Al-Aqeeq governorate, which is a major water source for the entire Baha Province, is replete with valleys spotted with green farms.
A number of dams have been constructed in the area to collect rainwater that is pumped to dry regions in and around Baha Province. This includes Al-Aqeeq Valley and Wadi Tharad Valley dams.
The abundance of water has made Al-Aqeeq a major farming center producing dates, wheat, barley, vegetables and fruits such as grapes, pomegranates, apricots and oranges.
Al-Aqeeq was once on ancient trade and pilgrim routes and has a significant role in Arabian history. A number of inscriptions discovered in the area are related to early Islamic history between the first and third centuries after the Hijra, the Saudi Press Agency reported yesterday.
The northern side of the region has several copper mines. There were several mines in operation during the time of the caliphs of the early Abbasid period (750 to 1258 AD).
The area is also well known for folk arts, including the Ardah dance, traditional music and has produced many famous Arabic poets. Traditional souks, which are famous for livestock among other things, are conducted mostly on Wednesdays.
UK Supreme Court rejects Daesh bride Shamima Begum’s legal bid to return
‘The appropriate response to the problem in the present case is for the deprivation appeal to be stayed’
Britain revoked Shamima Begum’s citizenship in 2019 on national security grounds
Updated 13 min 52 sec ago
LONDON: Britain’s highest court on Friday rejected a bid by a woman who was stripped of her UK citizenship for joining the Daesh group to return to challenge the decision.
Five judges at the Supreme Court gave a unanimous decision in the case of Shamima Begum, whose legal battles have come to be seen as a test of how countries treat nationals who joined the extremists.
“Ms Begum’s appeal against the leave to enter decision is dismissed,” the head of the Supreme Court, judge Robert Reed, said in a written judgment.
The judges said the right to a fair hearing did not override other considerations such as the safety of the public.
“The appropriate response to the problem in the present case is for the deprivation appeal to be stayed until Ms Begum is in a position to play an effective part in it without the safety of the public being compromised,” they added.
“That is not a perfect solution, as it is not known how long it may be before that is possible. But there is no perfect solution to a dilemma of the present kind.”
Now 21, Begum left her home in east London at the age of 15 to travel to Syria with two school friends, and married a Daesh fighter.
In 2019 she told The Times newspaper that she did not regret traveling to Syria and had not been “fazed” by seeing a severed head dumped in a bin.
Britain revoked her citizenship in 2019 on national security grounds amid an outcry led by right-wing newspapers.
Begum is being held in a camp in poor conditions, while her husband is reportedly in jail in Syria, and her three children have died.
She appealed to be allowed back into the UK so that she can legally challenge her loss of citizenship.
She argued that the decision was unlawful as it has made her stateless and exposed her to the risk of death or inhuman and degrading treatment.
Begum is of Bangladeshi heritage but the country’s foreign minister has said he will not consider granting her citizenship.
The Court of Appeal ruled in July last year that Begum needed to come back to mount a fair and effective appeal.
But the interior ministry in turn appealed against this decision, insisting she remained “aligned” with the proscribed terrorist organization.
A government lawyer told the Supreme Court in November her return would create “an increased risk of terrorism.”
Her legal team argued that this did not override the need for a fair hearing.
Rights groups have argued human rights principles are at stake and Begum should answer for any crimes in her home country.
The tabloid newspaper The Sun has called her a “vile fanatic” who has “no place on our soil.”
Begum claims she married a Dutch convert soon after arriving in Daesh-held territory. She was discovered, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019.
Her newborn baby died soon after she gave birth. Her two other children also died in infancy under Daesh rule.
Russian diplomats return from North Korea on rail trolley
The group of eight people took a 32-hour train ride, followed by two hours on a bus
Interfax news agency reported on Friday morning that the group later took a flight to Moscow from the far-eastern city of Vladivostok
Updated 22 min 9 sec ago
MOSCOW: A group of Russian diplomats and their family members returned to Russia from North Korea on a hand-pushed rail trolley on Thursday because of COVID-19 restrictions in the country, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a Facebook post. “Since the borders have been closed for over a year and passenger traffic has been halted,” staff members of the Russian embassy in North Korea and their family members embarked on “a long and difficult journey to get home,” the ministry said. The group of eight people took a 32-hour train ride, followed by two hours on a bus. They then boarded a rail trolley and pushed themselves for about a kilometer (half a mile) across the border into Russia. A video posted by the ministry showed embassy staff with their children and suitcases on a trolley, cheering as two people pushed it across a railway bridge. The Interfax news agency reported on Friday morning that the group later took a flight to Moscow from the far-eastern city of Vladivostok. North Korea has claimed to be coronavirus-free, but has sealed its borders and halted passenger traffic with other countries. Outside experts are highly skeptical of the North’s zero-virus case claim.
EU sees must-not-miss chance to revive Iran nuclear deal
Nuclear deal almost collapsed after the Trump administration unilaterally pulled the US out three years ago
Updated 6 min 29 sec ago
BRUSSELS: The top European Union diplomat supervising the international agreement aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions called Friday for a concerted effort to reinvigorate the pact even as Tehran appears to be reneging on some of its commitments.
“This is an occasion that we cannot miss,” to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters via video-link.
The deal almost collapsed after the Trump administration unilaterally pulled the US out three years ago, triggering crippling economic sanctions on Iran. Britain, France and Germany notably struggled to keep it alive and have been heartened by President Joe Biden’s willingness to bring the US back in.
“I am convinced as coordinator of the JCPOA that we do have diplomatic space, a diplomatic window of opportunity to dialogue” in line with Biden’s aims, Borrell said. “We need to use this opportunity and focus on solutions to bring the JCPOA back on track in order for everybody (to fulfil) their commitments.”
Iran this week effectively set a deadline to lift the US sanctions within three months, after which it said it would erase surveillance footage of its nuclear facilities. It has also limited some monitoring of its activities, which the EU says are meant to help ensure that Tehran’s nuclear work is peaceful.
The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has also reported that Iran has added 17.6 kilograms (38.8 pounds) of uranium enriched up to 20 percent to its stockpile as of Feb. 16 — far past the 3.67 percent purity allowed under the JCPOA.
Borrell said that Iran’s latest moves “are very much concerning.”
Qassem Soleimani left a trail of death and destruction in his wake as head of Iran’s Quds Force … until his assassination on Jan. 3, 2020. Yet still, his legacy of murderous interference continues to haunt the region
East meets West: ErosSTX CEO Robert Simonds on Hollywood, Bollywood and everything in between
OTT platform Eros Now leads the market in terms of engagement
Updated 26 February 2021
DUBAI: Eros International, an Indian movie production and distribution company, was born in 1977. Today, it’s more than just that thanks, in part, to its OTT platform Eros Now, which leads the market in terms of engagement with 68 percent of its users indicating that they watch content on the platform daily, according to a 2019 study.
On the other side of the world, STX Entertainment was founded in 2004 by film producer Robert Simonds and businessman Bill McGlashan. The entertainment company, which produces mid-budget movies with big stars, has made inroads into China and Europe with investors including PCCW, Tencent, and Liberty Global.
In 2020, the two major companies combined forces to form ErosSTX, led by Kishore Lulla as executive co-chairman and Simonds as co-chairman and CEO. Arab News spoke to Simonds about the merger, future plans in India, the US, and potentially the Middle East, and the impact of the pandemic on the film and streaming industry.
Talk to us about the geographic reach of the new company and the distribution model in each.
We distribute our films in theaters in about 150 different countries. We run the international division out of London, and we customize the distribution depending on the territory. In France, for example, we did a complete buyout with Amazon, so Amazon handles all our movies in France. But, in Germany for instance, pay-TV is not as important as free TV so we have got theatrical as well as other revenue streams there.
Basically, we wanted to build a three-legged stool with the world’s biggest entertainment markets: the US, China and India. There’s massive value in Eros Now, which has the largest library of Bollywood movies and TV shows, including original productions. Eros Now is expanding rapidly in tier two and tier three Indian cities and is also available in about 90 different countries right now for Indian expats. We have about 36 million subscribers and 208 million registered users. We’ve got two goals: to grow it globally to 50 million subscribers as fast as possible and to launch something called Eros Now Prime, featuring English content, and start competing with some of the giants (like Hotstar, Netflix and Prime Video) in tier-one cities.
Do you plan to expand Eros Now to any other markets?
Our desire is to expand Eros Now into the Middle East and Indonesia – basically anywhere that Bollywood is relevant.
How did the pandemic affect the business?
It affected us in two ways: On the streaming side, because of Eros Now, our subscribers have been growing more rapidly than we could have hoped for.
On the movie and TV side, usually, our business model depends on an initial theatrical release followed by multiple other revenue streams each with their own windows and economics. But, with theaters being entirely or intermittently closed in different parts of the world, we needed to be very opportunistic on each project.
For example, we released “My Spy” theatrically in a couple of territories and then sold the movie directly to Amazon and it became the most viewed “Amazon Original.” We’re currently working on a sequel with them.
We released “Greenland” theatrically in 27 international territories and even though the theaters were at half capacity, we were able to outgross Gerard Butler’s previous hits like “Olympus Has Fallen.” So, internationally, we were doing incredibly well in the markets that were open. But because theaters were closed in the US we couldn’t release the movies in cinemas here. So, we did a completely different type of deal by selling “Greenland” to HBO Max on the condition that we would do a P-VOD, or premium video on-demand model, which means we were able to charge about 20 bucks per view. Quite honestly, “Greenland” blew all of our minds because this new model generated so much profit with so little risk.
What about the physical, on-the-ground impact of the pandemic? How did you manage to film through it and what did that cost?
First off, safety is important. We have to make sure that the people who are working with us are safe and safe at all costs. The additional expense of COVID insurance, testing and protecting people in bubbles has been pretty extreme.
In fact, we just finished shooting something with Jason Statham and Hugh Grant, directed by Guy Ritchie, in Qatar and have sent that to Turkey to finish shooting. We just finished shooting in Scotland with James McAvoy and Claire Foy before the UK went into their tier four lockdown. But we have to be nimble because if there’s a surge in cases, we need to be able to shut down and move; or if someone on the crew is infected, we have to be able to clamp down.
However, at least from our experience, I think the whole notion that the industry has come to a standstill is just blatantly untrue.
What has the monetary impact of that been?
We do mid-budget movies in the $20-40 million range and in that, we’re currently spending somewhere between and three and four million additional for COVID protection. There are a couple of movies where we are on the cusp of comfort with the budget, and that extra few million makes us uncomfortable. So, we are holding them back, because if we wait a month we might not have to spend that. There’s a lot of juggling going on.
You said earlier that you’re planning to introduce Eros Now to the Middle East. Do you have any other plans for the region especially for Saudi given its investment in entertainment as part of Vision 2030?
I do believe that there is an opportunity for somebody to build out a Saudi film business, but it has got to be somebody who has enough consistent volume that they can guarantee multiple movies and TV shows. If you do just one-offs, you end up with an industry with stop and start and are not building that critical mass as a hub of innovation and creativity. So, something like twofour54 (Abu-Dhabi's media and entertainment hub) might get a Tom Cruise movie coming through or a “Star Wars” or “Fast and Furious”, but you have no sustainable homegrown industry. It has to be a guaranteed pipeline of production, movie on movie, so that the people you’re training can attract and gain the trust of the world’s film makers.
Do you see that as a potential problem in Saudi Arabia too?
I think the guys in Saudi are really smart and global. They are in a beautifully complicated place, which has a massive young population who have more access to Twitter and Netflix than anyone else out there and an old guard with a deep religious responsibility to protect the two holy sites. So, you’re going to have a pretty intense cultural collision. The power of story is to connect people and I believe this is the perfect setting in which to build a global industry doing just that.
UAE doesn’t have the same issues as Saudi.
We would love to have a seat at that table in Saudi, but they’re not there yet. From my standpoint, it’s pretty simple: there’s no US studio better positioned in China and India. Would I like to be the best-positioned US studio in the Muslim world – and I don’t just mean Saudi; I mean the Muslim world? Yeah! You’ve got 500 million people who are not really being catered to. And if you’re going to do that, you do that with the biggest player – and that’s Saudi. So us hanging around the hoop is probably a smart thing, but in the meantime, we just need to get our Eros Now in there.
HRW urges Iran to probe deadly shooting on Pakistan border
Shooting in the border area near the town of Saravan killed at least 10 people and wounded five
Updated 26 February 2021
BEIRUT: Human Rights Watch called on Iran Friday to investigate a deadly shooting by Revolutionary Guards against smugglers attempting to transport fuel into neighboring Pakistan for excessive use of force. Monday’s shooting in the border area near the town of Saravan killed at least 10 people and wounded five, HRW said, citing Baluchi activists. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had blocked a road used to transport fuel before apparently opening fire at people attempting to reopen the route, it added. The action has prompted attacks by angry protesters on government buildings in both Saravan and the Sistan-Baluchistan provincial capital Zahedan. “The Iranian authorities should urgently conduct a transparent and impartial investigation into the shootings at the Saravan border,” said HRW Iran researcher Tara Sepehri Far. “The authorities should hold those responsible for wrongdoing to account, appropriately compensate victims and ensure that border guards are taking the utmost precautions to respect the right to life and other human rights.” Provincial deputy governor Mohammad-Hadi Marashi said Tuesday that the shooting had started from the Pakistani side of the border and one person had been killed and four wounded. Sistan-Baluchistan province has long been a security headache for the Iranian government. Its large ethnic Baluch population, which staddles the frontier, has made it a flashpoint for cross-border attacks on government or Shiite targets by separatists and Sunni extremists. HRW said the lack of employment opportunities in the province had left its ethnic Baluch population few alternatives to black market trading with their fellow Baluchs across the border. “Similar to the western provinces of Western Azerbaijan and Kurdistan (on the border with Iraq), its lack of economic opportunities has led many residents to engage in unlawful cross-border commerce with Pakistan,” the New York-based watchdog.