How artists in coronavirus-hit Middle East found strength in solidarity 

Art-lovers peruse a piece at the Hafez Gallery. (Courtesy: Photo Solutions)
Art-lovers peruse a piece at the Hafez Gallery. (Courtesy: Photo Solutions)
Short Url
Updated 16 January 2021

How artists in coronavirus-hit Middle East found strength in solidarity 

Art-lovers peruse a piece at the Hafez Gallery. (Courtesy: Photo Solutions)
  • Creative networks, art galleries and cultural institutions across the region pulled together in difficult times
  • Grants, commissions and rent holidays helped Gulf region’s artists survive the pandemic and economic downturn

DUBAI: Art is cross-cultural and cross-border in form, function and meaning. Small wonder that since the coronavirus pandemic struck, fairs, exhibition spaces, concert halls, museums and performing arts centers across the world have been forced to close their doors and cancel events, threatening the livelihoods of artists and depriving societies of joys they once took for granted.

The art world in recent decades revolved around an international circuit of exhibitions, art fairs, biennials and performances. Artists, curators, collectors, gallerists and art lovers crisscrossed the globe to congregate at events as far apart as Dakar and Mexico City. That is, until world travel slowed and then ground to a halt in March 2020.

Today, with lockdown restrictions returning to many countries, art is shared primarily online and via social media or by appointment-only visits to galleries and museums. And as the world economy sputters, art creation, appreciation and sales have been sidelined. For many artists, the need to survive, both physically and mentally, has taken priority.




Galerie Dr. Dorothea van der Koelen (Mainz and Venice), Art Dubai 2019. (Courtesy: Photo Solutions)

In the Middle East, a region perennially beset by conflict, uncertainty and political turmoil, art and culture have somehow found a way to flourish, oftentimes against unthinkable odds.

The picture already appeared bleak at the start of 2020, even before lockdown restrictions were imposed. The UAE was experiencing a prolonged economic downturn, while geopolitical tensions drove many of the region’s galleries, particularly those in Lebanon and Iran, to despair.

With ongoing social reforms, economic diversification and a rapidly expanding cultural scene, Saudi Arabia was the biggest beacon of hope, but the closing of its borders and event cancellations after March put a damper on the creative industry’s spirits.

Facing economic and financial hardship, the Middle East’s arts community knew instinctively it needed to pull together.




Many galleries, institutions and performing arts centers in the Gulf region are up and running again, although strict social-distancing measures remain in place. (Supplied)

Initiatives were quickly launched by the likes of Art Jameel, the UAE Ministry of Culture, the Kamel Lazaar Foundation in Tunisia and Dubai’s vibrant arts hub Alserkal Avenue to support creative and cultural enterprises through community building and artistic exchange. Alserkal Avenue gave its tenants a three-month rent-free package.

Fast-forward to January 2021. Many galleries, institutions and performing arts centers in the Gulf region are up and running again, although strict social-distancing measures remain in place. Art Dubai, one of the first events to cancel its physical fair in 2020, has announced it will go ahead as planned from March 17-20 at its home in Madinat Jumeirah.

“For us at Art Jameel, 2020 was the year of collective survival and 2021 is one of collective recovery,” Antonia Carver, director of Art Jameel, told Arab News.

“We were able to distribute more than 100 micro-grants through the Research and Practice Platform that we launched back in April: this program, among others, clearly demonstrated the huge wealth of creative talent in the Arab world and how a network of continued support is sorely needed.”

The crisis is not over yet, to be sure. “Artists and creatives in the Middle East need the full gamut of support, including grants,” Carver added.




Facing economic and financial hardship, the Middle East’s arts community knew instinctively it needed to pull together. (Courtesy: Photo Solutions)

As it is often said, the show must go on — even if by other means. Supporting artists and commissioning new works even in the absence of physical events is key to keeping the art scene going, says Bill Bragin, artistic director of the Arts Center at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD).

“The reality is that we probably won’t be doing in-person events until September 2021,” he told Arab News. “I’ve really tried to get rid of the language surrounding ‘real events’ or ‘live events’ and exchange these now for real-time events that are happening via the internet or by telephone and are no less real.”

What is crucial is to make sure artists are supported, he says. To that end, Bragin has commissioned several pieces by UAE-based artists to be performed later in the year.

“There was a sense of urgency,” said Bragin. “Those of us working in the art and culture scene in the UAE generally have a sense of mission about it. This is important work to us individually and also to the country and to the transformation of the UAE. We all want to keep the momentum. We don’t want to lose ground now.”




Supporting artists and commissioning new works even in the absence of physical events is key to keeping the art scene going, says Bill Bragin, artistic director of the Arts Center at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD). (Supplied)

The same holds true for Saudi Arabia. Although coronavirus restrictions have temporarily disrupted plans in different economic fields, the arts and culture sector has found ways to forge ahead.

“As difficult as 2020 was, it revealed humanity’s agility in response to extraordinary circumstances,” Farah Abushullaih, head of Ithra Museum at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Dhahran, told Arab News.

“At Ithra, we remained committed to our ethos of making culture accessible when we were forced to close our doors. We launched the online platform Ithra Connect to engage with our community. The initiative reached more than one million people, underscoring the appetite for culture in the Kingdom.”

Besides Ithra Connect, the museum also launched Ithra Open-Call to support young Saudi artists and the COVID-19 Exhibit, while Ithra’s annual Tanween exhibition was held digitally.

FASTFACT

Creative industries

* Arts and crafts.

* Design & fashion.

* Advertising.

* Architecture.

* Film, video, photography & TV/radio.

* Music & performing arts.

* Publishing, software & computer games.

Ithra returns in 2021 with a full calendar of events, including Al-Sharqia Gets Creative, Ana Mohafeth and the Saudi Film Festival, which is organized in partnership with the Saudi Arabian Society for Culture & Arts in Dammam with the support of the Ministry of Culture’s Film Commission.

“Despite the inevitable slowdown of 2020, the art scene in Saudi is still thriving, because there’s an important number of creatives combined with an active Ministry of Culture and a growing number of institutions, collections and galleries that are building the infrastructure and creating opportunities for all the actors that make up an art scene,” said Alia Fattouh, director of Athr Gallery, one of the Kingdom’s premier contemporary art galleries based in Jeddah.

Misk Art Institute (MAI), established by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2017 to encourage grassroots creativity, held its annual Misk Art Week from Dec. 3-7, drawing a record 85,000 unique online viewers and more than 2,500 physical attendees over the course of the five-day event in Riyadh.

“In the face of this pandemic, MAI adjusted its programming for Misk Art Week to present a hybrid form that offered virtual and online sessions as well as live events for local audiences,” Reem Al-Sultan, CEO of Misk Art Institute, told Arab News.




During these times of turmoil and transition, the Middle East needs the arts more than ever, Antonia Carver, director of Art Jameel, told Arab News. (Supplied)

Some in the arts community want to see the same spirit of generosity extended to the wider region.

“We have seen a real proactiveness and safeguarding of the artistic cultural landscape here in the UAE during the pandemic,” Reem Fadda, director of Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation, told Arab News.

“Institutions and governmental entities anchored themselves onto the cultural sphere during these tough times because they truly believed it was a catalyst for alleviation and support of our communities. Now the time has come for the UAE to also reach out and support the extended region where it can, through grants, commissioning opportunities, and other means. 

“At the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi we have announced a number of initiatives that are offering grants and commissions extending to the region, be it in performing arts, visual arts, or other disciplines.”




Unlike in the pre-COVID-19 days, with lockdown restrictions returning to many countries, art is shared primarily online and via social media or by appointment-only visits to galleries and museums. (Supplied)

As daunting as they may be, the challenges confronting the Gulf region’s creative sector are one thing. The rest of the Middle East is a different story altogether.

The Beirut port blast of Aug. 4 struck at the very heart of the Middle East’s art scene, devastating an area where many galleries and studios are located.

Beirut has long been a regional center for artistic production, yet Lebanon lacks the state and private support structure available in the Gulf.




Although coronavirus restrictions have temporarily disrupted plans in different economic fields, the arts and culture sector has found ways to forge ahead. (Supplied)

“The situation in Beirut is particularly urgent, given the need to rebuild physically, amid such a challenging political environment — although, sadly, this is also the situation in Syria, and other countries, too,” said Carver.

During these times of turmoil and transition, the Middle East needs the arts more than ever, says Carver.

“Culture is the crucible of society, where we discover and debate ideas and forms, and figure out our role going forward. Now they are needed more than ever, particularly in the Arab world,” he said.

“While in 2020 we were perhaps dazzled by the COVID-19 headlights, in 2021 we will have to try to make sense of it and move on.”

----------------------

Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor


Those guilty of chemical attacks must be held accountable, says UN Chief

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks must be identified and held accountable. (Reuters)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks must be identified and held accountable. (Reuters)
Updated 59 min 46 sec ago

Those guilty of chemical attacks must be held accountable, says UN Chief

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks must be identified and held accountable. (Reuters)
  • At start of conference devoted to a nuclear-free Middle East, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also called on all parties to work to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal
  • Expansion of existing nuclear-free zones around the world would lead to more robust disarmament and non-proliferation norms, he added

NEW YORK: The perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks must be identified and held accountable for their actions, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday.

His comments came as he opened the second session of the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Currently, 60 percent of UN member states are covered by five nuclear weapon-free zones in Latin America and the Caribbean; the South Pacific; Southeast Asia; Africa; and Central Asia. Guterres said that expanding these zones would lead to more robust disarmament and non-proliferation norms.

“That is particularly the case in the Middle East, where concerns over nuclear programs persist, and where conflicts and civil wars are causing widespread civilian casualties and suffering, undermining stability and disrupting social and economic development,” the UN chief said as he again called on all in the region to exercise restraint and avoid the escalation of conflicts.

The second session of the annual conference, which was delayed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was presided over by Mansour Al-Otaibi, the permanent representative to the UN for Kuwait, which was chosen to inherit the presidency from Jordan after the first session in 2019.

In line with a General Assembly decision, the goal of the conference is to “elaborate a legally binding treaty” to establish a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, on the basis of “arrangements freely arrived at by the states of the region.”

Guterres praised Kuwait for “actively engaging participants during the intersessional period to learn from the other nuclear weapon-free zones and continue moving the process forward.”

He said the conference represents a chance to produce tangible results for the Middle East and to reinstate dialogue on the “full and effective” implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal.

He urged “all parties” to work to salvage the agreement, signed in 2015 by world powers and Iran, under which Tehran pledged to halt its efforts to develop a nuclear weapon in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal in 2018. A sixth round of negotiations to revive the JCPOA began on Monday in Vienna.

“Your strong political will, together with the international community’s support, can transform the vision of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction into a reality,” Guterres told the participants.


Lebanese protesters block roads over economic meltdown

A Lebanese youth stands by burning tyres blocking a road during a protest in the capital Beirut on November 29, 2021, as the country struggles with a deep economic crisis. (AFP)
A Lebanese youth stands by burning tyres blocking a road during a protest in the capital Beirut on November 29, 2021, as the country struggles with a deep economic crisis. (AFP)
Updated 30 November 2021

Lebanese protesters block roads over economic meltdown

A Lebanese youth stands by burning tyres blocking a road during a protest in the capital Beirut on November 29, 2021, as the country struggles with a deep economic crisis. (AFP)
  • After Doha talks, Aoun stresses need to overcome defects in Lebanon-Arab relations
  • Maronite Patriarch Al-Rahi decries Hezbollah influence after Nasrallah remarks against judiciary 

BEIRUT: Demonstrators blocked roads across parts of Lebanon on Monday in protest at the country’s economic meltdown, days after its currency sank to new lows.

There has been little progress since Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government was appointed in September after more than a year of political deadlock.

Roads were blocked by piles of burning tires in central Beirut, Tripoli in northern Lebanon and the southern city of Sidon.

Schools were forced to close in Beirut after the protests made them inaccessible to students. Protesters in the city’s southern suburbs, meanwhile, blocked the road to the airport in front of Al-Aytam station.

Less than 24 hours before the Beirut protests, residents of Ali Al-Nahri, in the Bekaa Valley, launched their own protests, shouting “we are cold and hungry.”

A spokesperson for the protesters said: “We will take to the streets more frequently in the coming days unless the governing authority put a stop to the deteriorating living conditions the Lebanese are facing.”

He added: “The people of Beirut are noble. They are fighting extremely hard for their city and their livelihood.

“They are not thieves, and today’s move does not have any political, electoral, parliamentary or ministerial dimension. Its sole purpose is the livelihood of citizens after a large number of students now go to school without any food.”

In a UNICEF report published last week, the agency said: “More than 30 percent of families have at least one child in Lebanon who skipped a meal, while 77 percent of families say they lack sufficient food and 60 percent of them buy food by accumulating unpaid bills or borrowing money.”

The protests coincided with President Michel Aoun’s visit to Qatar to attend the opening of the FIFA Arab Cup and inaugurate the new Olympic Stadium.

The president discussed Lebanon’s economic meltdown and unprecedented diplomatic crisis with Gulf states during his talks with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

Al-Thani reiterated Qatar’s readiness to help in all areas needed for the rise of Lebanon from the “difficult circumstances it is going through.”

He announced that Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani will visit Beirut in the coming period, to follow up on the developments and provide the country with necessary assistance.

He hoped for “a resolution for the crisis between Lebanon and a number of Gulf states in the near future, especially as Lebanon has always stood by all the Arab and Gulf states.”

Aoun welcomed any “investment from Qatar to implement developmental projects in Lebanon in the area of energy, electricity and banking, where there are many opportunities.”

Qatar will continue to stand by the Lebanese people and to do anything in its power to alleviate their suffering, said the president.

“There was a consensus that this phase needs the brotherly Arab states, especially the Gulf states, to stand by Lebanon,” said Aoun.

He pointed out that the Lebanese-Gulf relations “always were, and must remain, based on mutual fraternity.”

Aoun stressed the need to overcome any defects in these ties, notably because Lebanon desires to the best relations with brotherly states.

“My presence in Doha today only confirms our commitment to those relations and our genuine desire to cooperate on keeping them serene and restoring them to a normal state, thus serving Lebanon and the brotherly Gulf states,” he said.

Aoun’s remarks came as Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi took a firm position against “attempts to change Lebanon in order to impose a new governing formula by force or persuasion.”

In a televised speech broadcast on Monday, Al-Rahi touched on the secretary-general of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, reprimanding judicial authorities, asking: “Is he above the judicial authority?”

Al-Rahi said the country “is highly influenced by Hezbollah.”

He asked: “In contrast, where is the state and where is the president of the republic? Why are they submissive if someone is intimidating us?”

He noted that “the one disrupting the government is practically disrupting the life of the homeland and causing the hunger of citizens.”


Egypt and Saudi Arabia hold talks on possible exchange of military experience, technology

The two met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2. (SPA)
The two met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2. (SPA)
Updated 29 November 2021

Egypt and Saudi Arabia hold talks on possible exchange of military experience, technology

The two met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2. (SPA)

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Military Production Mohamed Ahmed Morsi and the president of the Saudi General Organization for Military Industries Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Mady held talks on the possibility of exchanging experiences and manufacturing technology.

They met on the sidelines of the Saudi delegation's visit to Egypt to participate in the Second International Defense Expo, which is being held in Cairo until Dec. 2.

Morsi said there was a need for integration between Arab countries in the defense industries field, especially between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The minister said Egypt was witnessing a state of stability as a result of the efforts made by the state to enhance the security situation and economic reform measures to attract more foreign investment.

Al-Mady praised the minister’s role in meeting the needs of the Egyptian armed forces. 

He said the Saudi General Organization for Military Industries took part in the first EDEX, in 2018, and was keen to participate in this year's event as the exhibition represented a distinguished international gathering of major authorities and companies.

Al-Mady called for Egypt to participate in the first World Defense Show in Riyadh, to be held next March, which will provide a unified platform for stakeholders in the military and security industries sector.

He said Saudi Arabia was following up on the latest technology in all military fields to keep pace with developments in the sector in order to confront the threats facing the Kingdom and enhance its capabilities to deter any attempt to interfere in its internal affairs.


A Middle East hospitality project pushes the boundaries of sustainable construction

A Middle East hospitality project pushes the boundaries of sustainable construction
Updated 30 November 2021

A Middle East hospitality project pushes the boundaries of sustainable construction

A Middle East hospitality project pushes the boundaries of sustainable construction
  • Developers of Dubai’s Heart of Europe resort say sustainability is at the core of the project
  • The project features a 1 km “Rainy Street,” an outdoor snow plaza and the world’s first floating smart police station

DUBAI: From forest fires and landslides to desertification and flooding, the effects of climate change increasingly are manifesting in all manner of destructive ways, laying waste to animal and plant habitats and vulnerable rural communities.

But urban areas not immune to the risks either and, as such, they too are being forced to adapt.

THE FLOATING SEAHORSE

The UN has warned that by 2030 greenhouse-gas emissions need to be reduced by between 25 and 55 percent of 2017 levels. With these figures in mind, developers are exploring innovative ways to reduce the carbon footprint of cities while also improving the quality of life for residents.

Josef Kleindienst is one of them. He is the chairman of Kleindienst Group, the deverloper of the Heart of Europe project that is underway in Dubai. Rather than simply build sustainably, the firm says it aims to change the climate.

The Heart of Europe occupies a section of Dubai’s World Islands, a collection of man-made islands off the coast of the city built in the shape of a map of the world. When complete, it is expected to be be an upscale, eco-friendly resort showcasing the use of the latest technology to mitigate the effects of climate change in urban locations.

According to the developer, Heart of Europe will include, among other things, a cooling, climate-controlled Rainy Street, an outdoor snow plaza and the world’s first floating, smart police station.

“The vision was to create a touristic project while bringing in innovation on these islands,” Kleindienst told Arab News.

GERMANY

“The islands project was launched in 2003, and a coral nursery was built on a structure, producing 100,000 corals a year to plant on our reefs. The interesting part for me is that Dubai always had futuristic visions, and this is pure sustainability.”

According to the developer, sustainability is at the core of the Heart of Europe, which will include more than 500,000 square meters of coral reef, and olive trees from Andalusia in southern Spain.

The project, once operational, will feature sustainable landscaping that is free of pesticides and fungicides, and irrigated with recycled water, says the developer. It will be automobile-free, powered by clean energy and will eventually offer visitors sustainable water transportation.

Solar panels will supply much of the resort’s power requirements, while its water supply will be completely recycled and reused for purposes such as flushing toilets and watering plants, says the developer.

HONEYMOON ISLAND

It adds that, in addition, the Heart of Europe will have zero-discharge and zero-microplastics policies to help protect marine life around the islands, and the wider waters of the Arabian Gulf.

The Coral Institute, an in-house research and development center, has been entrusted with creating new coral reefs, helping to expand the marine ecosystem, and working to rebalance the underwater environment as part of Kleindienst Group’s Corporate Social Responsibility program.

Beginning next year, the institute also plans to regenerate and develop corals from 10 reefs and diving sites around the globe, according to the Kleindienst Group.

FASTFACTS

• The Heart of Europe has a zero-discharge and zero microplastics policy to ensure the protection of the Arabian Gulf and marine life.

• It is powered by solar and hydro fuels, has pesticide and fungicide free landscaping, a car-free environment, and recycles water.

In 2018, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development published a report on the megatrends that are shaping the future of tourism. It said sustainable tourism is a growth area that will radically change the industry. Tourism is a resource-intensive human activity, it said, yet it can play a pivotal role in driving the transition to a low-carbon and resource-efficient economy.

“Due to its cross-cutting nature and close connections to numerous sectors, even small improvements will have important impacts,” the report said.

MARBELLA

“It will become increasingly important for governments and industry to work together in a proactive approach to ensure the sustainable development and management of attractions for the benefit and enjoyment of local communities and tourists.”

Countries, cities, islands and other destinations that fail to embrace the sustainability trend will most likely lose business, because consumers are growing increasingly concerned about the environment, it added.

“Dubai has been looking to do this since 2003, because they added a zero-discharge regulation on these islands,” Kleindienst said. “We are not allowed to discharge anything that could pollute the air or the water. This is as sustainable as it can be if you want to protect the environment.”

One of the novel innovations in the Heart of Europe development, according to Kleindienst, is the Rainy Street, a 1km thoroughfare that uses sensor-controlled technology to generate precipitation that helps to provide visitors with a comfortable climate even during scorching summer temperatures that can surpass 50 degrees Celsius.

COTE D’AZUR

Along the street, which will host shops, restaurants and bars, an ambient air temperature of about 27 degrees Celsius will be maintained through the using of state-of-the-art technology that can literally control the outdoor climate.

“We invited consultants and specialists from around the world to bring us solutions,” Kleindienst said.

“The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Institute in Germany is number one when it comes to building these technologies, which use water and remove humidity from the air. When the temperature goes above 27 degrees Celsius and humidity hits 60 percent, it releases rain.”

PORTOFINO

Another climate-control innovation is the snow plaza, according to the Kleindienst Group. It uses a similar concept to the air conditioning systems used in malls, which cool water to 5 degrees Celsius to create cool air. By further reducing the water temperature to 2 C, snow can be generated.

“We started working on the technologies in 2008 and we’re now ready,” Kleindienst said. “It took over 4 years (just) to develop, test and optimize the technology required to achieve the vision for the masterplan. We tested it on the hottest days in the middle of summer and it works — it will come from a piping system, just like in the movies.”

MARBELLA

The Heart of Europe’s initial soft opening began on Oct. 28 with the connection of all utilities. About 300 technical tests will be carried out over the course of a month and, if all goes to plan, it will soon begin to welcome guests at a reduced capacity ahead of its full launch with opening of the Monaco boutique hotel. But Dubai could be just the start.

“We have been invited to Saudi Arabia and Egypt to discuss projects there, but our goal is to complete this project first before discussing expansion,” Kleindienst said.

COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference, which took place in Glasgow, Scotland, this month, has once again highlighted the importance of issues such as sustainability and conservation. Kleindienst said his company is rising to the challenge.

SWEDEN

“We should take care of the environment,” he added. “We didn’t know how fast climate change would come and how significant the impact would be on our lives.

“We must bring back the planet, the climate and nature to how it was before, and sustain it for our children and their children. It’s a big obligation for us.”

In line with the growing trend toward sustainability, eco-friendly tourism projects are being launched across the region. The Hatta Sustainable Waterfalls in Dubai, for example, is due for completion at Hatta Dam by November next year. The falls will collect water, recycle it and pump it back to the top of the dam.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, launched the Sustainable Tourism Global Center last month. The global travel and tourism sector is responsible for about 8 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, and the Kingdom has therefore prioritized support for the sector to help accelerate its transition to net zero.

“(These emissions are) expected to grow if we don’t act now,” Ahmed Al-Khateeb, Saudi Arabia’s minister of tourism, said at the official launch of the center.

THE FLOATING LIDO

“Tourism is also a highly fragmented sector; 80 percent of businesses in tourism are small and medium-sized enterprises who rely on guidance and support from sector leadership. The sector must be part of the solution.”

The Kingdom is working with global partners that prioritize tourism, small and medium enterprises and the climate to create a broad coalition that can lead the tourism industry’s transition to net zero, he added.

“By working together and delivering a strong joint platform, the tourism sector will have the support it needs. The STGC will facilitate growth while making tourism better for the climate, nature and communities,” Al-Khateeb said.

 


Iran’s nuclear program ‘has military element,’ admits ex-atomic energy chief

The former head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani. (Reuters/File Photo)
The former head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 29 November 2021

Iran’s nuclear program ‘has military element,’ admits ex-atomic energy chief

The former head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Former head of nuclear agency said Tehran’s top nuclear scientist was killed because his research ‘became a threat’
  • Pursuit of weapons could spark “nuclear arms race,” expert tells Arab News

LONDON: The former head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization has revealed that Tehran’s nuclear program has military objectives, in the clearest admission to date of Iran’s nuclear bomb ambitions.

In an interview with state media, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, former head of the IAEO, admitted to the existence of a “system” with military capabilities.

The existence of a military research branch within Iran’s nuclear program would directly contravene the state line on nuclear weapons.

Officials in Iran often cite a fatwa — a religious edict — issued by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei against the development and use of nuclear arms as evidence that they are not pursuing nuclear arms.

However, while discussing the 2020 assassination by Israeli agents of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Abbasi-Davani suggested that his research was part of a “system” that had become a military threat to Israel.

“When the country’s all-encompassing growth began involving satellites, missiles and nuclear weapons, and surmounted new boundaries of knowledge, the issue became more serious for them,” Abbasi-Davani said.

While the individual elements of Iran’s nuclear program did not have an overt military use, the existence of that “system” of research endeavors, such as uranium enrichment, combined with Iran’s reasonably advanced domestic missile program, is believed to have triggered Fakhrizadeh’s killing.

But Abbasi-Davani’s interview, released as Washington and Tehran are set to re-engage in long-running talks over the future of Iran’s nuclear program, also revealed new information on the strategic goals behind the pursuit of nuclear arms: A nuclear umbrella for its regional proxies.

“Although our stance on nuclear weapons based on the supreme leader’s explicit fatwa regarding nuclear weapons being haram (religiously forbidden) is quite clear, Fakhrizadeh created this system and his concern wasn’t just the defense of our own country,” Abbasi-Davani said.

He warned: “Our country backs the axis of the resistance front (against Israel), and when you enter this realm, the Zionists become sensitive.”

The “axis of resistance” refers to Iran’s network of terrorist organizations and proxy groups, including the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and constituent militias of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Front.

Ideologically, the groups are opposed to Israel, but they are used in practice to pursue Iranian foreign policy objectives.

Meir Javedanfar, Iran lecturer at Reichman University, told Arab News that Abbasi-Davani’s admission was of “grave concern,” particularly because of the reference to a “system.”

He said: “This is unprecedented. Until now, the assumption has been that even if Iran gets a nuclear program, it would only be used to defend Iran and to deter others.

“Now, based on Abbasi-Davani’s comments, we know that if Iran gets a nuclear weapon it will be used to defend its proxies in the region. This makes it even more imperative that Iran does not get nuclear weapons.”

He added: “Using nuclear weapons to support Iran’s proxies at the very least would mean providing a protection umbrella for various groups around the region. That would imperil numerous countries in the region, and not just the state of Israel.”

Javedanfar warned: “That could lead, in itself, to a nuclear arms race.”