A sewing workshop churns out life-saving suits in coronavirus-stricken Lebanon

A sewing workshop churns out life-saving suits in coronavirus-stricken Lebanon
It was established in 1994 to manufacture fashion items, embroidery and linen, but today Machghal El Oum is dedicated to the production of protective suits to counter the coronavirus threat. (Supplied)
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Updated 12 August 2020

A sewing workshop churns out life-saving suits in coronavirus-stricken Lebanon

A sewing workshop churns out life-saving suits in coronavirus-stricken Lebanon
  • Women at a sewing workshop in Saida called Machghal El Oum are doing their bit to stop the spread of the virus
  • Around 20 women are producing 400 protective suits a day, each requiring 15 to 20 minutes to sew

BEIRUT: In the time of the coronavirus when most people were asked not to leave their houses and to work from home, some women in Lebanon’s Saida region chose to make protective suits at Machghal El Oum.

The workshop was established in 1994 to manufacture fashion items, embroidery and linen, but today Machghal El Oum is dedicated to the production of protective suits to counter the coronavirus threat.

The women who work there are doing a public service by helping the factory to cope with the surging demand for face masks in Lebanon.

“The idea was born with the spread of the coronavirus disease in Lebanon and the dire lack of supplies in the markets,” said Wafa Wehbe, manager of Machghal El Oum.

“We felt the need to help Lebanese society, especially after the closure of borders and airports and, consequently, the cessation of import of protective suits,” she said.

Research and many experiments have been conducted by Machghal El Oum in cooperation with engineers and specialists to discover the best type of fabric to prevents liquids and any kind of spray from reaching the wearer’s skin.

The fabric — such as titanium TNT, which blocks external elements — must also be available in the Lebanese market.

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That is how about 20 women started working at Machghal El Oum, producing 400 protective suits a day, each requiring 15 to 20 minutes to sew.

There is an increasing demand for the suits, according to Wehbe, who adds that Machghal El Oum is currently cooperating with the Lebanese Red Cross and the World Health Organization.

Ghassan Hanqir, the director of public relations at the Islamic Welfare Association (which established the workshop), said that hospitals, pharmacists, relief agencies and restaurants placed orders for hundreds of suits daily.

He said that the price of a suit was symbolic and not for profit, but enough to purchase the required materials and pay the workers’ salaries.

The women at the workshop are from the marginalized and economically disadvantaged sections of Lebanese society.

When the workshop was founded 25 years ago, an applicant’s socio-economic status was used as the main criterion for hiring, Wehbe said.

“We provide work for women in need, who are divorced, widowed or refugees. Each year, we offer them six-month sewing courses, at the end of which we provide them with sewing machines.

“The highly qualified women are offered jobs in our workshop.”

FASTFACT

20

Number of women who started working at Machghal El Oum, producing 400 protective suits per day.

These women, in spite of their difficult circumstances, or perhaps because of them, did not seek to opt out during the coronavirus crisis.

They decided to put in hard work to meet the increasing demand for protective suits and items such as plastic masks and shoes, according to Wehbe.

She said that the management of Machghal El Oum took the safety of the women employees very seriously.

We felt the need to help Lebanese society, especially after the closure of borders and airports and, consequently, the cessation of import of protective suits.

Wafa Wehbe, manager of Machghal El Oum

There are currently 20 women working at a time, rotating based on a two-hour shift.

“We do not know whether or not we will increase the number,” she said. “We are working in a daily state of emergency that may change at any time.”

Wehbe said that the workshop was continuously sterilized; masks and gloves are provided; and temperature checks are carried out when the women arrive at the premises for work.

The seating arrangement is set up so the women are able to maintain a safe social distance.

Dr. Kamel Kuzbar, the Saida Municipality member responsible for tackling the coronavirus situation, praised and encouraged the women working at Machghal El Oum.

He said that the initiative aimed to address the problem of the lack of protective gear in the country.

Kuzbar said that the municipality cooperated fully with the workshop and other active institutions in its endeavor to take precautions and reduce the impact of the pandemic.

As well as cooperating with Machghal El Oum, he said, Saida Municipality was working to provide guidance, instructions and sterilization to the community.

It was also imposing home quarantine and distributing sterilization materials, food and medicine in areas of need.

In making these protective suits, the women of Machghal El Oum are doing their part to serve their country and its people.

  • This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.


Macron holds talks with Mahmoud Abbas, will discuss Gaza situation with Netanyahu

Macron holds talks with Mahmoud Abbas, will discuss Gaza situation with Netanyahu
Updated 6 min 26 sec ago

Macron holds talks with Mahmoud Abbas, will discuss Gaza situation with Netanyahu

Macron holds talks with Mahmoud Abbas, will discuss Gaza situation with Netanyahu

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron is concerned by the escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians and calls for a "definite reset" of negotiations between the two sides, the French presidency said on Thursday.

Palestinian militants fired more rockets into Israel's commercial heartland on Thursday as Israel kept up a punishing bombing campaign in Gaza and massed tanks and troops on the enclave's border. 

More to follow...


UAE allows Pfizer COVID-19 dose for emergency use in 12-15 year olds

UAE allows Pfizer COVID-19 dose for emergency use in 12-15 year olds
Updated 46 min 1 sec ago

UAE allows Pfizer COVID-19 dose for emergency use in 12-15 year olds

UAE allows Pfizer COVID-19 dose for emergency use in 12-15 year olds

The UAE has approved the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in children aged 12-15, the government said on Thursday, having already permitted its use for 16 years and above.
The UAE's health ministry approved its use, the government's Twitter account said. The US Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved the use of the vaccine in children as young as 12.


Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan

Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan
Updated 13 May 2021

Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan

Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan
  • Violence lay heavy on hearts of parents of children dressed in new clothes and clutching balloons reveling to celebrate Eid al-Fitr in Jerusalem’s Old City
  • As sun began to break over al-Aqsa mosque crowds of Palestinians gathered for the first prayers to mark Ramadan’s end

JERUSALEM: Dressed in sparkly new clothes and clutching balloons, excited children Thursday revelled in the Muslim Eid Al-Fitr celebrations in Jerusalem’s Old City.
But days of violence lay heavy on their parents’ hearts.
As the first rays of sun began to break over the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site of Islam, crowds of Palestinians gathered for the first prayers to mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
The three-day festival is traditionally celebrated with mosque prayers, family feasts and shopping for new clothes, gifts and sweets.
Stalls stacked high with colorful plastic toys, or tasty sesame-dipped snacks that are a Jerusalem specialty, tempted the crowds snaking along the Old City’s narrow stone streets.
At the centuries-old Damascus Gate, scene of violent clashes between Israeli Arabs and police at the start of Ramadan, two huge bundles of helium-filled balloons fluttered in the spring breeze. Mickey Mouse and Spiderman could be spotted bobbing among them.
Just three days ago, Israeli police deployed so-called skunk water there — a putrid mixture of sewage water — to disperse the crowds after a weekend of unrest in different parts of Israeli-occupied east Jerusalem.
Hundreds of Palestinians were injured as well as dozens of Israeli police in the clashes which also erupted on the Temple Mount, the most sacred site in Judaism, on which the Al-Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock shrine also stand.
The convulsion of violence has since spread, engulfing the Gaza Strip run by the Islamic militant Hamas movement, the Palestinian territory of the West Bank and Israeli cities which have seen unprecedented mob clashes between Jewish and Arab residents.
On Thursday the boom of rocket fire could be periodically heard in Jerusalem, where calm has mainly returned to the streets. But many believe it may just be the calm before a further storm.
“Do you see any problems, there, right now? No,” said Jabbar, who is in his 60s, pointing at crowds of Palestinians being carefully watched by heavily-armed Israeli police at Damascus gate.
“But it could flare up again at any minute,” he warned grimly.
“Everything will return to normal if God so wishes it,” said Fefka, who lives in the east Jerusalem quarter of Issawiya.
“The violence has to stop, but everything is only done for the settlers here,” she added angrily.
“Jerusalem is also ours,” she insisted, denouncing Israeli settlers who have moved into the east of the city since it was seized in the 1967 war.
According to the United Nations, east Jerusalem has been illegally occupied and annexed by Israel since then.
Hiba, 26, and Soujoud, 21, have been visiting the Al-Aqsa compound since Friday, the day the troubles erupted, triggered by the threat of evicting Palestinian families from their east Jerusalem homes to allow settlers to move in.
“Morning and evening, we stayed at Al-Aqsa,” said Soujoud, a secretarial student. “We don’t want any problems (with the police), but the mosque is ours and we have to defend it,” she added.
On the site, which overlooks the sprawling Old City below, children were entertained by a clown, while adults brandished Hamas flags and rolled out banners praising the Islamist movement.
“Jerusalem is a red line,” read one of the banners.
On Al-Wad Street which crosses the Old City, some passers-by were wearing shirts decorated with Palestinian flags, others had painted them on the cheeks.
Many were wearing the black-and-white chequered keffiyah scarf which has become a symbol of the Palestinian cause.
“We feel very sad for the Eid today, because of the situation and the violence,” said Hiba.
“We can’t be happy when we see what is happening in Gaza and elsewhere.”


Watchdog slams Iran’s treatment of Kurdish journalists

Security forces have detained at least eight Kurdish-Iranian journalists since mid-2020, including at least three who remain in detention. (Reuters via WANA/File Photo)
Security forces have detained at least eight Kurdish-Iranian journalists since mid-2020, including at least three who remain in detention. (Reuters via WANA/File Photo)
Updated 13 May 2021

Watchdog slams Iran’s treatment of Kurdish journalists

Security forces have detained at least eight Kurdish-Iranian journalists since mid-2020, including at least three who remain in detention. (Reuters via WANA/File Photo)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists: Tehran should ‘release all jailed journalists immediately’
  • Minority activists and journalists in Iran regularly face arbitrary detention and torture 

LONDON: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has spoken out against Iran’s use of “vague, trumped-up” charges to crack down on Kurdish journalists, and urged authorities to release three who remain in detention.

Since May 2020, Tehran’s security forces have arrested dozens of activists and students in a crackdown on perceived pro-Kurdish movements in the country, according to reports cited by the CPJ.

They have arrested at least eight Kurdish journalists, three of whom remain behind bars.

“Iranian authorities’ targeting of Kurdish journalists adds a dimension of ethnic discrimination to the country’s already dire campaign to imprison members of the press,” said the CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa researcher Justin Shilad. 

“Authorities should drop all vague, trumped-up charges filed against Iranian-Kurdish journalists, and release all jailed journalists immediately,” he added.

On condition of anonymity, a lawyer representing several detained journalists told the CPJ that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are “very sensitive about Kurdish journalists and the topics they write about, especially if they write about the unity of Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish Kurds, and other regional issues of Kurds.”

Iran’s ethnically diverse population — including Kurds, Arabs, Azerbaijanis and other minorities — has long been a source of insecurity for the regime, which at various times in its history has been confronted with secessionist movements.

For this reason, the lawyer explained, Tehran is “sensitive every time Kurdish journalists travel to Kurdish areas of Iraq such as Erbil. They closely monitor all movements across the border and any journalists’ assembly.”

Jafar Osafi, who is one of three journalists who remain in detention after the 2020 crackdown, ran a religious commentary and discussion channel on Telegram called “QandA with Sunnis.” He was arrested in his own home in June 2020, and has since been moved to Urmia prison, where the CPJ said he remains.

The committee said: “Iranian authorities must stop imprisoning and harassing Kurdish and other minority journalists, and should allow all members of the press to cover the news freely.”

According to Amnesty International, Iran’s ethnic minorities face “entrenched discrimination, curtailing their access to education, employment, adequate housing and political office.

“Members of minorities who spoke out against violations or demanded a degree of regional self-government were subjected to arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment. The authorities criminalized peaceful advocacy of separatism or federalism and accused minority rights activists of threatening Iran’s territorial integrity.”


Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks

Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks
Updated 13 May 2021

Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks

Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks
  • An Egyptian delegation is negotiating a cease-fire with Israeli and Hamas officials
  • Egypt has played a mediating role in the past between the sides

CAIRO: An Egyptian delegation is in Tel Aviv for talks with Israeli officials as part of efforts to negotiate a cease-fire in the escalating conflict with Gaza, Egyptian intelligence officials said Thursday.
The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to brief the media. The same delegation met with Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip first, they said, and crossed into Israel by land. Egypt has played a mediating role in the past between the sides.
Late Wednesday, Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shukry, condemned Israeli attacks on Palestinian territory in a phone call with his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi. He said it was important for both sides to avoid escalation and resorting to military means, according to a readout of the call.