Anatolia also come here. In recent years, we see tour buses bringing people here. Everything is natural. The bazaar is set up here on Sundays, but nobody knows when the tradition was first started.

They say it dates back to 500-600 years ago. Locals sell their own products such as fruits, vegetables, thyme, cumin, garden sage, sumac and such. People visiting the area shop here. The products are fully organic and natural. Everywhere is like a natural photography studio here. The locals are also really helpful,” he said.

Tekin noted the Zeyve Stream, which gives life to the region, had also gained a unique economic structure there, adding, “Since water is abundant, mills have been established here. But after this area was launched as a protected site, these mills have not been maintained and are no longer in use, because they cannot meet the requirements to get the work license. They should be reactivated with a special arrangement because they are unique to this region.”

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Turkey raises tourism income in first half of year

ANKARA – Anadolu Agency – Turkey’s tourism income has soared by 6.3 percent in the first half of the year largely due to Turks living abroad, who almost doubled foreign tourists visiting the country in terms of spending, official data has shown.

The nation’s income from tourism reached $13.78 billion from last year’s $12.96 billion for the six-month period, according to figures announced by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK).

For the second quarter, income earned from visiting tourists increased 7.9 percent compared to the same quarter of last year, reaching $9 billion.

Foreign visitors accounted for 84.5 percent of this income, while Turkish citizens living abroad accounted for the rest, according to the released data.

However, in terms of average expenditure per capita, Turks living abroad outscored their foreign counterparts in the second quarter.

While the average foreign visitor spent $759 per capita, the average expenditure of Turkish citizens living abroad was $1,325 per capita. The overall average expenditure per capita was $818.

Meanwhile, during the quarter, the number of Turkish citizens traveling abroad increased by 11.3 percent, reaching 2.4 million, spending an average of $687 per capita.

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Tourists flock to ancient city of Ephesus

İZMİR – Anadolu Agency – The ancient city of Ephesus located in the western province of İzmir was visited by some 800,000 tourists in the first six months of 2014, bringing in revenue of over 4 million Turkish liras.

Although Ephesus kept its number one status in the number of tourists it received, as well as revenue it received, the largest increase in revenue was enjoyed by the acropolis of Pergamon (Bergama), which was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in June, according to the Culture and Tourism Ministry.

A major center of learning in the ancient world, the acropolis of Pergamon – also located in the province of İzmir – received 109,000 tourists in the first half of the year, raising the revenue received by museums in the area by 106 percent.

“Revenue from these historic sites are used to improve and restore the sites themselves,” Culture and Tourism Director of İzmir Abdülaziz Ediz said, adding the restoration of the Ephesus Museum in the town Selçuk, which has been going on for the past 18 months, will be completed soon.

“Hopefully, Ephesus will make UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2015,” Ediz said. The ancient city of Ephesus was added to UNESCO’s temporary list of world heritage sites in 2000.

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Turkmenistan revitalises melon farming

Centralasiaonline.com 2014-08-01 ASHGABAT – Melon farming in Turkmenistan is witnessing a resurgence after some years of hardship, farmers and devotees of the juicy fruits say.

For the past 20 years, Turkmenistan has celebrated Melon Day every second Sunday in August to honour the cherished gourds.

Excavations indicate a history of several millennia of melon cultivation in present-day Turkmenistan, archaeologists say.

“The melon, along with Ak Bugdai white wheat, fine handmade rugs and the graceful Akhal-Teke horse, is on the list of the Turkmen people’s national treasures,” Esenaman Babayev, a senior researcher at the Academy of Sciences of Turkmenistan, said.

Turkmens developed 400 species of the 1,600 types of melon known to agronomists, Turkmen scholars say.

“We thank Allah for helping us revitalise the former glory of Turkmen melons, preserve the seeds of the best strains, and overcome this fruit’s pest – the melon fly, which nearly caused the melon to disappear as a crop,” Seyitkuly Jorayev, a melon farmer from Lebap Oblast with 36 years of experience, said.

“The melon underwent its most difficult times at the turn of the century,” he said. “But production levels … and melon diversity have rebounded.”

The government keeps no statistics on melon production, because only small-plot farmers and melon lovers grow the fruits today. But customers buy 10 times more melons today than during the crisis years, farmers say.

Ironically, the pest ended up helping farmers. “The crisis caused a melon shortage, making them expensive,” Jorayev said. “Thanks to that fact, many farmers switched from (other) crops to melons.”

Turkmens reportedly have been able to restore to production 300 of the 400 melon types the country and its forebears developed, but melon farmers say the media are exaggerating the number of species saved.

“We have all the requirements needed to provide every kind of melon,” Arazbayeva said. “The Academy of Sciences opened experimental crop-breeding centres in the oblasts.”

Melons could become a lucrative export, Agriculture Ministry officials say.

“During the 20th century, Turkmenistan annually contributed more than 700,000 tonnes of melons to (the Soviet export picture),” Agriculture Ministry spokesman Ykhlas Amanov said. “We’re not exporting a single kilo of melons now. They could bring US $200m−250m (571.8m−714.8m TMT) annually into the treasury.”

Such figures are realistic, Jorayev said, given that Turkmens have saved from oblivion several kinds of hard-skinned melons that can be stored and shipped far.

“With an abundance of melons, (mass) processing would become feasible, and you could produce useful syrups (toshab), silky sweet slices (gavun kak), jams and other preserves,” he said.

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Islamic Tourism & Grand Mosques App Launched in Brunei

27 July 2014 BruDirect.com BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN: Tourism Development Department in cooperation with MeSixty Sdn Bhd yesterday launched Discover Brunei: Islamic Tourism Application for the Islamic Tourism and Grand Mosques Project at Setia Pahlawan Hall, Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources (MIPR).

Present as the guest of honor was the Minister of Industry and Primary Resources (MIPR) Yang Berhormat Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri Setia Awg Hj Yahya Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar.

A religious officer from MIPR began the ceremony with the recital of Surah Al-Fatihah and Doa Selamat. It was later followed by a welcoming remark by Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MeSixty, Liam Dato Janin.

In his speech, Liam stated that MeSixty has been working closely with Brunei Tourism and MIPR over the last three years to bring the Discover Brunei tourism apps to users around the world.

“The first app we developed with Brunei Tourism was the Discover Brunei app for iPad. Launched in 2012, the app gave visitors an overview of everything there is to do and experience in the country” explained Liam Dato Janin. According to him, the latter included guides to shopping in the Sultanate, the best local delicacies and restaurants to try, where to stay and how to get around. Additionally, the app also shows off Brunei’s best parks, beaches and ecotourism attractions.

It was not until 2013 that the Discover Brunei: Diving app was released in support of Brunei Tourism and Total E&P Borneo. The Diving app boasts a complete guide to exploring the Sultanate’s world class yet pristine dive spots, reefs and historical shipwrecks. The app contains essential information on all of Brunei’s most notable diving spots aided with navigational maps, photo galleries and details of the local dive operators to them to the reconnaissance location.

After the successful launching of Diving app, Rainforest app was later released as an Eco tourists guide to Brunei’s national parks and reserves. Visitors interested in the green jewel of Borneo as well as outdoors have a wide choice of scenic lakes, clandestine waterfalls, recreational parks and rainforest resorts, all of which were contained in one single application.

“Since their launch, the three Discover Brunei apps have seen a great response, gaining high ratings in the app store and positive reviews from app reviewers and travel bloggers around the world,” explained the CEO of MeSixty. “The apps have won multiple international awards and have been downloaded thousands of times over the last year” he continued.

“Today, together with MIPR and Brunei Tourism, we are proud to launch the latest installment to the series, the Discover Brunei: Islamic Tourism & Grand Mosques app”. The app is available exclusively on iPad and iPhone and will be made available on Android later. This app features interactive maps, photo galleries, 360 degree panoramic photos and a stunning time-lapse video. Users can also find a guide to the priceless Islamic artifacts on display in the museums and galleries of Brunei.

Liam Dato Janin hoped that with the addition of the Islamic Tourism app to the Discover Brunei collection, visitors have the ability to learn more about some of the best attractions that the Sultanate has to offer, all at the end of fingertip.

The Minister of Industry and Primary Resources was later invited on stage to launch the app. The launching was further enlivened with a video presentation that briefly explains the features contained in Islamic Tourism and Grand Mosques application.

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South Sumatra to represent Indonesia in ASEAN EXPO

4 August 2014 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – South Sumatra will represent Indonesia in the ASEAN Expo 2014 to be held in Nanning, China, in September, this year.

The South Sumatra provincial administration will invite local state companies to participate in the expo, Permana, the head of the South Sumatra trade and industry office, stated here on Monday.

During the expo, coal, fertilizers, and agricultural commodities are among South Sumatras potential products that will be promoted. In the expo, the province will invite foreign investors to come to South Sumatra, particularly to Tanjung Api-Api, Banyuasin district, which has been designated as a special economic zone.

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Cileunyi-Tasikmalaya toll road project to cost Rp 4 trillion

7 August 2014 Bandung, W Java (ANTARA News) – Construction of the 70-kilometer Cileunyi-Tasikmalaya toll road in southern West Java will cost around Rp4 trillion, an official said.

The toll road which will link the regencies of Bandung , Garut and Tasikmalaya will reduce traffic congestion in the southern part of West Java, head of the West Java regional development Deny Juanda said here on Wednesday.

Deny said the West Java regional administration is ready to accelerate development of the project to start from the Gedebage district in the city of Bandung.

The toll road would extend from Gedebage via Majalaya, Nagreg in the Bandung regency to Limbangan in the regency of Garut and Rajapolah in the regency of Tasikmalaya.

“After building the Cileunyi-Tasikmalaya toll road, the next project is toll road between Banjar and Pangandaran,” Deny said.

The construction of the toll roads is also aimed at facilitating economic development in those areas.

“New economic growth centers are expected to grow near the toll roads,” he said, adding the toll roads would encourage development of new industrial and settlement centers.

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Gambia: Craft Market Federation Up to Task

6 August, 2014 – The Daily Observer – One of the most important components of the tourism product is craft markets and they are enjoying due consideration from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture and The Gambia Tourism Board in particular on product development. As development and sustainable tourism are concerned, the Ministry of Tourism and Culture together with the GTBoard attached great importance to the development of the local economy and promotion of local arts and culture. Craft markets are among the areas of tourism that allow interaction as unique cultures and styles of any community can easily be observed and learned especially in terms of cultural tourism.

The concept of learning from other cultures to broaden one’s perspective is usually a core value in tourism. Learning and acquiring new knowledge on any handicraft or whatsoever would be a form of cultural tourism. Buying crafts in the craft market with no interaction, focus and knowledge other than the exchange of money does not provide the insight into another culture, which is the central theme of cultural tourism and one of the objectives of establishing craft markets.

Craft markets value and better collaboration were one among other reasons that called for the formulation of the Craft Market Federation that brought them together under one umbrella. It was initiated by the various craft market associations in the hospitality industry. This is because collectively they will be able to work together and tackle any challenge that comes the way of any of the member association. Members of Craft Market Federation comprise of Brikama, Bakau, Fajara, Cape Point, Senegambia, BB, Banjul and Wardna Craft Markets respectively, eight in total.

With the launching of the Craft Market Federation in 2012, members now are in a better position to receive development and negotiate with relevant authorities such as the MoTC, GTBoard, and GIEPA among other stakeholders as the need be. Being under one umbrella, it is an opportunity for them to gain more from each other in terms of uplifting their general knowledge, welfare, entrepreneurial skills, hence craft market vendors consist of woodcarvers, finishers, producers, and sellers among other skillful members.

For quality and standardisation of handicrafts in the craft markets, the product development department at the Gambia Tourism Board never relents on their efforts in working with the Craft Market Federation regarding product development, promotion, and diversification as this will help to meet customers’ expectation especially the tourists from the western countries.

The Craft Market Federation takes a step further as their members are currently participating in the ongoing Detroit Urban Craft Fair in USA and this was facilitated by the GTBoard and GIEPA.

Ousman Kebbeh, product development officer at the Gambia Tourism Board attested to the CMF’s performances since their inauguration. He added that they are living up to expectation and though it might not be much, the GTBoard is comfortable to work with them.

CMF is responding positively to development, according to Kebbeh, it is a positive sign of being up to the task to represent the number of craft markets in the country.

GTBoard and its product development department have in their work plans to develop crafts by engaging the woodcarvers that would train craft producers. The reasons behind the training is to help CMF members to diversify their products hence the training will expose them to many things that will enable/make them utilise their talents and intelligence.

The CMF members are now working vigorously according to the work plans of the GTBoard as far as diversification and development are concerned. Pa Jallow the secretary general of CMF stated that their first target since the formation of the Federation is to develop and diversify their products because they want to move away from the same kind of production of some years ago. He admitted that though this requires a lot of cash and training for the members to enable them become more innovative. He added that this might take between two to three years but they will surely get there.

Today the major difficulty of the Craft Market Federation as noted, is how to break into the international market during the green season. This was noted by Pa Jallow who added that they have limited problems, since their issues are duly addressed by the MoTC and GTBoard. He added that they are desperately looking forward to these outside markets and GIEPA under the Ministry of Trade is required to render more assistance.

However, craft markets across the country are receiving more applause from tourists, mostly those that normally bring along with them, different catalogues, and engage the services of carver to carve. Apart from wood carving there are more than enough of valuable and durable items that tourists can buy from The Gambia for personal use or as gifts to their friends and families.

Among those craft materials that can serve as souvenirs are local hand woven fabrics, leather goods, jewelry, sand painting, beads, bags, shoes, belts, pure silver necklaces and rings, basketry, tie-and dye and batiks. These items always captured the attention of everyone at the entrance of any craft market.

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Uganda: Miss Tourism Returns With Regional Appeal

3 August, 2014 – The Observer – The Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities resurrected Miss Tourism Uganda last year, thanks to the undying efforts and enthusiasm of the current minister, Maria Mutagamba.

With little budget, the pageant kicked off and the finalists had a time of their lives, visiting national parks in Uganda. They also got a chance to fly to different parts of the world as the country’s tourism ambassadors.

The competition culminated into a successful grand finale at Sheraton hotel in October, where Barbra Nakitto walked away with the crown. She went on to represent Uganda at Miss Tourism International in Malaysia, where she emerged Miss Friendship.

A year later, the pageant is back, this time with a plan to go regional. Unlike last year where contestants were picked from only central region, this time round, the beauty contest will be taken to the different parts of the country. While officially unveiling this year’s contest at a cocktail held at the Kampala Serena hotel last Friday, Mutagamba revealed that the regional contests would be organized by the regional tourism clusters under the auspice of Uganda Tourism Board (UTB).

According to the requirements, the aspirants must be Ugandan, aged between 18 and 29, with a minimum height of five feet and seven inches tall and must be maximum body size 8 among other qualities. Regional auditions will take place in Busoga, Kigezi, West Nile, Buganda, Ankole, eastern, Karamoja, Rwenzori and northern regions.

The top three girls from each of the clusters will compete for the crown at the grand finale to be held at Serena hotel on October 17, 2014.

Before the finale, the contestants will spend twenty days in boot camp, where they will be trained in public speaking, runway poise, wardrobe, nutrition and exercise, among other skills, which will help the eventual winner stand a chance when she represents the country at Miss Tourism International in Malaysia on December 31.

Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Kenya Airways, and Serena hotel are some of this year’s major partners.

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Azerbaijan simplifies visa for Iran’s citizens

07 August 2014 – TODAY.AZ – The governments of Azerbaijan and Iran have agreed to introduce a single entry visa (30-day) for the entrance of Iranian citizens into the territory of Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, Iranian Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mahmoud Vaezi told Trend.

Vaezi participated in the ninth meeting of the Azerbaijani-Iranian intergovernmental commission on trade-economic and humanitarian cooperation held in Baku.

The cost of the visa is 10 euros. Visas will be issued on the territory of the Nakhchivan International Airport, Sadarak, Shakhtakhti and Julfa checkpoints. This decision is reflected in the intergovernmental protocol signed following the meeting.

In 2012, the Milli Majlis (Parliament) of Azerbaijan annulled a memorandum between the governments of Azerbaijan and Iran on simplified border crossing of the two countries` citizens that are the residents of the border areas, in view of the expiration of its validity. The provisions of the memorandum concern citizens of both countries living in the territory 45 kilometers from the border on either side.

“This memorandum contributed to free movement of citizens of the border provinces of Iran – Ardabil, West Azerbaijan, East Azerbaijan, which in turn helped the development of tourism, the economic relations between the border regions of Azerbaijan and Iran. We asked Azerbaijan to restore the effect of this memorandum, or to cancel the visa regime for Iranian citizens` entry in Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani side agreed, in the first stage, to introduce single entry visas for visits to Nakhchivan and in the future it did not ruled out the possibility of extension of this simplified procedure for entry into the rest of the Azerbaijani territories,” the minister said.

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Festival Corrects Islam Perceptions in UK

OnIslam & Newspapers – Saturday, 02 August 2014 – CAIRO – British Muslims are organizing a four-day conference to celebrate `Eid Al-Fitr which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, offering Muslims an opportunity for an expected 4,500 attendees to discuss the issues pertinent to them in contemporary Britain.

“British Muslims are a broad range of people, they’re not just interested in one thing,” Dilwar Hussain, one of the organizers of the Islamic Society of Britain event, told the Guardian.

“They have diverse interests and they shouldn’t be stereotyped as extreme or non-extreme, passive or moderate.”

Hussain was talking at the Living Islam festival which began on Thursday at Lincolnshire Showground and continues over the weekend.

Run for the fifth time, the topics being covered ranges from sectarianism in the UK and tackling extremism to Saturday’s opportunity to “have a frank and honest conversation about sex and relationships” and Sunday’s segment on how to “spice up your marriage”.

Hussain said the topics reflect “Muslim table talk, what people ordinarily discuss in their homes,” adding that the wide range of topics should not be a surprise.

“It’s true to some extent that we don’t publicly talk about these things and what we are saying is actually, these things should be talked about,” he added.

Along with discussions, the festival included an entertainment tent, a Glastonbury-style big top, featured rapping, beatboxing and comedy on Thursday night.

Moreover, there are a huge range of activities, including supervised scout activities, bouncy castles and rock-climbing to distract the children while parents attend to more serious matters.

Britain is home to a sizable Muslim minority of nearly 2.7 million.

The four-day festival has won the praise from a wide range of attendees who included Muslim leaders and non-Muslim speakers such as former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

At the event, Williams gave a talk entitled “What do British values look like and is there room for Muslims?”

“The setting-up therefore of British values against any kind of values, whether Muslim or Christian, just won’t do,” he said.

He told the Guardian Living Islam was “a very important event. I’ve thought for a long time that voices of young professional Muslims aren’t heard enough.”

Nadia Ishtiaq, a young professional Muslim from London, said Williams’ words resonated with her. She and her husband were camping with their two daughters for the first time after chancing upon details of the event online.

“It’s really diverse, I love that,” the 31-year-old, who works in accounts said, referring to her liking the fact that Christians like Williams were speaking, as well as Muslims from different strands of Islam.

“Sometimes Muslims can be quite cliquey. As British Muslims, we do try to get involved with our neighbours. Muslims shouldn’t make themselves exclusive, we are an inclusive faith.”

Ajmal Masroor, the imam of TV fame, including “Make me a Muslim”, said the event was helping to create “positive citizens of this country”.

The festival has also won praise for allowing Muslims a chance to enjoy themselves while keeping their identity.

“We thought it was a good thing for them (the children) to be in an Islamic environment so they can see their religion as something positive,” Mary MacIntyre, a 42-year-old teaching assistant from London, said.

“You can still enjoy yourself as a Muslim. They can come here and be proud of their identity.”

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California Hosts Second Halal Fest

OnIslam Staff – Sunday, 03 August 2014 – CAIRO – Brining together dozens of worldwide halal cuisine food for the second year, California’s halal and `Eid food Festival will be held next week in Newark with the attendance of thousands of Muslims from across the US.

“You don’t want to miss the Largest Halal Food & Eid Festival in California with over 50 different Halal Food,” Halal Fest organizers wrote in a Facebook post.

“Drink, Dessert, Specialty, Bazaar & Trucks confirmed for Halal Fest 2.0 on Saturday August 9th, 2014 at the NewPark Mall main parking lot (between Sears & Macy’s) in Newark, CA!”

Organized by a group of US Muslims who have one thing in common, “their love of great food”, this year’s Halal Festival will bring more Halal Food Vendors and more entertainment.

Halal Fest 2.0, which will be held on Saturday, August 9, from 12 to 1 pm, will offer food by 25 different restaurants and food trucks from all over Northern California.

Held in the Bay Area, which is home to some 300,000 Muslims, the event is expected to achieve a historic success like the first one.

“AlhamdullAllah, the turn-out at Halal Fest 2013 by far exceeded all expectations with approx. 10,000 people in attendance!” the website of the Halal Fest wrote.

The concept of halal, — meaning permissible in Arabic — has traditionally been applied to food.

Muslims should only eat meat from livestock slaughtered by a sharp knife from their necks, and the name of Allah, the Arabic word for God, must be mentioned.

Although there are no official figures, the United States is believed to be home to between 6-8 million Muslims.


With wide variety of different halal cuisine from around the world, the festival aims to reflect the diversity of the Muslim community in the US.

Along with Mexican, Afghan, Pakistani-Indian, barbecue and traditional American foods, different desserts and drinks, including Vietnamese coffee and Hawaiian smoothies will be offered during the festival.

Combining Asian and American food, one of halal cafes, Mirchi Cafe in Fremont, will be serving non-alcoholic drinks called “mocktails”.

Besides food, several activities and family programs will be organized during the one-day festival that is expected to attract from 7,000 to 8,000 people.

The activities will include carnival rides and three eating contests (with separate events for men and women) to eat as many spicy chicken wings, a large snow cone and Gulab Jaman (a syrupy Pakistani dessert) in the allotted time.

“There will also be a large bazaar featuring vendors selling a wide variety of items such as clothing, jewelry, gifts, toys and artwork from around the Muslim world,” the website added.

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Aussie Muslim Woman Receives Rights Award

OnIslam Staff – Thursday, 07 August 2014 – CAIRO – A Muslim woman who has devoted more than 25 years to helping women and multicultural communities has received this year’s New South Wales Human Rights Award in a ceremony attended by Minister for Citizenship and Communities Victor Dominello.

“The award gives special recognition to a person who has made lasting and meaningful contributions to the advancement of human rights in NSW,” Dominello said during the event to honor Maha Krayem Abdo OAM, a post on his Facebook page read on Thursday, August 7.

“Krayem Abdo is a most deserving winner of this award. The judging panel found her to be a standout among a field of high-caliber candidates, commending her as a champion of multiculturalism and advocate for the elimination of racial and gender discrimination.”

Krayem Abdo, Executive Officer of the Muslim Women’s Association, was honored as the winner of this year’s NSW Human Rights Award during a ceremony at State Parliament.

During the ceremony Dominello presented Ms Krayem Abdo with a specially-struck medal and a $5,000 cash prize.

He has also praised her work over quarter a century to empower young women and promote harmony.

“She is a renowned Muslim leader and mentor and has worked tirelessly over the past 25 years to empower young women and promote harmony between multicultural communities,” the minister said.

“She has taken a leading role in working with religious leaders from other communities in NSW to support inter-faith initiatives which foster greater understanding and tolerance.

“In recent years Krayem Abdo has been a highly effective community advocate on a number of complex issues including facial identification, female genital mutilation, human trafficking and underage forced marriage.

After decades in Australia, Krayem Abdo proved to be a successful example for Muslim integration in the community.

“Krayem Abdo, who migrated to Australia from Lebanon during the 1960s, established the Muslim Women’s Support Centre, a refuge for women escaping family and domestic violence,” minister Dominello said.

“In 2008 she was awarded an Order of Australia medal for her work in this field. She will serve as Human Rights Ambassador for 12 months and through the Community Relations Commission, the NSW Government is proud to support her work to promote human rights issues at events, schools and conferences,” Dominello added.

Attendees included Federal Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane, 2013 winner and Australian Indigenous Education Foundation CEO Andrew Penfold AM, State MPs and Consuls General.

This year’s judging panel consisted of Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Vic Alhadeff, CEO, NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and Ainslie van Onselen, Chief of Staff, Australian Financial Services, Westpac Banking Corporation.

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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Coffee, tea trade fair to showcase cafe culture

Khaleej Times – 08 August, 2014 – The International Coffee and Tea Festival (ICTF) will spotlight the region’s popular café culture and showcase some of the best coffee, tea and related food and beverages (F&B) products, equipment and services in the market today. As with each successive event, this year’s event will welcome many new international brands and companies offering innovative and quality-driven products and equipment which truly push the boundaries of this beverage sector.

The 2013 edition of the ICTF welcomed over 6,500 visitors from over 20 countries across the world, receiving positive feedback from exhibitors, which further reinforced its position as an instrumental event supporting the development of the region’s specialty coffee and tea market. Over the years, the Festival has facilitated the entry of countless local and international exhibitors into the Middle East’s lucrative hospitality sector which offers a traditional coffee culture and a thriving tea market.

Speaking about its Middle East launch at the ICTF last year, Mark Barnett, owner and product developer of Synesso, commented: “We are very pleased with the outcome of our participation at the ICTF. Synesso was successfully launched within the Middle East at the show which truly showcased excellence in an industry-relevant format. Our sponsorship at this event proved to be a worthy investment, with our espresso machines attracting the attention of the hospitality sector which seeks to raise the bar of coffee service even above what is currently available in the market. We have established various business leads through the festival and we look forward to being involved once again in the 2014 edition.”

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Emirates boosts connectivity to Morocco

Arab News – 08 August, 2014 – Emirates, a global connector of people and places, will step up services to Morocco with a second daily flight, boosting the service to 14 weekly flights beginning Sept. 1.

From October 26, Emirates will upgrade this additional daily from an Airbus A340-500 to a Boeing 777-300ER, which means both daily services will be served by Boeing 777s.

The 777-300ER offers eight luxurious First Class Private Suites, 42 flat-bed seats in Business Class and 310 generously sized Economy Class seats.

The additional flight, coupled with an aircraft upgrade, will increase Emirates’ weekly passenger capacity to Morocco by 100 percent, representing an extra 2,520 seats per week in each direction.

The new service flight EK753 will depart Dubai every day at 1455hrs and arrive in Casablanca at 2025 hrs.

The return flight EK754 will leave Casablanca at 2200hrs, arriving in Casablanca at 0855hrs the following morning.

“By providing an extra daily frequency and upgrading the aircraft, we are responding to the strong demand for additional capacity,” said Adil Al-Ghaith, Emirates vice president commercial operations for Northern and Western Africa.

He said: “The strengthened service will foster new business and tourism ties to one of our key destinations within Africa and open up a wealth of choice for passengers traveling from Casablanca to Dubai.”

Al-Ghaith said: “The increased frequency will give our customers greater flexibility in their travel plans allowing them to connect seamlessly to other flights on Emirates’ global network of over 140 destinations that spans six continents.”

Emirates’ new capacity initiatives are expected to increase the momentum for Morocco’s import and export industry.

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Tourism in Al-Baha

Dr. Muhammad Salim Al-Ghamdi

Saudi Gazette – 08 August, 2014 – Undoubtedly, Al-Baha is one of the most magnificent region in the country. It has a charming nature – green places everywhere, beautiful flowers, and mesmerizing streams, not to mention the rains that fall in the summer and winter. But the region has not received serious attention from pertinent authorities for decades and has not seen major development projects. This is because the former administrations in Al-Baha municipality had failed to implement any projects that would attract tourists to the region. Another reason is the constant movement of its young men to other regions because Al-Baha does not have good universities and big companies.

The residents of Al-Baha have continued to voice their demands to the authorities, asking for more attention for the region, whose resources have not been tapped. The majority of citizens all over the Kingdom prefer to travel abroad and spend thousands of dollars instead of coming to Al-Baha. When Prince Mishari Bin Saud took over as the Emir of the region, he selected qualified team members to run the municipality. His selection has played a major role in reviving the hopes and dreams of seeing Al-Baha getting the attention it deserves. Frankly speaking, this year the region has witnessed wonderful development projects. However, this does not mean that the region has been given its deserved share of attention.

This is just the beginning and it is a wonderful and encouraging one. I am quite certain that Prince Mishari has a lot to offer to this region. All indications point to this direction.

I would like to seize this opportunity and focus on some of the areas that need attention. Five-star hotels and deluxe residential complexes should be built. Investors interested in tourism should be attracted and encouraged to venture into the region. I cannot stress the importance of the next point, which is winter tourism. Authorities are not giving enough attention to this type of tourism, given that the region turns into a breathtaking place during the winter and the spring.

I hope the government build huge factories and implement different types of development projects in order to revive tourism in Al-Baha. I call upon Al-Baha businessmen to play a role in developing their region. They can carry out certain development projects to improve services. They should not focus first on profits as much as on improvement. I am sure Al-Baha will be the best place for tourism in the country, should it get full attention from authorities.

I hope that the Saudi Commission of Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) concentrates on the historical sites in the region, which embraces lots of the secrets of former civilizations that settled in it. I am positive they will discover great things that will not only benefit the region but also all the other regions in the Kingdom.

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Number of Kuwaiti tourists to Malaysia reaches 22,195

Kuwait Times – 08 August, 2014 – The number of Kuwaiti tourists who visited Malaysia in 2013 reached 22,195, as part of 235,000 Arabs, according to Ng Yen Yen, the Malaysian Tourism Promotion Board Chairperson.

Yen said in an interview with KUNA that statistical figures of the authority indicated no drop of the figure of the tourists this year, in comparison to last year, because Malaysia drew tourists from other Asian nations.

On the government strategies to lure more Arab tourists, namely Kuwaitis, she said the Malaysian tourism authorities have targeted the Middle East since mid 90s. Tourism in Malaysia is particularly lucrative for Arabs and Muslims, where the faithful can practice their regular rituals easily and freely and eat “halal” food at all tourist attractions.

The ministry established an Islamic tourism committee, tasked with offering facilities to the Arab and Muslim tourists, she said, adding that the nation “has been classified as the best friendly tourist destination in the Muslim world.” The official said the recent crash of two Malaysian airlines has not affected the tourism sector, adding that the ministry is drawing up new plans to promote the sector.

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Qatar infrastructure upgrade drive to boost insurance, transport

Gulf Times – 07 August, 2014 – The insurance and transport sectors were seen going through their troughs in terms of profitability during the first six months of this year, but they exhibit inherent intrinsic strengths in view of the country’s capital expenditure-driven economy.

The cumulative profit of the insurance sector, under which there are five listed constituents, had fallen 33.26% in January-June this year against a stupendous 148.71% growth in the corresponding period of 2013.

The five national insurers were among the consortium that recently won a big-ticket risk cover contract for Qatar’s mammoth metro rail project, which is now progressing as per the schedule for completion by late 2019.

Qatar Rail – which is in the forefront of building a Doha Metro, Lusail Light Rail Transit and Long Distance Freight and Passenger – recently awarded the “single project tunneling and rail construction” insurance to a consortium of national insurance companies that also include Qatar General and Reinsurance, Al Khaleej Takaful Group, Doha Insurance, Qatar Islamic Insurance and Al Koot Insurance and Reinsurance.

The listed insurance companies together netted a profit of QR839.28mn in H1 this year with Qatar Insurance Company contributing as much as about 76%. Their cumulative net profit was QR1.26bn in the 2013 period.

In the stock market, the insurance sector considerably outperformed with 19.66% gains against a marginal 0.64% contraction in the main barometer quarter-to-date ended June 30.

The overall net profitability was largely impacted by Qatar General and Reinsurance, whose net income reported 92.78% shrinkage compared to a 997.99% acceleration in the year-ago period.

Otherwise, Qatar Insurance Company, a dominant force in the domestic risk cover industry, reported a 53.03% jump in net profit during the first six months of this year against 37.16% in the previous year period.

Doha Insurance Company witnessed a 49.27% surge in net profit during January-June this year compared to a 12.75% decline in the corresponding period of 2013.

Al Khaleej Insurance and Reinsurance had seen a 68.15% jump in net profit during the first half of 2014 against a 51.98% plunge in the year-ago period.

Qatar Islamic Insurance registered a 35.63% increase in net profit during the review period compared to mere 2.87% rise seen in the previous year period.

Market sources say that Qatar’s large scale investments in infrastructure, including in Qatar Rail, is expected to have a positive “spin off” for the insurance sector, which now comes under the ambit of the Qatar Central Bank as part of a single financial regulatory set up.

The transport sector, which has three listed constituents, saw its net profit rise 4.65% to QR1.03bn in H1 2014 against 14.26% in the corresponding period of the previous year. In the stock market, the transport index had fallen 0.67% quarter-to-date ended June 30.

Milaha (formerly Qatar Navigation) saw its net profit slump 9.67% in the first six months of this year compared to 30.13% growth in the year-ago period.

Gulf Warehousing Company witnessed an almost flat course with net income growing 29.91% against 28.74% in the previous year period.

Nakilat (Qatar Gas Transport Company) reported a 23.86% jump in net profit in H1 2014 compared to 5.65% decline in the corresponding period of the previous year.

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GCC to spend $ 86bn on infrastructure projects

Arab News – 07 August, 2014 – Infrastructure project awards across the GCC are forecast to exceed $ 86billion in 2014, an increase of 77.8 percent over 2013.

New figures released by construction intelligence firm Ventures Onsites how a dramatic increase in contract awards across the region, in every country except Saudi Arabia.

Qatar will award projects worth $ 26.2 billion compared with just $ 9.4 billion last year while Kuwait is expected to award$ 3.45 billion, almost 10 times the previous year.

In the UAE, $ 15.18billion will be awarded, almost five times the 2013 contracts,while in Oman infrastructure awards are expected to reach $ 7.4 billion — up $ 5.5 billion on 2013.

Meanwhile, Bahrain, which awarded $ 382 million last year, is expected to offer deals worth $ 3.4 billion.

The figures were released by Ventures Onsite, the intelligence partner for Middle East Concreteand PMV Live exhibitions, which run alongside The Big 5 international building and construction show set to take place in Dubai in November.

Saudi Arabia’s forecast award of $ 29.34 billion — the highest in the region — represents a decrease year on year, however last year’s total awards of $ 33.6 billion included the $ 22.5 billion Riyadh Metro project.

Infrastructure projects make up 16 percent of the total construction value of GCC projects,and rail projects like the Riyadh Metro are the main beneficiary.

According to Ventures, itis estimated the rail sector is worth $ 200 billion as the six countries aim for an integrated GCC-wide network by 2018.

Infrastructure is a key focus for seminar sessions at this year’s Middle East Concrete and PMV Live exhibitions.

During the first day there will bea panel sessionentitled ‘Market update and future forecast of the Middle East’s infrastructure sector’ which will look at the key issues the region has to overcome.

Panellist Paul Groves, Head of Tunnelling & Ground Engineering with Atkins, will also present a case study on a metro project. Atkins is among the leading rail sector consultancies in the Middle East, has recently set up a center of rail excellenceand is involved in major rail and metro projects in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Atkins first developed its team to provide multidisciplinary design and management of the civil works on Dubai Metro seven years ago.

“Existing roads are already over capacity, to the point where congestion is having an impact on the local economy and quality of life for residents,” said Ghassan Ziadat, director of planning and infrastructure for Atkins.

But, it is not simply about cutting congestion and improving freight transport links.

The railway network will create new jobs and bring environmental benefits to the region according to Feras Shadid, a rail assurance and asset management consultant who will also be a panelist at the infrastructure seminar on the first day of the exhibitions.

“Rail networks create a more sustainable society that is not dependent on one mode of transport for passengers and goods,” Shadid said.

“Also the environmental advantages of using railways have been documented extensively, and the rail projects will create a range of employment opportunities including high-tech engineering positions,” Shadid said.

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Focus on heritage attracts tourists from GCC nations

Gulf Times – 02 August, 2014 – A focus on local and regional heritage and traditions in Qatar helps attract a large number of tourists from the GCC states during Eid al-Fitr festivities at Souq Waqif.

According to the tourists, the “unique atmosphere” of the place, which constitutes “a symbol and living model of the deep-rooted traditions of the GCC region”, has made it a favoured destination for spending holidays with families, local daily Arrayah has reported.

Such is the attraction that every time these GCC tourists visit the place, they take back lasting memories that make them want to return to Doha.

“There is a permanent and strong presence of a beautiful heritage at Souq Waqif. Everything there has a special taste, including food, gifts and clothes,” said Abdulla Bursais, a Saudi man in his fifties.

This was the second time he was visiting Qatar, “returning to the same places to relive the experiences” he had enjoyed before.

Sami al-Merri, from Saudi Arabia, said the spiritual relationship between the place and any GCC citizen, linking him to the days of forefathers with its simple architecture and traditional style.

“I am always keen to accompany my family and children to Doha during the Eid holidays and a visit to Souq Waqif is a must to enjoy some traditional dishes and get some gifts that reflect original Gulf styles and designs,” said another GCC tourist, Abdulla al-Yusuf.

The Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) data indicate that the number of GCC visitors during the first two days of Eid festivities have exceeded expectations.

“Doha has become a major destination for GCC citizens with its focus on the legacy of forefathers and its conservation of their way of life and style of architecture, something that is prominent at Souq Waqif,” said Hassan, a visitor from the UAE.

Traditional activities featured at the Heritage Village on the Corniche, by the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage (MCAH), have attracted many locals, expatriates and tourists with their entertaining and educational approach.

The activities and attractions include traditional handicrafts on display along with the tools that were used in the past to make them, traditional local dishes with some being prepared in front of visitors, an exhibition of images, models from the past and cultural heritage shows.

“We have had a special focus on children to give them a joyous experience during Eid and also show them the country’s heritage,” said Hamad al-Muhannadi, MCAH’s director of the Heritage Department.

He said the MCAH has held some competitions for both youngsters and adults during the festivities on heritage-related topics and the winners are given prizes. “MCAH’s Eid activities complement other programmes held by QTA and other entities in the country,” he added.

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New features on Oman Air website offer greater choice

Arab News – 04 August, 2014 – Oman Air has further expanded the choice and convenience that it offers customers by enhancing the range of booking options on its newly-designed website at omanair.com, and by making its web check-in service even easier to use.

The national carrier of Oman now offers more choice of fares for every sector on its website, and customers can also view fares for their selection of cabin class, as well as those of a higher cabin class, in a single view.

In addition, fare rules are now displayed with a simple roll-over of the customer’s mouse, making the choice of fares simpler than ever, and a new feature enables customers to pre-reserve seats at the time of booking. Oman Air’s acclaimed web check-in service has also now been made more user-friendly.

It offers different options through which customers can retrieve their bookings and context-sensitive messages in the event that they are unable to check-in online because of special requirements relating to their bookings. And to ensure that Oman Air’s web check-in option makes a seamless contribution to the passenger experience, the airline has opened more strategically-positioned bag-drop counters at Muscat, for those who have checked-in before arriving at the airport.

Online booking is available throughout Oman Air’s network of 43 destinations across the Middle East, Europe, Asia and East Africa.

Web check-in is offered in the majority of those destinations and Oman Air continues to explore opportunities to expand the service.

Oman Air’s online booking system uses the latest Sabre airline reservation technology, which is accessed via omanair.com.

Oman Air’s website has undergone a recent redesign, making it faster to use, easier to navigate, and more informative.

Together, the website and booking system provide an excellent introduction to Oman Air’s superb hospitality, award-winning service and outstanding inflight products.

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Aviation sector to contribute 32% to Dubai’s GDP by 2020

Khaleej Times – 04 August, 2014 – Shaikh Ahmed went on to say, ‘We are confident about the airport handling over 70 million passengers in 2014 which will bring us further closer to becoming the world’s number one airport for international passengers,’ he said.

Shaikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, chairman of Dubai Airports and chairman of Emirates Group, has said that completion of the runway refurbishment at Dubai International Airport will bring in a significant surge in air traffic. Speaking in a message published in the August edition of Via Dubai, the official bi-lingual newsletter of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Shaikh Ahmed said, “Flight operations at the Dubai International Airport were fully on July 21st following the completion of the runway refurbishment as scheduled. We are confident the completion of the major runway refurbishment programme in our history and full schedule operations ahead of the Eid Al Fitr holidays will bring in a significant surge in air traffic.”

Shaikh Ahmed went on to say, “We are confident about the airport handling over 70 million passengers in 2014 which will bring us further closer to becoming the world’s number one airport for international passengers,” he said.

He also added that the next project that will soon become a reality is a new concourse, Concourse D, which will be connected to an existing terminal by automated train and is due to open in the first quarter of next year. A trial run is planned to be conducted soon.

This fourth concourse is part of the $ 7.8 billion expansion programme designed to boost the airport’s capacity to over 100 million passengers annually by 2020. The development of Al Maktoum International Airport with an eventual capacity of 160 million passengers is also progressing in phases.

“We are on the mark in terms of giving a big boost to the aviation industry which we anticipate will contribute 32 percent to Dubai’s GDP by 2020,” he remarked.Mohammed Abdulla Ahli, director-general of DCAA, said, “In today’s competitive and performance-driven business environment in both government and private sectors, having cutting-edge technology, aggressive marketing strategies and customer services is just not enough for an organisation to be successful. A good human resources management is one the most important elements in determining the success or failure of an organisation.”

In an exclusive interview with Via Dubai, Ahmed Hamad Al Hammadi, Head of the Dangerous Goods Section at Aviation Security and Accident Investigation Department, said that the DCAA is working on linking its online approval system for Dangerous Goods transportation with the State Security Department (SSD) and Dubai Police for faster and seamless sanction of applications for transportation of explosives and radioactive materials. “We have issued 9,764 No Objection Certificates (NOCs) for Dangerous Goods transportation by both passenger and cargo airlines in 2013, up from 8146 NOCs, while 686 approvals were given for Firearms transportation last year as against 588 in the year 2012,” he said.

In the first half of 2014, as many as 4344 and 346 NOCs were issued for the Dangerous Goods and Firearms, respectively. During the same period, about 189 applications for Dangerous Goods transportation were turned down.

Last year, the department rejected 654 requests for Dangerous Goods transportation and eight for the Firearms for a variety of reasons, including non-compliance of international and local rules and regulations.

He added, “The compliance rate by the cargo industry is very high and we are working to improve this further through creating industry awareness about the latest in Dangerous Goods regulations and potential suspicious shipments.”

According to figures released by International Air Transport Association (IATA), the airline industry handles 52 million tons of cargo a day globally.

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Abuja becomes Emirates second destination in Nigeria

Khaleej Times – 04 August, 2014 – Emirates flight EK785 landed at Abuja’s Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport on 1st August, marking the start of the airline’s daily service to its second destination in Nigeria. Services to Lagos were launched just over 10 years ago.

Emirates Airline has now connected Abuja, the Nigerian capital, to its worldwide network. Abuja is Emirates 26th destination in Africa and its 144th worldwide.

Emirates flight EK785 landed at Abuja’s Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport on 1st August, marking the start of the airline’s daily service to its second destination in Nigeria. Services to Lagos were launched just over 10 years ago.

“This new daily flight provides a convenient point to point service for our customers between Abuja and Dubai, and it will meet and further stimulate a vibrant market demand between the two cities, said Adil Al Ghaith, Emirates vice-president commercial Operations, Northern and Western Africa, said in a statement.

He said the new service will also serve the airline customers in Nigeria and around the network with additional connectivity and daily frequency.

“Our leisure and business passengers from Nigeria can now better connect to the Middle East, Europe, the United States and Asia via our hub in Dubai. Customers in Abuja can experience our A380 flagship aircraft to 29 destinations around the world, including popular ones like Beijing, Hong Kong, Mumbai, New York, Jeddah and London.”

“With a fast growing economy, Nigeria is a key market for Emirates. We started operations to Nigeria on January 2, 2004, with four flights a week from Dubai to Lagos. Since then, our operations have steadily grown with increases in both frequency and capacity between Lagos and Dubai.

“Today, we fly twice daily to Lagos and now we have added Abuja, giving us a total of more than 12,200 seats a week, which will further stimulate business and leisure travel, as well as trade,” he added.

Emirates airline says its SkyCargo, the freight division of the airline, offers over 180 tonnes of cargo capacity a week on the route. The main imports into Abuja are expected to be machinery, chemicals, transport equipment and manufactured goods, while exports include leather, vegetables and foodstuffs. The additional cargo capacity on the new service will see a further strengthening of the bilateral trade between Nigeria and the UAE. According to the UAE Ministry of Economy, the value of bilateral trade stood at $ 106 million at the start of Emirates’ services in 2004. This increased to $ 857 million in 2009 — a 710 per cent increase in a five-year period.

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Islamic economy opens new horizon

Khaleej Times – 05 August, 2014 – Islamic economy opens a new horizon of opportunities that can bring tremendous benefits for societies all over the world.

This was disclosed in a report prepared by Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre (DIEDC) in partnership with Thomson Reuters and the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The report outlines key findings from the Global Islamic Economy Summit (GIES) 2013.

GIES 2013 Review details the discussions of 25 sessions held at the summit and outlines key recommendations across the six pilxlars identified by DIEDC to articulate Dubai’s vision of developing as the capital of Islamic economy. The pillars include Islamic finance, halal food, halal travel, halal lifestyle, SME development and Islamic economy infrastructure. Essa Kazim, secretary-general of DIEDC, said: “GIES 2013 Review is a valuable repository of information on the effectiveness and efficiency of efforts by industry leaders to drive the global Islamic economy, and serves as a roadmap for its growth. We are proud to share with the world the milestones Dubai has achieved in positioning itself as the capital of the Islamic economy. We will continue to bridge ideas and aspirations to achieve better outcomes at the Islamic Economy Summit 2015.”

A consensus highlighted in the Review is that global growth of the Islamic economy must revolve around a more integrated interplay of three Cs — Common standards, Convergence, and Cross-border trade — or risk inefficiency and slower growth if the status quo of fragmented markets and disparate efforts persist.

Development of the Islamic economy has to yield to common standards and governance structures, notwithstanding cross-country differences. This is imperative for the halal sector where the multiplicity of certification and accreditation standards is a handicap for market players, which are predominantly SMEs struggling to grow and reach new markets.

For Islamic finance, common standards and contract templates for banking, capital market, takaful, and asset management will facilitate higher levels of cross-border flows currently blocked by different sharia interpretations and legal practices. The Review reflects repeated calls for passporting regimes to be implemented to break down barriers to cross-border flows especially for funds and the coordination of takaful operators. At the same time, convergence of the Islamic finance and halal sectors is recognised as being long overdue, with the Islamic finance industry being asked to dedicate more resources to the financial requirements of SMEs in the halal sectors.

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Abu Dhabi Art explores Capital’s cultural landscape

Kuwait Times – 06 August, 2014 – Sixth edition of Abu Dhabi Art to showcase the best of world’s galleries from November 5 to 8.

The sixth edition of Abu Dhabi Art — the Capital’s platform for modern and contemporary art, design and cultural programmes — will present a selection of innovative and renowned galleries from around the world along with an interactive public programme that celebrates the cultural diversity of the UAE and the region.

The world’s leading modern and contemporary art galleries will be back in Abu Dhabi from November 5 to 8 to be part of an evolving platform of diverse programmes that introduces the public to Abu Dhabi’s cultural landscape.

Taking place at Manarat Al Saadiyat on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi Art is organised by Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA) and offers a multi-disciplinary experience combining an art fair with a diverse public programme which includes art, talks and a range of events.

As Abu Dhabi Art prepares to welcome the artists, cultural leaders, scholars and collectors from around the world, the fair is establishing itself as a leading event on the international arts calendar.

“In its sixth edition, Abu Dhabi Art has developed into an international art event, bringing the art world to Saadiyat Cultural District and to Abu Dhabi. As the event grows annually, Abu Dhabi Art continues to cultivate a viable cultural eco-system for the city, and establish Abu Dhabi, along with the future museums of Saadiyat Cultural District, as a global cultural hub,” said TCA Abu Dhabi chairman Shaikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan.

The highlight of this year’s edition will be in the section called ‘Beyond’ that will extend for the first time to various venues across Abu Dhabi, actively engaging audiences and reflecting the significant role that public art plays within the society and throughout the city’s landscape.

Abu Dhabi Art’s sixth edition will also include the successful return of ‘Artists Waves’, the section that showcases a presentation of innovative works of art which allows the discovery and re-discovery of artists.

In an effort to define design aesthetics, the Abu Dhabi Art Design Programme will present results from elements of the intangible heritage of the UAE with contemporary artistic interpretations.

An exhibition titled ‘Seeing through Light: Selections from the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Collection’ will run in parallel with Abu Dhabi Art.

The exhibition will showcase 18 artists whose works encompass a variety of media from the 1960s to the present.

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Bahrain Summer Festival a major boost for tourism

Khaleej Times – 06 August, 2014 – The Eid Al Fitr festivities and the annual Bahrain Summer festival have proved a major boon for the loca hotels. Five-star hotels have reported 91,6 per cent room occupancy rate on last Wednesday and Thursday (July 30 -31).

The rate of occupancy at four-star hotels also jumped 97,1 per cent over the same period, the ministry of culture announced this week. The influx of citizens and expatriates played a key role in revitalising the internal tourism sector in Bahrain.

Visitors and GCC nationals also flocked to Bahrain, attracted by the fun-filled Eid activities and exceptional summer shows which turned the Kingdom into a prized tourism destination. The ministry of culture had signed a cooperation agreement with dozens of five and four-star hotels to launch special promotions which boosted the rate of room occupancy and turned Bahrain into a hub for family-oriented tourism.

The ministry had also lined up a rich cultural and artistic programmes. Famed Moroccan singer Saad Lamjarred staged two musical shows at the cultural auditorium on the second and third of Eid holidays. The sixth edition of the annual Bahrain Summer Festival was also launched on July 31 under the theme “Summer of Colours”.

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