Lebanese rugby players tackle Beirut blast relief challenge

Lebanese rugby players tackle Beirut blast relief challenge
As a rugby federation, the Lebanese group launched the Lebanon Rugby Disaster Fund with help from one of their board members based in the UK. (Supplied)
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Updated 20 November 2020

Lebanese rugby players tackle Beirut blast relief challenge

Lebanese rugby players tackle Beirut blast relief challenge
  • After the devastating port explosion of Aug. 4, Lebanon Rugby CEO Sol Mokdad and his teammates sprang into action
  • Although not nearly as popular as soccer, rugby is quickly catching on in Lebanon thanks to a loyal community of volunteers

BEIRUT: In the months leading up to the Beirut port blast, Lebanon was already going through unprecedented crises. From the protests of Oct. 2019 to the collapse of the banking sector, the devaluation of the currency and the COVID-19 pandemic, the country has faced relentless challenges throughout the past year.

“The explosion was the straw that broke the camel’s back. And as I’m sure you have seen from the footage and carnage caused by the explosion, it was much more than just a straw,” said Sol Mokdad, CEO of Lebanon Rugby, a group established to promote the sport.

The explosion was a devastating experience for Mokdad. Although he survived the blast with no considerable damage to his property, many others were less fortunate.

“Seeing our capital in pieces and the tragic loss of life has taken a toll on all Lebanese citizens, in Lebanon and abroad. It was a challenge holding back tears for the first few days, just dealing with the trauma and the aftermath,” he said.

But Mokdad and his teammates knew they had to act quickly, joining the relief effort by instilling what they describe as the “values of rugby” into their community.




As football remains the most popular sport in the MENA region, courting a huge fan base, generous investments and billions of dollars in revenue, more niche sports such as rugby struggle to secure the resources they need to survive. (Supplied)

As a federation, the group launched the Lebanon Rugby Disaster Fund with help from one of their board members based in the UK. A GoFundMe campaign was set up to collect donations from the global rugby community.

At the time of writing, the campaign has raised almost £15,000 ($19,500), with the federation planning to donate the money to trusted relief organizations such as the Lebanese Red Cross.

The team also raised funds internally to support one of the players who lost his home in the blast. The amount needed to rebuild the house was raised almost instantly.

Lebanon Rugby players also contributed to the physical relief effort by volunteering to clear rubble, prepare food for displaced families and deliver medicine.

“Rugby Union is a beautiful sport, and the culture that it brings to its participants both on and off the field is unlike any other sport,” Mokdad said.

INNUMBERS

Beirut Blast

* $10-15 billion - Estimated cost of blast damage.

* $2-3.5 billion - Estimated insured losses.

As football remains the most popular sport in the MENA region, courting a huge fan base, generous investments and billions of dollars in revenue, more niche sports such as rugby struggle to secure the resources they need to survive.

“When it comes to Lebanon Rugby and our efforts to develop Rugby Union in Lebanon, it has always been an uphill battle,” Mokdad said. The sport faces similar challenges elsewhere in the region.

Lebanon Rugby gained official status from the government in 2009 and is currently a full member of Asia Rugby and an associate member of World Rugby. Only six other nations in the region are members of the World Rugby Federation.

And the sport has built a successful community in Lebanon with little to no funding, relying on its volunteers and annual player fees to operate. Lebanon Rugby also runs a fledgling junior section with over 300 young people playing regularly at their schools and academies.




Volunteers at the Lebanese Civil Defence work in the the control room at the headquarters of the public emergency service in the capital Beirut, on September 28, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

The fact that the region organizationally falls under Asia Rugby further complicates things for the sport in MENA.

“The challenges we face here are very different from a country like Thailand, which falls under the same banner. Asia Rugby covers a huge area, and efforts need to be made to split Asia geographically to be able to focus on specific regions,” Mokdad said.

While rugby may still be a long way from competing with more established sports in the region, recent achievements for The Phoenix, the Lebanese Rugby Union national team, in addition to local initiatives around the region, have already increased awareness of the sport.

Mokdad is hopeful about the future. “The formation of the Arab Rugby Federation, and the appointment of Qais Al-Dhalai — president of UAE Rugby — as the president of Asia Rugby has given a boost to development in the region,” he said.

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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.


In oil-rich Iraq, a few women buck norms, take rig site jobs

In oil-rich Iraq, a few women buck norms, take rig site jobs
Updated 19 min 49 sec ago

In oil-rich Iraq, a few women buck norms, take rig site jobs

In oil-rich Iraq, a few women buck norms, take rig site jobs

BASRA: It’s nearly dawn and Zainab Amjad has been up all night working on an oil rig in southern Iraq. She lowers a sensor into the black depths of a well until sonar waves detect the presence of the crude that fuels her country’s economy.
Elsewhere in the oil-rich province of Basra, Ayat Rawthan is supervising the assembly of large drill pipes. These will bore into the Earth and send crucial data on rock formations to screens sitting a few meters (feet) away that she will decipher.
The women, both 24, are among just a handful who have eschewed the dreary office jobs typically handed to female petroleum engineers in Iraq. Instead, they chose to become trailblazers in the country’s oil industry, donning hard hats to take up the grueling work at rig sites.
They are part of a new generation of talented Iraqi women who are testing the limits imposed by their conservative communities. Their determination to find jobs in a historically male-dominated industry is a striking example of the way a burgeoning youth population finds itself increasingly at odds with deeply entrenched and conservative tribal traditions prevalent in Iraq’s southern oil heartland.
The hours Amjad and Rawthan spend in the oil fields are long and the weather unforgiving. Often they are asked what — as women — they are doing there.
“They tell me the field environment only men can withstand,” said Amjad, who spends six weeks at a time living at the rig site. “If I gave up, I’d prove them right.”
Iraq’s fortunes, both economic and political, tend to ebb and flow with oil markets. Oil sales make up 90% of state revenues — and the vast majority of the crude comes from the south. A price crash brings about an economic crisis; a boom stuffs state coffers. A healthy economy brings a measure of stability, while instability has often undermined the strength of the oil sector. Decades of wars, civil unrest and invasion have stalled production.
Following low oil prices dragged down by the coronavirus pandemic and international disputes, Iraq is showing signs of recovery, with January exports reaching 2.868 million barrels per day at $53 per barrel, according to Oil Ministry statistics.
To most Iraqis, the industry can be summed up by those figures, but Amjad and Rawthan have a more granular view. Every well presents a set of challenges; some required more pressure to pump, others were laden with poisonous gas. “Every field feels like going to a new country,” said Amjad.
Given the industry’s outsized importance to the economy, petrochemical programs in the country’s engineering schools are reserved for students with the highest marks. Both women were in the top 5% of their graduating class at Basra University in 2018.
In school they became awestruck by drilling. To them it was a new world, with it’s own language: “spudding” was to start drilling operations, a “Christmas tree” was the very top of a wellhead, and “dope” just meant grease.
Every work day plunges them deep into the mysterious affairs below the Earth’s crust, where they use tools to look at formations of minerals and mud, until the precious oil is found. “Like throwing a rock into water and studying the ripples,” explained Rawthan.
To work in the field, Amjad, the daughter of two doctors, knew she had to land a job with an international oil company — and to do that, she would have to stand out. State-run enterprises were a dead end; there, she would be relegated to office work.
“In my free time, on my vacations, days off I was booking trainings, signing up for any program I could,” said Amjad.
When China’s CPECC came to look for new hires, she was the obvious choice. Later, when Texas-based Schlumberger sought wireline engineers she jumped at the chance. The job requires her to determine how much oil is recoverable from a given well. She passed one difficult exam after another to get to the final interview.
Asked if she was certain she could do the job, she said: “Hire me, watch.”
In two months she traded her green hard hat for a shiny white one, signifying her status as supervisor, no longer a trainee — a month quicker than is typical.
Rawthan, too, knew she would have to work extra hard to succeed. Once, when her team had to perform a rare “sidetrack” — drilling another bore next to the original — she stayed awake all night.
“I didn’t sleep for 24 hours, I wanted to understand the whole process, all the tools, from beginning to end,” she said.
Rawthan also now works for Schlumberger, where she collects data from wells used to determine the drilling path later on. She wants to master drilling, and the company is a global leader in the service.
Relatives, friends and even teachers were discouraging: What about the hard physical work? The scorching Basra heat? Living at the rig site for months at a time? And the desert scorpions that roam the reservoirs at night?
“Many times my professors and peers laughed, ‘Sure, we’ll see you out there,’ telling me I wouldn’t be able to make it,” said Rawthan. “But this only pushed me harder.”
Their parents were supportive, though. Rawthan’s mother is a civil engineer and her father, the captain of an oil tanker who often spent months at sea.
“They understand why this is my passion,” she said. She hopes to help establish a union to bring like-minded Iraqi female engineers together. For now, none exists.
The work is not without danger. Protests outside oil fields led by angry local tribes and the unemployed can disrupt work and sometimes escalate into violence toward oil workers. Confronted every day by flare stacks that point to Iraq’s obvious oil wealth, others decry state corruption, poor service delivery and joblessness.
But the women are willing to take on these hardships. Amjad barely has time to even consider them: It was 11 p.m., and she was needed back at work.
“Drilling never stops,” she said.


Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib

Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib
Updated 28 February 2021

Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib

Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib

DUBAI: Yemen’s information minister has warned of an imminent humanitarian crisis in the governorate of Marib that “cannot be contained” due to continued fighting by the Iran-backed Houthi militia. 

Minister Muammar al-Eryani told the country’s state news agency Saba that the governorate holds the biggest number of refugee families, who have been displaced due to the ongoing Houthi violence. 

Eryani said Marib had received more than two million refugees who have settled there since the war broke out, saying they make up 60 percent of refugees in the country. Those refugees represent 7.5 percent of the total population in Yemen.  

The minister was citing a report on from the Executive Unit for IDPs Camps Management that was released Friday. 


Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’

Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’
Updated 28 February 2021

Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’

Celebrated Turkish actor risks jail for Erdogan ‘insult’
  • He is in danger of becoming the latest victim in the Turkish leader’s years-long battle with what he dismissively calls “so-called artists.”

ISTANBUL: Mujdat Gezen’s half-century career as an acclaimed Turkish writer and actor has included awards, a stint as a UN goodwill ambassador and a taste of prison after a 1980 putsch.
Now aged 77, the wry-witted comedian and poet with an easy smile and a bad back risks returning to jail on charges of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
He is in danger of becoming the latest victim in the Turkish leader’s years-long battle with what he dismissively calls “so-called artists.”
“I am even banned from appearing in crossword puzzles,” Gezen quipped.
Gezen landed in court with fellow comedian Metin Akpinar, 79, over comments the pair made during a television show they starred in on opposition Halk TV in 2018.
In the broadcast, Gezen told Erdogan to “know your place.”
“Look Recep Tayyip Erdogan, you cannot test our patriotism. Know your place,” Gezen said on air.
His parter Akpinar went one step further, saying that “if we don’t become a (democracy)... the leader might end up getting strung up by his legs or poisoned in the cellar.”
These are risky comments to make in a country still reeling from a sweeping crackdown Erdogan unleashed after surviving a failed coup in 2016.
Their trial is coming with Erdogan rattled by a burst of student protests that hint at Turks’ impatience with his commanding rule as prime minister and president since 2003.
Prosecutors want to put the two veteran celebrities behind bars for up to four years and eight months. The verdict is expected on Monday.

Jailed over book
Thousands of Turks, from a former Miss Turkey to school children, have been prosecuted for insulting Erdogan on social media and television.
Bristling at the jokes and comments, Erdogan warned in 2018 that his critics “will pay the price.”
“The next day,” Gezen told AFP in an interview by telephone, “police turned up and I was summoned to give a statement to prosecutors.”
The knock on the door reminded Gezen of how he ended up being dragged before the courts after spending 20 days in jail when a military junta overthrew Turkey’s civilian government at the height of the Cold War in 1980.
Gezen’s book about Nazim Hikmet — perhaps Turkey’s most famous 20th century poet, who happened to be a communist who died in exile in Moscow in 1963 — was taken off the shelves after that coup.
“I was chained up while being taken from prison to court with a gang of 50 criminals, including murderers and smugglers,” he recalled.
He was freed by the court in 1980, and may yet be acquitted on Monday.
Still, Gezen is uncomfortable with the similarities, and with Turkey’s trajectory under Erdogan.
“There is a record number of journalists in jail — we have never seen this in the history of the republic. That’s what upsets me,” he said.

Irritable dictator
An author of more than 50 books and founder of his own art center in Istanbul, Gezen says he has “either criticized or parodied politicians to their faces” for decades without going to jail.
His popularity and resolve earned him a role in 2007 as a goodwill ambassador for the UNICEF children’s relief fund.
But he fears that Turkey’s tradition of outspoken artists — “art is by its nature oppositional,” he remarked — is wilting under Erdogan.
“We now have self-censorship. But what is even more painful to me is that (some artists) prefer to be apolitical,” he said.
“The president has said how he expects artists to behave. But it cannot be the president of a country who decides these things. It’s the artists who must decide.”
To be on the safe side, Gezen’s lawyers now read his books before publication to avoid legal problems.
“It is risky in Turkey,” he observed.
Many of the opposition media outlets that once flourished have been either closed or taken over by government allies, leaving independent voices with even fewer options.
But he remains doggedly optimistic, calling democracy in Turkey something tangible but just out of reach, like the shore for a stranded boat.
“And then someone up on the mast will cry: Land ahoy!“


Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to  pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’
Updated 28 February 2021

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’

Egypt’s tourism ‘will return to  pre-COVID-19 levels by fall 2022’
  • The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019

CAIRO: Tourism in Egypt will return to pre-pandemic levels by autumn 2022, according to a government minister.
Khaled Al-Anani, who is minister of tourism and antiquities, said the sector’s recovery and restoration to pre-pandemic levels would be because of countries’ COVID-19 vaccination programs as well as Egypt’s efforts in developing archaeological sites in the Red Sea and South Sinai areas.
He said that, in the last three months of 2020, Egypt had received between 270,000 and 290,000 tourists on a monthly basis, equivalent to 10,000 tourists a day.
Al-Anani said the Grand Egyptian Museum would be finished during the third quarter of 2021 provided that, within the next few days, the winning international coalition to manage the museum’s operations was announced.
He added that the ministry had contacted 30 companies that organize concerts and Olympics to participate in the opening ceremony of the Grand Egyptian Museum but, while three had been chosen to organize the event, the pandemic had disrupted these plans.
The tourism sector is one of the Egyptian economy’s main pillars. It made revenues of $4 billion in 2020, compared to $13.03 billion in 2019. The country received about 3.5 million tourists last year, compared to 13 million in 2019.
At the start of 2020 it was expected that Egypt would receive over 14 million tourists.
It received 2 million tourists in the first quarter of last year until the pandemic hit and led to a contraction in tourism, according to the minister’s adviser and ministry spokesperson, Soha Bahgat.
“The tourism sector in the whole world has been affected in an unprecedented way due to the pandemic … and Egypt has taken strict precautionary measures to limit the spread of the virus, and at the same time supportive measures for the economy, including supporting the tourism sector,” she said.
Egypt managed to attract about a million tourists from last July to the start of 2021.
Bahgat added that although the number was small, it had led many establishments to resume operations and slowly maintain the tourism sector.


Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official
Vendors work at a vegetable market amid the coronavirus disease pandemic in Cairo. (File/Reuters)
Updated 28 February 2021

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official

Egypt has overcome peak of coronavirus second wave, says health official
  • Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December

CAIRO: Egypt has overcome the peak of the second wave of coronavirus, according to the president’s health adviser Mohammed Awad Taj El-Din.
He said that new coronavirus cases were currently decreasing, pointing to the continued presence of the disease, but that precautionary measures still needed to be followed in order to reduce infection rates among people.
“The second wave was high, but there is a decrease in new cases. As for cases that need hospitals or ventilators, their numbers have decreased,” he added.
Taj El-Din regarded the fluctuation in the number of cases, whether it was an increase or decrease, as natural because COVID-19 symptoms appeared in some people up to two weeks after they had contracted the virus.

FASTFACT

Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December.

He said that intensive care rooms were available as were respirators and, as long as there was a decline in the number of new cases, there was no reason to be worried.
Egypt on Tuesday morning received 300,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, the second batch from the company after the first shipment of 50,000 doses in December.
It also received 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in early February, as part of its program to vaccinate health workers.
Taj El-Din said the antibodies produced by the coronavirus vaccines could last up to nine months, and the immunity to coronavirus that was produced by the vaccines, the period in which people were protected from contracting the virus again, varied between three and nine months.
He explained that the immunity period varied from one person to another, as some vaccines gave 86 percent protection from the virus while others gave up to 90 percent.
He said it was necessary to limit gatherings and follow precautionary measures during Ramadan so that there was no new coronavirus wave in Egypt.