One in five Americans believe Aladdin’s Agrabah is real place, Arab News poll reveals

One in five Americans believe Aladdin’s Agrabah is real place, Arab News poll reveals
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Updated 12 October 2020

One in five Americans believe Aladdin’s Agrabah is real place, Arab News poll reveals

One in five Americans believe Aladdin’s Agrabah is real place, Arab News poll reveals

Huffpost reports that a joint Arab News and YouGov poll showed that over 80 percent of Americans cannot identify the Arab world on a map, and one in five believe Agrabah — the fictional city from Disney film Aladdin — is a real part of the Middle East.

The poll also found that 65 percent of those surveyed said they did not know much about the Arab world, 19 percent could correctly identify the region’s geography, and 51 percent believed the US media’s coverage of the area was insufficient.

Arab News’ poll findings were revealed at an Arab Media Forum event discussing the Arab world’s image in the West, moderated by Arabs News’ Editor-in-Chief Faisal J Abbas and attended by other senior journalists and US politicians.

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Soul sisters: Meet the Saudi women blazing a musical trail

Soul sisters: Meet the Saudi women blazing a musical trail
Former reporter and jazz and blues singer, Loulwa Al-Sharif has been singing for seven years. The larger-than-life singer has been the talk of the town for years, delivering high and low notes with passion. (Supplied)
Updated 1 min 2 sec ago

Soul sisters: Meet the Saudi women blazing a musical trail

Soul sisters: Meet the Saudi women blazing a musical trail
  • Social reforms open doors for female musicians in traditional male field

JEDDAH: Saudi female musicians and performers are hitting the high notes and creating crowd-pleasing beats for Saudi fans.

Jazz and blues, rock, rap and many other genres have been explored by Saudis, but now more Saudi women are making their way to the performance stage, thanks to social reforms that mean career choices that once were taboo are now supported by many.
Saudi electronic music producer and DJ Nouf Sufyani, known as Cosmicat, told Arab News that has been obsessed with music since childhood.
“My love for music was overwhelming and kept leading me back until I started making my own,” the 27-year-old said.
In 2017, Sufyani began gaining attention in the male-dominated field because of her unique style.
She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in dental medicine and surgery, and worked as a dentist for a while before pursuing her music career.
“It’s a struggle proving myself in a male-dominated industry, and there is also the fear of being a social outcast for what I do since it’s not a traditional job and the style of music I play is not really mainstream,” said Sufyani.
Music is “the motivation that keeps me going every day — it’s a form of art that I keep rediscovering over and over.”
Sufyani taught herself to DJ. “I do electronic music, I love to use my voice and some Arabic poetry or spoken word or even a capella. I make music that can be enjoyed on the dance floor; my flavor is more underground and very personal.”

Saudi electronic music producer and DJ Nouf Sufyani, known as Cosmicat, told Arab News that has been obsessed with music since childhood.

Her music is available on major platforms such as Apple Music, Spotify, Anghami, Deezer and Soundcloud, and is also played on the flight entertainment system of Saudi Airlines.
Lamya Nasser, a 33-year-old facility and travel management officer, developed an interest in rock and metal at the age of nine, and began recording her music in 2008, long before the social reforms, as part of the first Saudi female rock band the Accolade.
“What got me started is my love and passion for rock music, how much I can relate to a lot of its messages and how it shaped my character along the way,” she told Arab News.

HIGHLIGHT

Jazz and blues, rock, rap and many other genres have been explored by Saudis, but now more Saudi women are making their way to the performance stage, thanks to social reforms that mean career choices that once were taboo are now supported by many.

“I started my journey with the Accolade back when I was 21 and a student at King Abdul Aziz University. I got to know a very talented guitar player named Dina and along with her sister we formed the band.”
In that year, the band visited Khaled Abdulmanan, a music producer in Jeddah at Red Sand Production. They have recorded three songs: “Pinocchio” (2008), “Destiny” (2009) and her favorite, “This is not me” (2010).
After the women graduated, they went their separate ways. “Sadly, we weren’t able to gather for rehearsals like we used to, and each one of us started her own career.”
In 2018, Nasser went solo and continues to share her performances on Instagram @Lamya.K.Nasser. She recently joined a new recording studio under the name of Wall of Sound.

Lamya Nasser, a 33-year-old facility and travel management officer, developed an interest in rock and metal at the age of nine, and began recording her music in 2008.

“Music can be the fuel to our soul and regenerate our energy. We can translate our pain and express ourselves through music,” she said.
Nasser said that the song “Pinocchio” had more than 19,000 listens on Soundcloud. “It made me truly happy and proud. Even now I still messages on my Instagram account from time to time from beautiful souls sharing their admiration for Accolade’s music,” she said.
Former reporter and jazz and blues singer, 33-year-old Loulwa Al-Sharif (@loulwa_music) has been singing for seven years. The larger-than-life singer has been the talk of the town for years, delivering high and low notes with passion.

Music is the motivation that keeps me going every day — it’s a form of art that I keep rediscovering over and over.
Cosmicat

“I tried working in different fields since I was 17, and decided to leave journalism three years ago to work on what I’m passionate about,” Al-Sharif told Arab News.
“I was one of very few women performing six years ago. It was a little difficult. There were talented females, but no one was singing live in front of an audience. I was maybe the first or second,” she said. “It was hard, but a lot of people were supporting me.” She described music as raw emotion.
“Blues is real emotion and jazz is unpredictable, I love how unpredictable it is from the sound of the piano — there are no rules, and the lyrics from blues music are so real.” Al-Sharif hopes to educate the new generation on jazz and blues through her performances.
“I chose to sing it back then because not many from the new generation listen to jazz and blues, so I really wanted to bring it back and for people to enjoy it.”


What does Ebrahim Raisi’s election victory mean for Iran and the world?

What does Ebrahim Raisi’s election victory mean for Iran and the world?
Updated 20 June 2021

What does Ebrahim Raisi’s election victory mean for Iran and the world?

What does Ebrahim Raisi’s election victory mean for Iran and the world?
  • US-sanctioned judge becomes new president after election viewed as rigged in his favor
  • Whether Raisi can improve life for ordinary Iranians will be the determinant of its legacy

MISSOURI, US / IRBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan: A popular Persian music video from several years back features a long line of sullen-looking people waiting to be served at a cafeteria. When their turn comes to choose, we see the grim-faced chef offer them the option of maggot-filled mystery meat or slime filled with flies.

Many Iranian artists engage in such oblique attacks on the clerical ruling class since direct criticism of the basic parameters of the political system remains forbidden. The victory of ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi in Friday’s presidential election highlighted Iranians’ lack of choice in such matters more than ever.

While it is not uncommon for voters in many countries to complain of lack of meaningful choice in elections, the Iranian case takes this phenomenon to new heights. The Guardian Council, an unelected body of clerics and jurists (three of whom were appointed by Raisi), vets would-be political candidates.

Voter turnout for Iran’s presidential poll was the lowest in decades. (AFP)

By many estimates, the council rejects more than 90 percent of applicants who go through the trouble of applying to run for political office. This year it rejected the candidacy of not only popular reformist candidates allied with outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, but also of populist hardliners as well.

The list of candidates forbidden to run in the election thus included current vice-president Eshaq Jahingiri, Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani (both allied with Rouhani), and the rightwing populist former president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. These are former political leaders of Iran, among the few allowed to run in previous elections and whose support for the basic tenets of the Islamic Republic seems beyond doubt.

Yet the Guardian Council still deemed them too much of a threat and disqualified their candidacy (along with that of any women, who are all barred from running in such elections). Unsurprisingly in such a climate, voter turnout appeared to have been the lowest in decades. 

How to judge the legitimacy of the Iranian presidential election then?

An electoral campaign poster covers the facade of a building on Valiasr Square in Iran's capital Tehran on June 19, 2021, a day after the presidential election. (AFP / Atta Kenare)

“That depends on how you define ‘legitimate’,” Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, told Arab News. “The Guardian Council has always vetted out any candidates seen as insufficiently loyal to the system, although never before had the definition of ‘loyal’ contracted as much as it seemed to have for this election.”

Much less charitable than Slavin is Arash Azizi, author of “The Shadow Commander: Soleimani, the US, and Iran’s Global Ambitions.” “Raisi won pretty much the same number of votes in 2021 as he had in 2017 as the losing candidate. But he won this time because the majority of people boycotted the elections,” Azizi told Arab News.

“Even if we believe the official figure, this is the lowest turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic, and the first time a majority have not voted in a presidential election. Not to mention the nearly four million voters who spoiled their ballots.”

Aside from the lack of choice in political candidates, the most important decision-making posts in the country are not elected in any case. The supreme leader — currently Ayatollah Khamenei, who took over from Ayatollah Khomeini in 1988 — is selected by the Guardian Council. The heads of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are likewise not elected but make many of the most important policy decisions in the country.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (AFP)

“Iranians were frustrated at the lack of choice and pessimistic about the prospects for a better life under this regime,” Slavin told Arab News. “For 25 years, they have turned out in large numbers in presidential elections in hopes of achieving peaceful evolutionary change.

“But while Iranian society has progressed, the system has become more repressive and less representative. Also, not voting is a form of protest in a system that regards voting as a patriotic duty.”

IRAN’S POLITICAL ECONOMY IN NUMBERS 

40 percent - Iran’s inflation rate in 2019.

5 percent - Jump in poverty rate over past two years.

3.7 million - People added to poverty roll in this period.

83 million - Population of Iran in 2019.

In the past, Khamenei and IRGC commanders preferred to allow limited choice in presidential elections and refrained from intervening too directly or obviously in the political process.

They would use the very restricted electoral system to gauge the popular mood, try and gain some legitimacy by claiming a democratic mandate, and sit back to see what political cards various elites in Iranian society would try to brandish.

Only when he perceived Iran to be veering too far off course would Khamenei step in publicly to make a correction.

Behind the scenes, of course, such unelected leaders played an active role in nearly everything, from economic policy and directives regarding executions of political prisoners to the strategy of Iran’s nuclear negotiations and other matters such as covert operations abroad and funding of various Iranian proxy forces in the region.

Rising poverty, growing unrest and an economy in crisis have rattled the Tehran regime. (AFP)

An economy in crisis and a growing number of popular protests in recent years seem to have rattled the regime, however. Under such conditions, the real leadership fears allowing Iranians even a semblance of choice in this year’s election.

Raisi’s appointment to the presidency therefore probably represents a message to the Iranian people most of all. A protege of Khamenei, Raisi was responsible for mass executions of tens of thousands of Iranian dissidents during the past three decades. He headed “death committees” in 1988 that buried slain political prisoners in mass graves.

According to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, at that time Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who was then the heir apparent to Ayatollah Khomeini, even condemned the death committees, saying: “I believe this is the greatest crime committed in the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution and history will condemn us for it … . History will write you down as criminals.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani faced harsh criticism from conservatives today over a poorly implemented scheme to distribute food to low-income families in the sanctions-hit Islamic republic.(AFP file photo)

Even today, Iran stands second only to China — a much larger country — in the number of executions it carries out every year. These are carried out after closed-door kangaroo trials in which defendants are not allowed to even see the evidence against them or confront their accusers, with a disproportionate number of accused coming from ethnic and religious minorities in Iran. Iranian Kurds make up roughly half of those executed, although they constitute less than half of Iran’s population.

Raisi takes up the post of president after serving as chief of the judiciary that oversaw this system and its mass executions of dissidents. Before becoming chief justice in 2019, he served as attorney general (2014–2016), deputy chief justice (2004–2014), and prosecutor and deputy prosecutor of Tehran in the 1980s and 1990s.

He is the first Iranian official to enter the presidency while already under US and European sanctions for his past involvement in human rights abuses.

The message to the Iranian people would therefore seem quite clear: You must behave and stay in line or else.

“Khamenei and the clerical establishment have long made a conscious decision to drive out all political competition. The reformists were drowned in blood once the 2009 Iranian Green movement was crushed, with many of its leaders sent to jail for years and its main political parties banned,” Azizi told Arab News.

“The centrist wing of the regime, represented by Rouhani, was also subsequently pushed out of major positions of power. The pro-Khamenei conservatives now control the iudiciary, the parliament and the presidency. The latter two became possible only after all major electoral rivals were thrown out by the Guardian Council.” 

Hassan Rouhani's moderate leadership was reportedly sidelined in conducting foreign policy by the warmongering Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). (AFP file photo)

Comparing the present situation to the abolition in 1975 of the multi-party system by the shah of Iran, Azizi said: “This is  very much the Islamic Republic’s 1975 one-party state moment as some historians have pointed out. The regime might come to regret the day it turned itself into an ever more monolithic entity.”

Looking to the future, the Atlantic Council’s Slavin says a more pertinent question now than the presidential election’s legitimacy is whether the Raisi administration can improve life for ordinary Iranians as “that will be the determinant of its legacy.”

“Iranians may hope to see a slightly better economy if Tehran comes back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal and sanctions are lifted again,” she said.

“But much depends on the competence or lack thereof of Raisi’s team and the appetite or lack thereof of foreign companies to invest in Iran. I would expect repression of dissent to continue and even accelerate.”

Azizi believes Raisi’s election will not lead to quick changes in people’s lives or a sharp turn in policies. “He will tread carefully as his main goal is to prepare for the day when Khamenei’s death brings a succession crisis and he can be in line to become the supreme leader,” he told Arab News.

“Interestingly enough, Rouhani’s chief of staff Mahmod Vaezi recently speculated that people’s lives might improve under Raisi since there will be dealings with the West, possibly even a deal before Raisi takes office, which should take some pressure off the economy.”

That being said, what might Raisi’s elevation to the presidency mean for Iran’s relations with other countries?

Compared with the more affable and moderate Rouhani, Raisi seems less likely, able or willing to lead an Iranian charm offensive abroad. The style of Iranian diplomacy may therefore change a bit, but the substance or Iranian policy will likely differ little from that of the previous administration.

Rouhani was not the one making the most important Iranian foreign policy choices in any case. He was, along with his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, just the messenger.

“Iran’s policy in the Arab world was neither made nor implemented by the Rouhani administration, so a change in presidency won’t bring an immediate change on this count,” Azizi told Arab News. “But the IRGC will find more unrestricted access to state structures it doesn’t already control and will have a freer hand in regional adventures.”

With an ultraconservative sitting as president, the IRGC will have a freer hand in regional troublemaking adventures, critics warn. (Iranian Army Office photo via AFP) 

Slavin takes a more nuanced view of Iranian ambitions under Raisi’s watch. “I see him as risk averse in foreign affairs in part because he hopes to succeed Khamenei,” she told Arab News.

“I think he will focus on stabilizing the economy and try to reduce tensions with the neighbors. However, he is not in charge of relations with the various militia groups. That will remain within the purview of the Quds Force.”

Tellingly, Raisi has made statements in the past indicating his ready willingness to accept international sanctions on Iran. He views such sanctions as an opportunity for Iran to further develop its own independent, “resistance” economy.

For ultraconservatives like him, too deep an integration with the world economy risks cultural and political perversion of Iran, so anything short of an American military invasion may be perfectly fine for Raisi and his mentor, Khamenei.

The Biden administration, which remains very much interested in resuming the nuclear accord, may thus find it difficult to negotiate with someone who does not seem to mind sanctions and a certain amount of isolation.

However, Azizi thinks the regime will try to seal a deal to get Washington to rejoin the nuclear accord before Raisi takes office in August. “Raisi will thus inherit this deal and maintain it,” he said, although some IRGC elements will be pushing him to permit “more adventurous stuff in the region” and reject Gulf states’ reconciliation and talks offers.

“How amenable he is to such pressure is an open question,” Azizi told Arab News.


As Brazil tops 500,000 deaths, protests against president

As Brazil tops 500,000 deaths, protests against president
Updated 20 June 2021

As Brazil tops 500,000 deaths, protests against president

As Brazil tops 500,000 deaths, protests against president
  • Thousands gathered in downtown Rio de Janeiro waving flags with slogans such as “Get out Bolsonaro. Government of hunger and unemployment”

RIO DE JANEIRO: Anti-government protesters took to the streets in more than a score of cities across Brazil on Saturday as the nation's confirmed death toll from COVID-19 soared past half a million — a tragedy many critics blame on President Jair Bolsonaro's attempt to minimize the disease.
Thousands gathered in downtown Rio de Janeiro waving flags with slogans such as “Get out Bolsonaro. Government of hunger and unemployment.”
“Brazil is experiencing a great setback. The country was an exemplary country for vaccination in the world. We have widely recognized institutions, but today we are in a sad situation ”, said Isabela Gouljor, a 20-year-old student who joined the protest in Rio.
Other marchers hoisted posters reading: “500 thousand deaths. It’s his fault,” alluding to Bolsonaro.
Similar marches took place in at least 22 or Brazil's 26 states, as well as in the Federal District, Brasilia. They were promoted by left-wing opposition parties who have been heartened by Bolsonaro's declining poll ratings with next year's presidential race looming.
“Get out Bolsonaro, genocidal,” yelled Rio demonstrators, some of them wearing t-shirts or masks with the image of former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — who leads Bolsonaro in some polls.
In São Paulo, protesters dropped red balloons as a tribute to the victims of the virus
Bolsonaro's supporters have taken more often to the streets over the past month, in large part because many agree with his dismissal of restrictions meant to stifle the coronavirus and anger that lockdown measures have hurt businesses.
Critics say such messages, as well as Bolsonaro's promotion of disproven treatments such as hydroxychloroquine, have contributed to the soaring death toll and a sluggish vaccine campaign that has fully inoculated less than 12% of the population. The country of some 213 million people is registering nearly 100,000 new infections and 2,000 deaths a day.
“For the leftists, putting their followers in the streets is a way of wearing Bolsonaro down for the election," said Leandro Consentino, a political science professor at Insper, a university in Sao Paulo. “But at the same, time they are contradicting themselves and losing the discourse of maintaining health care, because they are causing the same agglomerations as Bolsonaro.”
Saturday's marches came a week after Bolsonaro led backers in a massive motorcycle parade in Sao Paulo, though his supporters and critics differ dramatically on the size of that event.
“Bolsonaro needs to show that he maintains significant support to give a message of strength to those who are investigating the actions of his government in Congress”, Consentino said.


EU representative blames Lebanese officials for country’s ills

EU representative blames Lebanese officials for country’s ills
Josep Borrell, the high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy, with Lebanese president. (Supplied)
Updated 20 June 2021

EU representative blames Lebanese officials for country’s ills

EU representative blames Lebanese officials for country’s ills
  • ‘Economic crisis in the country is due to mismanagement and not linked to refugees’

BEIRUT: Josep Borrell, the high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy, has criticized Lebanese officials and conveyed a “severe” message for “not forming the government after nine months of the resignation of Hassan Diab’s government and nomination of Saad Hariri as prime minister-designate.”

Borrell, who is also vice president of the European Commission, said that “the Lebanese crisis is not related to surrounding conditions, nor to war in Syria, but to the political class, which bears responsibility.”
The European official’s statement came after his meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Saturday at the Presidential Palace. It was the first of a set of meetings that will include the speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, and caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab.
Before Borrell’s arrival to Beirut, news spread that the EU intends to impose sanctions on Lebanese officials responsible for obstructing the formation of the government.
The news was based on a proposal by France, which launched an initiative last September to quickly form a rescue government to stop financial collapse in the country. However, the initiative faced significant obstacles.
Borrell stressed that the “crisis in Lebanon is locally made, and its impact is huge on the Lebanese people, for unemployment rose to 40 percent, and more than 50 percent of the Lebanese live below the poverty line. These are dramatic figures, and the Lebanese presidents and leaders should bear responsibility and form the government without delay, in addition to implementing the necessary reforms.”
The European official said that “only an immediate agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will save Lebanon from a financial collapse, and there is no time to waste.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Before the arrival of the EU representative to Beirut, news spread that the union intends to impose sanctions on Lebanese officials responsible for obstructing the formation of the government.

• The news was based on a proposal by France, which launched an initiative last September to quickly form a rescue government to stop financial collapse in the country. However, the initiative faced significant obstacles.

He addressed politicians, saying: “You are on the verge of a full financial collapse.”
Borrell said that “the caretaker government cannot sign an agreement with the IMF, but it can lay the ground for the reforms much required by the international community. Financial and economic aid is usually given to the governments. However, we are willing to give aid directly to civil society.”
Borrell said: “The European Union had provided €330 million ($392.7 million) in aid for Lebanon during 2020. This is equivalent to €1 million per day. And we have set a framework of cooperation with the United Nations to provide aid directly to the Lebanese people.”
“We have various ways and tools to provide aid to the Lebanese government, and we are ready to mobilize them right upon sensing a tangible progress in the necessary reform process,” he said.
Borrell commented on “the proposal of some states to take measures against the ones obstructing the formation of the government,” and declared that the “Council of the European Union is considering many options including sanctions.”
“We prefer not to revert to these measures and we hope that we would not be obliged to do so, but this depends on the Lebanese leadership,” he said.
“The sanctions would mobilize politicians to move forward, and the issue is being considered. I really hope that there would be no need for implementing sanctions. The sanctions path is long and requires good information to determine who is obstructing and who is not.”
During the meeting with Borrell, Aoun called for “the returning of the Syrian refugees back to their country, as the situation has stabilized in most Syrian territories, and Lebanon is no longer capable of bearing  the impact of this displacement.”
Borrell responded in front of the journalists by saying: “We are ready to provide more support to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and other countries that host refugees. And we are confident that the Lebanese authorities would not revert to the forced return of refugees to their country.”
“The economic crisis in Lebanon is due to mismanagement and is not directly linked to the refugees’ issue,” he said.
He insisted that the upcoming parliamentary elections should be held on time and should not be postponed: “We are ready to send a monitoring team ... to ensure that the elections will be fair.”
Borrell said that he will meet civil society activists to hear their opinion on the current situation, and discuss ways to support their efforts.
The European official asked the “Lebanese authorities to investigate the explosion of the Port of Beirut, hoping that it would lead to the awaited results after nearly one year of the incident.” According to the presidential media office, Aoun had asked Borrell for “European assistance to recover the financial assets which were smuggled out of Lebanon to European banks.”


Saudi Arabia reassures priority groups on COVID-19 vaccines

Saudi Arabia reassures priority groups on COVID-19 vaccines
Saudi Arabia reassures priority groups on COVID-19 vaccines. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 June 2021

Saudi Arabia reassures priority groups on COVID-19 vaccines

Saudi Arabia reassures priority groups on COVID-19 vaccines
  • Saudi health ministry reassured those over 60 and priority groups that they will continue to receive the second vaccine doses

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health said that second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be rescheduled for the general public according to the availability of supplies.

The MOH reassured those over 60 and priority groups that they will continue to receive the second vaccine doses.

On Saturday, the MOH announced 1,153 new cases of COVID-19, raising the total number of cases to 473,112, and 1,145 recoveries, bringing the total to 454,404. The death tally is now 7,663, with 13 new COVID-19 associated deaths reported in the past 24 hours.

The Kingdom’s recovery rate is holding steady at 96 percent.

Makkah reported 335 cases, Riyadh 266, the Eastern Province 148 and Asir 119. Jouf reported only 4 cases.

The number of active cases continues to rise despite the high recovery rate, and stands at 11,045. No new cases were admitted to intensive care, which leaves 1,496 still in critical care.

77,831 new PCR tests have been conducted in the past 24 hours and more than 16.5 million doses of the vaccine administered so far.