Category: Arabian Peninsula


October 11, 2017

The number of cargo vessels arriving at Hamad Port in Doha rose by 47.3 per cent in August, Qatar News Agency has reported.

According to the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics, the figure was 162 vessels carrying around 1.3 million tons of goods. The ministry’s monthly report showed that in the same period the total number of vessels in all of Qatar’s ports was just over 600, carrying about 3.9 million tons.

The Director of Hamad Port, Abdul Aziz Al-Yafei, announced last month that the port authority plans to accommodate more than 1,000 vessels by the end of this year, and about one million containers. Al-Yafie explained that work is underway to make Hamad Port a major re-export hub in the region.

The Hamad Port only opened officially on 5 September. It aims to acquire 35 per cent of the total Middle East trade by next year.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171011-number-of-cargo-ships-arriving-in-qatar-rises-by-47/.

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Moscow (AFP)

Oct 5, 2017

Saudi Arabia signed on Thursday preliminary agreements to buy S-400 air defense systems and receive “cutting edge technologies” from Russia during King Salman’s landmark visit to Moscow, the Saudi military industries firm said.

The agreement was announced as King Salman, who is on the first official trip to Russia by a Saudi monarch, and Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks at the Kremlin.

Under the agreements, Saudi Arabia is set to buy S-400 air defense systems, Kornet anti-tank guided missile systems and multiple rocket launchers.

These agreements are “expected to play a pivotal role in the growth and development of the military and military systems industry in Saudi Arabia,” Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI), the Sunni state’s military industries firm said.

“The memorandum of understanding includes the transfer of technology for the local production” of the Kornet anti-tank guided missile systems, advanced multiple rocket launchers and automatic grenade launchers.

“In addition, the parties will cooperate in setting a plan to localize the manufacturing and sustainment of parts of the S-400 air defense system,” SAMI said.

The two countries also agreed on the production in Saudi Arabia of the Kalashnikov automatic rifle and its ammunition as well as educational and training programs for Saudi nationals.

“These agreements are expected to have tangible economic contributions and create hundreds of direct jobs,” the company said.

They “will also transfer cutting edge technologies that will act as a catalyst for localizing 50 percent of the Kingdom’s military spending.”

Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-owned arms exporter, had no immediate comment on the agreements.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Saudi_Arabia_says_to_buy_Russia_S-400_defence_systems_other_arms_999.html.

October 2, 2017

Makkah- Makkah would witness next Thursday a real-estate auction on three lands of a total space of around 50,000 square meters and worth more than one billion riyals (USD266 million) — the three lands are located inside the central region.

The first land is located at King Khalid Road and is 13076.68 square meters, while the second is located near King Abdul Aziz Road and is of a total space of 6093.70 square meters. As for the third, it is of 34651.14 square meters near Qatari mosque.

Abdul Salam Qadi Flatah, a real estate agent in the implementation court at the Ministry of Justice, said that this auction goes in tandem with the constructional revolution approach and the economic revival taking place in Makkah following a successful pilgrimage season.

Flatah affirmed that the state has provided variable privileges for the investors in the central region, knowing that possession was previously restricted to citizens. This backs Saudi businessmen and goes in line with the Saudi Vision 2030.

He assured that the real estate sector in Makkah will start its recovery period after it was facing a low supply. Flatah said that putting up the lands for sale will urge investors to seize the chance, reviving most of the sectors in Makkah in the upcoming period, especially real estate and retail.

The direct supervision of Makkah Region Development Authority on most of the development projects (more than 10,000 square meters) is among motives attracting real-estate investment in the central region, Flatah pointed out.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.

Link: https://english.aawsat.com/theaawsat/business/53000-square-meters-land-makkah-sold-auction.

2017-09-20

RIYADH – Saudi Arabia on Wednesday urged Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani to call off to planned referendum on independence for his autonomous region to avoid further “crises” in Iraq and the region.

A Saudi government official said Barzani should drop plans to hold a referendum “in light of the situation in the region and the dangers it is facing, and in order to avoid new crises”.

He called on the Kurdish leader to make use of his “wisdom and experience”, the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.

Holding the referendum as planned on September 25 could have “negative consequences on the political, security and humanitarian fronts”.

It could also “affect efforts to establish security and stability in the region, as well as efforts to fight against terrorist organisations and their activities,” the official added.

Regional kingpin Saudi Arabia is the latest country to voice its opposition to the referendum in oil-rich Iraqi Kurdistan.

But Barzani has so far resisted pressure from Baghdad and Iraq’s neighbors Turkey and Iran, as well as from the United States and its Western allies, to call off the vote.

Iraq’s supreme court has ordered the suspension of the referendum to examine claims made by the federal government that it was unconstitutional.

The Saudi official called on “all concerned parties to engage in a dialogue that would serve the interests of the entire Iraqi people”.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=84958.

September 27, 2017

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Women will be allowed to drive for the first time next summer in Saudi Arabia, the ultra-conservative kingdom announced, marking a significant expansion of women’s rights in the only the country that barred them from getting behind the wheel.

While women in other Muslim countries drove freely, the kingdom’s blanket ban attracted negative publicity for years. Neither Islamic law nor Saudi traffic law explicitly prohibited women from driving, but they were not issued licenses and were detained if they attempted to drive.

Prince Khaled bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington and the king’s son, said Tuesday that letting women drive is a “huge step forward” and that “society is ready.” “This is the right time to do the right thing,” he told reporters in the U.S. Women will be allowed to obtain licenses without the permission of a male relative.

The announcement came in the form of a royal decree that was reported late Tuesday by the state-run Saudi Press Agency and state TV. “I am really excited. This is a good step forward for women’s rights,” said Aziza Youssef, a professor at King Saud University and one of Saudi Arabia’s most vocal women’s rights activists. Speaking to The Associated Press from Riyadh, she said women were “happy” but also that the change was “the first step in a lot of rights we are waiting for.”

Saudi history offers many examples of women being punished simply for operating a vehicle. In 1990, 50 women were arrested for driving and lost their passports and their jobs. More than 20 years later, a woman was sentenced in 2011 to 10 lashes for driving, though the late King Abdullah overturned the sentence.

As recently as late 2014, two Saudi women were detained for more than two months for defying the ban on driving when one of them attempted to cross the Saudi border with a license from neighboring United Arab Emirates in an act of defiance.

Youssef took part in numerous driving campaigns, including a widely publicized effort in 2013 when dozens of women across the kingdom uploaded videos to YouTube of themselves driving in Saudi Arabia. Some videos showed families and male drivers giving women a “thumbs-ups,” suggesting many were ready for the change.

The decree indicated that women will not be allowed to drive immediately. A committee will be formed to look into how to implement the new order, which is slated to take effect in June 2018. For years, the kingdom has incrementally granted women more rights and visibility, including participation in the Olympic Games in London and Rio, positions on the country’s top consultative council and the right to run and vote in local elections in 2015.

Despite these openings, Saudi women remain largely subject to the whims of men due to guardianship laws , which bar them from obtaining a passport, traveling abroad or marrying without the consent of a male relative. Women who attempt to flee abusive families have also faced imprisonment or been forced into shelters.

King Salman and his young son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, tested the waters over the weekend by allowing women into the country’s main stadium in Riyadh for annual celebrations of the nation’s founding. The stadium had previously been reserved for all-male crowds to watch sporting events.

Women and men also flooded a main street in the capital, bopping their heads to pop music as green lights flickered overhead in the color of the flag. The scene was shocking for a city in which gender segregation is strictly enforced and where women are seldom seen walking the streets, much less mixing in close quarters with males.

The 32-year-old crown prince has also opened the country to more entertainment , allowing musical concerts and even a Comic-Con event as part of a wide-ranging push to reform the economy and society. This year, the government announced that for the first time girls in public schools would be allowed to play sports and have access to physical education.

The decree stated that the majority of Muslim scholars on the country’s highest clerical council agreed that Islam allows women the right to drive. However, many of those same ultraconservative clerics, who wield power and influence in the judiciary and education sectors, have also spoken out in the past against women driving, playing sports or entering the workforce. They argue such acts corrupt society and lead to sin.

One Saudi cleric even stated in 2013 that driving could affect a woman’s ovaries and hurt her fertility. That same year, around 150 clerics and religious scholars held a rare protest outside the Saudi king’s palace against efforts by women seeking the right to drive.

Women in Saudi Arabia have long had to rely on male relatives to get to work or run errands, complicating government efforts to boost household incomes as lower oil prices force austerity measures. The more affluent have male drivers. In major cities, women can access ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Careem.

To celebrate Tuesday’s decree, several Saudi women posted images on social media deleting their ride sharing apps. President Donald Trump commended the order in a White House press office statement that called the change “a positive step toward promoting the rights and opportunities of women in Saudi Arabia.” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called the move “a great step in the right direction.” She did not comment on whether Saudi Arabia still needs to do more to ensure full rights for its female citizens.

Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, also welcomed the Saudi decision, writing on Twitter that it represented “an important step in the right direction.” Lori Boghardt, a Gulf specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the change is yet another sign that the crown prince is intent on adopting social reforms that will transform the kingdom.

“Today it’s especially clear that this includes moves that’ve long been thought of by Saudis as politically risky,” she said.

Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell and Malak Harb in Dubai, and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.

September 19, 2017

Saudi Arabia’s monarch King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud has ordered the allocation of $15 million to alleviate the suffering of Rohingya Muslims who fled persecution in Rakhine state of Myanmar.

The Saudi Royal court adviser and general supervisor of the Riyadh-based King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Aid, Dr Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al-Rabiah, “a specialized team from the center will be heading to Bangladesh within the coming few hours to make an assessment of the condition of Rohingya refugees there and to find out what are the essential requirements that are to be made available to them urgently, as well as to extend assistance in terms of relief, humanitarian help and shelter.”

“As per the directive of the King, the center has carried out a number of projects, while some others are in various phases of implementation,” he added.

The Saudi cabinet, during its weekly meeting, condemned the violent acts practiced against the Muslims in Myanmar.

The cabinet renewed the Kingdom’s calls to the international community to take urgent action to stop the violent acts and to give the Muslim minority in Myanmar their rights without discrimination or racial classification.

The government noted that Riyadh had offered the Rakhine state’s Muslims a $50-million aid and had hosted them on its land since the year 1948.

For generations, Rohingya Muslims have called Myanmar home. Now, in what appears to be a systematic purge, they are being wiped off the map.

After a series of attacks by the country’s Muslim militants last month, security forces and allied mobs retaliated by burning down thousands of homes in the enclaves of the predominantly Buddhist nation where the Rohingya live.

This has led to some 410,000 people fleeing to the neighboring Bangladesh, according to UN estimates, joining tens of thousands of others who have fled over the past year.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170919-saudi-arabia-allocates-15m-for-rohingya-refugees/.

2017-09-05

DOHA – Qatar said Tuesday that a new $7.4 billion port would help to “break the shackles” of a three-month-old boycott of the gas-rich emirate by Arab states led by Saudi Arabia.

The Hamad Port, which began operating in December, is a major hub for imports to Qatar, hit by a land and air embargo by some of its most powerful neighbors.

“This is a gateway to break the shackles imposed on Qatar,” transport minister Jassim bin Saif Al-Sulaiti said in a speech during an inauguration ceremony for the port held Tuesday.

“Nothing can stop us and our ambition,” he added.

In a relatively rare public appearance since the onset of the crisis, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani attended the inauguration but did not speak.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of bankrolling Islamist extremist groups and having close ties to Shiite Iran.

Qatar denies the charges.

Tuesday’s hour-long ceremony, broadcast live on Qatari television stations, included a band, acrobats and fireworks.

The ostentatious display was a clear signal of defiance to Qatar’s neighbors after their suspension of economic and diplomatic relations with Doha.

Hamad will be Qatar’s largest container port and will provide commercial access to some 150 countries, according to official reports.

These include links to regional ports in Oman and Kuwait, and more distant ports of call from Turkey to India and Pakistan.

Qatar previously relied on neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for food imports.

But as part of the sanctions, Saudi Arabia sealed its land border with Qatar.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival Iran have since stepped in to help meet Qatar’s food needs.

The Hamad Port is located on Qatar’s south eastern coast, around an hour’s drive from Doha.

It has a capacity of 1.7 million tonnes of general freight and one million tonnes of grain, according to Mwani Qatar, the country’s port management company.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=84693.

August 15, 2017

Saudi Arabia and Iraq plan to open the Arar border crossing for trade for the first time since 1990 when it was closed after the countries cut ties following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, Saudi local media reported on Tuesday.

Saudi and Iraqi officials toured the site on Monday and spoke with Iraqi religious pilgrims, who for the past 27 years had access to the crossing only once annually during the Hajj season, Saudi sources reported.

The governor of Iraq’s southwestern Anbar province, whose staff was on hand for the ceremonies, said the Iraqi government had deployed troops to protect the desert route leading to Arar and called its opening a “significant move” to boost ties.

“This is a great start for further future cooperation between Iraq and Saudia Arabia,” said Sohaib al-Rawi.

The announcement follows a decision by the Saudi cabinet on Monday to establish a joint trade commission with Iraq.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are both wooing their northern neighbor in an effort to halt the growing regional influence of arch-foe Iran.

The Sunni-led Arab Gulf countries have hosted influential Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr for talks with their crown princes in recent weeks, rare visits after years of troubled relations.

Sadr’s office said his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman resulted in an agreement for Saudi Arabia to donate $10 million in aid to the Iraqi government and study possible investments in Shi’ite regions of southern Iraq.

The opening of border crossings for trade was also on a list of goals for the talks published by Sadr’s office.

Sadr commands a large following among the urban poor of Baghdad and southern Iraq and is one of few Iraqi Shi’ite leaders to keep some distance from Tehran.

The Saudi-Iraqi rapprochement extends back to 2015 when Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Baghdad following a 25-year break.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir visited Baghdad in February, and the two countries announced in June they would set up a coordination council to upgrade ties.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170815-saudi-arabia-and-iraq-to-re-open-border-crossing-after-27-years/.

2017-09-06

ABU DHABI – The Louvre Abu Dhabi will finally open its doors to the public in November, bringing to the Gulf Mesopotamian artifacts and post-impressionist masterpieces in the first Louvre-branded museum outside of Paris.

Housing 600 works of art, including 300 loaned by 13 French museums for the inaugural year, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is described as the “first universal museum” in the Arab world.

“At a time when culture is under attack… this is our joint response,” French Culture Minister Francoise Nyssen said at a news conference Wednesday in Abu Dhabi to announce the November 11 opening date.

The museum has been a decade in the making and is opening five years behind schedule.

Among the works on loan to Abu Dhabi are Leonardo da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronniere from the Louvre — which houses the world’s largest collection of art — and Vincent van Gogh’s self-portrait from the Musee d’Orsay.

Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel of France, the “museum city” is reminiscent of an Arab medina, enveloped by a part arabesque, part futuristic silvery dome that lets in the light in patterns mimicking leaves of the palm trees of the Gulf.

While the Louvre Abu Dhabi will not lack its Rodins and Gaugins, for some, the real heart of the museum is in its narration of ancient civilizations through artifacts acquired by the United Arab Emirates.

– ‘Complex, ambitious’ –

The planned opening comes a decade after France and the UAE agreed a 30-year partnership worth $1.1 billion under which many top French museums will loan art to Abu Dhabi.

French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to attend the inauguration of the museum, which had originally been scheduled to open in 2012.

The “complex, ambitious project”, in the words of museum director Manuel Rabate, has faced delays in funding and construction.

The decision to grant Abu Dhabi the rights to the Louvre name sparked heated debate in France with critics accusing the Louvre of “selling its soul” and questioning the emirate’s record on labor rights.

“Yes, it’s exceptional. Yes, this is the first time a project like this launches in the Middle East. But that’s what’s unique to this project,” Rabate told AFP in response to the critiques.

He sought to allay concerns about the transportation of the art and the conditions in which it will be stored, in a country where temperatures soar well above 40 degrees Celsius (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer.

“Their protection is vital to us and we have made sure we have the systems in place to protect them against the environmental conditions,” Mohamed Khalifa al-Mubarak, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, said.

“The museum’s galleries are operated by sophisticated climate controls for humidity, temperature and light and during installation, the works are in environmentally protected crates and cases to make sure they are not affected by outside conditions.”

Guarded by Emirati forces, in coordination with French experts, including civil defense and terrorism security forces, the art is protected by “state of the art security systems and procedures, in line with international standards,” said Mubarak.

– ‘Message of tolerance’ –

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is part of “a major cultural strategy” to promote the city as a patron of the arts in a region increasingly focused on soft power.

About five percent of the overall museum will be dedicated to contemporary and modern art. The rest focuses on telling the story of world histories and religions.

In the gallery of world religions, a sixth century Koran, a gothic Bible and a Yemeni Torah face each other, open to verses that give similar accounts.

“To send that message of tolerance is really important for our time,” said Mubarak.

A branch of the Guggenheim, still under development, and the Zayed Museum, the national museum named after the country’s founder, are located on the same island.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi’s opening comes as the UAE, which in April announced the establishment of a Soft Power Council, is locked in a diplomatic battle with neighboring Qatar, accused by its Gulf neighbors of supporting Islamist extremism.

The UAE will also host the global trade fair Expo 2020.

“We’re definitely not this closed-off society that’s putting a massive wall up,” said Mubarak.

“We (the UAE and France) have a goal that is exactly identical: we both want to tell the world how our history is connected. Through culture, the world can become a better place,” he added.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=84696.

Moscow (Sputnik)

Sep 05, 2017

Life on Mars may still be light years away – but it clearly hasn’t stopped us from thinking ahead. Next year six space-suited and booted astronauts will head to the Dhofar desert in Oman in an attempt to simulate what life will be like on Mars.

According to scientists, the Dhofar desert is possibly the most realistic place on Earth that is as harsh and uninviting as the landscape of Mars.

The astronauts will take part in a lavish dress rehearsal for the first manned voyage to another planet as they attempt to retrace the footsteps of Marco Polo and the English explorer Wilfred Thesiger.

It is not the first time such an elaborate adventure has been staged in readiness for the real mission in later years. Teams have simulated identical missions in an open cast mine in southern Spain, the Sahara desert in Africa, as well as a glacier in the Alps.

“Every time we try to get bigger and better and closer to the real thing. We need to understand the capabilities and limitations of our equipment and what people need to do when they get there. This is the biggest mission we have ever done,” Gernot Gromer, president of the Austrian Space Forum, revealed.

When they head to Arabia next February the space crew will go armed with a drone, an inflatable hydroponic greenhouse, several robotic rovers as well as a host of other scientific equipment.

Although they will spend their time in complete isolation, their three week journey will be closely monitored by mission control, on this occasion, based in Austria. In order to make the event all the more realistic, any signal contact between them will be delayed by 10 minutes, just as there would be in real life.

“What we know about Mars has progressed massively in the past 15 years, and I strongly believe that the first human to walk on Mars is already born. We could see permanent human settlement on the Red Planet several generations from now, and they may not be happy eating canned food,” said Mr. Gromer.

A 50-strong army of support personnel – including Squadron Leader Bonnie Posselt, an RAF doctor who became Britain’s first trainee space medic last year – will be on hand throughout the mission. Some 60 researchers will also follow their every footsteps as they probe the 120 square mile test site looking for ‘alien’ DNA or, anything else they can find in the barren desert wastes.

In addition to the obvious inhospitable conditions beyond Earth, he explained, there are a number of less well known challenges to humans.

“The way our body processes food is different enough to matter a great deal. A person’s sense of taste changes in zero gravity. There are medical implications to different gravity effects. In our work we’re verifying whether the ideas and designs to survive on Mars work in practice, and the gaps between theory and practice that we observe range from trivial to serious matters.”

The astronauts are guaranteed to be put to the test during their mission, most notably temperatures will vary from 16 degrees and 27 Celsius, a far cry from anything Mars has to offer.

In many respects, however, the landscape in Oman will be similar to those expected on the red planet, thanks to its salt domes, sedimentary rocks and dried up riverbeds.

Source: Mars Daily.

Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Life_on_Mars_Lets_Try_Oman_Desert_First_for_Space_Mission_999.html.