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13 Oct, 2014

World ranking of Malaysian universities rises dramatically

Compiled by Imtiaz Muqbil & Sana Shamsi

A compilation of progressive, positive, inspiring and motivating events and developments in the world of Islam for the week ending 13 October 2014 (19 Dhul Ḥijjah 1435). Pls click on any of the headlines to go to the story.




Malaysian handicraft store Karyaneka has launched its first online portal and mobile application, which allows customers worldwide to purchase Malaysian-made handicrafts of outstanding craftsmanship. Karyaneka teamed up with two leading local e-commerce portals, FashionValet.com and Groupon.com to set up the online portals: http://www.karyaneka.my and http://www.karyanekastore.my. The full catalogue of its products includes pewter, woodcarving, silver brassware, Malaysian fabrics like songket and batik, and many more. This initiative was made possible through its partnership with Tukul Cipta Industri Sdn Bhd (TCI). Executive Director of TCI Abdul Munaf Dr. Sultan believes that this new venture will help the globalisation of the local arts and crafts industry. TCI will also introduce Karyaneka through various platforms such as online sales, vending machines at strategic tourist spots and kiosks, online and offline catalogue-based sales as well as boutiques in major cities around the world. Currently, the catalogues are available at all hotel rooms in the Klang Valley. The initiative aims to bring Malaysia’s heritage to greater heights internationally, even to London, Paris and New York City via the Karyaneka International boutique cafés, which will create a positive impact on Malaysia’s arts and crafts industry.

For more information, visit Karyaneka’s website at http://www.karyaneka.my and http://www.karyanekastore.my.


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.




Muslims make up for 55 percent of foreign tourists visiting Iran

Gorgan, Oct 9, IRNA – Muslims from European, Arab and non-Arab nations account for 55 percent of tourists visiting Iran, head of Iran Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization Masoud Soltanifar said on Thursday. Most of the Muslim tourists come to Iran from Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Soltanifar said. “Last year, 4.5 million foreign tourists visited Iran, 2.5 million of whom were Muslims.”

Soltanifar said the number of foreign tourists visiting Iran has been on a growing trend in the first half of the current Iranian year (started on March 21) and the rise is expected to continue during the second half.

The official cited efforts made by the Iranian government of President Hassan Rouhani to reach out to the outside world as a major factor contributing to remarkable increase in the number of tourists coming to Iran.

However, he said Iran lacks enough four and five star hotels and needs private sector to invest in the area to give a boost to Iran tourism industry.

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LEAD STORY: World ranking of Malaysian universities rises dramatically

BEIJING, Oct. 8 (Xinhuanet) — Three Malaysian universities have entered the 2014/15 QS World University Rankings Top 300, with the University of Malaya ranked 151st and rated 5-star university.

The University of Malaya is the most prestigious and oldest in Malaysia. A number of prime ministers of the country graduated from it.

It was ranked 167th last year in the annual university rankings published by the British Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), a British company specializing in education and study abroad.

The two other universities in the top 300 are the National University of Malaysia (UKM, 259th) and the University Technology Malaysia (UTM, 294th), whereas the University Sains Malaysia (USM) is ranked 309th.

The top 10 list is dominated by American and British universities. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) stays No.1 for another year. The University of Cambridge and the Imperial College London rank second with equal score of 99.4.

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Bollywood star Aamir Khan shines bright for UNICEF’s South Asia child nutrition campaign

9 October 2014 (Unicef media release) – Bollywood legend Aamir Khan has become the UN Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) latest Ambassador to South Asia, the Organization announced today, adding that the award winning Indian actor, director, and producer would work to promote the right of the region’s children to nutrition, with a focus on ending stunting.

“I am delighted to become an Ambassador for UNICEF in South Asia. I hope my messages on the importance of children’s nutrition will urge parents, families, and leaders at all levels to support and adopt proven services and nutrition practices that will help children grow and develop to their full potential,” Mr. Khan told a news conference in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu, where he took part in the launch of a national nutritional campaign.

“Child stunting remains one of the greatest development challenges to South Asia. Stunted children have stunted bodies, stunted brains, and stunted lives. Compared with children who are not stunted, stunted children have poorer cognitive development, often enrol later in school, complete fewer grades, and learn less well – leading to reduced productivity and income-earning in adult life” he added.

After sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia is the region with the highest number of deaths of children under the age of five. An estimated 2.3 million children under the age of five perished in 2011 alone. At the same time, 38 per cent of children under the age of five in South Asia suffer from stunted growth due to chronic under nutrition while an estimated 28 per cent of children are born with low birth weight, largely due to women’s poor nutrition during and before pregnancy.

“With the immense respect that Aamir Khan commands across South Asia, we are convinced that Aamir will make a lasting difference in the fight against child stunting, potentially the biggest threat to children’s growth and development in this part of the world,” said Karin Hulshof, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia.

During his visit to Nepal, Mr. Khan also took part in the launch of the “1,000 Golden Days” national nutrition campaign.

According to UNICEF, the most crucial time to meet a child’s nutritional needs is during the 1,000 days from conception to the child’s second birthday. Proven and effective interventions during this time can prevent malnutrition and drastically reduce the prevalence of stunting in young children.

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Photo Gallery: Lifestyle The Muslim Quarter in Xi’an

By Fan Zhen (chinadaily.com.cn) 2014-10-09

The Muslim Quarter in Xi’an is one of the most well-known parts of the city. Visitors to the city will consider it a whirlwind lesson in bartering and delicious-looking street foods.[Photo by Fan Zhen/chinadaily.com.cn]

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE PICTURES: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/food/2014-10/09/content_18705382.htm

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Iran urges stronger railroad links with neighbors

Tehran, Oct 9, IRNA – President Hassan Rouhani here Thursday emphasized need for faster completion of railroad connections of Iran with neighboring countries of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Afghanistan, and to end the job maximum within the next couple of months.

In a session of Resistance Economy Headquarters headed by President Rouhani, the Roads and Rural Development Minister Abbas Akhoundi initially presented a report on the status of the country’s railroads network and elaborated on his affiliated ministry’s plans for its comprehensive expansion up to the Iranian year 1400 (2021 C).

President Rouhani then asked for implementing urgent plans to complete the Iran-Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan and the Khwaf-Heart (between Iran and Afghanistan) railways maximum within the next few months.

Improving the status of the country’s cargo railways to the Iranian mineral and industrial poles, as well as major port cities in the north and south of Iran was emphasized as top priorities in the expansion plan for the Iranian railway network.

Construction of railways for electrical and express trains as well as construction of double railways in those of the country’s main railway paths that still are using single railway paths was also considered a priority, whose budget will be provided from the National Development Account.

President Rouhani also asked the concerned state organizations to provide facilities and guarantees to encourage the both the Iranian private sector and the foreign into investors to participate in expansion of the Iranian railway network.

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Saudi engineer in talks with govt to plant trees in desert

RIYADH: 10 October 2014, Arab News: A Saudi engineer who has invented a method for trees to absorb large quantities of water is in negotiations with a Saudi government agency to plant 6,200 trees in a desert some 200 km east of the Saudi capital.

“I will discuss with the government agency, whose name I presently cannot disclose, the terms and conditions of the liquid-absorbing polymer project with the use of my water-saving technology,” Ibrahim M. Alalim told Arab News.

Alalim’s water-absorbing polymer, dubbed Polykem Hydrogel PagriSAP, involves using big pieces of salt that absorb large quantities of water.

“If you put it in soil, it will absorb 600 times its own weight of water,” said Alalim, who developed the technology while working in Lauzanne, Switzerland, for 20 years. Alalim said that under the agreement, the Riyadh-based firm, Estefa Group, which he owns, will plant the trees under a government program.

“We will nurture the trees, which are of a special kind. We will water every tree with 100 liters weekly and will stop after two years in accordance with the contract,” he said.

He said that with the use of polymer, the trees are expected to store large quantities of water, adding that his invention acts as a water reservoir in the root zone and provides water on demand to the trees and helps prevents water loss due to evaporation. He said that the trees will depend on rainfall for future water needs.

Underlining the efficacy of his invention, he cited a farm in Al-Baha, named Daytona Farms, which started using his technology in 2012 and made its first harvest of olive trees in 2013.

“The farm owner, Saleh bin Abbas, used the polymer and planted 7,000 olive trees of seven varieties. He harvested 13 tons of olive fruits after only one year,” he said.

Alalim said his invention assists in solving agricultural drought, improving and increasing crop yields, increasing hydraulic conductivity and effectively reducing the build-up of salinity in irrigated environments.

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Hajis go on SR2.2 billion shopping spree

RIYADH: ARAB NEWS, Friday 10 October 2014 – Hajis spent a whopping SR2.2 billion on gifts and souvenirs during the current pilgrimage season, an official from the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) said recently.

Each Haji spends between SR1,300 and SR1,600 during their journey, Ibrahim Batterjee, chairman of the JCCI’s industrial committee, was quoted as saying by local media. The amounts spent by Hajis are determined by their incomes in their respective countries, he said.

He said the continued rise in commodity prices and falling exchange rates of currencies in some Arab and Muslim countries are among the factors considered by experts in calculating the average spending of Hajis.

Hajis normally flood stores to buy rosaries, prayer rugs, white shirts and jewelry as gifts for their relatives and friends, according to a survey conducted by the JCCI.

Batterjee said there has been a decrease in spending this year, largely due to the reduction in the number of pilgrims because of the expansion project currently underway. Over 2 million people performed the pilgrimage this year.

Store owners were quoted as saying that Hajis preferred buying gifts and souvenirs in Makkah and Madinah, although a few made purchases in Mina.

They preferred to buy gold in Makkah and Jeddah because stores are more reputable, dealers reportedly said. Gold makes up about 10 to 15 percent of gift purchases, one businessman said.

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ADB Lends $400 Million to Aid Indonesia, Boost Investment and Accelerate Growth

Jakarta, ADB Media release, 25 September 2014 – The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $400 million program loan to help Indonesia improve its investment climate to attract greater foreign and domestic investment, needed for long-term sustainable growth and social development.

“Indonesia needs to speed up structural reforms to transform from a commodity driven economy to one that is more broad based,” said Rabin Hattari, an ADB Public Management Economist. “For this to happen, investments are needed across various sectors. These require an improved investment climate, better infrastructure, and stronger governance, which in turn helps generate more productive jobs and contribute to poverty reduction.”

The first phase of the Stepping Up Investments for Growth Acceleration Program supports government policies to create a more open and cost effective business environment, expand infrastructure financing options, and develop a faster, more transparent public procurement process. Specific measures include raising the limit of foreign ownership in a Public Private Partnership connectivity project and reducing the number of steps and time for starting businesses.

The program will also back government initiatives to expand infrastructure financing options for local governments, and to further improve the public-private partnership (PPP) framework to attract more private financing of infrastructure projects. ADB has previously supported the development of PPPs and the second phase of the program will continue the process, through planned reforms such as allowing PPPs to invest in social sectors.

Along with ADB’s loan assistance, state-owned German development bank KfW Bankengruppe will provide cofinance of $200 million. The program runs for 4 years and is scheduled for completion in September 2016.

The Indonesian economy is expected to slow on weak export performance in 2014 before picking up in 2015 as external demand improves and the new government’s reform agenda takes hold, says a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) report.

In an update of its flagship annual economic publication, Asian Development Outlook 2014, ADB trimmed its forecast for 2014 growth in Indonesian gross domestic product (GDP) to 5.3% from 5.7% expected in April. ADB forecasts growth of 5.8% in 2015, down from 6.0% in April.

“Growth has been constrained this year by tighter monetary conditions and the ban on unprocessed mineral ores that dented exports,” said ADB’s Deputy Country Director for Indonesia, Edimon Ginting, in launching the report. “But major planned reforms to further improve the investment climate, boost the efficiency of the bureaucracy and accelerate infrastructure development, could improve growth prospects going forward.”

GDP growth slowed to 5.2% in the first half of 2014, the slowest pace since 2009, after the central bank raised interest rates last year to restrain domestic demand and rein in inflation and the current account deficit. The slowdown has been sharper than anticipated, due mainly to weak exports as several major export markets grew less quickly than expected.

Merchandise exports fell 2.3% in United States (US) dollar terms in the first half, weighed down by subdued demand and soft prices for export commodities including coal and rubber. Merchandise imports fell 4.4%, led by raw materials and capital goods. The trade surplus nearly tripled in the first half from a year earlier to $2.9 billion. Deficits in services trade and in the income account produced a current account deficit of $13.3 billion, equal to 3.1% of GDP.

Private consumption, which accounts for almost 60% of GDP, grew a robust 5.6% in the first half and made the biggest contribution to GDP growth from the demand side. Consumption received a boost from election-related spending. Decelerating inflation and good harvests supported consumer confidence and farmers’ incomes, but tighter credit hurt sales of consumer durables such as automobiles.

Foreign direct investment was relatively buoyant at $10.5 billion, and portfolio investment inflows rose sharply to $16.8 billion in the first half. Foreign investors increased their holdings of government bonds by $7.3 billion in the January to August period. These large inflows more than offset the current account deficit to keep the balance of payments in surplus. The Indonesian rupiah appreciated by 4.1% against the US dollar in the first eight months of 2014, after depreciating 19.5% in 2013.

The growth outlook for 2014 and 2015 assumes the new government, which takes office in October 2014, will implement the major policies outlined during the elections: improving the investment climate, reforming the bureaucracy, and accelerating infrastructure development. The 0.5% uptick expected in 2015 will be driven by a stronger outlook for the major industrial economies, which should spur exports and investment.

Growth in private consumption is projected to remain robust. Lower inflation is supporting consumption this year, and the government is expected to use cash transfers to compensate low-income groups for higher fuel prices in 2015.

Private investment is seen improving over the forecast period, benefiting from the successful national elections and expectations that the new government will implement reforms. Growth in investment loans remains high at 30% despite tighter monetary policy.

Inflation is seen averaging 4.2% in the second half of this year and will likely average 5.8% for the full year, slightly higher than expected due to additional increases in electricity tariffs and likely upward pressure on food prices from the anticipated dry weather late in 2014. Inflation is projected to increase temporarily to average 6.9% in 2015, assuming the government increases fuel prices by 30%–50%.

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Dry hotels on the rise in Dubai

Dubai, October 10, 2014, GulfNews: The development of dry hotels (hotels that do not serve alcohol) in Dubai has been growing in recent years, buoyed by the increasing availability of Islamic finance, according to industry experts. “Sharia funds are growing rapidly,” said Rupprecht Queitsch, chief executive and senior partner at INHOCO Group, a hospitality consultancy in Dubai.

The government announced last year its aim to make the city the global capital of Islamic economy. Total Islamic banking assets in the UAE grew to around $95 billion (Dh348.9 billion) in 2013 compared to $83 billion in 2012, according to a report by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which is based on a recent study by global consultancy Ernst and Young.

The dry-hotel trend started in the early 2000s, when Islamic finance became more available in the country, prompting investors to build such hotels, said Guy Wilkinson, managing partner of Viability Management Consultants, a hospitality consulting firm in Dubai.

“An increasing number of Gulf investors want to do dry hotels because of their religious conviction. So you’ll see more and more dry hotels,” he said.

Some analysts have said that the emirate currently has around 12 dry hotels and hotel apartments, while others said there are as many as 100. Among those are the Coral Dubai Deira Hotel, EWA Dubai Deira Hotel, Al Jawhara Gardens Hotel, Al Jawhara Hotel Apartments, and Coral Al Khoory Hotel Apartments.

Wilkinson pointed out that hotel apartments in the Gulf, including the UAE, are all dry, except for those that are linked to hotels with an alcohol licence. Both dry hotels and hotel apartments must rely more on rooms than food and beverage to make profit, he said.

Laurent Voivenel, chief executive of Hospitality Management Holdings (HMH), explained that the company’s hotels’ lack of alcohol revenue is offset by reducing the food and beverage offering and increasing banqueting space and meeting facilities.

HMH operates the Coral hotels and hotel apartments, EWA Dubai Deira Hotel and The Ajman Palace Hotel. “We are performing as well as any hotel in the market, in occupancy and in food and beverage,” Voivenel said.

Occupancy at HMH’s hotels in Dubai reached more than 80 per cent from January to the end of August, he said.

Most guests that stay at alcohol-free hotels are from the Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, that look for accommodation which caters to their Islamic beliefs. However, some visitors that seek dry hotels also come from Europe, Wilkinson said. “They’re for people from all over the world that want family-friendly accommodation with good facilities,” he said.

Voivenel pointed out that there are a lot of single women that stay at HMH’s hotels “because they feel safe as there are no people drinking.” The development of dry hotels in the emirate is expected to grow in the next three to five years.

“If the funding continues to be available and the market grows in that direct, I don’t see any reason why (dry hotels) wouldn’t continue to expand,” Queitsch said.

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Punjab plans to promote religious tourism

TAXILA, Dawn, October 11, 2014: The Punjab government plans to promote religious tourism and in first phase different initiatives have been taken to woo Sikh tourists.

According to official sources, the government has evolved a strategy in collaboration with the Punjab Planning and Development Board, provincial departments of tourism, archives, archaeology and Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) to exploit the potential of this form of tourism.

The province has important religious worship places for Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindus.

The ETPB deputy secretary for shrines, Syed Faraz Abbass, while talking to Dawn on Friday said the tourism would not only give a boost to national but provincial economy as well.

Sikh religion’s most sacred places like Gurdwara Nankana Sahib, Gurdwara Darbar Sahib (Kartarpur) and Gurdwara Dera Sahib are located in Taxila, he said.

Being custodian body of minorities’ religious places, ETPB would extend all technical and administrative support to the provincial tourism authorities in this regard.

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Biggest solar power plant in Middle East to be set up in Zahedan

Zahedan, Oct 11, IRNA – The Islamic Republic of Iran is to set up the biggest solar power plant of the Middle East in the city of Zahedan, member of photovoltaic scientific society of wind energy in Iran Gholamreza Sar-Golzari said on Saturday. The first-ever 20 megawatt wind power plant is to be constructed eight kilometers away from Zahedan city, he said.

Speaking to IRNA, he said the project will be implemented through support made by Bank of Industry and Mines. The governor-general of Sistan Baluchestan province said that most sophisticated European technological know-how is to be used for construction of the power plant.

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Malaysian Economy Is Expected To Sustain Its Growth Momentum In 2015

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Oct 10 (NNN-BERNAMA) – The Malaysian economy is expected to sustain its growth momentum in 2015, driven by resilient domestic demand and the improving external sector.

The Ministry of Finance (MOF) said, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth is expected to expand at a steady pace of between five per cent and six per cent in 2015, given the better global economic outlook and underpinned by the 2015 Budget measures.

However, there remains downside risk on the external front, including slow and uneven growth in the euro area, increased deflationary pressures in the advanced economies, slower growth in emerging markets, as well as, geopolitical tensions, MOF said, in its 2014-2015 Economic Report.

The report is issued in conjunction with the tabling of the 2015 Budget in Parliament today, by Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also the Finance Minister.

On the demand side, MOF said, growth would be private sector driven, building on the success of initiatives taken by the government over the years, to provide a conducive environment for private economy to thrive.

The Treasury said, private investment would remain vibrant and was expected to register double-digit growth, supported by the ongoing implementation of the 10th Malaysia Plan, Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) and Government Transformation Programme (GTP).

The ETP has generated significant investment since its launch in 2010, garnering total committed investment of RM219.3 billion from 196 projects.

These projects are expected to contribute RM144 billion to Gross National Income (GNI) and create 437,816 new jobs.

On the supply side, all sectors are expected to expand with manufacturing and services remaining the drivers of growth, supported by sustained domestic economic activity, higher export oriented manufacturing activities and trade-related services.

Malaysia’s external position is also expected to remain strong, in line with improved prospects for global growth and trade, while the current account is expected to remain in surplus in 2015.

MOF said, fiscal policy in 2015 would continue to focus on improving the financial position of the government, while supportive of economic growth and reform initiatives.

With revenue growth surpassing that of expenditure, the deficit in 2015 is anticipated to further decline to three per cent of GDP.

The total Federal government expenditure would continue to be stable at RM271.9 billion, while revenue is estimated to be higher at RM235.2 billion.

The government remains committed to pursuing a sound fiscal policy and has adopted a multi-pronged approach towards achieving a balanced budget by 2020.

These include the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), accrual accounting and Outcome-Based Budgeting (OBB), as well as the adoption of a more targeted fuel subsidy mechanism.

Meanwhile, the government would also ensure debt is capped below 55 per cent of GDP, while ensuring revenue would be sufficient to meet operating expenditure.

Greater inter-agency cooperation would continue to be promoted in the implementation of programmes, to avoid wastage and duplication, as well as optimising the use of public assets.

Inflation, on the other hand, is expected to remain manageable, despite trending above the long-term average, partly due to the implementation of GST and the spillover effect of the recent fuel subsidy rationalisation this month.

However, with external prices expected to be subdued, the effect of GST on inflation would be transitory and is anticipated to return to normal growth in 2016, as domestic cost factors wane.

The report also touched on the Eleventh Malaysia Plan (11MP), which would be tabled in 2015, to accelerate the transformation to an advanced nation status.

The five-year plan is expected to focus on further strengthening growth, particularly in services and manufacturing, harnessing human capital, promoting entrepreneurship, enhancing environmental management, improving rakyat (citizens) well-being and enhancing exclusiveness.

The 11MP would also promote greater dynamism of the private sector, especially small and medium enterprises, to boost their contribution to the economy, MOF added.

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UAE Launches Volunteer Initiative To Protect Arabic Language

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, Oct 8 (NNN-WAM) – UAE Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), with the Society for the Protection of Arabic Language, reports Emirates News Agency (WAM).

The MoU is aimed at encouraging communities to participate in promoting national identity and strengthen their association with the Arabic language.

This is in line with the implementation of the Arabic language charter initiative, launched by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, to develop Arabic language affiliation and encourage its use in all aspects.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, emphasised the need to achieve the strategic goals, in line with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Vision 2021, and its future aspirations, which stipulates that the Arabic language should regain its position, as a vital and dynamic language to be used in all areas, to express the nation’s Islamic and Arabic values.

Sheikh Hamdan also said that the UAE hoped to become a centre of excellence for Arabic, hosting scientists and researchers, supporting the use of authentic Arabic, and translating international literary and scientific works into Arabic. The Minister added that sustainability of the Arabic language and Arab identity is a top priority for the country.

The MoU stipulates that responsible parties should be more vigilant for any language errors in their prints, advertisements, and correspondence.

The MoU also aims to raise awareness on the need to include Arabic content on websites, supporting Arabic language teaching initiatives for non-native speakers, and limiting the use of Arabic slang in different social media platforms.

It also seeks to increase interest in the language, through supporting and honouring related initiatives, and building strategic partnerships with stakeholders at the local, regional, and international levels.

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Scientists Find Indonesia Cave Art Among World’s Oldest

JAKARTA, Oct 9 (NNN-ANTARA) — A team of Indonesian and Australian scientists has dated some of the world’s earliest known cave art on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, challenging the commonly held view that Europeans were the first to produce rock art.

The team dated 12 hand stencils and two figurative animal depictions at seven cave sites in the limestone ‘tower karst’ of southwest Sulawesi, with the earliest image (a hand stencil) being at least 40,000 years old. The findings were published in the prestigious journal, Nature.

The Sulawesi project builds on decades of research carried out by Indonesian and European archaeologists, and more recently by the late Professor Mike Morwood from the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Centre for Archaeological Science in Australia, where many of the team members involved in this discovery are based.

Co-author of the paper, Thomas Sutikna, who is completing a PhD at UOW’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, was part of the Indonesian team that uncovered the new species of tiny human nicknamed ‘the Hobbit’ ten years ago. He said this latest finding holds important implications for theories of human evolution.

“Rock art is one of the first indicators of an abstract mind – the onset of being human as we know it,” he said.

Historically, archaeologists have thought that rock art first emerged in Europe, with a minimum age of 41,000 years for the oldest dated rock art in the world – a painting of a red disk at El Castillo in Spain.

Co-author of the Nature paper, Dr Anthony Dosseto, Director of UOW’s Wollongong Isotope Geochronology Laboratory, said the discovery shows that at the same time as Europeans were expressing themselves on cave walls, people in Sulawesi were doing the same.

“Europeans can’t exclusively claim to be the first to develop an abstract mind anymore. They need to share this, at least, with the early inhabitants of Indonesia,” Dr Dosseto said.

Sutikna said the finding suggests that figurative art may have been part of the cultural repertoire of his ancient Indonesian ancestors – the first modern human populations to reach this region more than 40,000 years ago.

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Guyana Gears For Mashramani 2015; Promises To Be Bigger, Better

GEORGETOWN, Oct 11 (NNN-GINA) — Guyana’s rich cultural diversity was fully displayed during the launch of Mashramani 2015, and Minister of Culture Youth and Sport, Dr Frank Anthony said. “it’s just the tip of the iceberg”.

Guyana celebrates its 45th Republic Anniversary next year and Minister Anthony said he hopes to see 45 bands on the road and more creativity added to costume displays.

He urged Guyanese to support their local designers and to come out and be a part of the celebrations, participating in the costume floats. Anthony said, “It is a display of our diversity and we celebrate our identity at Mash.”

He lauded the rich cultural mix of a drum performance by Otiskha/Dubraj Tassa, which performed a medley mixture of African and Indian drumming. “What I saw this evening is just a taste of what is coming in 2015. Isn’t it wonderful when we have drummers on stage? It is both about African or Indian drummers. It is the beat of unity,” Minister Anthony said.

He added that he expects to have a lot more sponsors for Mashramani 2015, a bigger and better event will be celebrated under the theme: ‘One People One Culture One Celebration’. This was created by Zariel Gittens of Linden.

In addition to the regular costume parade and fete which happen after and the preceding activities, Anthony said there is also an educational twist to the event. This includes an exhibition at the National Museum, Art exhibition at Castellani House and also a prominent Guyanese will be present during lecture sessions to teach different aspects of Guyana’s heritage as part of Mashramani cultures.

Representatives of the Ministry of Education were also present during the opening ceremony.

The Minister urged sponsors to get on board as the Ministry and the Mashramani planning committee cannot plan the event alone, he said the private sector needs to get on board and added that Mashramani pulls thousands of people to the roadways and is one of the best ways to advertise products and companies.

He added that in recent years, Mashramani not only received local coverage, but also international.

Banks DIH is scheduled as per normal to host the annual calypso event at Thirst Park as part of the activities. Companies such as Republic Bank, Ansa McAl and other large firms are expected to be on board.

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Eid Al-Adha Boon For Hotels In Bahrain

MANAMA, Bahrain, Oct 7 (NNN-BNA) – The Eid Al-Adha holiday has proved a real boon for the hospitality sector in Bahrain, with the majority of hotels in the Kingdom reporting a rate of room occupancy averaging 90 per cent.

According to hoteliers and investors in the tourism sector, many hotels in Bahrain boasted a record 100% occupancy, during the Eid Al-Adha holidays.

They reported a big flux of Saudi visitors, stressing the importance of Bahraini hospitality facilities markets, entertainment venues, parks, restaurants and shopping mall that cater to Saudi families’ needs.

In statements to Bahrain News Agency (BNA), they said, they expected the buoyancy of the tourism sector to continue until late this week, due to extended Eid vacations in most Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

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Indonesia Urged To Promote MICE Tourism

JAKARTA, Oct 8 (NNN-Bernama) – An official at the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry said Indonesia needs to promote MICE tourism as it has potential to generate income seven times higher than other types of special interest tourism, Indonesia’s Antara news agency reported.

“If we want quality tourism, Indonesia should promote MICE tourism. MICE visitors are generally bigger spenders,” said Achyaruddin, director of special interest tourism and MICE on Tuesday.

Achyaruddin said Indonesia is still lagging behind other countries in the development of meetings, incentives, conferences and events (MICE) tourism.

MICE tourism faces the problem of lack of availability of large convention and exhibition rooms.

Convention and exhibition rooms with more than 6,000-seat capacity are found only in Jakarta and Bali among tourist destinations in the country.

Other tourist destinations such as Surabaya, Medan, Manado, Makassar, Bandung, Solo and Yogyakarta, and emerging destinations like Balikpapan and Lombok have smaller meeting and exhibition centres.

Other challenges faced by the MICE tourism sector are related to infrastructure, accessibility, human resources and connectivity. Achyaruddin said the ministry is studying the potential of a number of cities in MICE tourism.

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Egypt: Poland Lifts Travel Ban To Egypt’s Resorts

CAIRO, Oct. 9 (NNN-AGENCIES)– Poland has lifted the travel ban to Egypt’s resorts, allowing its citizens to visit Sharm al-Sheikh, Hurghada, Gouna, Safaga, and Marsa Alam, as well as embarking on business trips, as stated in the travel newsletter circulated by the Polish embassy in Cairo, state-run MENA reported Wednesday.

Polish nationals were requested to travel to these resorts by plane and warned against “traveling individually and planning trips to dangerous areas in central and northern Sinai.”

In February 2014, 15 European countries warned their citizens against traveling to Sharm al-Sheikh after three South Korean tourists were killed in a bomb blast in South Sinai.

Nevertheless, Denmark has modified its travel alert to Egypt and lifted the travel ban on Cairo, Alexandria, and Sharm al-Sheikh in July, according to Egypt’s Tourism Ministry.

Tourism and Suez Canal revenues are a main source of foreign currency to Egypt.

Tourist influx to Egypt dropped to 9.5 million tourists in 2013 after it had reached about 14.8 million tourists in 2010.

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Egypt To Present “Big” Projects At March Economic Meet

CAIRO, Oct. 9 (NNN-AGENCIES) — Egypt intends to present major projects at an international economic summit to be held in its resort coastal town of Sharm El Sheikh in March, the chairman of the Arab country’s general authority for investment said in press comments on Thursday.

Hassan Fahmy told Egypt’s Arabic language daily Almasry Alyoum that the conference, which will be attended by investors from many countries, had originally been scheduled for February but was postponed to March to allow for the completion of the master plan for the mega Suez Canal Development project.

“The political leadership has asked the project consultant to prepare the master plan for the Suez project within six months, ending in February…this explains the postponement of the economic summit to March,” he said.

“We have big national projects which the government wishes to present at the conference especially after President Abdel Fattah El Sisi decided to expand the invitation to include all countries to attend this summit.”

Fahmy said projects to be presented include the $multi-billion Suez Canal scheme which was launched by Sisi in August as well as the Golden Triangle minerals project in southern Egypt, tourism projects in the Northern coast, reclamation of four million acres (16,000 square km) of land and the construction of 3,000 km of new roads.

“These projects cannot be presented to the conference before their master plans are completed…many other investment opportunities by the ministries will also be presented at the March conference,” he said.

“What interests Egypt at this stage is the diversity of investments……we have seen strong global interest in the Suez project and in renewable energy projects to be constructed in the country.…the master plans for these projects will be completed before they are presented to international investors.”

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Ethiopia-Djibouti Rail Project Makes Good Progress

ADDIS ABABA, Oct 9 (NNN-ENA) — Some 55 per cent of the Sebeta-Dewele railway project, which is part of a bigger project to connect landlocked Ethiopia with Djibouti, has been completed, according to the Ethiopian Railway Corporation.

Briefing the 6th Ethio-Djibouti Joint Commission Meeting which opened here Wednesday, regarding the progress of the project on the Ethiopian side, the head of the Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway, Yehualashet Jemere, said the construction of the 317-kilometre Sebeta-Mieso stretch and the 339-km Mieso-Dewele stretch, including the bridges, tests and other civil works were progressing well.

He said about two-thirds of the project was completed in the past two years and activities were currently underway to complete the rest of the work in the next 18 months.

His Djiboutian counterpart, Mohammed Khaire, said 50 per cent of the project on the Djiboutian side had also been completed.

Ethiopian Transport Minister Werkineh Gebeyehu said work on the Sebeta-Djibouti Railway Project was progressing as scheduled. He said the railway would enhance the nation’s economy by reducing transportation costs and attracting investors.

The railway will enable Ethiopia to be competitive in international markets by reducing logistical costs caused by the current poor transportation system, Werkineh indicated.

According to him, the railway system will reduce the travel time from Ethiopia to Djibouti by half to less than ten hours with a designated speed of 120 km per hour on the railway line.

The railway will have 17 major stations and pass through major cities, including Bishoftu, Adama, Metehara and Dire Dawa. The 107-km line from Sebeta to Adama will be a double-track link while the remaining 549 km will be single track.

Djiboutian Minister of Equipment and Transport Moussa Ahmed Hassan said the project was being implemented effectively and was progressing well on both the Ethiopian and Djiboutian sides.

Aware of the importance of railway infrastructure, Djibouti and Ethiopia decided to build a new standard gauge railway line and electrical traction, he stated.

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UNCTAD Assists Islamic Developing Countries Applying To Join WTO

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 8 (NNN-UNCTAD) — UNCTAD are joining forces with the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and the government of Turkey to assist developing and least developed countries from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in their WTO accession negotiations.

Hosted by the Turkish Ministry of Economy, a seminar was recently organised jointly by the IDB and UNCTAD in Istanbul.

Sixteen representatives from the OIC members Algeria, Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan took part in the seminar.

UNCTAD’s contribution to the seminar consisted of presentations on the following topics:

(+) assessment of the outcome of the WTO’s Bali Ministerial Conference in December 2013;

(+) perspectives on the ongoing Doha negotiations and the post-Bali work programme;

(+) general Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) negotiation and its development impact; and legal process and procedures of WTO accession negotiations and challenges facing acceding countries from the OIC.

A simulation exercise on “a national multi-stakeholder consultative process” for the preparation and negotiation of an initial offer on market access in services using the GATS scheduling model was also organized by UNCTAD during the seminar.

Regarding WTO accession, in addition to the legal and technical accession requirements, UNCTAD presentations also dealt with questions related to the challenges faced by the acceding countries as well as the lessons learnt from recent accession experiences of developing countries.

These challenges include: internal preparedness; domestic institutional and regulatory reforms; coordination of the government machinery and of other national stakeholders; the depth of commitments and concessions with regard to trade liberalization while securing appropriate sequencing — as well as social and economic costs and impact — of WTO membership on the development of acceding countries.

The complementarity between the interventions made by UNCTAD experts and the Turkish Ministry of Economy’s negotiators enabled the participants to gather firsthand insight into the current Doha multilateral trade negotiations and their development dimensions, as well as the impact of WTO accession negotiations on their countries’ respective trade policies.

UNCTAD has long contributed to the delivery of workshops and seminars organised by IDB and other OIC institutions in the areas of trade negotiation, the international trading system, and WTO accession, with a view to enhancing OIC constituencies’ trade-related negotiation capacity and allowing them to develop an informed and evidence based-negotiating position.

UNCTAD provides technical assistance to 22 countries acceding to the WTO under the terms of a trust fund supported by Finland and Norway.

In addition, UNCTAD is able to provide the same assistance to Arab acceding countries through the recently launched Aid for Trade Initiative for Arab States (AFTIAS), which is financed by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Sweden and the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC).

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5th OIC World Biz, Muslim World Biz 2014 To Rake In Rm800 Mln Deals

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 8 (NNN-Bernama) -– The Fifth OIC World BIZ and Muslim World BIZ Exhibition and Conference 2014, to be held on Nov 10-14, 2014 at the Putra World Trade Centre here, are expected to generate some RM800 million worth of transactions.

Recognised as one of the most efficient and powerful Muslim world trade platforms, the event will see the signing of 40 memorandum of understandings and about 30 business matching sessions.

Organised by the OIC International Business Centre with the cooperation of the Islamic Centre for Development of Trade, an organ of the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation), the theme of the event is “Towards Excellent Global Economies”.

It will offer multiple components including the Round Table Talk of the Movers and Shakers of the Muslim World 2014, OIC Higher Education Fair 2014 and OIC-Asia Trade and Economic Forum 2014, as well as the Third World Islamic Tourism Conference and Expo 2014.

The OIC World BIZ 2014, envisioned to be the world’s biggest trade event by 2020, will feature 1,200 exhibitors from over 50 countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Palestine, Thailand, South Korea, India, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, Iran and many more.

The inaugural Round Table Talk will be the highlight of the entire event whereby 10 prominent movers and shakers of the Muslim World will put forward the key issues, challenges, opportunities and threats confronting the progress of modern Muslim businesses and elevating the Muslim economies.

This conference will be attended by some 200 global chief executive officers, corporate leaders, tycoons, entrepreneurs and government officials.

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Morocco To Hold 9th African Development Forum

MARRAKECH, Oct 7 (NNN-ECA) — Morocco will host a number of African leaders as part of the UN’s African Development Forum. The Ninth African Development Forum will be held on Oct 12-16 on the theme “Innovative financing for Africa’s transformation”.

The Forum takes place every two years and is organised by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Africa’s most important policy think tank.

This is the first time the event is held outside Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the ECA is headquartered.

Since the late 1990s, many African economies have grown significantly, and a number of countries continue to benefit from accelerating growth rates. Between 1995 and 2012, the continent’s gross domestic product (GDP) doubled in real terms, from $656 billion to $1,369 billion, while GDP per capita increased by 40 per cent, from $917 to $1,265.

Impressive as these figures are, a number of challenges continue to impede Africa’s transformation, the key one being Africa is still dependent on overseas aid.

According to reports and ECA findings, Africa requires approximately $200 billion annually to finance sustainable development, promote climate change adaptation and mitigation, and enhance economic resilience and competitiveness.

Africa’s infrastructure requirements alone are estimated at some $90 billion per year. The costs of safeguarding Africa’s natural resources, which continue to underpin most growth in the continent, are also increasing.

A number of high level participants are expected. Mohamed Boussaid, Minister, Ministry of Economy and Finance, Morocco; Kaba Nialé, Minister to the Prime Minister in charge of Economy and Finance, Côte-d’Ivoire, Beker Shale, Director General, Ethiopian Revenue and Customs Authority, and Prof. Machiko Nissanke, Professor of Economics, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London will discuss enhancing the role of Governments with a view to attracting greater private equity investments in support of national development efforts.

Meanwhile, Anis Birou, Minister in charge of Moroccans living abroad and migration affairs, Morocco; Dr. Esman M. Nyamongo, Research Department, Central Bank of Kenya, Faiza Feki, Director General of Foreign Exchange, Central Bank of Tunisia, Aida Diarra, Regional Vice President, North, Central and West Africa, Western Union and Abdellatif Jouahri, Governor, Central Bank of Morocco will discuss how African countries can raise funds by means of remittances and diaspora bonds.

Domestic tax revenues mobilised in Africa today are in excess of $520bn (2011 figures), compared to the $50bn received in aid. What’s more, African central and reserve banks hold more than $400bn in international reserves and Africa’s pension fund assets are growing at a staggering pace.

The World Bank estimates that Africa’s diaspora remittances soared to $40bn in 2012 and they have the potential to grow to $200bn over the next decade. Added to this is the potential that can be realised by addressing the losses to the continent through illicit financial flows.

For Africa to own its development, however, the continent needs to define a new robust threshold for domestic resource mobilisation that will enable the implementation of at least 70-80% of its development programmes and projects. The Forum will discuss how this can be achieved.

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Mosques open doors to non-Muslims in Germany

AA / 06 Oct 2014 – Muslims in Germany have opened the doors of their mosques to non-Muslims on Friday with the hope of eliminating prejudices against Muslims and encouraging cultural exchange.

“Unfortunately we are witnessing a growing fear of Islam and growing hostilities against Muslims in German society,” Ender Cetin, the chairman of the Sehitlik Mosque Association in Berlin, told journalists during the “Open mosque day” event.

“Our German guests here are often asking us questions on violence and terrorism and whether they have any root in Islam. We are telling them the real values of Islam, informing them about our activities against extremism. We are trying to reduce prejudices against Muslims,” Cetin said.

Recent reports of violent murders and atrocities committed by ISIL have sparked suspicion and a negative backlash towards Muslims across Germany.

Germany has approximately four million Muslims; around three million of them of Turkish origin. According to a recent representative public poll by Infratest-dimap, 42 percent of Germans now view Islam as “aggressive” and 38 percent as a “threat.”

Germany’s Muslim Coordination Council, a platform bringing together the four largest Muslim organizations in the country, expressed hope on Friday that with the “Open mosque day” they will be able to present to German society the various aspects of Muslim community life and answer questions on Islam.

Organizers said more than a hundred thousand visitors attended events at more than 700 mosques across Germany.

Stefan Streicher, a young German who visited a mosque for the first time told Anadolu Agency that he was impressed by the visit to Berlin’s Sehitlik Mosque.

“That is a beautiful building. Taking off shoes before entering the mosque was not something common to me. Overall, I had a positive impression,” he said.

Sabine Schwanz stressed that as a Christian, it was interesting to learn more about Islam. “These kind of events help reduce prejudices,” she stressed.

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Metro transports nearly one million pilgrims

Mina, Sunday, 11 Dhul Hijjah 1435/ 05 October 2014 (IINA) – Makkah’s state-of-the-art metro will have transported nearly one million pilgrims by the end of this Haj season, said a top official.

Just a couple of years ago, moving between Mina, Muzdalifa and Arafat took hours on end, but now, a trip between any of the three holy sites does not take more than 15 minutes thanks to the introduction of the Al-Mashaaer Al-Mugaddassah Metro Line at the end of 2011.

More than 360,000 pilgrims have been issued electronic tickets to use the line between Mina and Arafat, passing through Muzdalifah, according to Saud Al-Zikri, head of projects at the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs. “The tickets can be used multiple times to travel back and forth between the holy sites,” Al-Zikri said.

The SR6.7 billion service, launched in 2009, can accommodate 72,000 pilgrims between its different platforms per hour. A total of 20 trains are operational this season, with each train comprising 12 carriages and accommodating 4,000 passengers, according to sources. Pilgrims must buy tickets, worn as bar-coded bracelets that are read electronically as they enter the platforms. The government has, for years, carried out development and construction projects to expand and improve services for Hajis. Since it has been put into service, the train project eradicated the need for more than 12,000 buses, greatly reducing traffic congestion.

Yet one more challenge remains, which is facilitating movement back to Mina after pilgrims have completed their stoning rituals at the Jamrat area. To address the challenge, the government announced in 2012 plans to complete building tracks to be linked with the Makkah Metro project. The government announced plans to build this metro, officially known as the Makkah Mass Rail Transit, in 2012. According to the plans, work is expected to commence in 2016. The announcement said that the entire expansion project would take up to 10 years.

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Australian non-Muslim group don hijab for fellow Muslims

Canberra, Wednesday, 14 Dhul Hijjah 1435/ 08 October 2014 (IINA) – A group of non-Muslim Australian women organized a show of support with the Islamic community in Canberra earlier this week by putting on the Islamic headscarf and offering flowers to Muslims celebrating the feast of Eid al-Adha.

In a bid to send a “message of love and solidarity,” some 10 women attended an Islamic festival in the Australian capital to give away flowers to feasting Muslims, The Canberra Times reported. The event organizers said that they wanted their “fellow Canberran Muslims” not to feel left out amid an anti-Islamic rhetoric that has recently surfaced in the country.

“We told them we were sorry you’ve been treated so badly in the media and we wanted to say we stand with you in solidarity and we want to share love instead of hate,” said Annabelle Lee, a 26-year-old who helped organize the event.

She said some Muslims had been cautious at first but then welcomed the gesture. “And when they heard that, many of them wanted to give us a hug, many smiled and some were brought to tears,” she added.

Annabelle Lee said they gave flowers to women, children and men attending Eid morning prayers at the AIS Stadium in Bruce. Some men asked to take flowers for their wives at home. Islamic Society of Belconnen vice-president Hassan Warsi said members of Canberra’s Muslim community were “touched” by this gesture.

“They had people coming forward and putting a (hand) on their shoulder, saying ‘Look, we’re here with you. We know you guys are good people like us and we are all in a community, caring and sharing and it should be an exception,” he said. “It was obviously a very good feeling and people were touched by that.”

The gesture comes at a time when tensions between Australia’s Muslim community and its politicians have escalated over fears of attacks by radicalized Muslims. Australian Muslims have reportedly said that their community is being unfairly targeted following a series of security-related raids. Australia recently began flying combat operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the two countries that they operate in, Iraq and Syria.

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Work starts at SR50 billion Pilgrims’ City in Madinah

Madinah, Thursday, 15 Dhul Hijjah 1435/ 09 October 2014 (IINA) – Work on the first phase of the project of the new King Abdullah City for Pilgrims here has started.

The first phase of the project, costing SR3.3 billion, expected to be up and running in two years, will have a branch for the Ministry of Haj and office for the Haj committee in Madinah as well as an office for the governor of Madinah. It will also include travel agencies and over 30 hotels. Ten companies, including three mega ones, are competing to win the second and third phases of the project with offers ranged between SR2.7 billion and SR2.9 billion.

A source in the Ministry of Finance said the total cost of the three phases of the project exceeds SR50 billion, adding that the project will create thousands of job opportunities for Saudis. This project is one of many that have been proposed to develop Madinah City and enhance its importance as a major destination for visitors and pilgrims, the source said. The total area of the project, located three kilometers away from the southwest area to the Prophet’s Mosque, is around 1,600,000 square meters. Over 100 residential and commercial towers will be constructed that can accommodate 120,000 persons with four- and five-star hotels and large rooms that can accommodate three families at the same time.

There will be VIP rooms and suites, restaurants, cafes, business centers, and fast elevators that can take guests to the ground in a matter of seconds so that they can perform prayer in the Prophet’s Mosque. There will be offices for the General Car Syndicate, Tawafah establishments, medical missions, and Haj missions with capability to accommodate 31,000 persons. The ground floors will be used as parking lots while a large area will be dedicated to building a gigantic mosque that can take up to 15,000 persons, a 400-bed hospital, kitchens, washing areas, and luggage transport station. There will be a transport station to provide services to 84,000 pilgrims and visitors who use the train and buses.

Dr. Khalid Taher, Madinah Mayor, says the project is one of several strategic projects that Madinah will see in the future. Together with other projects, it seeks to serve pilgrims and visitors alike. Dr. Muhammad Al-Khtrawee, Madinah Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chairman, says the project will definitely reduce crowding in the Central Area surrounding the Prophet’s Mosque and will provide residential units and all necessary services to pilgrims. Farid Al-Maimani, economic expert, said this is King Abdullah’s gift to the guests of Allah.

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World’s tallest mosque gate opens at Grand Mosque

Makkah, Thursday, 15 Dhul Hijjah 1435/ 09 October 2014 (IINA) – King Abdullah Gate in the newly expanded area of the Grand Mosque is considered the world’s tallest gate of a mosque.

With its formal opening during this year’s Haj pilgrimage, the gate has become the main entrance to the Grand Mosque with two gigantic minarets on its top. Designed in modern architectural style with Islamic decoration, the gate is adorned with huge lamps that attract the attention of visitors at the first sight. Its internal base, walls, and ceilings are decorated with Qur’anic verses. The main design resembles that of the old gates except that the new one is very tall and is located within the new expansion of the northern courtyards of the Grand Mosque.

It is close to the first ring road and most vital places such as the public transport stations on the west side of the Grand Mosque. It has become one of the favorite landmarks for the visitors who never fail to take its photos with their cell phones and cameras. Abdullal Al-Tumaih, director of Grand Mosque Gates, said the Presidency of the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques has opened 150 gates and mobilized 1,000 staff to organize the entry and exit of pilgrims and visitors.

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Malaysia’s Bank Islam sets up $307 million Basel III sukuk program

Kuala Lumpur, Saturday, 17 Dhul Hijjah 1435/ 11 October 2014 (IINA) – Malaysia’s Bank Islam, wholly-owned by BIMB Holdings Bhd, has set up a 1 billion ringgit ($307 million) subordinated Islamic bond program, the latest Asian bank to use the structure to boost regulatory capital.

With Basel III global banking standards being phased in around the globe, several Islamic banks have issued subordinated instruments, including those in Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Bank Islam will use an investment partnership structure known as murabaha for its sukuk, which will be classified as Tier 2 capital on its balance sheet, according to a filing by rating agency RAM Ratings. In June, two sources told Reuters the bank was planning such a program, aiming to raise 400 million ringgit in 2015 for a potential acquisition in Indonesia and an additional 300 million ringgit in 2016 to fund organic growth.

Bank Islam is Malaysia’s oldest and largest full-fledged Islamic lender, but it is smaller than the Islamic banking units of rivals Malayan Banking Bhd (Maybank) and CIMB Group Holdings Bhd. The two lenders earn up to a third of their income from Indonesia, a market seeing rapid corporate loan growth and a regulatory push to develop Islamic finance. In contrast, Bank Islam earns all of its income at home where it holds a 16 percent share of Islamic deposits.

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Saudi youths retrace route of Abraha’s army that came to destroy Kaaba

Makkah, Saturday, 17 Dhul Hijjah 1435/ 11 October 2014 (IINA) – A group of young Saudi history enthusiasts has retraced the path of the People of the Elephant who tried to destroy the Holy Kaaba centuries ago.

The Holy Qur’an, in a short chapter, briefly refers to the story of the army of elephants led by Abraha Al-Ashram, who was a governor of Yemen. God destroyed Abraha and his army that included 13 elephants, by sending flocks of birds that dropped small stones on them. “There never fell a stone on a soldier except it dissolved his flesh and burst it into pieces … Abraha Al-Ashram fled while his flesh was bursting into pieces and died on the way back to Yemen,” said the 14th century scholar Ibn Kathir, an authentic Qur’an commentator.

During their tiring journey across mountains and rough terrain, the young Saudi men took photographs of important landmarks, beginning from north of Najran, to the east of Asir, and then east of Baha. Some of the most important historical sites along the way included inscriptions of elephants on rocks in the Al-Qahr Mountain, southeast of Tathlith; an old well in Hafaer, east of Asir; and a paved road near Kara in Aqeeq principality in the Baha region. Mohammed Al-Amry, head of the geology department at King Saud University, said he had seen the path of Abraha and his army in Tathlith and Baha. “The army had passed the Arabian shield region comprising rocks and there were writings in the Humairiya language on some mountains,” he said.

According to historical Islamic sources, Abraha, who was a Christian, had thought of building a church similar to the Kaaba in Sana. He wanted the Arabs to perform the pilgrimage in Sana’a instead of Makkah, with the intention of diverting trade and benefits to Yemen. He presented the idea to the then king of Ethiopia who agreed to it. Abraha built the church but the Arabs refused to come for pilgrimage in Sana’a. This infuriated him, prompting him to form an army to invade Makkah and demolish the Kaaba. He defeated all Arab armies on the way until he reached Makkah where he was attacked by the flocks of birds sent by the Almighty.

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Maldivian receives Airline Reliability Performance Award

Sun.mv – October 10, 2014 – National airline of Maldives, Maldivian has won Airline Reliability Performance Award after competing with many other airlines. This award was given in the category of airline that operates Q and CRJ series flights, by Bombardier Aerospace.

Island Aviation said that Maldivian has won the award after competing with many other airlines operated in this region and getting first place from the Oceania region.

Award was given to Maldivian in an event held at Island Aviation Head Office by Rajeev Sharma, Area Field Service Representative of Bombardier Aerospace. Managing Director Abdul Haaris received the award for Maldivian.

Bombardier manufactures Dash 8 aircraft, which are used by Island Aviation. This is the third time Maldivian has won this award.

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Rising olive oil output requires better marketing: Turkish union leader

İZMİR – Anadolu Agency – Turkey needs both a domestic and international strategy to market its rapidly growing olive oil output, according to Cahit Çetin, the head of Tariş.

Turkey needs both a domestic and international strategy to market its rapidly growing olive oil output, according to Cahit Çetin, the head of Tariş.

Turkey needs both a domestic and international strategy to market its rapidly growing olive oil output, according to Cahit Çetin, the head of Tariş, one of the two leading olive and olive oil unions.

“The olive oil yield this year is expected at 190,000 tons. It will exceed 300,000 tons in one or two years under good conditions,” Çetin told Anadolu Agency, adding that the Agriculture Ministry forecasts output to reach 700,000 tons in the near future.

“A strategy is needed to market this increased yield, both domestically and internationally,” he said.

Çetin was voicing a common concern in the sector that prices could dramatically drop in the event of higher output. He suggested that a possible solution may be to boost domestic consumption through campaigns informing people about the health benefits of olive oil.

“The Turkish olive oil industry also needs a strong international brand for positioning in global markets,” he said, also asking for a cut in the value added tax on olive oil, which is currently at 8 percent

Consumption per capita has recently increased from 500 grams annually to nearly 2 kilograms, but there is still room for improvement, Çetin stressed.

The Agriculture Ministry’s goal is for consumption to reach 5 kilograms per capita annually.

Çetin said the figure was as high as 15 to 20 kilograms for some olive producers, but was far below one liter in many parts of Anatolia.

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The great attraction of Cappadocia’s frescoes

NEVŞEHİR – Anadolu Agency -The frescoes displayed at the Göreme Open Air Museum in Central Anatolia’s region of Cappadocia, one of Turkey’s popular tourism spots, draw great attention from tourists.

Göreme Mayor Nuri Cingil said the region welcomed 2.5 million tourists from Turkey and the world and the Göreme Open Air Museum was the most visited place. The museum, he said, was visited by 950,000 people a year, and ranked third among the most visited ancient sites in the country.

He said monastery life had existed in the area of the open air museum and the wall paintings in the churches were attractive for visitors.

Cingil said in the past, locals were lighting fires in the churches and that smudged the paintings on the wall. “The paintings were discovered during restorations and they still keep their liveliness even today.”

Cingil said the Göreme Open Air Museum, which was built by Kayseri pontiff St. Basil in the 4th century as a religious education and meditation center, included churches built within rocks, chapels, dining halls and sitting areas. Women’s and Men’s Monastery,

St. Basil Church, Elmalı Church, St. Barbara Church, Yılanlı Church, Karanlık Church, Çarıklı Church and Tokalı Church are in the museum, he said, and continued: “The churches in the open air museum are considered the places where the monastery education system was initiated. They were painted with two technics. In the first technic, the rock’s surface was improved and painted and in the second one, a water-based painting was used to make frescoes.”

Cingil said the life of Jesus and statements from the Bible were depicted in the churches. “Because the small window in the entrance of the Karanlık Church reflects very low light, the colors in the frescoes are vivid there. The church has a rich decorations, depicting stories from the Bible and images of Jesus,” he said.

Cingil said there were also scenes from the Old Testament of the Bible in other structures of the open air museum such as Elmalı and Çarıklı churches. “In the other churches, we see portraits Jesus, Mary and child, St. Theodore, St. George fighting a dragon and the depictions of respected saints in Cappadocia. Some churches’ walls have the cross and geometrical motifs made with red paint. The Göreme Open Air Museum is the most popular place among visitors,” Cingil said. The Göreme Open Air Museum has been a member of the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1984, and was one of the first two UNESCO sites in Turkey.

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Roman-age artifacts come back to Turkey

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet Daily News – U.S. officials have returned an illegally exported Roman-age horse bridle and 10 engraved slabs to Turkish officials, Turkey’s Culture Ministry has said.

The ministry issued a statement on Oct. 7, saying it had managed to acquire the historic pieces after conducting long legal, diplomatic and academic efforts.

In the statement, Culture and Tourism Minister Ömer Çelik expressed his determination to fight the illegal trafficking of historical pieces, adding the pieces were delivered to the Turkish Consulate General in Los Angeles.

The statement also said the pieces were illegally exported 40 years ago and were currently under protection in a museum in Ankara.

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Ancient port to move to new Hasankeyf settlement

Hurriyet Daily News – A nearly 1,700-year-old ancient port, located in the eastern province of Siirt’s Çattepe village, will be moved to a cultural park in the new settlement of Hasankeyf, rather than remaining under water at Ilısu Dam.

Moving the ancient port, which was excavated in the Çattepe tumulus, at the junction of the Tigris River and the Botan stream, to its new location will be a joint project of the Culture and Tourism Ministry and Ankara University’s Research Center for Maritime Archaeology (ANKÜSAM).

ANKÜSAM’s director, Professor Hayat Erkanal, said the reservoir that will be created by Ilısu Dam was too wide, encompassing Diyarbakır, Batman, Şırnak, Siirt and Mardin. “Our goal is to prevent the port from remaining underwater. Boats will be constructed for the ancient port. According to the Assyrian sources, there were five types of river boats in that era. We will construct these five types of boats in İzmir and display them in Hasankeyf. We hope to finish the project this winter.”

The head of the Çattepe excavations, Haluk Sağlamtimur, said the ancient port was one of the few rare ports in Anatolia.

He explained that it was first constructed as a cistern before turning into a port. “The port will be moved with its original pieces and established there,” he said.

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Turkish girl wins international prize in physics

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet Daily News – A Turkish girl has won an international prize in physics, after competing with young people from around 70 countries.

İlayda Şamilgil won the an annual international competition in research projects in physics, which is awarded by an organization committee based in Poland.

Her project, related to determining the water level in any liquid by using magnetics, has came first among around 5,000 other projects. Şamilgil is a 12th grader and had previously sent her project to TÜBİTAK but was not able to receive any degree.

The competition targets high school students who are interested in physics and are willing to perform their own research works in physics.

The title of the “First Step to the Nobel Prize” expresses the dream of all young physicists, and the competition is completely independent of the Nobel institution in Sweden. The new president of the Organizing Committee of the competition is Prof. Dr. Maciej Kolwas and secretary is Dr. Dorota Klinger.

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Chikley Lake in Bangladesh to become Entertainment Park soon

RANGPUR, Oct 9, 2014 (BSS) – Mayor of Rangpur City Corporation (RCC) and valiant freedom fighter Alhaj Sarfuddin Ahmed Jhantu today said the city’s Chikley Lake would be turned into an eco-friendly and beautiful entertainment park soon.

The mayor said this at the launching ceremony of rider and speed boat services at the Chikley Lake under Ward No.19 in the city on Wednesday afternoon as the chief guest.

The RCC authority has been conducting massive uplift activities like launching of various services and development of the Chikley Lake to turn it into an eye-catching entertainment park with all modern facilities at a cost of Taka 1.50 crore.

RCC Councilors Golam Kabir Kajol, Sekendar Ali, Mahbubar Rahman Manju,Akram Hossain, Shafikul Islam Dulal, Jahurul Islam Azabbar and its Executive Engineer for ‘Ga’ Region Ali Azam attended the ceremony, among others.

The RCC Mayor formally inaugurated the rider and speed boat services at the Lake as part of its ongoing phase-wise development activities.

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REDD+ expected to preserve forests, empower local coomunities

11 October 2014 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – To address the challenge of climate change, Indonesia has been implementing the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus (REDD+) program, with the cooperation of foreign donors, particularly Norway, for the last nine years.

REDD is an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation—estimated at up to 20 percent of the global total—by offering incentives. REDD+ is an extension of the program that includes the conservation and sustainable management of forests, as well as the enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries.

The implementation of the REDD+ program is crucial to help realize President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s commitment towards cutting down gas emissions, which was first announced at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, United States, in September 2009.

At the summit, Yudhoyono had stated that Indonesia was crafting a policy that would help bring down emissions by 26 percent by 2020 from the “business as usual” (BAU) levels, but with international support, he was confident that Indonesia could reduce emissions by as much as 41 percent.

Indonesia has the world’s third largest cover of tropical forests, after Brazil and Congo, and the largest area under tropical peatlands that store enormous amounts of carbon. Protecting them is essential to prevent being affected by climate change.

More than two-thirds of Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions come from land use and the forestry sector, but these forests also protect the world against climate change at the same time.

While sharing Indonesia’s REDD+ experiences at the United Nations headquarters in New York on September 24, President Yudhoyono said: “Land use and the forestry sector contribute up to one-fifth of worlds earth-warming emissions. Of these land-based emissions, the largest share can be attributed to deforestation and forest degradation. Therefore, addressing the issue of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation is a must, if we are to stay below the projected two-degree temperature rise by the end of this century.”

To help preserve Indonesian forests and tackle the impacts of climate change, Norway has pledged to provide Indonesia with US$1 billion in funding for REDD+ activities.

In line with a letter of intent (LOI), or the Oslo Accord, signed by Norway and Indonesia in 2010, the government imposed a moratorium on deforestation in 2011.

For that purpose, Yudhoyono issued Presidential Instruction No. 10/2011 on a two-year moratorium on new logging concessions for primary forests and peatlands. In 2013, he extended this moratorium till 2015 to protect more than 63 million hectares of the nations primary forests and peatlands.

On August 31, 2013 Yudhoyono signed the Presidential Regulation No. 62/2013 that established a managing agency for the reduction of emissions from deforestation and degradation of forests and peatlands.

The agency is, among other things, obligated to provide benefits with regard to the maintenance of ecosystem services, the conservation of biodiversity and improvement in the livelihoods of the indigenous people and local communities.

Outlining the lessons learned by the country since the implementation of the REDD+ program in 2005, the president noted that its successful implementation required changing the mindset on forest use and governance.

“This further requires a new vision and approach to forestry governance that emphasizes on the contributions of forests to environmental conservation. Successful REDD+ implementation will enhance forest governance,” he added.

The government has designated several provinces, including Central Kalimantan that still has a vast area of virgin forests, as hosts of REDD+ pilot projects. This program was designed to preserve forest ecosystems, while simultaneously empowering local communities.

Central Kalimantan has forest and peatland areas functioning as carbon sinks and is, therefore, suitable for REDD+ pilot projects and carbon trade deals.

The initial pilot project was launched by Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan in Kapuas District, Central Kalimantan, in September 15, 2011.

Central Kalimantan covers around 15 million hectares of land, of which 70 percent is still forested and rich in biodiversity. It is renowned as the primary producer of “green gold,” Central Kalimantan Governor Agustin Teras Narang once remarked.

“From the 1970s through to the 1980s, there were 120 production forest concessions. Now, there are 55,” the governor pointed out, suggesting that with fewer companies operating, lesser forested areas would be cleared.

According to Dr. Terry Sunderland, a senior scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research based in Bogor, West Java, involving local villagers plays a fundamental role in the implementation of the REDD+ projects.

“The involvement of local communities or people living in the surrounding areas of the forests will boost the effectiveness (of the program) and help to achieve the target,” Sunderland once said in a press statement.

He added that excluding local communities from the REDD+ projects could lead to dire social and economic consequences.

Moreover, the link between REDD+ and the economy has been highlighted in a report titled “Building Natural Capital: How REDD+ Can Support a Green Economy” that was issued recently by the International Resource Panel (IRP) and the UN-REDD Program.

The report outlines how integrating REDD+ programs into a green economy approach can conserve and even boost the socio-economic benefits forests provide to human society.

The IRP report lays out recommendations to deliver the new integrated REDD+ and green economy approach. These include better coordination, stronger private sector engagement, changes in fiscal incentive frameworks, greater focus on assisting policymakers understand the role forests play in propping up economies, and equitable benefit sharing.

The report further stresses, in particular, the need for a rights-based approach to ensure that benefits flow to the rural poor.

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VP Boediono to inaugurate Nusantara Batik Week in Pekalongan

8 October 2014 Pekalongan (ANTARA News) – Vice President Boediono is scheduled to officially inaugurate the Nusantara Batik Week 2014 here on Wednesday.

The opening ceremony of the Batik expo will be held at Jatayu Square, Pekalongan, according to a press statement released by the Vice Presidential Office.

The vice president is scheduled to tour the expo and visit the Batik Museum in Pekalongan, which is one of the largest Batik production centers in the country.

Since 2009, Indonesia has declared October 2 as National Batik Day following the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCOs) decision to include Batik in its list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” items in 2009.

Indonesia’s Batik along with the Tango of Argentina and Uruguay, the traditional Ainu dance of Japan, and Frances Aubusson tapestries were among the 76 elements included in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on September 30, 2009.

Batik exports from Indonesia increased considerably from US$32 million in 2008 to US$300 million in 2013.

“The United States, Germany, and South Korea are the primary destinations for batik exports,” Director General of the Ministry of Industry Argo Panggah Susanto recently noted.

Due to the high demand for batik in the international markets, the government intends to safeguard the intellectual property rights of batik makers to guarantee competition in the trade.

“The ministry has provided batik makers with protection by giving them trademarks, patent rights, trade confidentiality, and industrial designs,” Susanto stated.

Recently, in a bid to highlight the Batik Day commemoration, the industry ministry and the Foundation of Indonesian Batik organized, “The Seventh Exhibition of Batik as Cultural Heritage” from September 30 to October 3, 2014.

Ancient batiks dating back to the sultanate of Ngayokyakarta Hadiningrat, Pura Pakualaman, Pura Mangkunagaran, and Surakarta Hadiningrat were also on display during the expo.

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Nigeria’s Aviation Profile Rises On World Stage

The Guardian – 10 October 2014 – THE aviation community is in a celebration mood following confirmation that Nigeria had retained her Category-one status.

This has once again confirmed in unambiguous terms that the reforms in the aviation sector is not only receiving international recognition, but global acclamation.

Four years ago, the country was first awarded the much coveted status after an audit of the worthiness of her airspace by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Recently when the FAA degraded Indian from category-one, doomsday critics of the aviation Masterplan rolled out their drums and predicted a similar fate for Nigeria. However, industry experts were unperturbed, given the unprecedented dramatic transformation witnessed in the Nigerian Aviation industry. Indeed, within the space of three years after this certification, the various parastatals under the Ministry of Aviation have attained significant milestones

The much celebrated remodelling of 22 airports across the country along with provision of safety and security infrastructure has stimulated economic activity with its attendant benefits of wealth and job creation. For instance, the remodelled Murtala Mohammed Airport, Domestic Terminal one Lagos, popularly known as GAT has processed a total of 1007,823 passengers between January and August 2014. Similarly a total number of 12,564 aircraft movements were recorded during the same period.

The construction of six state-of-the-art, international airport terminals in Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Enugu, Bayelsa and Port Harcourt has already commenced after President Goodluck Jonathan led administration signed a bilateral agreement worth $4 billion for their constructions with the Chinese government last year July.

Nigerian airports are now fully compliant with ICAO standards for firefighting and rescue operations.

The firemen are well kitted to efficiently carry out their duties in securing and safeguarding the airport terminals and the lives of passengers and workers in case of any eventuality.

To beef up its counter-terrorism capacity, Government procured and deployed hi-tech, 3-in-1 (liquids, metals and explosive detection) screening equipment at all her airports. These equipment have been fully installed and are functional at Lagos and Abuja while those for other airports are at different stages of completion.

A key component of the Infrastructure improvement programme for the various airports is the procurement and installation of more passenger handling equipment and support systems which include luggage screening and handling, conveyor systems, air conditioning, standby power systems, baggage belt systems, lifts, escalators and travelators.

The new Air Traffic Management system under the TRACON project has made significant progress in putting in place radar and other navigational guidance systems that addressed the gaps in the country’s air navigational coverage.

The country now has functional, sophisticated navigational aids and well equipped control towers to its credit.

Last year, Nigerian Aviation sector was able to record a major milestone in search and rescue operations. In these situations, realtime radar playback provided by TRACON proved invaluable. The redesigning of the airspace to be WGS-84 compliant is one of the steps taken by the country to meet ICAO’s standard and transit to performance Based Navigation (PBN)

Government has deployed a sophisticated flight tracking system, and an Automated Flight Information Reporting System (AFIRS) which was previously unavailable in the country.

Another pertinent milestone is the IOSA certification.

Safety in the airspace has improved with accurate weather prediction because of new Meteorological equipment. International airlines now rely on our weather reports.

The country’s Accident Investigation and Prevention Bureau, AIPB became the first in Africa to have its hangar and is now able to quickly download, extract, decode and analyse the aircraft accident data from the CVR and FDR (Black Boxes) thus saving time and money. This capacity has sped up the investigation process and upgraded our aircraft accident investigation process.

Even the once neglected aviation training school at Zaria, Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, (NCAT) was not left out of the transformation agenda of this administration. It has been upgraded and well-equipped in order to fulfill its mandate of producing world class skilled manpower for the country’s aviation industry.

Aside from the structural and management changes at the school, government has also purchased aircrafts, helicopters, Simulator, Auto pilot Training station and other training equipment for the institution. Dati is the General Manager, Corporate Communication of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).

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Gambia: Int’l Forum to Attract Investments to Gambia – GIEPA CEO

The Daily Observer – 7 October 2014 – The chief executive officer of the Gambia Investment and Export Promotion Agency (GIEPA) has stated that the upcoming maiden edition of the International Tourism Investment Forum (ITIF) 2014, scheduled for 16th – 18th October, is expected to attract both foreign and local investments to the country.

Fatou Jallow-Mbenga was speaking recently during an interview with the Daily Observer in the build up to the event.

The forum, to be jointly organisd by the GIEPA and the Gambia Tourism Board (GTBoard), is meant to attract investment in the tourism sector in terms of focusing on foreign direct investment as well as spur local investment in various forms.

“It is not only about the foreign investment, but GIEPA is also looking at the investment from the people who are in The Gambia as well, since the Agency’s focus is on investment promotion and facilitation,” she said.

On the partnership in this initiative, Jallow-Mbenga explained that GIEPA and GTBoard are institutions set up by the government with given tasks, but noted that the two are expected to work together to bring change to the national development agenda – the development of The Gambia and people of this country.

“They are naturally bound to deliver on that. GIEPA’s role is more about focusing on investment promotion and facilitation which tourism sector is one of,” she added.

On what incentives are available in the country, Jallow-Mbenga indicated that the government has already put in place packages that are available to investors in different areas, provided that certain criteria relating to investment value and job creation are met.

She highlighted: “The available incentives include tax holiday, which is tax breaks on corporate and turnover tax; withholding tax on dividends and depreciation allowance for period of five and eight years depending on the project’s location. Among other incentives are the import sales tax, the Value Added Tax (VAT), which is the exemption from payment of import sales tax on direct inputs for the project”.

The GIEPA boss was quick to point out that incentives are not for only foreign investments, saying there is no segregation between local and foreign investors. “It does not matter where you come from; be it ECOWAS, Asia or America, it is the same criteria that the government will apply on any investment,” she concluded.

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Public art: Mahatat kick off first tour in Egypt’s Mansoura

Ahram Online, Thursday 9 Oct 2014 – Mahatat for Contemporary Art, a Cairo-based art initiative that hosts artistic projects in public spaces, started their first tour across four Egyptian cities: Mansoura, Damietta, Port Said and Cairo. The tour is part of a Mahatat’s long-term project entitled Art of Transit, involving professional artists who perform in public spaces as a form of artistic intervention.

The first tour includes Abo Karim marching band (a sub-project of the Oscarisma troupe), which features nine musicians and percussionists playing instruments specially designed for public space performance. Joining them is the El-Kousha puppet theatre troupe, known for performing with giant puppets in public spaces including festivals and even protests.

In Mansoura, the Mahatat crew attracted the attention of audiences from the moment they began preparing the large size puppets that are brought on pick-up trucks.

People also gathered when the marching band walked through the city’s main streets.

“Families are in balconies watching the march,” Mahatat tweeted during the performance. The show lasted over 30 minutes and showcased the puppets in two locations.

As people kept joining the parade, the crowd eventually reached over 500 people, who attended the final stage of the performance, according to Mahatat.

Heba El-Sheikh, Mahatat’s executive director, told Ahram Online that she was happy with the show.

“We achieved our first goal in Mansoura and proved that when people are offered interesting entertainment or art, they are happy to watch or even join the activities. The atmosphere was contagious,” she said.

On Friday 10 October, Mahatat will visit Port Said where two processions and shows will take place, one at the Child Garden (behind the bazaar) at 4pm and another at Hay Al-Zohor at 6pm.

Damietta will be Mahatat’s stop on Saturday 11 October, with shows taking place in the city centre at 4pm, followed by Domiat Gedida at 6pm.

The final stop of the first tour will take place in Cairo on Monday 12 October, with a parade crossing the streets of Manial.

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Egypt’s ‘Hanging Church’ officially inaugurated

Ahram Online, Saturday 11 Oct 2014 – Within the framework of the antiquities ministry’s effort to protect and preserve Egypt’s Coptic shrines, PM Ibrahim Mahlab and Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria will officially open today the Hanging Church in Old Cairo.

After 16 years of restoration, the Hanging Church, one of Egypt’s oldest churches, is finally to welcome worshippers and visitors.

The opening ceremony is to be attended by Cairo Governor Galal Saeed along with top governmental officials.

Antquities Minister Mamdouh Eldamaty told Ahram Online that the restoration work of the church lasted for 16 years with a budget of LE101 million, returning the 4th century edifice to its original allure.

He explained that the restoration work was carried out in three phases to reduce water leakage and strengthen the church’s foundations and the Babylon fortress located beneath it, to protect them from potential future damage. The walls were reinforced, missing and decayed stones were replaced and masonry cleaned and desalinated. The decorations and icons of the church were also subject to fine restoration in collaboration with Russian experts. New lighting and ventilation systems have also been installed.

Located in a heavily populated area, says Wadallah Mohamed, assistant of the head of the projects section at the ministry, the Hanging Church was suffering from environmental hazards including air pollution, a high subsoil water level, a high rate of humidity, and leakage of water from the outdated and a decayed 100-year-old sewage system. Other damage included decorations of the church’s wooden ceiling being stained with smoke and the impact of the 1992 earthquake, which resulted in cracks in the church’s walls and foundations.

“The church is now safe and sound and its restoration was carried out according to the latest technology,” asserted Mohamed.

Nashwa Gaber, general director of the technical office at the ministry, said that the Hanging Church is the first church to be built in Egypt in Basilican style. It was built on top of a Babylonian fortress. Important religious ceremonies, continued Gaber, were held there and in the 7th century it became the first seat of the Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria in Cairo. It was also a court for breakers of church rituals and laws.

The church is located in Old Cairo in an area called Mogamaa Al-Adian (or “religious compound” in Arabic), which includes the Amr Ibn Al-Ass Mosque, Ben Ezra Synagogue and a collection of churches.

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Baku hosts int’l conference on Azerbaijan-Central Asia relations

08 October 2014 – TODAY.AZ – Baku is hosting an international conference entitled “Relations between Azerbaijan and Central Asia: development, cooperation and common challenges”.

The conference is being held under the initiative and organized by the Center for Strategic Studies under the President of Azerbaijan.

The representatives of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Turkey attend the conference.

Such topics as “Regional geopolitics and common challenges: political cooperation and the fight against common threats”, “Regional geo-economics and cooperation: trade, energy and transport” and others will be discussed.

At the opening, the center’s director Farhad Mammadov said that Central Asia is as important for Azerbaijan as Azerbaijan is for Central Asia.

Mammadov highlighted the importance of this conference.

The director of the Uzbek Research and Educational Center “Caravan of knowledge” Farhad Tolipov, Advisor to the Director of the Kyrgyz National Institute for Strategic Studies Nadyrmamat Momunov, deputy director of the Center for Strategic Studies under the President of Tajikistan Saifullo Safarov and representatives of other countries participating in the conference will deliver reports on various topics.

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“Baku without barriers” concept in focus

10 October 2014 – TODAY.AZ – Initiatives on turning Baku into a truly accessible city for all people was in focus of high ranking government officials, international community and civil society, who have came together at a round table organized by Office of Disability Services at ADA University and UNICEF on October 10.

The round table discussion, also supported by the Ministries of Youth and Sports, Labor and Social Protection of Population and the National Paralympic Committee, comes at a perfect time, with the city preparing to host the First European Games in 2015.

The EuroGames will attract more than 6,000 athletes to compete in 20 sports over the 17 days of competition on June 12-28.

The main outcomes of the round table included initiation of the process of political decision-making in regard to Baku City Accessibility issues, especially in light of the up-coming European Games 2015, and establishment of the Baku City Accessibility Coordination Group.

UNICEF’s international expert, Professor Emeritus, Canada, Colin Higgs was the main speaker at the event.

He presented the best international standards and requirements and called on decision makers “to turn Baku into not only one of the most beautiful, but also one of the most advanced, cities in the world.”

The event also became part of the yearlong celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by UNICEF and other partners.

Addressing the event, UNICEF Representative in Azerbaijan Andro Shilakadze said Azerbaijan was one of the first countries in the region to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability, and UNICEF is encouraged to see work now starting in Azerbaijan so that all children can grow up without discrimination, regardless of whether or not they have disabilities, and can have equal opportunities throughout their lives.

“It is not only about people with special needs – a barrier free Baku will make life better for mothers with strollers, for the elderly, and for workers; and can increase business by making it possible for more people to access stores and services,” he said.

Shilakadze noted that it will also allow more people to enjoy the beauty of Baku, and make it a more attractive destination for older tourists.

“At the event today we see participants ranging from Government to the private sector – represented all major stakeholders – starting the process of moving towards a barrier-free Baku and eventually a barrier-free Azerbaijan,” Shilakadze said.

Rector of ADA University, Ambassador Hafiz Pashayev, in turn, said ADA University is committed to create a welcoming, diverse, and inclusive community.

“One of our main goals is to constantly monitor both attitudinal and structural barriers to allow students with disabilities full access to our services, programs, and activities so they may take complete advantage of their right to an education. Hence, we take pride in joining forces with our counterparts within ‘Baku – without barriers’ initiative,” he said.

The event ended with adoption of the Baku Accessibility Declaration.

ADA University is dedicated to training innovative global leaders and promoting useful collaborative research on diplomacy, public and international affairs, business, humanities and sciences, information technologies, and system engineering.

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Malawi Muslims Plan Qur’an Yao Translation

OnIslam – Wednesday, 08 October 2014 LILONGWE – The Muslim community in Malawi has rolled off a project to translate the Holy Qur’an into Yao, a language spoken among 99% of Muslims in the secular, but diverse southern Africa nation and in neighboring countries.

“The Yao tribe forms the bulk of Islam in Malawi. We can’t talk of Islam in this country without mentioning this group,” Sheikh Muhammad Uthman, an executive member of a supreme Muslim body, ULAMA Council of Malawi, told OnIslam.net.

“We have also the Yao speaking Muslims in Mozambique and Tanzania, we have therefore decided to translate the Quran into their own language, so that they should be able to understand it fully.”

Uthman added, “When Islam was first introduced to the country by Arab Slave traders in the 1880s, the Yao were the first tribe to receive Islam in Malawi. We feel it is also a great honor to translate the Qur’an in their own language.”

Renowned scholar and academician, Dr. Imran Shareef Muhammad, described the development as a “turning point” in the history of Islam in the country.

“This project has opened a fresh chapter in the history of our religion in Malawi. This is an undertaking which is going to propel Islam to greater heights,” Dr. Muhammad, who is Secretary General of ULAMA Council of Malawi, told OnIslam.net

“The Yaos of this country have all along safeguarded the sanctity of Islam, having a Quran in their own language therefore will solidify their faith,” he added.

The Qur’an is a revelation from God, the creator of the worlds, so He is the original author.

There is only one Qur’an which is in Arabic and many translations of the Qur’an in several languages.

There could be multiple translations by different authors in the same language such as English.

The Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) through the archangel Gabriel who used to make the Prophet memorize the Qur’an and made him revise it every year in the month of Ramadan, the fasting month.

More Translations

Malawi Muslim scholars have disclosed other plans to translate the Noble Qur’an into other major languages spoken among Malawians in order “to take the message of Islam to all tribes.”

“We are doing this deliberately, so that people should own and understand the religion in their own languages witholut any barrier,” Sheikh Uthman, executive member of ULAMA Council of Malawi, told OnIslam.net.

“If they understand it, it would be very easy for them to defend it to the letter against any forces. We are also doing this in order to take the message of Islam to all tribes in Malawi.”

The effort is not the first by Malawi Muslims. Ten years ago, the Muslim community in the country first translated the Holy Qur’an into Chichewa, the country’s official language.

“A decade ago, we translated the Holy Qur’an into Chichewa as the country’s official language spoken among all Malawians irrespective of their tribal origins. We had started with Chichewa, so that all tribes should accept it in the first place,” said Uthman.

Meanwhile, Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) is appealing to well-wishers across the country and beyond to contribute in cash towards the project for it “to live up to its intended mission.”

“We are desperately in need of money for this project to become a reality. It is for this reason that we are turning to individuals and organizations to support this noble cause,” National Chairperson of MAM, Sheikh Muhammad Idrissa told Onislam.net.

“This project is intended to further the growth of our religion in Malawi.”

Islam is the second largest religion in Malawi after Christianity. It accounts for 36% of the country’s 16 million population.

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Sweden Appoints First Muslim Minister

OnIslam & News Agencies – Thursday, 09 October 2014 STOCKHOLM – A 27-year-old Bosnian Muslim immigrant has been named the new Swedish minister of education, setting a role model for young, active Muslims.

The minister, Aida Hadzialic, was named earlier in October in Stefan Löfven new cabinet as the new Upper Secondary School and Adult Education Initiative in Sweden, IBNlive reported on Wednesday, October 8.

A law graduate from the University of Lund, Hadzialic became the deputy mayor of the Swedish city Halmstad at the age of 23.

Born in 1987 in Foča, Bosnia, the 27-year-old Swedish politician is now the youngest person ever to serve as a minister in Sweden.

Hadzialic was five years old when her family fled from war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Bosnia fell into civil war in 1992, and that left 200,000 people dead with millions displaced as Serb forces launched ethnic cleansing campaign against Bosnian Muslims.

During the 43-month war, nearly two million people fled their homes, half a million of them are still listed as refugees.

In the final months of the three-year war, Serb forces, led by General Ratko Mladic, overran Srebrenica, killing some 8,000 Muslim men and boys.

Sweden has opened its doors to immigrants for decades.

In 2012, some 43,900 asylum seekers arrived, a nearly 50 percent jump from 2011 and the second highest on record. Nearly half were from Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia and will get at least temporary residency. There was a total of 103,000 new immigrants.

Some 15 percent of Sweden’s population is foreign born, the highest in the Nordic region. Muslims make up between 450,000 and 500,000 of Sweden’s nine million people, according to the US State Department report in 2011.

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Pakistan Opens World’s 7th Largest Mosque

OnIslam & Newspapers – Friday, 10 October 2014 CAIRO – Hitting a new record, the world’s seventh largest mosque has been inaugurated in Pakistan to accommodate thousands of worshippers in Lahore city.

“The mosque will become a symbol of Pakistan across the Muslim World,” Bahria Town chairman Malik Riaz told the Express Tribune on Thursday, October 9.

Inaugurated earlier this week by the former president Asif Ali Zardari, Bahria Town Grand Jamia Masjid welcomed worshippers on the first day of `Eid Al-Adha.

The Grand Jamia Masjid, which has a total capacity of 70,000, accommodates 25,000 worshippers at its main hall.

With 21 domes and four 165 feet high minarets, the mosque was acknowledged as the world’s seventh largest mosque and the largest in Pakistan.

Designed by Nayyar Ali Dada, it has a marbled floor and decorated with tailor-made chandeliers and its ornate halls have been beautified with 4,000,000 mosaic tiles.

The second floor of the mosque that follows the traditional Mughal architecture has been dedicated to women.

“I am very glad there is a space reserved for women at the mosque. I plan on visiting often,” said Sana Javed, a student.

An Islamic art gallery and a religious school that are located in the basement of the mosque will be opened within few months.

Bahria residents have cheered the new grand mosque that will offer a place for thousands of worshippers who suffer from the small sizes of mosque in the town.

Pakistan, home of 180 million people, is a Sunni majority country with 85 percent Sunnis.

Shias make up 10 percent of the total population.

A recent survey by Gallop Pakistan, one of most prestigious survey firms in the country, showed that about 71% of Pakistanis trust scholars against only 29% who consider secular politicians more trustworthy.

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UK Muslims Celebrate Black History Month

OnIslam & News Agencies – Saturday, 11 October 2014 LONDON – Observing the British Black History Month in October, many UK Muslims have been celebrating this month to showcase their culture as a vital ingredient in the British society.

“It’s important for people of different faiths and ethnic groups to acknowledge and be involved in BHM,” Zainab Dahir, a Muslim Somali novelist from London, told Al Arabiya News on Friday, October 10.

Dahir’s family has been celebrating the Black History Month for years, deeming it an opportunity to reflect the culture of the British Muslim community.

Black History Month (BHM) is celebrated in America and Canada in February each year. The UK has been celebrating it in October since 1987.

The aim is to recognize the important role Blacks have played around the world, and honoring the likes of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King.

“We do it because as British Muslim Somali people, we’ve been in the UK for a long time and it’s natural for us,” said Ayan Mahamoud, managing director of the Kayd Organization. “We’re part of the black struggle in the UK.”

Aiming to promote the Somali culture in Britain, Mahamoud’s Kayd Organization hosts a week-long Somali festival during BHM. “All those discriminations faced by black people, Muslims are now facing,” Mahamoud said.

The BHM coincided this year with Muslims’ celebration Eid Al-Adha, or "Feast of Sacrifice”, one of the two most important Islamic celebrations, together withEid Al-Fitr.

“I celebrate `Eid with my Muslim family and embrace BHM and all that it entails,” said Dahir.

According to Black History Month magazine spokesperson, many Muslims will not celebrate the month as they are not black, feeling disconnected.

“Some British Muslims and Asians will celebrate black history but because many don’t consider themselves black, they don’t think it right to celebrate or acknowledge the event,” the spokesperson said. “It can be difficult to engage different communities within BHM events but we believe an increase in participation can be reached.”

Britain is home to a Muslim community of nearly 2.7 million.

In 2011, think tank Demo found that Muslims in the United Kingdom are more patriotic than the rest of population. Responding to the statement “I am proud to be a British citizen”, 83% of Muslims said they are proud of being British.

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Qatar ‘top tourist destination during Eid’

The Peninsula – 11 October, 2014 – Eid Al Adha shows and activities organised by Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) made the country a major tourist destination during Eid, say tourists from neighbouring countries.

All cultural and entertainment activities delighted visitors, especially families, they told the local Arabic daily Arrayah.

Souq Waqif and Katara were two of the most preferred destinations of tourists during the festival.

Khalid Nasser, a visitor from Saudi Arabia who came to spend his Eid vacation in Qatar for the first time, said he enjoyed Eid activities. “Qatar has succeeded in providing entertainment and activities to the public this Eid. Qatar will become one of the countries to attract tourists from across the world to enjoy its musical and cultural shows,” said Nasser.

“I prefer Katara because of educational and historical activities. I learned some geographical and historical facts,” said Kuwaiti Salah Ghanim Al Mutairi, who came to Qatar for the first time.

He said he decided to visit Qatar when he heard about various shows and activities and the tourist spots such as Katara and Souq Waqif.

Hussain Haddad, another tourist who visited Heritage Village, said he was satisfied with all activities his family members liked because they were unique and combined culture and entertainment.

He thanked the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage for its efforts in creating a new cultural movement in Qatar and the Heritage Department at the ministry for organising the celebrations.

Mustafa Al Mamari from Oman came to Qatar to enjoy Eid activities as well.

“This is the first time I visited Katara and I was surprised with what I’ve watched. I hope these shows would continue every year. What I’ve seen has made me proud as an Arab,” he said, adding Qatar has all elements to become a cultural tourist destination.

Hassan Abdullah Al Yavi, another tourist, praised the excellent organisation of Eid celebrations. “I usually come to Qatar to visit Souq Waqif and Katara because of their activities and ability to attract people. These cultural activities raise cultural awareness of communities and tourists,” he said.

Another tourist, Naji Abdullah, said Katara had succeeded in becoming a major destination for those seeking knowledge, culture and tradition because it was providing new activities to the public.

Dr Yacoub Anadabi from Oman said celebrations were excellent and he was keen to visit Qatar with his family during Eid occasions. “I feel very much comfortable visiting Doha because it has the combination of tradition and modernity,” he said.

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Eid Al-Adha holiday revives tourist resorts in Jeddah

Arab News – 06 October, 2014 – Eid holiday is a harbinger of good news for resorts and chalets in Jeddah which have rebounded after a period of stagnation lasting for more than two months.

Bookings have increased to more than 95 percent in the weeks leading up to the Eid holiday, creating intense competition between resorts and cabins in Northern Jeddah.

Resort prices typically start at 2,000 riyals and reach up to a maximum of 5,000 riyals, depending on the resort’s ratings and services.

Alaa Al-Fayez and Iyad Noureddine told Arab News that many young people were preparing to spend the Haj vacation at these resorts, despite the high prices, as they are considered a good alternative to traveling abroad or dealing with travel congestion during Haj.

According to Anmar Khayat, many people allocate a specific budget for the holiday at these resorts, forming groups with friends and family with whom they collectively rent accommodation for the holiday period.

Meanwhile, a number of citizens and residents in Jeddah expressed their resentment toward taxi drivers in Jeddah, who have been raising fares without any justification. They revealed to Arab News that a large number of taxi drivers in Jeddah exploit customers during peak seasons by increasing their fares dramatically.

Yahya Al Harbi and Yusuf Hassan explained that a trip from Tahlia Street to the Al-Fayhaa neighborhood is normally a ten-minute drive and costs between ten to fifteen riyals, but these days, drivers are asking for between 30 and 40 riyals. They called on concerned authorities to impose better monitoring mechanisms and price control on this sector.

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Emirates to hike African operations, network 40%

Saudi Gazette – 06 October, 2014 – Emirates is placing a strategic focus on Africa in the coming decade by increasing operations by over 40 percent, said Sir Tim Clark today speaking at the Africa Global Business Forum 2014.

Speaking at the conference around the theme of ‘Connectivity and Trade – Supporting Dubai as the Hub to Africa’, Sir Tim Clark, President of Emirates Airline said: “Africa has been a great growth story for us. The government of Dubai recognized the untapped potential of Africa early on and Emirates has been instrumental in supporting the region’s growth.

Today, Emirates fleet investment in Africa tops $ 7 billion with operating costs of over $ 2 billion. We will add around 10 destinations in the next decade and will continue our investment and commitment to introduce more frequencies to our existing points to provide critical links to emerging markets from Asia, the Middle East and Australia.”

“Africa is still an underserved market and Emirates will continue to channel traffic through the Dubai hub, which has already become a key gateway for the African continent,” continued Clark.

Dubai’s geographical location makes it possible for African travellers to experience shorter travel times, which have been historically routed through European hubs like London, Paris and Frankfurt.

In the past five years, Emirates carried over 1.6 million passengers and 40,000 tons of cargo between Africa and China, underscoring the vital trade relationship that the continent has with the east. By 2020, Emirates expects to provide an additional 8.5 million seats to its African capacity.

There are over 500,000 African nationals that currently reside in Dubai. Over 800,000 African Nationals visited Dubai last year alone and it is estimated that by 2020 tourism from Africa to Dubai will reach over 1.5 million visitors per year. Emirates currently operates 22 passenger and 6 dedicated freighter destinations to Africa.

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Etihad Airways honored for inflight experience

Saudi Gazette – 06 October, 2014 – Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, has been honored at the Future Travel Experience Awards 2014 for providing a market-leading inflight experience.

The prestigious awards are part of the Future Travel Experience Global event and celebrate “outstanding efforts to improve the passenger experience”, with this year’s winners announced at a gala reception in Las Vegas, attended by senior travel executives from across the world.

Etihad Airways won the ‘Best Up In The Air Experience’ award, with a panel of independent experts praising the airline’s remarkable hospitality, comfortable seats, extensive inflight entertainment and connectivity, and customer-centric dining services, including its Café Service in Economy Class, ‘Dine on Demand’ in Business Class, and Inflight Chefs in First Class.

Judges were also impressed by Etihad Airways’ Flying Nanny inflight child care assistance program, and hailed the innovative products that will debut onboard the airline’s Airbus A380 and Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft in December 2014, showcasing a new First, Business and Economy Class product and service offering, and The Residence by Etihad™, a three-room private cabin on the A380 with living room, separate double bedroom and ensuite shower.

Peter Baumgartner, Chief Commercial Officer of Etihad Airways, said: “Our inflight experience has been developed with the guest in mind and we pride ourselves on offering the best possible experience in the sky, with inspiration from the world’s leading hotels and restaurants. This award is testament to the success of our current offering, and provides a vote of confidence for The Residence by Etihad™, and the ground-breaking new First, Business and Economy Class products that will feature onboard our Airbus A380 and Boeing B787 aircraft.”

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Saudi Arabia’s tourism and hospitality sector to draw huge investments

Arab News – 07 October, 2014 – Forecasts indicate the possibility of a dramatic growth in investments worth over SR95 billion in the Saudi tourism sector, hotels and apartments during the next 10 years.

While Saudi nationals spend billions abroad during holidays, incoming foreign tourists, including pilgrims, contribute heavily to the growth of commercial business in the Kingdom.

Amid continuous improvement in the hospitality and related sectors in Saudi Arabia that also excelled in providing first class services to its guests in term of health services, security and some other relevant hospitality services the travel industry look very promising, according to a an economist.

He said that the volume of investments in the Saudi Tourism and Travel Market (STTM) during the current year stood at SR150 billion, of which SR50 billion will be generated from domestic tourism, and SR100 billion from inbound tourism including pilgrims.

Domestic tourism alone has seen remarkable growth recently, where volume of spending has surged from SR59 billion in 2010 to SR103 billion in 2014.

The sector plays the role of a catalyst for economic growth and is one of the most prominent sustainable investment opportunities.

Haj and Umrah are also two of the most important sources of revenue for the Kingdom’s economy.

The number of pilgrims since the start of umrah season this year until Ramadan has already reached seven million.

This rapid growth came as a result of world-class infrastructure, which has created the largest investment opportunities for growth in the services sector for pilgrims and business visitors.

The same source says that by the year 2025 the number of pilgrims is expected to reach 5.2 million while in 2013 it had already touched two million.

This increase depends on the growing infrastructure works of Jeddah airport, which is expected to reach 80 million people by 2035.

The ongoing expansion of the Grand Mosque toward the north-west and north-east will increase its capacity to 2.5 million people, while the expansion of the Prophet’s Mosque in Al-Madinah will boost its capacity from 600,000 to 1.6 million people upon completion in 2040.

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UAE opens first visa issuing center outside the country

Saudi Gazette – 08 October, 2014 – Acting UAE Under Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mohammed Mir Al Raisi has inaugurated the country’s first consular section and visa issuance center outside UAE in a ceremony here in the Sri Lankan capital, in the presence of Sri Lankan Minister of External Affairs Gamini Lakshman Peiris.

In his inauguration remarks, Al Raisi expressed appreciation for the efforts to develop the bilateral relations between UAE and Sri Lanka, in various spheres, and emphasized that the opening of the consular section and the visa issuance center is aimed at strengthening consular relations and improving customer service and facilitating procedures for workers’ entry to UAE through eGates at entry points as well as following the best practices in this field.

Minister Peiris described the opening of the facility represents an historic moment in the bilateral relations between the two countries.

The Sri Lankan minister also hailed the system used in the visa issuance center as one of the most efficient in the world as it saves time.

The new visa center serves 500 customers every day and uses passport authentication and biometrics such as fingerprints, eyeprints and faceprints, and medical tests conducted at 15 Sri Lankan centers accredited by UAE Ministry of Health, in order to identity, and prevent entry of individuals with contagious disease.

The procedures will save costs of recruitment, quarantine and deportation and improve customer service as they are aimed at providing excellent consular services fulfilling internationally recognized standards.

Through the new visa issuance center, MoFA will provide all related administrative services in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior, (MoI) using a fully-integrated electronic system within an advanced framework of security controls aimed at achieving maximum protection for visa and entry procedures.

Sri Lanka’s Minister of Foreign Employment Promotion & Welfare, Dilan Perera, Minister of Rural Affairs, Athauda Seneviratne, UAE Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Abdul Fattah Kazim Al Mulla, Director of Consular Services at MoFA, Ahmed Elham Al Daheri, Acting Director of Government Communications and Media Affairs at MoFA, Maryam Al Falasi, and Director of Visa Issuance Centre in Colombo, Usama Abdullah Al Ali, attended the inauguration ceremony.

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Oman sets up central Shariah board in move to boost Islamic finance

Saudi Gazette – 09 October, 2014 – Oman’s central bank has set up a Shariah supervisory board to help oversee the sultanate’s Islamic banking industry, a centralized model that is increasingly being adopted across the global industry.

Shariah boards are groups of scholars who rule on whether financial instruments and activities follow religious principles, such as bans on interest payments and pure monetary speculation.

Oman was the last nation in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council to introduce Islamic finance, publishing rules for it in 2012. The introduction of a central Shariah board could now speed up product development, limit costs for Islamic banks and facilitate issues of sukuk (Islamic bonds).

The central bank appointed five members to its Shariah board, which will have direct oversight of Islamic banking institutions, similar to the approach taken by regulators in Malaysia, Pakistan, Morocco and Nigeria. The five members were chosen from seven nominated candidates, the central bank said without naming them.

By contrast, most Gulf countries practice self-regulation of Islamic financial institutions, leaving Shariah boards in each commercial bank to determine which products are permissible. Bahrain’s central bank has a Shariah board that vets its own products.

The United Arab Emirates has said it plans to follow the centralized approach, backing this up with specific legislation, which could help reduce the risk of conflicting rulings from the sharia boards of various Islamic banks. It has not given a timetable for the legislation.

In Oman, two full-fledged Islamic banks have been established, Bank Nizwa and Al Izz Islamic, as well as several Islamic windows operated by conventional banks.

Sukuk issues are being considered by the government and banks but progress has been slow, with only real estate developer Tilal Development Co making a small sukuk issue last November.

Oman’s finance ministry plans to issue 200 million rials ($ 519.5 million) worth of sovereign sukuk early next year, the government’s first such issuance, the chief executive of Bank Nizwa told Reuters last month.

The Islamic unit of Bank Muscat, Oman’s largest lender, plans a dual-currency sukuk deal worth around $ 300 million as part of a 500 million rial sukuk programme which the bank’s shareholders approved in March.

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Flydubai adds three new destinations to European network

Khaleej Times – 09 October, 2014 – Flydubai has announced that it will begin flights to Bratislava in Slovakia, Prague in the Czech Republic and Sofia in Bulgaria. With flights due to commence in December, the airline is continuing its expansion into Central and Eastern Europe following the announcement of flights to Sarajevo and Zagreb earlier this year.

Commenting on the new routes, Ghaith Al Ghaith, chief executive officer of flydubai, said: “We are delighted to have Bratislava, Prague and Sofia join our network. The addition of these three capital cities signifies our commitment towards serving the region and we look forward to providing passengers with a variety of options to connect to Dubai and beyond.”

The addition of the new routes will see flydubai become the first UAE airline to operate from Bratislava and Sofia. Flydubai has launched 23 new routes this year and now operates to 11 destinations in Central and Eastern Europe.

“We are always looking for new opportunities to grow our network,” said Jeyhun Efendi, senior vice-president Commercial (UAE, EU, ME, CIS) for flydubai. “Central and Eastern Europe has always been an important market for us and we are glad that we are able to offer passengers from Bratislava, Prague and Sofia more possibilities to travel to Dubai. In addition, Business Class will be available on all three routes, offering passengers a premium travel experience.”

Flydubai offers affordable and reliable travel to 86 destinations across 45 countries. Passengers can book convenient connections through Dubai to the Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, Oman, and various destinations in East Africa, among others. With the airline’s strategic base at Dubai International Airport, passengers can also benefit from flydubai’s interline agreements with other carriers, providing opportunities for onward travel to more than 200 destinations.

Flydubai will operate two flights a week between Dubai and Bratislava, starting from December 6, 2014. Flights will operate on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Economy class return fares from Bratislava to Dubai start at Dh1,950 including 20kg checked baggage, while Business Class fares start at Dh8,500 and are inclusive of all taxes and 40kg checked baggage.

Flydubai will operate four flights a week between Dubai and Prague, starting from December 5, 2014. Flights will operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. Economy class return fares from Prague to Dubai start at Dh2,350, including 20kg checked baggage, while Business Class fares start at Dh7,850 and are inclusive of all taxes and 40kg checked baggage.

Flydubai will operate two flights a week between Dubai and Sofia, starting from December 14, 2014. Flights will operate on Wednesdays and Sundays. Economy class return fares from Sofia to Dubai start at Dh1,500, including 20kg checked baggage, while Business Class fares start at Dh8,000 and are inclusive of all taxes and 40kg checked baggage.

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Jeddah-Jazan train link to spur growth

Arab News – 10 October, 2014 – Businessmen and officials have welcomed the Saudi Railway Organization’s (SRO) plan to establish a 660-km coastal railway line between Jeddah and Jazan, saying it would boost the two regions’ economic, commercial and social development.

The SRO recently signed a contract with an engineering consultancy firm to conduct a feasibility study on the project, including its cost, number of passengers, and amount of cargo to be transported.

The firm has completed the first phase of its study, which has taken into consideration the railway line’s designs. The new line will be established parallel to the international coastal highway that serves many major roads and the Jazan Economic City.

Mohammed bin Khaled Al-Suwaiket, SRO’s chief, said the plan is to expand the Kingdom’s railway network. “We have drafted a strategic plan for railway expansion spanning 9,900 km and 19 railway lines,” he said.

He said the dual line between Jeddah and southern Jazan would pass Shuaiba, Al-Laith, Madhleef, Qunfudah, Amq, Barak, Qahma, Shuqaiq and Sabya. It would be linked with the landbridge project that connects Riyadh with the Red Sea port city.

Ali bin Mohammed Al-Garni, chairman of Qunfudah Municipal Council, said Saudis have been looking forward to this strategic project for a long time. “It will not only boost economic and industrial development of cities linked by the railway but also cut down on road accidents.”

Shaikh Mohammed Rafik, chairman of Gammon Group, which is developing an industrial city in Jazan, said the new railway would encourage more foreign companies to invest in the industrial city, which is expected to draw investment worth SR75 billion and create 100,000 jobs.

“The industrial city will spur Jazan’s economic growth and bring about a face-lift for the region,” said Rafik. “We are now in the process of signing agreements with prominent companies from Canada, China, India, South Africa and Malaysia,” he said.

According to a study, the number of passengers on this route will increase from 1.13 million to 1.95 million by 2025 while cargo flow will jump from 1.8 million to 3.19 million tons.

Emad Al-Subhi, chairman of Al-Laith Municipal Council, stressed the railway’s role in accelerating economic and commercial growth, and providing safe public transport services.

“The project reflects the government’s long-term vision,” said Abdul Rahman Halawani, a Saudi businessman. “We hope the governors of Makkah and Jazan make this dream a reality to accelerate growth,” he said.

Abdullah Hubaily, a member of the Tourism Development Committee, described the railway as the best transport mode for a vast country such as Saudi Arabia. “Infrastructure projects such as railways will attract foreign capital and promote tourism.”

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Middle East railway projects valued at $ 200 billion

Khaleej Times – 10 October, 2014 – The Mena region is experiencing an unprecedented spate of rail investment. From Africa’s first high-speed rail network in Morocco to Oman’s first ever rail scheme, billions of dollars are being invested in rail and metro projects for the first time.

Today every country has announced rail or metro plans and in total there are more than $ 200 billion worth of rail and metro projects either planned or under way in the Middle East. This translates to more than 33,700km of mainline routes and 3,000km of new metro lines.

The award of major metro and rail contracts in the Middle has made the region among the most important sources of new work for all those designing, building, supplying and operating railways.

“The Middle East is perhaps the fastest growing market for rail and transit in the world,” says Cosema Crawford, senior vice president and rail and transit global practice leader at Louis Berger. “Cities are growing and mobility is increasing, driving the need for robust public transportation networks.”

“High-speed rail networks are being built in great numbers, particularly in China which now boasts about half of the world’s systems,” adds Crawford, who will be speaking at the 10th annual MEED MENA Rail & Metro Summit which opens in Dubai next month. “An increasing number of system suppliers have entered the market, which should help stabilise pricing.”

More than 250 delegates and guests are expected to attend the conference scheduled on the 20-22 October in Dubai with global experts providing tactical insights on challenges and opportunities confronting the metro and rail sector across the region. Among those who have confirmed include World Bank resident adviser to the GCC on railway projects Ramiz Al Assar.

Crawford will also speak at the conference’s focus day about high-speed rail in the region. The sector is booming across the world, and the Middle East can learn important lessons from the experiences of others. High-speed rail, seen in the Middle East as an innovation, has an extensive history. Confidence is now growing in its capacity to reach new levels of performance and speed.

“Japan is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Shinkansen this year, and it is developing the next generation of maglev trains which will travel at 500 kilometres an hour between Tokyo and Osaka,” Crawford adds. “Louis Berger is involved in bringing the same maglev technology to the United States providing one hour service from Washington DC to New York.”

Crawford says that demand for high-speed rail solutions will increase for more than one reason. “High-speed rail popularity will grow as a better and significantly greener alternative to air and car travel,” she says. “As confidence grows in ridership and revenue figures, PPP opportunities will develop as well.”

The GCC’s first high-speed railway is the 450km Haramain High Speed Rail project that links Jeddah with Rabigh, the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah in Saudi Arabia. It is scheduled to open in 2015 and will break the mould for the Middle East. Also due to open the same year is the Morocco’s TGV network from Tangiers to Casablanca, which will be the first high-speed rail technology to be employed on the African continent.

“As traffic congestion continues to grow, public transportation networks become essential, including intercity travel on high-speed rail,” says Crawford about the need for new transport solutions in the region. High-speed rail is ultimately an instrument for development, and the costs for implementation should be considered and financed in that light. High-speed rail systems are dependent on good local public transportation networks to take riders to their final destinations.”

“Most importantly, there needs to be a cultural shift to accept public transportation systems, Crawford says. “Seasonal high temperatures and lack of pedestrian infrastructure need to be addressed in the design of the stations.”

The engineering challenges are also formidable.

“High-speed rail requires straight alignments in order to maintain speed,” Crawford says. “Developed areas may have difficulty identifying suitable corridors, resulting in compromises on speed, substantial property takings, or extensive tunnelling, with the latter two adding to the cost and schedule.”

“True high-speed rail cannot co-exist with other rail modes on the same tracks, such as freight rail,” Crawford says. “In addition, special solutions are required to maintain the required level of track integrity over long distances of desert conditions with blowing sand.”

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