Iran accused of hiding COVID-19 deaths as police arrest 320 for ‘spreading rumors’ 

Iran accused of hiding COVID-19 deaths as police arrest 320 for ‘spreading rumors’ 
According to the latest figures released by the health ministry, the number of infections in the country has risen to 106,000, with a total of 6,589 deaths. (File/AFP)
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Updated 10 May 2020

Iran accused of hiding COVID-19 deaths as police arrest 320 for ‘spreading rumors’ 

Iran accused of hiding COVID-19 deaths as police arrest 320 for ‘spreading rumors’ 
  • The official number of cases and deaths published by Iran’s Health Ministry has been questioned
  • The real number of coronavirus cases in the country could be 10 times higher

DUBAI: Iranian police have arrested 320 people accused of spreading rumors on social media about the coronavirus, with many questioning the official numbers of infections and deaths.
The official number of cases and deaths published by Iran’s Health Ministry has been questioned by lawmakers, city councilors and the public, according to Iranian daily Raido Farda.
Many believe, according to the report, that Iranian authorities hid the outbreak of the virus in the country before admitting on Feb. 19 that it had spread in Qom, Iran’s religious capital, killing two people.
The health ministry only announces the total numbers of cases for the country and does not disclose information for individual provinces or cities. 
According to the latest figures released by the health ministry, the number of infections in the country has risen to 106,000, with a total of 6,589 deaths.
The real number of coronavirus cases in the country could be 10 times higher than the cases identified by the ministry and the death toll nearly twice the official figure, an advisory report by the Iranian parliament’s research center estimated last month.


The Egyptian woman behind the Happy Africa initiative

The Egyptian woman behind the Happy Africa initiative
Updated 56 min 34 sec ago

The Egyptian woman behind the Happy Africa initiative

The Egyptian woman behind the Happy Africa initiative
  • El-Amin chose Kenya to launch the initiative because she had already formed a community of volunteers there to serve the society

CAIRO: Sarah El-Amin, the Egyptian woman behind the Happy Africa Organization, previously worked in philanthropy through a charitable institution, and as an investigative journalist. 

El-Amin was doing well as a journalist, but after the sudden death of her mother she decided to travel to Kenya to study. It was during this time that the idea of the organization came to her.

She started working to convey the true image of Egypt across the African continent through her community work with tribes in remote areas, which took eight hours to reach from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

“My focus in my work abroad was serving the neediest areas in Africa, and I carried out many successful projects in Kenya,” El-Amin told Arab News.

“I was cited as an example of an Egyptian girl who overcame obstacles. During my trip abroad, I succeeded and was able to establish the organization with the support of a number of Egyptians abroad,” she said.

During her stay abroad and following the implementation of many projects, a number of Egyptian expatriates shared their experiences with El-Amin and together they came up with a plan.

“I could not do anything on my own without the collective effort of all the members of the Egyptian community in Kenya supporting me,” she said.

El-Amin chose Kenya to launch the initiative because she had already formed a community of volunteers there to serve the society.

She volunteered to work in a center for treating AIDS patients in Kenya, with the help of Italian experts and volunteers. 

She said that she named the foundation Happy Africa Organization because it aimed to ensure the happiness of African people with the support of Egyptians, financially and through other initiatives in different sectors.

El-Amin recently returned to Egypt, where the country’s Emigration and Expatriates Affair Minister Nabila Makram, and Maya Mursi, chairman of the National Council for Women, presented her with the Al Ta’ Marbouta Shield for her services to humanity.

The Ministry of Immigration has launched an official initiative, “The Power of Egyptian Women Abroad,” with El-Amin as its ambassador.

“The initiative aims to involve Egyptian women abroad in supporting the project to develop Egyptian villages to improve the lives of Egyptians,” El-Amin said.


Meet the Iraqi para-athlete inspiring confidence in women everywhere

Meet the Iraqi para-athlete inspiring confidence in women everywhere
Zainab Al-Eqabi was picked to star in The Body Shop's Self-Love Uprising campaign. (Instagram)
Updated 07 March 2021

Meet the Iraqi para-athlete inspiring confidence in women everywhere

Meet the Iraqi para-athlete inspiring confidence in women everywhere
  • There are so many people with disabilities who feel shy or embarrassed, or they just choose not to integrate into society

DUBAI: When Iraqi sports enthusiast Zainab Al-Eqabi was seven years old, a bomb went off near her Baghdad home. Al-Eqabi, now 30, lost one of her legs as a result of the explosion.

“It hasn’t been an easy journey,” the pharmacist-turned-athlete told Arab News. It was the support of family and friends, as well as her own inner strength, that got her through. And despite the odds stacked against her, Al-Eqabi has taken her athleticism to a new level and has gone on to compete in several sports competitions in the UAE.

However, the 30-year-old admits that she has not always been an athlete — it was not until a doctor recommended that she should start swimming to ease her back pain, which was induced by her prosthetic leg, that she took up sports.

Al-Eqabi says that it “was a turning point” in her life.

“Swimming was not as difficult and scary as I thought at all, and it kind of opened up the doors to other sports,” she said. She competed in two triathlons as a cyclist in the UAE, and in 2020 joined the Dubai Fitness Challenge, during which she hauled a 2,000kg Jeep.

On top of an intense training schedule, a full-time job as a pharmacist and giving motivational speeches, Al-Eqabi makes a point of posting inspiring photographs of herself on Instagram — where she has accrued 1.5 million followers — with the aim of breaking stereotypes, combatting prejudices and contributing to a more confident society.

“In the Middle East, there’s this stigma on people with special needs or any kind of disability,” she said. “When I used to tell people that I have a prosthetic leg, they wouldn’t understand. They didn’t understand that I have an amputation. So, I decided to create a Facebook page called ‘Disabled and Proud’ and just started to note down stories from my daily life,” she said.

She recalled one instance when a woman confided in her that her disabled son had become more social and confident since he started following Al-Eqabi on social media.

“There are so many people with disabilities who feel shy or embarrassed, or they just choose not to integrate into society. They limit their activity and involvement, just because of what they’re going through,” she said. “I hated that. So that’s what made me start posting on social media.”

Naturally, Al-Eqabi was the perfect fit when The Body Shop was searching for regional faces to represent its new Global Self Love Movement campaign, which promotes self-esteem and body positivity.

“I can really relate to this campaign. Self-love is a treasure that we all need to keep developing so that we can have the best relationship with our own self. I’m honestly so proud to be a part of this campaign,” she said.

When it comes to her own beauty routine, she follows a diligent skin care regimen because she believes that taking care of our bodies is important. Most days, she goes bare-faced, simply applying moisturizer and sunscreen and using a face mask once a week. On the days that she is not swimming, she will swipe a few coats of mascara on her lashes.

Ultimately though, Al-Eqabi’s secret to feeling her best is getting plenty of sleep and exercise. “Working out just makes you really feel good,” she said.

Al-Eqabi has had to put many of her plans on hold due to the pandemic. However, she continues to be a beacon of body positivity.

“I want to tell the person with a disability, don’t let it stop you, because at the end of the day you need to live your life. It doesn’t make sense to be excluded and to go through that by yourself. This is your life. You deserve to live it and enjoy it.”

 


Jordanian women have come a long way, but much work remains to be done

Jordanian women have come a long way, but much work remains to be done
Activists stage a sit-in near the government's headquarters in Amman to protest against the alleged killing of a Jordanian woman by her father for reasons related to 'family honor' on July 21, 2020. (Supplied)
Updated 52 min 1 sec ago

Jordanian women have come a long way, but much work remains to be done

Jordanian women have come a long way, but much work remains to be done
  • According to official estimates, Jordan’s unemployment rate in the third quarter of 2020 stood at 23.9 percent, up 4.8 percent compared with the same period of 2019

AMMAN: Despite improvements in the status of women in Jordan, more still needs to be done to address gender-based violence and increase women’s engagement in both society and the labor market, according to rights activists.

In remarks to Arab News on the occasion of International Women’s Day, women’s rights activists argued that Jordan has achieved “considerable” progress over the past 20 years in combating discrimination against women by revisiting laws and taking on the “social taboos” that keep Jordanian women out of the workforce.

They explained that these changes were the result of changes in society, underlining the need for more efforts at the institutional level toward improving gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Rana Husseini, a renowned women’s rights activist, said: “With regard to the achievements of the women’s rights movement, I would say that one of the most important accomplishments was the appointment of women in decision-making positions such as ministers, criminal prosecutors, ambassadors and judges. Now, you see women almost everywhere. This is a sign that society is more open now toward accepting and wanting women to be in positions of leadership.”

Despite changes to social structures and improvements in women’s rights in Jordan, the award-winning journalist said there are still problems related to women’s labor force participation and their employment status, citing the high unemployment rates among females.

According to official estimates, Jordan’s unemployment rate in the third quarter of 2020 stood at 23.9 percent, up 4.8 percent compared with the same period of 2019. The rate of unemployed males who hold a bachelor’s degree and higher reached 25.2 percent, while the percentage of unemployed females who hold at least the same degree increased to 77 percent.

“Despite efforts, economic participation among women is still weak,” Husseini said, adding that there were still many jobs occupied exclusively by men.

“There is still discrimination in the workplace. Job owners prefer to hire men to get around issues related to maternity leave and childcare.”

Honor crimes

On average, 10 to 15 women are killed annually in Jordan in the name of honor, Husseini said.

Husseini, who authored the hard-hitting book, “Murder in the Name of Honor,” explained that the figure has seen a “significant drop.”

“The number of the so-called ‘honor crimes’ reported in Jordan during the 1980s and 1990s was between 20 to 25, sometimes reaching 30 every year. Now, after all the work that has been done by activists, awareness campaigns, the government and all those involved in the fight, the number has dropped to 10 to 15 cases."  

She explained that Jordan has amended laws related to violence against women, toughening penalties and thus reducing honor crimes.

“There have also been changes to some important clauses pertaining to violence against women, such as articles 98 and 308 of the penal code. Article 308 used to allow a person who sexually assaults a woman to escape punishment if he married the victim. Now, this is no longer the case. The other change is that perpetrators of so-called ‘honor crimes’ are not receiving lenient sentences as they used to in the past. Now, the criminal courts and justice system are really treating violence against women and children very seriously, and they are bringing cases to court with strong evidence to implicate the defendants.”

Husseini explained that Jordanian laws no longer allow a lenient sentence for perpetrators of honor crimes.

“But we still have a problem with the waiving of rights that families can exercise while at court to reduce the sentence.

“Violence against women is not a phenomenon specific to Jordan or the Middle East region but one that is found all over the world. The difference in our region is that women are killed by their families and relatives,” Husseini added.  

COVID-19 pandemic

Jordanian women’s rights leaders said that the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has exacerbated women’s troubles, worsening women’s economic participation and increasing gender-based violence.  

According to the Sisterhood is Global Initiative (SIGI), an independent organization seeking women’s advancement and empowerment through a range of education and advocacy programs, many women have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic and have been subject to domestic violence.  

“The outbreak has proved the centrality of women in the society. The burdens of Jordanian women, especially those on the front lines, have increased during the pandemic, with many of them losing their jobs and suffering various forms of violence from their husbands, fathers and brothers. They have remained silent, in part to protect their families and children but also out of their deep belief that the current circumstances are exceptional and full of economic and social challenges,” SIGI said in a recent report.

Husseini said that lockdowns and curfews have been hindering NGOs and protection teams from performing regular check-up visits to vulnerable families and centers for victims of domestic violence and “family honor.”  

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, UN Women said that emerging data and reports from those on the front lines have shown that all forms of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, have intensified.

A recent study by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia concluded that the pandemic is expected to result in the loss of 1.7 million jobs in the Middle East region, including approximately 700,000 jobs held by women.


Pope meets father of drowned Syrian refugee boy in Irbil

Pope meets father of drowned Syrian refugee boy in Irbil
Updated 07 March 2021

Pope meets father of drowned Syrian refugee boy in Irbil

Pope meets father of drowned Syrian refugee boy in Irbil
  • Following a Mass on Sunday in the Iraqi city of Erbil, Francis met with Abdullah Kurdi and spent a long time with him
  • Through an interpreter, the pope listened to Kurdi’s story and expressed sympathy for the loss of his family

IRBIL: Pope Francis has met with the father of Alan Kurdi, a 3-year old Syrian boy who drowned crossing the Mediterranean Sea and whose image drew global attention to the plight of refugees fleeing to Europe.
Following a Mass on Sunday in the Iraqi city of Erbil, Francis met with Abdullah Kurdi and spent a long time with him, the Vatican said.


Through an interpreter, the pope listened to Kurdi’s story and expressed sympathy for the loss of his family. Abdullah thanked the pope for his words.
The Kurdi family, who fail from Kobane in Syria, took the route of many Syrian and other migrants in 2015 by sea in a small boat from Turkey heading for Greece. When their boat capsized, Alan Kurdi, one of his brothers and his mother perished. The image of Alan's body, washed up on Turkish shores, came to symbolize the perilous journey to Europe and drew international condemnation. The father now runs a charity in Erbil.


Pope in Iraq: Terror, death ‘will never have the last word’

Pope in Iraq: Terror, death ‘will never have the last word’
Updated 07 March 2021

Pope in Iraq: Terror, death ‘will never have the last word’

Pope in Iraq: Terror, death ‘will never have the last word’
  • Francis visits Christian town previously occupied by Daesh
  • ‘The road to a full recovery may still be long, but I ask you, please, not to grow discouraged’

ROME: Terrorism and death “will never have the last word,” Pope Francis said on Sunday at a church in the Iraqi town of Qaraqosh, where Christians lived before Daesh occupied it from 2014 to 2016, forcing thousands to flee.

“Even amid the ravages of terrorism and war, we can see, with the eyes of faith, the triumph of life over death,” he added on the third day of his historic visit to Iraq.

He called the Angelus Sunday midday prayer at the Syriac Catholic Al-Tahira Church, which was vandalized and burnt by Daesh and turned into a shooting range. The church has since been completely restored.

Pope Francis arrives to hold a mass at the Grand Immaculate Church, in Qaraqosh. (Reuters)

Pope Francis appeared very moved by the testimonies of Christians from a region that had been devastated by Daesh.

He told Christians in Iraq: “You are not alone. The entire Church is close to you, with prayers and concrete charity. And in this region, so many people opened their doors to you in time of need.”

He added: “The road to a full recovery may still be long, but I ask you, please, not to grow discouraged. What is needed is the ability to forgive, but also the courage not to give up.”

The pope then flew by helicopter to the city of Mosul, where he prayed for the “victims of all wars.”

In Erbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdish region — which was a safe haven for thousands of Christians fleeing Daesh — he held the largest Mass of his visit to Iraq.

He was greeted there by 10,000 cheering faithful gathered in Franso Hariri Stadium, which was at one-third capacity as a measure against the spread of COVID-19.

Caption

In the sermon, Pope Francis praised the Catholic Church in Iraq for “spreading Christ’s mercy and forgiveness, particularly toward those in greatest need.”

He said: “Even amid great poverty and difficulty, many of you have generously offered concrete help and solidarity to the poor and suffering. That is one of the reasons that led me to come as a pilgrim in your midst, to thank you.”

He added: “Today, I can see first-hand that the Church in Iraq is alive, that Christ is alive and at work in this, his holy and faithful people.”

Pope Francis then flew to Baghdad, from where he is due to return to the Vatican on Monday morning.