A digital library offers Saudis affordable access to scholarly research

Zendy will create a vast online academic library available to access across the Middle East and North Africa. (Supplied)
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Zendy will create a vast online academic library available to access across the Middle East and North Africa. (Supplied)
Zendy will create a vast online academic library available to access across the Middle East and North Africa. (Supplied)
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Zendy will create a vast online academic library available to access across the Middle East and North Africa. (Supplied)
Zendy will create a vast online academic library available to access across the Middle East and North Africa. (Supplied)
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Zendy will create a vast online academic library available to access across the Middle East and North Africa. (Supplied)
Zendy will create a vast online academic library available to access across the Middle East and North Africa. (Supplied)
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Zendy will create a vast online academic library available to access across the Middle East and North Africa. (Supplied)
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Updated 22 March 2021

A digital library offers Saudis affordable access to scholarly research

A digital library offers Saudis affordable access to scholarly research
  • Saudi students, researchers and professionals will soon benefit from a vast new digital library of academic literature
  • Zendy’s creator Kamran Kardan says his ed-tech start-up will help the MENA region develop knowledge-based economies

DUBAI: A Dubai-based edutech start-up has launched a digital library for researchers in Saudi Arabia — the first subscription-based library for scholarly literature of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Academic literature is usually hidden behind expensive paywalls or restricted to those who are affiliated with big organizations. Now Zendy, developed by Knowledge E, is offering users affordable access to scholarly works from around the world.

In step with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 development agenda and its efforts to foster a culture of research, innovation and entrepreneurship, Zendy will give students, professionals and hobbyists access to thousands of articles, e-books and scholarly resources.




Zendy will seek to streamline the often cumbersome process of accessing academic texts online. (AFP)

“Zendy is a massive online library available to every single individual in the region,” Kamran Kardan, Knowledge E founder and CEO, told Arab News.

“If you take a look at the current status of how you can access academic content, books, journals and literature related to that, it’s very cumbersome,” he said.

“You have to be a part of a larger institution, university or organization like the ministry of health, or a place where they can actually afford access to the content. And not all institutions can afford access to all the multiple publishers that are available out there.”

Zendy’s aim is to break down barriers to scholarly discovery by providing individuals with affordable access to the world’s latest research and literature — drawing inspiration from the evolution of music and television consumption.

“The whole idea stemmed from what’s happening to the entertainment and music industry, like Netflix and iTunes, and applying it to academic content, making it affordable,” Kardan said. “So, the whole idea was to open all of that content up and make it affordable, on a monthly subscription or an annual cost.”

ZENDYFACTS

  • Zendy first launched in Jordan in late 2019.
  • Digital library hosts over 120,000 publications.
  • Subscribers in the UAE, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

With a background in publishing at Oxford University Press in the UK, Kardan has made it his mission to promote open access and to help higher education institutions discover new research strategies through various business frameworks. He moved to Dubai 15 years ago to promote scholarly access among universities, businesses and consortiums across the region.

“When I moved in 2006, it was the start of a transition from the print world to electronic,” he said. “Libraries were predominantly shelves full of books and journals and, if you could imagine a researcher who was trying to find something, it was such an effort to go through all these different indexes that you have available.

“To actually find all the relevant information you were looking for was a task of its own.”




Kamran Kardan, Knowledge E founder and CEO. (Supplied)

In the years that followed, Kardan worked with consortiums in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to provide scholarly access on a national level. “Many universities did not have that much access during those days,” he said.

“I remember a university in Kuwait where I had one of the most complete collections of journals from one of the top publishers and going through that transition of moving everything to online — providing more digital libraries to the region was the story of those days.”

Beyond the evolution of digital infrastructure itself, publishing has also had to account for the slow pace of cultural change, with many people continuing to prefer books in paper format for all manner of reasons, including the simple aesthetic of touch and smell.

So far, most of Zendy’s content is only available in English, although some is offered in French and other languages, with the objective of linguistically diversifying further in the near future.

“The idea is to have a comprehensive online library at the fingertips of every single person,” Kardan said. “It is no longer an issue that you can’t afford it, no matter where you’re located, if you’re not part of a larger institution. We don’t target institutions, we target individuals.”




Zendy will seek to streamline the often cumbersome process of accessing academic texts online. (AFP)

After launching in Jordan in 2019, Zendy spread out to the UAE, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Bahrain and, from this month onward, it will be available in Saudi Arabia. The online library has since accumulated thousands of users across the Arab region, hosting over 120,000 publications including more than 30,000 journals and 30,000 e-books.

Zendy also allows users to save searches, export citations and navigate easily according to material type, subject, publication title, language and more.

“You can search, find the article, download the PDF and you can use it as many times as you want,” Kardan said.

“We would like to have more publishers, and this is something that is growing. We have three of the top five publishers in the world and you can imagine that, for publishers that have existing business models with organizations, it is difficult to shift and make everything accessible to all individuals.

“So, it’s also a great step for publishers and that’s why we want to break this barrier.”

To access content, users sign up for a free trial period before choosing between a monthly or annual subscription. Zendy’s business model is based on revenue sharing with publishers based on usage. And, true to Kardan’s ideals, some content will remain free to all.

“There is a portion of free content that will be available in open-access format around the world in a few months’ time,” he said. “So, individuals who are happy with free content can keep that. And then in order to have access to the more premium content, users will need to sign up to Zendy Plus, which is what is currently available.”




Zendy will seek to streamline the often cumbersome process of accessing academic texts online. (AFP)

Kardan hopes Zendy will have a big impact on the countries of the MENA region, playing a role in the creation of diversified, knowledge-based societies and economies. He is confident that providing easy access to information, open to all, is one way of achieving this goal.

“We are also involved in other ways of building that in terms of conducting workshops in academia and building capacity,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how small you are, you can still make a change. In whatever we do as a company, we try to make that change and impact and we think that Zendy is one of those that has the potential to have a global impact.”

Although in its early stages in Saudi Arabia, subscribers include entrepreneurs and healthcare professionals, such as doctors and nurses. Kardan’s goal is to scale up the platform into a global operation in order to allow easier access to content to many more people around the world.

There are also plans to include videos, book summaries and magazines down the line.

“It’s really to increase readership in all of those areas and to shift this literature world online,” he said. “For me, success is to eventually look back and see what impact I was able to have on the people and society around me.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Rare engraving of the Kaaba to be offered at Sotheby’s

Rare engraving of the Kaaba to be offered at Sotheby’s
Updated 06 May 2021

Rare engraving of the Kaaba to be offered at Sotheby’s

Rare engraving of the Kaaba to be offered at Sotheby’s

DUBAI: Rare highlights from Middle Eastern history, including a 1791 engraving showing a panoramic view of Makkah, will feature in auction house Sotheby’s travel, atlases, maps and natural history online sale.  

The 430 x 865 mm engraving — the largest of its kind produced at the time — depicts pilgrims from as far as the mountain of Arafat arriving for the Hajj, charting their journey into the holy city. 

The remarkable print has long been considered unobtainable, with only a few copies believed to have survived a fire in Pera in Istanbul in 1791. The engraving is estimated at £12,000-£18,000 ($16,700-$25,000). 

It was commissioned by the diplomat Ignace de Mouradja d’Ohsson, who had earlier published a grand account of the Ottoman empire from 1787-1790.

Other images of Makkah and Madinah are being auctioned at the Sotheby’s sale, which will end on May 13. 

Lot 105, Mecca and Medina  Two watercolour and gouache views, India, c.1840. (Supplied)

Another rare bidding is a photo book by French writer and photographer Maxime Du Camp, “Egypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie,” which features 112 images of Egypt, six of Jerusalem and seven of Baalbek.

The photographer, the son of a successful surgeon, traveled to Egypt in November 1849 at the age of 27 with his friend novelist Gustave Flaubert. Each longed to explore the Middle East and secured government commissions to fulfil their ambitions. 

Lot 93, Maxime Du Camp Egypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie. Dessins Photographiques. Paris, 1852. (Supplied)

During his trip, Du Camp took more than 200 photographs of about 60 different monuments and sites. Out of those, 125 were selected for publication, resulting in the present work, which was the first French book to be illustrated entirely with photographs. 

Another work reflecting the Arab world is an album of 144 photographs of scenes in and around Cairo in 1907 and 1908. 

The photographs include images of Sir Eldon Gorst (British consul-general to Egypt, 1907-11), Winston Churchill in Cairo, the ceremony of the Kiswah, and the funeral of Mustafa Kamil Pasha. 

The online auction is also presenting works featuring Saudi Arabia, Palestine and other countries in the region.   


How Iraq’s Daesh-ransacked Mosul Cultural Museum is being repaired from scratch

How Iraq’s Daesh-ransacked Mosul Cultural Museum is being repaired from scratch
Updated 06 May 2021

How Iraq’s Daesh-ransacked Mosul Cultural Museum is being repaired from scratch

How Iraq’s Daesh-ransacked Mosul Cultural Museum is being repaired from scratch
  • Six years after its precious antiquities were wrecked by the terror group, the museum is slowly re-emerging from the rubble 
  • Remote training from the Musee du Louvre and Smithsonian Institution has allowed restoration work to continue despite the pandemic

DUBAI: On Feb. 26, 2015, disturbing footage emerged from northwestern Iraq showing Daesh militants smashing pre-Islamic artefacts and burning ancient manuscripts at the Mosul Cultural Museum.

The terrorist group had seized control of the multi-ethnic city the previous year, and had set about looting everything of value and destroying anything that failed to conform to its warped ideology.

Priceless objects, spread across the museum’s three central halls, had told the singular narrative of Iraq as a land of remarkable civilizations — from the Sumerians and the Akkadians to the Assyrians and the Babylonians.

A member of the Iraqi forces holds a damaged artifact in the museum on March 13, 2017. (AFP) 

And yet it took only moments, as the camera rolled, for Daesh to physically erase the evidence of thousands of years of human history. The images, reminiscent of the Taliban’s demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas, sent a wave of revulsion around the world.

At some heritage sites in Mosul, including the ancient city of Nimrud, up to 80 percent of the excavated and restored monuments had been destroyed, according to experts from the British Museum.

Almost two years after the pillaging, on July 21, 2017, Mosul was finally liberated by the Iraqi army, ushering in a period of painstaking reconstruction work to restore the city’s monuments, churches, mosques and archaeological treasures.

Iraqi forces battle Daesh outside Mosul Cultural Museum on March 11, 2017. (AFP)

An international partnership of institutions was established in 2018 to repair the museum’s damaged civil structure and collections ransacked by Daesh. Its members include the Geneva-based Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH), the Musee du Louvre, the Smithsonian Institution and the World Monuments Fund (WMF).

These organizations work closely with the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) and the museum’s director, Zaid Ghazi Saadullah.

The collaboration began when SBAH contacted ALIPH — an organization founded in 2017 to safeguard endangered heritage sites — to secure much-needed funding for the restoration.

Rosalie Gonzalez is a a project manager for the alliance. (Supplied)

“Iraq was one of the reasons ALIPH was created,” Rosalie Gonzalez, a project manager for the alliance, told Arab News. “It was one of the priority countries from the beginning. The Mosul Cultural Museum was the first project the foundation funded in Iraq.

“Through our calls for projects and our emergency relief mechanism, we funded 28 projects in Iraq for more than $9 million. Within three years, it’s a lot of progress and we’re very happy to have this extended portfolio in Iraq.”

Museum professionals who offered expertise and support were brought in to assess the extent of the damage.

Saad Ahmed, the Mosul Cultural Museum’s head of conservation (left), and Zaid Ghazi Saadullah, the museum’s director, examine a wood cenotaph in the Mosul Cultural Museum’s Islamic Hall in February 2019. (Supplied)

Nothing had been spared. The museum itself, founded in 1952, had been badly damaged, its windows and doors shattered, its roof torn open, and shell casings and unexploded ordnance left scattered throughout its grounds.

The museum’s once monumental winged bulls, known as Lamassus, had been reduced to gravel, while its figurative sculptures lay dismembered where they had fallen.

A rich collection of embellished friezes and Assyrian paintings had been looted and 25,000 manuscripts burned to ashes.

The remains of one of Mosul Cultural Museum’s lamassu statues. (AFP)

Perhaps the most harrowing sight of all was the gaping hole left in the floor of the Assyrian Hall, where a throne-like platform had stood before it was blown to pieces. One expert who visited the site likened it to a crime scene.

“I think the whole museum community felt like this really was a terrible crime against culture and history, and we had to do something about it,” Richard Kurin, ambassador-at-large at the Smithsonian Institution, told Arab News.

Ariane Thomas, a Mesopotamian art specialist and head of the Oriental antiquities department at Musee du Louvre, echoed his sentiments.

Ariane Thomas is the director of Oriental antiquities department at Musee du Louvre. (Musée du Louvre)

“It’s a complete loss,” she told Arab News from Paris. “It was a bit like losing someone I knew. I was also struck by the fact that so many people were deeply moved even though sometimes they didn’t know much about those objects.”

This shocking act of vandalism was not merely the product of Daesh’s ideology of “separating people from their history,” but was driven in large part by the pursuit of profit, Kurin said. After all, the militants looted several highly valuable items.

“There was an economic (logic) to this,” he said. “They were blowing up what they couldn’t carry and then removing what they could so that they could presumably sell it in exchange for armaments, bullets and explosives.

The Mosul Cultural Museum was the first project the foundation funded in Iraq. (Supplied)

“We know that Daesh engaged in a whole system of doing that. They gave permits to people to loot archaeological sites.”

A dedicated team of Iraqi experts, trained by professionals from the Louvre and Smithsonian, has set about sorting through the debris to salvage and conserve what was left behind.

What they find is carefully documented, catalogued and placed in a local storage facility that today functions as a fully equipped conservation laboratory, used by specialists for all recovery activities.

Richard Kurin is the  ambassador-at-large at the Smithsonian Institution. (Smithsonian Institution)

The painstaking process of piecing objects back together has been carried out with the help of specialized equipment and computers supplied by the Louvre.

“What we did was treat the museum like it was an archaeological site,” said Kurin. “Rather than throwing all the rubble away, we collected it, labeled it and kept it systematic so that you could find the pieces of what was originally a whole.”

Progress was slowed by the coronavirus pandemic and related travel restrictions, but restoration advice and assistance continued remotely.

Iraqi forces battle Daesh outside Mosul Cultural Museum on March 11, 2017. (AFP)

“We decided that there was no reason to stop. And, morally, we couldn’t do so,” said Thomas. “So we built, from A to Z, a training program online on various subjects to better prepare the museum’s rehabilitation.

“We are still producing new videos. So far, we have 30 to 50 videos that are all in French and Arabic. We somehow invented a new way to move forward on the restoration despite the distance due to the health crisis.”

As for the integrity of the building itself, a team from WMF was brought in to assess and install a steel scaffolding to hold up the precarious floor of the Assyrian Hall while further structural inspections take place.

The museum was founded in 1952. (Supplied)

Experts hope to reopen the museum within three to four years.

The revival of the Mosul Cultural Museum is significant on many levels: It emphasizes camaraderie in times of crisis; the city’s true multi-faith identity; and, above all, the refusal to allow Daesh’s “year-zero” ideology to prevail.

“Increasingly, museums have realized that they have a responsibility beyond their walls,” said Kurin.

As for Mosul, the museum’s emergence from the rubble offers cause for optimism. “By rebuilding the museum and the collections, the Iraqi team along with the international partners are sending a message of hope,” said Gonzalez.

“We will bring this museum back to life, and by doing so we will protect our past and build a better future.”


THE ROUNDUP: Pop-culture highlights from across the region

THE ROUNDUP: Pop-culture highlights from across the region
Updated 06 May 2021

THE ROUNDUP: Pop-culture highlights from across the region

THE ROUNDUP: Pop-culture highlights from across the region
  • From a Palestinian violinist to Lebanese dream-pop, via Saudi shoe stylings and Syrian artworks

Postcards

The Lebanese dream-pop trio released a new track “Home is so Sad,” from their upcoming album “After The Fire, Before The End,” due out later this year. The song is apparently inspired by the eponymous Philip Larkin song. It’s a typically atmospheric track — Julia Sabra’s melancholy lyrics floating over a distorted guitar line built over a pounding drum beat. As Sabra sings of “Blood from your nostrils/Blood from your ears” and “There’s a hole where you knee should be/But I am not afraid” it’s not hard to imagine where the Beirut-based band found the inspiration for this song. The accompanying video, by Nadim Tabet, is the first of a series to go with the album, the band explained on social media: “The idea is to have some sort of visual archive of our shared experiences over the last couple of years.”

Lulu Al-Hassan

The Saudi shoe designer has teamed up with regional retailer Shoemart for a limited-edition capsule collection called “Lule Loves Celeste,” which is exclusive to the Middle East. With 28 satin styles — including peep-toe mules, stilettos, slingbacks and platform heels — in a color palette ranging from classic blacks to bright yellows and reds, the collection will be released just ahead of Eid. “Your shoes are your statement, and this collection will translate that into confidence,” Al-Hassan said in a press release.

OVIID

This exciting Lebanese trio are currently in the process of recording their first EP, and gave us a taste of what to expect recently with a live performance of their song “Statues” for Light FM’s online concert series “Videos in our Studios.” The band describe their sound as “rhythmic prose infused with electronic influences rebirthing heritage, folklore and nostalgia” and “inspired by Kraut, Oriental and Electronica.” “Statues” has something of an Eighties’ vibe, with bassist and vocalist Antonio Hajj’s baritone delivery over layers of looped guitar lines, delivered with subtle skill by guitarist Tony Dauo. Hajj told Arab News, “The track, like the EP, is made up of many rooms; each one is a feeling or a state of mind. It has tension — the ride and the feeling of being suspended in mid-air.” That feeling is mirrored lyrically, he explained: “We talk about how we are taught to internalize and keep to ourselves. The setting we’re in doesn’t help and suffers from an identity crisis itself, so the only way is to keep your ‘light’ and keep going forward.”

Thaier Helal

The UAE-based Syrian artist’s latest solo show, “Abyss,” runs at Dubai’s Ayyam Gallery until May 10. A statement from the gallery says that while the artist’s new work “differs in texture, stepping away from his structural and sculptural approach,” Helal “continues to pose radical questions, (addressing) many subjects concerning our existence, meaning, and current state of bitterness that drains the mind and soul.” His artwork, one example of which — “Behind The Line” — is seen here, falls somewhere between figurative and abstract. “The artist’s technique plays with composition and vantage point,” the gallery continues. “The aim is for each viewer to see something personal that references past experiences, to take the viewer to extremes of imagination.” 

Akram Abdulfattah

The Palestinian violinist, composer and producer recently released his second album, “Monologue.” The blend of traditional Arabic music with pop, jazz, and Indian sounds reflects Abdulfattah’s multi-cultural background: He moved to the US from Palestine aged seven. The album is intended to reflect his life’s journey, as well as the politics of Palestinian life. “The album’s sense of collaboration could be seen as a metaphor for long-standing peace in the region,” according to a press release. According to Abdulfattah, the album “can be imagined as a dialogue with the inner self. It’s about finding unity in the self and discovering similarities in the richness of different music languages and culture.”

Allexa Bash 

Bash, a Dubai-based Ukranian singer-songwriter, released a new single, “Heartbeat,” in late April. It’s a pop track with downbeat, piano-led verses leading to big choruses dominated by dubstep-style synths. Bash is a former contestant on the Ukrainian version of “The Voice” and her vocals are certainly powerful. Lyrically, according to a press release, the song is about “being real, about showing yourself, about listening to thoughts and embracing them. And, finally, letting your heartbeat act as a lighthouse, leading you in the dark, showing you the way.”


REVIEW: Netflix sci-fi thriller ‘Stowaway’ asks the hard questions

REVIEW: Netflix sci-fi thriller ‘Stowaway’ asks the hard questions
Updated 06 May 2021

REVIEW: Netflix sci-fi thriller ‘Stowaway’ asks the hard questions

REVIEW: Netflix sci-fi thriller ‘Stowaway’ asks the hard questions
  • New drama puts its impressive cast to the test – then lets them off the hook

DUBAI: Ever since Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” swept the Oscars in 2013, there’s been a rise in so-called ‘hard sci-fi’ movies looking to recapture that sense of gritty survival in the face of insurmountable (not to mention, extra-terrestrial) odds. 

Netflix’s “Stowaway” certainly has the right team in place. Brazilian director Joe Penna and his co-writer Ryan Morrison won a lot of admirers with 2018’s “Arctic” — a survival thriller starring Mads Mikkelsen as a stranded pilot in the Arctic Circle who just can’t catch a break. Not content with having their protagonists put through the wringer from a survival point of view, in “Stowaway,” Penna and Morrison decide to throw a nasty moral quandary into the mix as well.

“Stowaway” is on Netflix. (YouTube)

Marina (Toni Collette), Zoe (Anna Kendrick) and David (Daniel Dae Kim) make up a three-man crew headed to Mars. Shortly after leaving Earth, they discover Michael (Shamier Anderson) has inadvertently gotten trapped onboard during takeoff, and the carefully calculated life-support capacity of their ship is thrown into jeopardy. With their resources now stretched past breaking point, the trio are faced with a horrifying decision: ask Michael to remove himself from the equation, or risk all their lives in a bid to find a workaround.

The cast throw themselves into the roles with aplomb. Collette is excellent as the tortured mission commander with the weight of the decision on her shoulders, while Kendrick and Kim enjoy squaring off on opposite sides of the film’s central debate. Anderson brings an everyman quality to his hapless stowaway that lends emotional weight to the shifting attitudes of his fellow travelers. At the film’s helm, Penna shows an eye for combining breath-taking exterior visuals with cramped and atmospheric interiors, all the while throwing one calamity after another at his beleaguered cast of characters. 

The movie’s final third slightly gives up on the moral debate (the crew’s decisions are usually superseded by whatever catastrophe hits them next) in favor of tugging at the emotional heartstrings, which is a bit of shame. Penna’s film is an entertaining watch, but ultimately ducks out of answering its own challenging questions.


Net-a-Porter to present livesteam styling video with Saudi fashion expert Norah Al-Eisa 

Net-a-Porter to present livesteam styling video with Saudi fashion expert Norah Al-Eisa 
Updated 05 May 2021

Net-a-Porter to present livesteam styling video with Saudi fashion expert Norah Al-Eisa 

Net-a-Porter to present livesteam styling video with Saudi fashion expert Norah Al-Eisa 

DUBAI: Leading global e-tailer Net-a-porter is collaborating with Saudi fashion expert Norah Al-Eisa to present a livestream styling video on Wednesday.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Norah AlEisa (@norahaleisa)

Al-Eisa, who is based in Riyadh, will be taking the regional customers through key pieces from the website’s Ramadan and Spring/Summer 2021 collections, which are ideal for Eid gifting.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Norah AlEisa (@norahaleisa)

Al-Eisa started her career in fashion as a fashion editor, then dabbled in historical costume design before going on to style some of the biggest fashion and fine jewelry campaigns in Saudi Arabia. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Norah AlEisa (@norahaleisa)

The influencer also regularly shares her fashion knowledge and styling tips on social media, on her Instagram account @norahaleisa.