Saudi Arabia did not request extradition of asylum seeker Thai authorities say

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun told AFP she ran away from her family while travelling in Kuwait because they subjected her to physical and psychological abuse. (Screengrab)
Updated 08 January 2019
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Saudi Arabia did not request extradition of asylum seeker Thai authorities say

  • Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun told AFP she ran away from her family while travelling in Kuwait because they subjected her to physical and psychological abuse
  • The agency "will take five days to consider her status" and another five days to arrange for travel

 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia did not request the extradition of one of its citizens seeking asylum in Thailand, Thai authorities have said.

Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun made a plea for asylum after landing at Bangkok airport, before later being placed “under the care” of the United Nations refugee agency, news agency AFP quoted a Thai official saying late Monday.

This was later confirmed by Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Thailand which also denied, in a tweet, that Riyadh had requested Al-Qunun’s extradition.

Al-Qunun told AFP she ran away from her family while travelling in Kuwait because they subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.

The 18-year-old said she had planned to seek asylum in Australia and feared she would be killed if repatriated by Thai immigration officials who stopped her during transit on Sunday.

Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn had said Sunday that Qunun was denied entry because of her lack of documents, which is a statement that refuted unverified claims that she was denied entry based on a Saudi/Kuwaiti official request.

However, Hakparn made an abrupt about-face the next day, following a global media frenzy as the young woman pleaded on Twitter for different countries to help her.

After announcing that Thailand “will not force her” to leave, Surachate told reporters late Monday that Qunun would be “allowed to stay” after a meeting with officials from the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

“She is under the care of the UNHCR now but we also sent Thai security to help take care (of her),” Surachate told reporters at Suvarnabhumi airport.

He said Qunun had told UNHCR officials she “wants to stay in Thailand for a while while seeking asylum to a third country.”

The agency “will take five days to consider her status” and another five days to arrange for travel, Surachate said, adding that he would meet with Saudi diplomats on Tuesday to explain Thailand's decision.

Following the announcement, a relieved Qunun tweeted that she felt safe “under UNHCR protection with the agreement of Thailand authorities,” adding that her passport had been returned to her after being taken away on Sunday.

She had originally alleged that Saudi and Kuwaiti officials had taken her passport from her when she landed - a claim backed by Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

However, Abdulilah Al-Shouaibi, charge d’affaires at the Saudi embassy in Bangkok, told Saudi-owned TV channel Rotana Khalijia that the woman’s father - a senior regional government official - had contacted the diplomatic mission for “help” bringing her back.

But he denied that her passport had been seized nor that embassy officials were present inside the airport.

A Twitter statement from the Saudi embassy in Bangkok said Qunun was stopped by Thai authorities for “violating the (Thai) law.”

Given the family-feud nature of the dispute, it is unlikely that the Saudi government will make any further comments or intervene in the matter, experts in Riyadh predict.

UNHCR’s spokesman in Geneva Babar Baloch confirmed Qunun had “left the airport to a safe place in the city” and said agency officials would interview her once she had had some rest.

If sent back, Qunun told AFP she would likely be imprisoned and was “sure 100 percent” her family would kill her.

Australian embassy representatives in Bangkok have reached out to Thai authorities and the UNHCR to “seek assurances” that she will be able to access the “refugee status determination process.”


90-year anniversary: How the Arab world came to know Tintin and Popeye

Updated 18 January 2019
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90-year anniversary: How the Arab world came to know Tintin and Popeye

  • Middle Eastern fans fondly look back at two comic icons who share a birthday this year, although they’re not without controversy
  • An Egyptian publisher printed Tintin in Arabic, while Popeye was broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 and Spacetoon

Popeye, the scruffy sailor who remains one of the most loveable characters of all time, has been a popular fixture in Middle Eastern pop culture since the early 1980s. In addition to mountains of merchandise, particularly stuffed toys, being available in local shops, the cartoons were broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 (in their original English) and on Spacetoon (with Arabic dubbing). 
“I remember the first time I watched Popeye,” Zainab Basrawi, a 36-year-old insurance lawyer and self-professed Popeye enthusiast, told Arab News. “I learned to love spinach just from watching him save Olive every time. I believed him. I think he was a great influence on children to subtly ease them into eating their greens.”
Just one week after Tintin first appeared in “Le Petit Vingtieme,” Popeye made his debut on Jan. 17, 1929 as a side character in the daily King Features comic strip “Thimble Theatre.”
Created by the American cartoonist Elzie Crisler Segar, the one-eyed sailor with bulging forearms quickly grew in popularity, becoming the star of his own strip, an animated TV cartoon and a 1980 movie starring
Robin Williams. The theme song from the cartoon, “I’m Popeye the Sailorman,” is one of the most recognized pieces of music in pop culture history.
Compared to boyish, clean-cut, good- natured Tintin, Popeye is his polar opposite.
The sailor is rough, gruff and extremely tough, famous for the super-strength he gets from eating canned spinach, and his never-ending love triangle with his girlfriend Olive Oyl and rival Bluto.
Like Tintin, as a relic from another era, Popeye has also been criticized for racial stereotypes. In “Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba and His Forty Thieves,” he is shown beating up poorly made caricatures of Arab men. In “You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap,” the Japanese characters in the cartoon get the same treatment.
However, literary critic Sophie Cline said the comic strip is reflective of the time it was created in, almost a century ago. “I think it’s important not to ignore these pieces of our history, or hide them away, but rather to own up to our mistakes and learn from them,” she told Arab News.
She alluded to the new disclaimer that now precedes old Looney Tunes cartoons, informing viewers that their outdated “racial prejudices” no longer reflect Warner Bros. values but are “products of their time.”
“Popeye cartoons reflect the common view of the era,” she said. “A disclaimer should be enough.”

Tintin, one of the world’s most famous fictional journalists, traveled the world seeking stories and adventure, so he naturally spent a good amount of time in the Middle East.
Created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, better known by his pseudonym Herge (say his initials in reverse out loud in a French accent), Tintin travels the region in four of his books: “Cigars of the Pharaoh,” “The Crab with the Golden Claws,” “Land of Black Gold” and “The Red Sea Sharks.”
Tintin gained more of a foothold in the region when Egyptian publisher Dar Al-Maarif began printing the comics in Arabic in 1971. Renaming him “Tantan,” Dar Al-Maarif continued to publish the comics weekly
until 1980.
“Tintin has been one of my idols for as long as I can remember,” said Haytham Faisal, a journalist from Cairo. “I literally became a journalist because I wanted to be him. My dad used to take me to buy the comics from the local bookstore. I remember them being so expensive, so they were a rare treat. I’d always think twice before buying them, but I couldn’t always wait for the next comic to see what new story they have next. I still have some of them, they were that precious to me.”
Before appearing in book format, Tintin and his constant companion, the dog Snowy, were first introduced to audiences in “Le Petit Vingtieme,” or “The Little Twentieth,” a supplement to the Belgian newspaper “Le Vingtieme Siecle” (The Twentieth Century) on Jan. 4, 1929. Herge, however, maintained that Tintin was actually “born” on Jan. 10, when “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets” began its serialization in the paper.
Despite the fact that he never seems to hand in any stories, the loveable and quirky Tintin is portrayed as talented at his profession, so much so that he is shown to be in high demand, with many press agencies offering him bribes for his dispatches.
Over the years, Tintin’s face has been used to advertise quintessentially French items such as Citroen cars and La Vache Qui Rit cheese. Enthusiasts of Tintin lore, known as Tintinolo- gists, have written entire books devoted to him.
Since 1929, more than 250 million copies of the Tintin comic books have been sold. His adventures have been translated in more than 110 languages, and the books are sold in almost every country in the world.
Tintin continues to grow in popularity, even 90 years on. He was the star of a full-length feature film, directed by Steven Spielberg, in 2011 and of an animated television series. The latter was broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 between 1991 and 1992 and a dubbed version has been on MBC 3 since 2003.
However, the history of Tintin has not been without its hiccups. Over the years, critics have argued that, like many of the comics of the era, it should undergo censorship or even outright banning from bookstores and libraries. One of the more troublesome ones is his second adventure, “Tintin in the Congo.”
The natives Tintin visits are crude stereo- types of African people, who are portrayed as ignorant and uneducated, and the references to slavery, such as when the natives refer to Tintin as “master,” make the comics hard to stomach.
Similarly, “Land of Black Gold,” which takes place in a fictional Red Sea state named Khemed, is also banned in several Middle Eastern countries today for its stereotypical portrayal of Arabs.
While some argue the comics are simply byproducts of their era, they are nonetheless somewhat difficult to revisit in the modern era. Attempts have been made to soften some of the references, with edits being made to “Tintin in the Congo” in 1975, but is that enough?
Not according to the London-based human rights lawyer David Enright, who wrote in the Guardian newspaper that “Tintin in the Congo” shouldn’t be sold to children. “Books are precious, but so are the minds of young children. It is vital that our children learn and explore the grotesque history of slavery, racism and anti-Semitism, but in the proper context of the school curriculum.”