How the UAE’s Mars mission can be the Arab world’s springboard to the future

The unmanned probe — named
The unmanned probe — named "Al-Amal," Arabic for "Hope" — blasted off from Japan last year, marking the next step in the United Arab Emirates' ambitious space program. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 16 February 2021

How the UAE’s Mars mission can be the Arab world’s springboard to the future

The unmanned probe — named "Al-Amal," Arabic for "Hope" — blasted off from Japan last year, marking the next step in the United Arab Emirates' ambitious space program. (AFP/File Photo)
  • For the first time ever, an Arab nation has gone beyond applied science and technology to successfully engage in space exploration
  • If the Hope mission has a positive educational effect across the Arab world, it will be a transformative achievement

SHARJAH: The successful entry of the UAE’s Hope probe into orbit around Mars is a historic event on the scientific, educational, and strategic levels. Indeed, for the first time ever, an Arab nation has gone beyond applied space science and technology (satellites, essentially) and successfully invested and engaged in space exploration.

It is important to underline the mission’s wider and embracing slogan, “Arabs to Mars,” which stresses the idea that this project is greater than just the UAE joining a select club of space-faring nations. It is about leading the Arab world into deep space, into the future.

Now that Hope probe is set for its scientific agenda and the UAE is set to become a science-producing nation in the space arena, it is important to reflect on the significance of this event for the Arab world and the vistas that it opens for its people.

As great as the scientific agenda of the mission is (providing in-depth, close-up, and global explorations of the Martian atmosphere), the impact that this is likely to have on the Arab world, particularly its ambitious youth, will be multifaceted and strong.




Emirati men are pictured at the mission control center for the "Hope" Mars probe at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai on July 19, 2020, ahead of its expected launch from Japan.  (AFP/File Photo)

Indeed, this quantum-leap event tells Arabs — or at least this is how it should be understood — that science is the way to the future, and Mars (with all the scientific and technical know-how that will have been acquired) is simply a springboard to that future.

Since the launch of Hope, last July, followed by the Chinese mission to Mars, Tianwen-1, and the American one, Mars 2020, I have noticed an important change in the views expressed by many Arabs and people in the region.

Until then, most people seemed bewildered by the “wasteful” Hope mission (although $200 million is really not much for such a big endeavor) and often asked “what’s the benefit in there?”, “why don’t you spend money helping the poor around the world.”

Indeed, the utilitarian standpoint is so prevalent in the Arab world that last July, two weeks before the launch of Hope, I took part in a panel titled “Why spend money on space science?”, a question I am asked time and again.




H-2A rocket carrying the Hope Probe, known as "Al-Amal" in Arabic, developed by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to explore Mars, blasts off from Tanegashima Space Centre in southwestern Japan. (AFP/Mitsubishi Heavy Industries/File Photo)

My reply, depending on my interlocutors or audience, usually revolves around the following points. First, before anyone criticizes space-science budgets (a grand total of roughly $50 billion in the whole world, averaging $6.5 per year for each human being), they should take a look at military budgets ($1,750 billion worldwide in 2019, 35 times more than the worldwide space budget).

Secondly, space science brings many direct benefits (think of all the applications of satellites, starting with GPS, which each of us uses almost every day) as well as indirect ones, as we explore, discover, learn, widen our horizons, and think of new things.

Last but not least, space is a field that fascinates people, especially youngsters, and leads them to embark on various exciting careers that benefit their nations and the world at large.

READ MORE: UAE’s ‘Hope’ probe sends home first image of Mars

UAE Hope Probe expected to provide first complete picture of Mars in one week

Interestingly, since the launch of Hope, I have been hearing the “why waste money on Mars and in space” viewpoint less often. Surveys on attitudes toward science, technology, and space are being conducted in the region, and it will be highly interesting to see how those attitudes have evolved recently and will evolve in the future.

It is worth noting that in the decade following John Kennedy’s “to the moon” announcement, the number of Ph.D. holders in the US tripled in the physical sciences and quadrupled in engineering. And a 2009 survey found that 50 percent of the internationally renowned scientists who have published in Nature (the premier scientific research journal) had been inspired to become scientists by the US moon program.

I am convinced that the Hope mission will have a similar effect in the Arab world. We are already seeing such results in the UAE, where the number of students who are choosing physics, astronomy, and space has increased manifold in recent years.




Visitors watch an air craft maintenance competition during the "World Skills" International competition in Abu Dhabi on October 18, 2017. (AFP/File Photo)

If the Hope mission produces that kind of educational effect in the wider Arab world, it will be a magnificent, transformative achievement that historians will be discussing for decades or even centuries.

In fact, I believe that the project can achieve even greater objectives than that lofty educational goal. It could also lead to a quantum leap in science and technology production in the Arab world.

How could that be achieved? First, Arab scientists, decision makers, and opinion makers need to embrace the “basic” (that is, not applied) type of science and knowledge that space exploration represents. Simply put, Arab countries cannot become “developed” by limiting their development to applied fields; technology goes hand in hand with science, and with broader knowledge.

It is not a coincidence that astronomy (which has little if any direct applications in our everyday lives) was the first big science to blossom and flourish during the Arab-Islamic civilization and the last one to wane. And yet, today, the number of properly operating and science-producing astronomical observatories in the entire Arab world can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Most Arab countries have locations and weather that favor the erection of astronomical observatories, which are not very expensive; this should be pursued promptly and in earnest.

Likewise, several Arab countries, particularly the UAE and Oman, are geographically well placed (low latitude, sea or ocean to the east, etc.) to host space rocket launch facilities. This could be one of the next projects to embark on, to build platforms from where to launch both our own rockets and those of others (for profit).




A handout picture provided on February 14, 2021 by the United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA) taken by the Emirates eXploration Imager (EXI) after Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI) on board the First Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) from an altitude of 24,700 km above the Martian surface shows the Olympus Mons, the highest volcano on Mars, and the Tharsis Montes, three volcanoes named (top to bottom) Ascraeus Mons, Pavonis Mons and Arsia Mons. (AFP/File Photo)

Moreover, as we have seen with NASA for the last 60 years or so, technological spin-offs from space programs can be adopted and applied in other areas of life and economy, such as medical facilities, transportation, telecommunications, and more.

Last but not least, the new Arab space strategy (at least six states have space agencies now) should lead to important reviews of Arab educational programs. Universities must revisit, update, and upgrade their curricula, including the creation of new departments and specializations (space science, artificial intelligence, etc).

It is not acceptable, or even logical, for the Arab world to have half a dozen space agencies but fewer space-science departments and specialized programs.

We urgently need to train students in both applied space science (for example, remote sensing) and astronomy (Mars and beyond), to support and complement the work of the Arab space agencies. In fact, we need a wider update and revamping of higher-education programs in the Arab world, but that is another discussion.

The Hope mission to Mars can be truly transformative if everyone aims high and believes that science is the key to a knowledge-based economy and future. Let us use this historic event to rebuild Arab scientific, technological, and educational institutions, to strengthen national, regional and international collaborations, and to give Arab youngsters a vision and plan for a bright future.

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Nidhal Guessoum is a professor of physics and astronomy at the American University of Sharjah. Twitter: @NidhalGuessoum


Libya launches public vaccination drive

Libya launches public vaccination drive
A health worker prepares to administer the AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine to a man, in Tripoli, Libya, April 17, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 17 April 2021

Libya launches public vaccination drive

Libya launches public vaccination drive
  • The AstraZeneca doses were delivered through the Covax program for lower and middle-income countries

TRIPOLI: Libya on Saturday launched its coronavirus vaccination campaign for the general population in Tripoli, with the elderly and healthcare workers given priority in the conflict-hit North African nation.
Those over 70 would get the AstraZeneca jab while the Russian Sputnik V vaccine would be administered to medical personnel and those aged 50-60, the National Center for Disease Control said.
NCDC head Badreddine Al-Najjar said the vaccines would be distributed across Libya “in the coming days,” adding that China’s Sinovac jab would also be available.
Libya has so far received 400,000 doses, including 200,000 Sputnik V shots, 57,600 AstraZeneca jabs and 150,000 from Turkey thought to be China’s Sinovac.
The AstraZeneca doses were delivered through the Covax program for lower and middle-income countries.
Since the pandemic emerged last year, there have been 171,131 confirmed COVID cases in Libya, including 2,882 deaths, out of a population of seven million, officials say.
On Saturday, dozens of men and women wore face masks and sat on chairs that were spread out to ensure physical distancing in the courtyard of a vaccination center in Tripoli as they waited to get a jab.
Libyan authorities have appealed on the general population, including illegal migrants, to register for vaccination and set up an electronic portal in March for that purpose.


Gaza man winning hearts by donating traditional food to the poor

Gaza man winning hearts by donating traditional food to the poor
Jarisha is made from roasted crushed wheat with added salt and spices. It is placed in a bowl over low heat and stirred well until it reaches a firm consistency. It is usually served with lamb cooked with yogurt. (Supplied)
Updated 46 min 57 sec ago

Gaza man winning hearts by donating traditional food to the poor

Gaza man winning hearts by donating traditional food to the poor
  • Due to high rates of poverty and unemployment, many initiatives have sprung up to encourage charitable acts in the past few years, with the most popular being preparation of traditional varieties of Palestinian food for donation

GAZA CITY: Muhannad Al-Heiqi was unaware of jarisha before tasting it last Ramadan after receiving a plate from his neighbor Walid Al-Hattab, who cooks it voluntarily for the people of the Shejaiya neighborhood in Gaza.
But after discovering the “comfortable” taste of the dish, Al-Heiqi is ensuring that jarisha is present at the iftar table during this year’s Ramadan.
Jarisha is made from roasted crushed wheat with added salt and spices. It is placed in a bowl over low heat and stirred well until it reaches a firm consistency. It is usually served with lamb cooked with yogurt.
Younger generations in Gaza have never encountered the traditional Palestinian food that was popular before the Nakba.
But some Palestinian families in Jerusalem and West Bank are leading a revival, and now prepare it for Ramadan and wedding celebrations.
Al-Heiqi, 36, said that his 67-year-old father was “very happy” when presented with a dish of jarisha. He told Al-Heiqi that he had not tasted it for 30 years.
When Al-Hattab, 59, first cooked jarisha and distributed it to the poor during the month of Ramadan in 2018, he did not expect to receive great approval and demand.
Now in his fourth year of cooking the dish for Ramadan, Al-Hattab said: “The story began with me by chance and without planning, but today I am happy that I am a source of happiness for many, and I will maintain this habit every Ramadan for the rest of my life.”
Discussing his first time making the traditional food, he said: “It was a small quantity, not exceeding 3 kilograms of wheat. I did not know how to distribute it or whether it would satisfy people. However, I was surprised by a great turnout upon its completion, and it was sufficient at that time to feed 10 families.”
In Ramadan the following year, Al-Hattab came more prepared, filling a large container with enough jarisha to feed 100 families. The year after that, he fed 220 families. He also delivers meals sufficient for iftar and suhoor to 100 people in elderly households, and bears all the costs.
Words of praise and approval have motivated Al-Hattab to develop his charitable idea.
“I felt overjoyed when Al-Heiqi told me that his father was happy and that he had been longing to taste jarisha for a long time, but that his family could not make it,” he said.
Because it is “a dish from the time of the grandfathers,” Al-Hattab said that he is keen to encourage a revival and bequeath knowledge of the dish to his sons and daughters. He described jarisha as a nutritious and comfortable meal that is beneficial for people fasting during Ramadan.
Al-Hattab has three children who share the task of cooking jarisha and distributing it to poor residents in the neighborhood. They work daily from afternoon until iftar.
Due to high rates of poverty and unemployment, many initiatives have sprung up to encourage charitable acts in the past few years, with the most popular being preparation of traditional varieties of Palestinian food for donation.


IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity

IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity
Updated 17 April 2021

IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity

IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity

VIENNA: Iran has started the process of enriching uranium to 60% fissile purity at an above-ground nuclear plant at Natanz, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Saturday, confirming earlier statements by Iranian officials.

The move has complicated talks aimed at reviving Iran's nuclear deal with major powers as it is a big step towards producing weapons-grade uranium.

Iran had previously only reached 20% purity, and that was already a breach of the deal, which says Iran can only enrich to 3.67%.

Iran made the step up to 60% in response to an explosion that damaged equipment at the larger, underground Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz. Tehran has blamed Israel and named a man wanted in connection with the blast.

“The Agency today verified that Iran had begun the production of UF6 enriched up to 60%... at the (above-ground) Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.

UF6 is uranium hexafluoride, the form in which uranium is fed into centrifuges for enrichment.

A confidential IAEA report to member states seen by Reuters provided more details.

“According to Iran's declaration to the Agency, the enrichment level of the UF6 produced at PFEP was 55.3% U-235. The Agency took a sample of the produced UF6 for destructive analysis to independently verify the enrichment level declared by Iran. The results of this analysis will be reported by the Agency in due course,” the report said.


Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange

Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange
Ghada Aoun. (Photo/Twitter)
Updated 17 April 2021

Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange

Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange
  • Prosecutor’s stand sparks calls for judiciary to ‘rise up against corruption’

BEIRUT: Controversial Lebanese judge and Mount Lebanon state prosecutor Ghada Aoun carried out a second raid on a money exchange in northern Lebanon on Saturday in defiance of a senior judiciary decision dismissing her from an investigation into possible currency export breaches.

Aoun was accompanied by several activists from the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) during the raid on the money exchange in the Awkar district in northern Lebanon.

Less than 24 hours earlier she raided the office with members of the security services.

Aoun remained in the money exchange for several hours on Friday in protest at her dismissal by the the discriminatory Public Prosecutor, Judge Ghassan Oweidat, a decision that caused widespread anger among the Lebanese public.

Caretaker Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm held an emergency meeting on Saturday with Oweidat as well as Supreme Judicial Council head Judge Suhail Abboud and Judicial Inspection Authority head Judge Borkan Saad.

After the meeting Najm voiced her anger at the situation regarding the judiciary, saying that she refuses to be “a false witness to the decay of the judiciary and the fall of the fig leaf in this state.”

Najm said the events involving Aoun are an indication of “the failure of state institutions.”

Lebanon is facing a political and economic crisis amid disputes between state officials, a deadlock that has led to the collapse of the national currency.

However, critics accuse Aoun of a lack of respect for due process.

HIGHLIGHT

Caretaker Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm held an emergency meeting on Saturday with Oweidat as well as Supreme Judicial Council head Judge Suhail Abboud and Judicial Inspection Authority head Judge Borkan Saad.

There are six criminal cases and 28 complaints against her before the Judicial Inspection Authority — the largest number of cases filed against any judge in the history of the Lebanese judiciary.

Aoun was investigating the Mecattaf money exchange company and Societe Generale Bank for allegedly withdrawing dollars from the market and shipping the funds abroad.

The Supreme Judicial Council dismissed Aoun along with two other judges who had previously been suspended by the Disciplinary Council for Judges.

Judge Oweidat on Friday asked the Director-General of State Security, Maj. Gen. Antoine Saliba, to suspend the officers who accompanied Aoun on the exchange office raid.

People in Lebanon on Friday watched on TV as Aoun requested that the money exchange office be sealed because the owner, Michel Mecattaf, refused to provide her with details of currency transfers on behalf of banks.

Earlier, Mecattaf’s agents informed Aoun that she had been dismissed from the case.

Aoun remained alone for hours inside the office after state security personnel left. A medical team checked on her after her blood pressure rose, and she left the premises soon after. Later she stepped on to the balcony of her home to wave to FPM supporters, who gathered outside to offer support.

After Aoun’s second raid on Saturday, the head of the Mecattaf financial company accused her supporters of “breaking into private property by force.”

Mecattaf described the case as “eminently political,” saying that he is “a witness and not a convict.”

Najm described the events as “unacceptable.”

“I am not in a position to please this political party or that team. We want an effective and independent judiciary. The problem is not the laws — oversight and accountability have been absent for years,” she said.

Najm also said that “the judiciary is incapable of fighting corruption,” and called on judges to “rise up against this reality.”

She added: “There is a lack of confidence in the judiciary, and this is a major insult.”

Retired General Prosecutor Hatem Madi told Arab News: “Judge Oweidat’s decision shows that some judges are working independently, but things must be put to rights. Regardless of whether Oweidat’s decision was right or wrong, the public prosecution offices in Lebanon must be an integrated unit.”

The decision to dismiss Aoun revived a political dispute between the FPM and the Future Movement, the two parties in conflict over the formation of the government.

The FPM, headed by MP Gebran Bassil, said that it will “continue to expose every file related to the fight against corruption,” saluting “every judge who rightfully performs their duties despite the injustice to which they are sometimes exposed.”

The Future Movement said that “mourning for judges after encouraging them to violate laws and asking them to open discretionary files for opponents is a matter that no longer fools any of the Lebanese people.”

 


Qatar’s controversial cleric Qaradawi contracts coronavirus

Qatar’s controversial cleric Qaradawi contracts coronavirus
Updated 17 April 2021

Qatar’s controversial cleric Qaradawi contracts coronavirus

Qatar’s controversial cleric Qaradawi contracts coronavirus
  • His son Abdul-Rahman Yusuf Al-Qaradawi confirmed that the cleric had coronavirus on Twitter

LONDON: Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric based in Qatar and infamous for his controversial religious edicts, has contracted COVID-19.
“Sheikh Al-Qaradawi has been infected with the coronavirus and he is in good condition, praise be to God. He is receiving health care, reassures his followers, and asks you to pray for his recovery and good health,” his official Twitter account stated.


The news was also reported by Turkish state-run news agency Anadolu.
His son Abdul-Rahman Yusuf Al-Qaradawi confirmed that the cleric had coronavirus on Twitter and said his father had been vaccinated against the virus previously. He also requested prayers for his father.
Al-Qaradawi is 94 years old and is the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, head of the European council for Fatwa and Research and co-founder of IslamOnline.net.