Lebanon’s economic crisis takes Ramadan sweets off the table

Lebanon’s economic crisis takes Ramadan sweets off the table
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Al Shami Sweets staffer said this Ramadan they’ve been frying few pieces of Kellaj/hour unlike before they fried 15 dozens/hour. (AN photo)
Lebanon’s economic crisis takes Ramadan sweets off the table
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Sweetshop staff busy preparing orders of Ramadan sweets on the holly month’s second day. (AN Photo)
Lebanon’s economic crisis takes Ramadan sweets off the table
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Mekari & Sherkawi Sweets owner Ahmad Sherkawi, preparing Ramadan sweet [kellaj] in the fryer, said demand for Ramadan sweets has declined dramatically this year. (AN Photo)
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Updated 15 April 2021

Lebanon’s economic crisis takes Ramadan sweets off the table

Lebanon’s economic crisis takes Ramadan sweets off the table
  • Plunging currency value sends prices for traditional treats spiralling
  • Customers stay away from Beirut’s bakeries amid financial gloom

BEIRUT: Samir, a 10-year-old boy, excitedly accompanied his father into a sweet shop to buy Ramadan treats for iftar in Beirut.

Yet his excitement soon turned to disappointment after his father checked the prices and told him “we cannot afford kellaj today.”

A famous, traditional Ramadan sweet, kellaj are phyllo pastry sheets stuffed with cheese or cream, fried, dipped in sugar syrup and served after breaking fast at sunset.

Despite being an Iftar favorite, Lebanese have been left unable to afford the traditional sweets this year due to skyrocketing prices amid Lebanon’s economic disintegration.

Kellaj, along with other famous sweets like kunafa, shu’aybeyyat baklawa and qatayef usually decorate every home’s Ramadan table. This year, however, they are absent.

When asked why he looked sad outside the shop in Aiche Bakkar district on Tuesday, Samir said he was looking forward to having kellaj but his father would not buy any.

“I couldn’t earn much today,” Samir’s father, Ramez, a taxi driver, told Arab News. “I only bought four pieces of qatayef for my family.”

The father had promised his children kellaj, but the new price was 48,000 Lebanese pounds for 12. Qatayef were cheaper, so he bought four pieces for 10,000 Lebanese pounds.

The Lebanese currency has lost more than 85 percent of its value on the informal market since 2019.

The currency keeps hitting new lows against the dollar on the black market as Lebanon remains gripped by political deadlock and a worsening economic crisis.

Positioned at Beirut’s busy junction of Karakon Drouz, Al Shami Sweets’ manager Khaled Al-Imad told Arab News that sweet prices have “soared nearly 60 percent due to the dollar increase.”

Eventually that led to a “frightening plunge” in the number of clients by around 40-50 percent.

“We sold kellaj last year for 36,000 Lebanese pounds per dozen … this year we are selling it at 84,000,” Al-Imad said.

Al Shami’s staffer in charge of frying the kellaj said in past years he used to fry over 15 dozen per day. During this Ramadan, he just fries a few pieces every hour.

“The price of shu’aybeyyat has doubled from 30,000 pounds last Ramadan to 60,000 pounds this year,” Al-Imad said.

As he walked out of another small sweetshop, Beirut resident Mahmoud told Arab News: “Iftar tables look almost abandoned without traditional Ramadan sweets decorating them.”

A block away from Al Shami sits one of Mar Elias Street’s oldest sweetshops — Mekari and Sherkawi. Owner Ahmad Sherkawi said the demand for Ramadan sweets has declined dramatically this year.

“Our clients are only purchasing one piece per family member,” he said, as he plunged a dozen kellaj into the fryer. He estimated that the number of customers had dropped by 70 percent.

The steep rise in the dollar against the pound has forced Sherkawi, like many other sweetshop owners, to increase prices.

Sweet suppliers refuse to deliver the items except in exchange for dollar payments. But since banks were ordered not to allow dollar withdrawals, the currency is in short supply.

“Ramadan is a special occasion that families decorate their iftar meals with special sweets. We were expecting an increase in orders but unfortunately the demand wasn’t as high,” Sherkawi added.

Storekeeper and father of four Abu Mazen said he did not enter the sweetshop after reading the price list posted at the door.

“What a pity. My kids love kellaj and qatayef but I cannot afford it,” he said. “I will buy some cheaper cookies.”

Wissam Karout, owner of famous El-Karout Sweets in Zaydaneyye, said prices had tripled this Ramadan compared to last year.

“Our production went down and so did our profits,” he said.


UK’s Queen Elizabeth II beams as she returns to Ascot after COVID-19 hiatus

UK’s Queen Elizabeth II beams as she returns to Ascot after COVID-19 hiatus
Updated 19 June 2021

UK’s Queen Elizabeth II beams as she returns to Ascot after COVID-19 hiatus

UK’s Queen Elizabeth II beams as she returns to Ascot after COVID-19 hiatus
  • Dressed in a mint-green outfit and matching hat, the queen was applauded by the crowd
  • She smiled broadly as she inspected one of her horses, after it finished a close second

LONDON: Queen Elizabeth II was smiling broadly as she attended the final day of the Ascot races on Saturday, where environmental protesters urged the monarch to press politicians to act faster against climate change.
The 95-year-old queen, a keen racing fan and racehorse owner, has attended Ascot almost every year of her seven-decade reign. She was absent last year, when the event was held without spectators because of the coronavirus pandemic. Her return came two months after the death of her husband, Prince Philip, at 99.


Dressed in a mint-green outfit and matching hat, the queen was applauded by the crowd as she arrived to cheer on four horses she owns that were racing on Saturday. She smiled broadly as she inspected one of her horses, Reach for the Moon, after it finished a close second.
The annual racing meeting west of London is a heady mix of horses, extravagant headwear, fancy dress, champagne and strawberries with cream.
Protesters from environmental group Extinction Rebellion unfurled a banner reading “Racing to Extinction” at the racecourse on Saturday. The group said four women glued themselves to their banner and chained themselves to the fence in a protest intended to be seen by the queen. She was not nearby at the time.


Jordan battles to save rare tiny Dead Sea carp

Jordan battles to save rare tiny Dead Sea carp
Updated 18 June 2021

Jordan battles to save rare tiny Dead Sea carp

Jordan battles to save rare tiny Dead Sea carp
Jordan is racing against time to save a tiny rare fish from extinction as falling water levels partly triggered by global warming threaten to dry up its last habitat.
The Dead Sea toothcarp — scientific name Aphanius dispar richardsoni — has been on the red list of the International Union for Conversation of Nature since 2014.
The IUCN warns that the “exploitation of spring waters and climate change” are major threats facing the four-centimeter-long, silver-colored fish.
“This fish is threatened with extinction at the global level. It is endemic here and does not exist elsewhere,” said Ibrahim Mahasneh, the manager of the fish’s last home, the Fifa Nature Reserve.
Lying some 140 kilometers (85 miles) southwest of Amman in the Jordan Rift Valley and 60 kilometers south of the Dead Sea, the area is the lowest wet reserve on Earth.
Established in 2011, the reserve consists of some 20 square kilometers. It is located some 426 meters (1,400 feet) below sea level and is managed by an independent body, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN).
Even though the Hashemite kingdom is primarily desert, this area of wetlands is criss-crossed by streams and is home to a variety of plant and wildlife species including birds.
“We have a plan to save and breed this fish... to create a natural habitat for it to breed and at the same time to mitigate the existing threat,” added Mahasneh.
“The reserve is the last home for this endangered species of fish,” said environmental researcher Abdallah Oshoush who works in the reserve.


The male fish also has a streak of blue along its sides, while the female has incomplete black stripes.
It is not known how many still remain, but “monitoring programs have warned of a clear decline in the presence of this fish in recent years,” Oshoush said.
Among the environmental threats causing numbers to drop is the “lowering water level due to low rainfall and the change in its environment, as well as the presence of other fish that feed on it and its eggs.”
Researchers are now preparing to open an artificial pond just for the toothcarp so they can grow safely and their eggs are not devoured by predators. Each season, a female produces around 1,000 eggs.
The aim is then to release the young fish back into the natural environment.
“In Jordan live two unique species of fish that do not exist anywhere else in the world. These are our precious treasures and they must be preserved for our ecosystem,” said RSCN spokesperson Salem Nafaa.
Two decades ago the RSCN succeeded in saving the endangered Aphanuis Sirhani fish in its only habitat in the Azraq reserve, about 110 kilometers (65 miles) east of Amman.
It got its scientific name from the Wadi Sirhan, which extends from the Arabian Peninsula to Azraq, but is commonly known in English as the Azraq killifish.
Only about six centimeters long, it is also silver but the female is spotted while the male has black stripes.

“In the year 2000, there were no more than 500 Azraq killifish in the oasis, which means it was on the verge of extinction,” said Nashat Hmaidan, the director of the RSCN Biodiversity Monitoring Center.
“It was declining sharply, and it reached just 0.02 percent of the number of fish in the oasis,” he said, blaming other predatory fish and migratory birds as well as a fall in water levels.
The RSCN studied the fish’s life cycle and determined it needed shallow water to lay eggs, and should be isolated from other species for the best chance of survival.
“We collected 20 fish over two years and put them in a concrete pond designated for breeding.”
After the first fish were released back into the waters the team saw its presence had increased from 0.02 percent to nearly 50 percent. It “was a great success,” he added.
Twenty years on, the Azraq killifish accounts for almost 70 percent of the fish in the waters. But he cautioned the goal now is that the numbers should “never drop below 50 percent.”
Hazem Hrisha, the director of the Azraq Wetland reserve, highlighted its important biodiversity, with more than 133 plant species and more than 163 species of invertebrates.
The reserve “is located on the most important bird migration paths,” he said, adding two thirds of the bird species found in the kingdom had been recorded in Azraq.

International Camel Organization announces North American association

International Camel Organization announces North American association
Updated 17 June 2021

International Camel Organization announces North American association

International Camel Organization announces North American association
  • Decision comes amid growth in camel ranches in the US

RIYADH: The International Camel Organization (ICO) announced on Thursday the establishment of the North American Camel Ranch Owners Association (NACROA) in the US.

Sheikh Fahd bin Falah bin Hithleen, the ICO’s founder and president, said the step was part of efforts to develop the camel sector.

It follows the setting up of the European Camel Ranch Owners Association in 2019.

 

 

The owners of camel ranches in America decided last year to unify their efforts in developing the camel sector through the ICO.

Aaron Scott Wendell, president of the association, said the increasing number of camel ranches in the US prompted them to establish the association.

He thanked Sheikh Fahd for his efforts and encouragement to establish the association.

His work will be reflected in the development of various aspects in the economic, cultural, medical and sports activities of camels, Wendell said.

Founded by Sheikh Fahd in March 2019, the ICO is a non-profit organization based in Riyadh. Currently it includes about 105 member countries from all continents and aims to develop and serve everything related to camels as a heritage.


Saudi chain ALBAIK opens in Dubai

Saudi chain ALBAIK opens in Dubai
Updated 17 June 2021

Saudi chain ALBAIK opens in Dubai

Saudi chain ALBAIK opens in Dubai
  • ALBAIK was established in Jeddah in 1974 and has grown to more than 120 branches

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s famous fast-food chain ALBAIK opened their first branch in Dubai Mall on Wednesday, bringing its range of dishes to the UAE for the first time.

Following the opening of three branches in Bahrain at the end of 2020, ALBAIK was encouraged to open in Dubai. The new 355-square-meter restaurant will serve a wide array of chicken and seafood, grilled dishes, and vegetarian options.

ALBAIK was established in Jeddah in 1974 and has grown to more than 120 branches throughout Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Listed by CNN as one of the best eight fast-food chains around the world. ALBAIK has developed a community of fanatics across Saudi Arabia.


Billionaire admits cheating to beat Indian chess champ Viswanathan Anand

Billionaire admits cheating to beat Indian chess champ Viswanathan Anand
Updated 15 June 2021

Billionaire admits cheating to beat Indian chess champ Viswanathan Anand

Billionaire admits cheating to beat Indian chess champ Viswanathan Anand
  • Online brokerage firm founder Nikhil Kamath admitted to using “computers” to gain the upper hand

NEW DELHI: A young Indian billionaire has admitted to cheating in a shock win over five-time chess world champion Viswanathan Anand, saying it was for “fun and charity.”
Online brokerage firm founder Nikhil Kamath took on Anand during an online charity event on Sunday and caused quite a stir when he came out on top in a 30-minute rapid game.
The next day he admitted to using “computers” and the help of “people analyzing the game” to gain the upper hand.
“It is ridiculous that so many are thinking that I really beat Vishy sir in a chess game, that is almost like me waking up and winning a 100mt race with Usain Bolt,” Kamath tweeted.
“In hindsight, it was quite silly as I didn’t realize all the confusion that can get caused due to this. Apologies.”
Anand, acclaimed as the greatest player India has produced, played — and beat — a number of celebrity guests including cricketer Yuzvendra Chahal and Bollywood actor Aamir Khan during the event.
The 51-year-old grandmaster appeared to play down the whole affair.
“Yesterday was a celebrity simul for people to raise money It was a fun experience upholding the ethics of the game,” he wrote on Twitter.
“I just played the position (on the) board and expected the same from everyone.”
India’s chess federation saw the incident as violating the spirit of the game.
“We don’t expect anybody to get help from computers, at the national and state level we are following the protocols,” the federation’s secretary Bharat Chauhan told local media.
“(Kamath) was doing it for charity, he shouldn’t have done. This is really bad,” he added.
Anand won his first world title aged 30, and enjoyed great rivalries with the likes of Russian champions Gary Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik and Soviet-born Israeli Boris Gelfand.