Arab fans in UAE turn out to cheer Saudi Arabia in World Cup opener

(L) Muhammad Qubbaj, a British/Jordanian expatriate, and (R) Sami Issa, a Palestinian/American, watch as the 2018 Fifa World Cup got under way on Thursday at Emirates Palace. (AN PHOTO)
Updated 14 June 2018

Arab fans in UAE turn out to cheer Saudi Arabia in World Cup opener

  • Record participation of four teams from this part of the world ‘makes you very proud to be Arab,’ one says
  • Emirates Palace turns its Ramadan tent into football venue

Arabs in the UAE turned out on Thursday night to cheer on Saudi Arabia in their  World Cup game against Russia following an opening ceremony at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium.

“I have come here tonight because Saudi Arabia is playing and it is the World Cup opening match,” said 46-year-old Muhammad Qubbaj, as the first minutes of the match unfolded on the giant 7-by-4-meter LED screens at Abu Dhabi’s iconic Emirates Palace. The hotel transformed its Ramadan tent into a World Cup venue to host football fans across the emirate. “I am rooting for Saudi, but right now I am unsure who will win.”

The British/Jordanian expatriate, who works in private equity in the UAE, said he was “very excited” that the 2018 FIFA World Cup will witness record Arab participation, as four Arab football teams - Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Morocco - all qualified.

“I’m very excited because four Arab teams are playing this World Cup and Mohammad Bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, is also watching live,” he said. "It makes you very proud to be Arab. I am rooting for all four Arab teams, really.”

Also watching the game at Emirates Palace was Sami Issa, a Palestinian-American who had brought his family to the hotel’s Fan Zone to mark both the start of Eid Al-Fitr - announced midway through the game - and the first match of the 2018 Fifa World Cup tournament.

“What better place to celebrate the end of Ramadan and start of Eid?” said Issa, who works in artificial intelligence for IBM computer manufacturing. “My entire family is here, my wife, my kids. I am rooting for Saudi. I am rooting for all four Arab teams. I truly think Saudi Arabia has a great chance. We came here to watch it because Emirates Palace is meant to be the best spot in Abu Dhabi to watch the match.” 

Emirati Hazza Al Muhairy, 26, plays for Emirates Palace’s football team as a striker. He was among the crowds there cheering on the Green Falcons. “I will be supporting all four Arab teams,” he said. “After that, if they unfortunately don’t get through, then I will be cheering on Argentina!”

His friend Lucy Mila, 22, from Russia, was cheering on the opposing side. “ I am confident Russia will do well in this World Cup,” she said.

Salahedeen Issa, 17, also a Palestinian/American, was also cheering on Saudi Arabia. 

“I love football,” he said. “ I am a huge football fan. I want to catch every moment of this World Cup while I am have the summer off before university. I think Saudi does have a chance. I think it will be closer than a lot of the members of the public will think. The Saudi team is more dangerous than people realize.” 

Also soaking up the electricity of the summer tournament was Yousef Mohammed, an Emirati, who watched the game at Back Yard Bistro, in Abu Dhabi’s World Trade Centre Mall.

 “I like watching countries put aside their differences and competing in a fair sport; it brings out the best in people,” said the 32-year-old. "I was especially excited to watch the World Cup tonight because it is the first time Saudi Arabia is opening a World Cup match.” 


Private schools and universities in Lebanon are in economic crisis

Updated 46 min 46 sec ago

Private schools and universities in Lebanon are in economic crisis

  • Education centers risk closing or reducing costs after nationwide disruption

BEIRUT: The future of thousands of Lebanese students is at stake as private educational institutions assess their ability to continue operations in the next academic year, due to the economic crunch facing Lebanon.

“If the economic situation continues, private schools will be forced to close down for good, a move that will affect more than 700,000 students, 59,000 teachers and 15,000 school administrators,” said Father Boutros Azar, secretary-general of the General Secretariat of Catholic Schools in Lebanon, and coordinator of the Association of Private Educational Institutions in Lebanon.

Over 1,600 private schools are operating in Lebanon, including free schools and those affiliated to various religion societies, Azar said.

The number of public schools in Lebanon, he added, is 1,256, serving 328,000 students from the underprivileged segment of society and 200,000 Syrian refugee students.

“The number of teachers in the formal education sector is 43,500 professors and teachers — 20,000 of them are permanent staff and the rest work on a contract basis,” Azar said.

This development will also have an impact on private universities, whose number has increased to 50 in the past 20 years.

Ibrahim Khoury, a special adviser to the president of the American University of Beirut (AUB), told Arab News: “All universities in Lebanon are facing an unprecedented crisis, and the message of AUB President Dr. Fadlo R. Khuri, a few weeks ago, was a warning about the future of university education in light of the economic crisis that Lebanon is facing.”

Khoury said many universities would likely reduce scientific research and dispense with certain specializations.

“Distance education is ongoing, but classes must be opened for students in the first semester of next year, but we do not yet know what these classes are.”

Khoury added: “Universities are still following the official exchange rate of the dollar, which is 1,512 Lebanese pounds (LBP), but the matter is subject to future developments.”

Lebanese parents are also worried about the future of their children, after the current school year ended unexpectedly due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Dr. Tarek Majzoub, the minister of education and higher education, ended the academic year in public schools and gave private schools the right to take a call on this issue.

He said: “The coming academic year will witness intensification of lessons and a review of what students have missed.”

But what sort of academic year should students expect?

Differences have developed between school owners, parents, and teachers over the payment of tuition fees and teachers’ salaries.

Azar said: “What I know so far is that 80 percent of the Catholic schools in Lebanon will close their doors next year unless they are financially helped. Some families today are unable to pay the rest of the dues for the current year either because their breadwinners were fired or not working, while others do not want to pay dues because schools remain closed due to the pandemic.

“Lebanese people chose private schools for their children because they trusted them for their quality — 70 percent of Lebanese children go to private schools. Today, we are facing a major crisis, and I say that if education collapses in Lebanon, then the area surrounding Lebanon will collapse. Many Arab students from the Gulf states receive their education in the most prestigious Lebanese schools,” he added.

“What we are witnessing today is that the educational contract is no longer respected. It can be said that what broke the back of school owners is the approval by the Lebanese parliament in 2018 of a series of ranks and salaries that have bankrupted the state treasury and put all institutions in a continuous deficit.”

Those in charge of formal education expect a great rush for enrollment in public schools and universities, but the ability of these formal institutions to absorb huge numbers of students is limited.

Majzoub said that his ministry was “working on proposing a law to help private schools provide a financial contribution for each learner within the available financial capabilities or grants that can be obtained.”

The undersecretary of the Teachers’ Syndicate in Private Schools, former government minister Ziad Baroud, said: “The crisis of remaining student fees and teachers’ salaries needs to be resolved by special legislation in parliament that regulates the relationship between all parties — teachers, parents, and schools — and takes into account the measures to end teachers’ contracts before July 5.”

Baroud spoke of “hundreds of teachers being discharged from their schools every year based on a legal article that gives the right to school owners to dismiss any teacher from service, provided that they send the teacher a notification before July 5.”

H said it should be kept in mind that thousands of teachers have not yet received their salaries for the last four months, and some of them had received only 50 percent or even less of their salaries.

Khoury said: “The AUB received a loan from the late Prime Minister Rashid Karami at the beginning of the 1975 Lebanese civil war to keep it afloat. In the 1990s, the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri provided aid and grants to the universities. Today, no one can help universities.”

Last Thursday, the Lebanese parliament adopted a proposal submitted by the leader of the Future Parliamentary Bloc, Bahia Hariri, to allocate LBP300 billion to the education sector to help it mitigate the effects of COVID-19.