76 seconds with Ephrem Kossaify: UN General Assembly gets underway

76 seconds with Ephrem Kossaify: UN General Assembly gets underway
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Updated 15 September 2021

76 seconds with Ephrem Kossaify: UN General Assembly gets underway

76 seconds with Ephrem Kossaify: UN General Assembly gets underway

Ephrem Kossaify takes you through the key issues of the day at the 76th UN General Assembly, in 76 seconds.


Digital infrastructure enabled Saudi Arabia to confront pandemic

Digital infrastructure enabled Saudi Arabia to confront pandemic
Updated 26 September 2021

Digital infrastructure enabled Saudi Arabia to confront pandemic

Digital infrastructure enabled Saudi Arabia to confront pandemic
  • Kingdom’s technological progress contributed to raising level of transparency, efficiency, says Saudi envoy to UN

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s strong digital infrastructure has enabled the public and private sectors to meet the devastating challenges of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the Kingdom’s envoy to the UN has said.

“Guided by the national transformation program, the Kingdom’s technological progress has contributed to raising the level of transparency and digital efficiency,” said Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to the UN.

Al-Mouallimi made these remarks during a high-level side event organized by the Digital Cooperation Organization under the theme “Shaping a Comprehensive Digital Age,” a recently established global organization working toward achieving “digital prosperity for all.”

The DCO works with governments, the private sector, international and nongovernmental organizations and civil society to push for an inclusive digital transformation and the growth of digital industries.

The DCO’s seven-member body includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Nigeria, Oman, and Pakistan. It accounts for a population of 480 million, 80 percent of which are under the age of 35. It said it is open to any new member that shares the same goals of “empowering youth, women, and entrepreneurs and leapfrogging the digital transformation.”  

In his remarks, Al-Mouallimi highlighted the Kingdom’s digital achievements and the efforts of the DCO during the pandemic. 

“They helped to make it possible to work remotely and adapt to the new conditions imposed by the pandemic,” said the ambassador, adding that the world is undergoing a shift towards digital transformation at a faster pace than ever before. 

“Digitization creates opportunities and challenges that go beyond borders, making digital collaboration an essential element in facilitating digital transformation at the international level, so that our digital future must be more inclusive and global efforts ensure that technology is available to all.”

Al-Mouallimi underlined that multilateral cooperation is necessary to meet digital challenges and opportunities. Countries must harness their full potential to integrate into the digital age, mainly dependent on global collaboration.

Al-Mouallimi said it is clear that the DCO emphasizes promoting digital cooperation to meet the current challenges.

“The core objectives of the DCO are about accelerating the growth of the digital economy, as well as promoting social prosperity to include all,” the envoy said, adding: “The organization also seeks to develop an ambitious model for promoting global digital efforts, making us, as members of the organization’s coordination office, forced to exert all efforts to reach our goals and objectives.”

He said that the Kingdom accelerated the growth of the digital economy in the region and around the world as a member of the DCO, stressing that the Kingdom will continue its commitment to maximizing digital capabilities at the national and international levels.

He added: “The Kingdom has put digitization at the forefront of the technological progress it seeks, and as a result, several outstanding achievements have enabled Saudi Arabia to make significant progress in global indicators, ranking first among the G20 countries in digital competitiveness according to the European Centre for Digital Competitiveness.”


Taste of history as Saudi turns old police station into heritage eatery

Taste of history as Saudi turns old police station into heritage eatery
Updated 26 September 2021

Taste of history as Saudi turns old police station into heritage eatery

Taste of history as Saudi turns old police station into heritage eatery
  • Abha restaurant draws visitors from around the Gulf with traditional southern flavors

ABHA: A young Saudi “jack of all trades” has used his creative talent and love of cooking to transform a former police station in Abha into a traditional restaurant.

Now Ibrahim bin Mansour Bashashah Al-Asiri’s Al-Hosn Al-Turathi — or Abha castle heritage restaurant — has become a landmark attraction, serving up traditional southern flavors to tourists visiting the historic southwest Saudi city.

Diners from around the Kingdom and Gulf states regularly visit the eatery for a taste of southern hospitality.

Al-Asiri, a plastic artist, and gift and flower designer, told Arab News that the restaurant was previously a coffeeshop owned by his brother.

“The building was originally the Asir police station. I did not favor strong additions and alterations that would erase the designs that characterize the building,” he said.

“My main objective was for the visitor to be able to sense the history of a place that is 40 or 50 years old.”

Being a jack of all trades, Al-Asiri decided to invest his talents and help preserve the city’s heritage by turning the coffeeshop into a restaurant.

He used his talent with lighting and art to transform the site into a heritage icon that takes diners back in time.

Initially, the restaurant served only breakfast, but the menu quickly expanded until meals became available throughout the day. 

Ibrahim bin Mansour Bashashah Al-Asiri, owner of Al-Hosn Al-Turathi. (Supplied)

One form of art found in the restaurant is Al-Qatt Al-Asiri, a traditionally female interior wall decoration and ancient art form considered a key element in Asir’s history.

Al-Hosn Al-Turathi restaurant relies on the work of two people — Al-Asiri, who cooks and oversees artistic tasks, and his brother, who handles management.

“There aren’t many restaurants that offer popular southern meals, especially in Abha, while there are many popular restaurants in Khamis Mushayt,” he said.

Menu favorites offered at Al-Hosn Al-Turathi include al-arika, a traditional dessert in the southern region made with brown flour mixed with warm water, oil and ghee to form a dough, and flavored with a drizzle of honey and cardamom.

The restaurant is the first to serve “miva” or southern “tannour” bread, Al-Asiri said, adding that he is the first Saudi in the Kingdom to cook while wearing a traditional Saudi outfit.

Al-Asiri also launched the Asiri bouquet, a collection of local plants with aromatic scents, gifting them to a number of princes and other high-profile personalities.

Al-Hosn Al-Turathi heritage restaurant supports local productive families. A coffee and hot beverages corner is managed by one of the sisters, Umm Joud, who holds a master’s in business management, and supervises the preparation of hot drinks using traditional ingredients.

Al-Asiri urged Saudi youth to work hard, saying Saudi Arabia offers many opportunities to realize the objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. “We need to be patient and active, and try to reach the top with the capabilities that we have. So we need to be persistent and work hard,” he said.


Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Greece complete military exercises

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Greece complete military exercises
Updated 26 September 2021

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Greece complete military exercises

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Greece complete military exercises
  • The drills are part of a program to enhance military cooperation between friendly countries

RIYADH: Special security forces of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Greece and Egypt completed joint drills in the Greek capital, Athens.

Taking part what was hailed as further cooperation between allied states were the Royal Saudi Land Forces paratroopers, Emirati Special Forces, the Egyptian Army’s El-Saa’ka (Thunderbolt) Forces and Paratroopers and the Greek Joint Special Operations Forces.

The drills are part of a program to enhance military cooperation between friendly countries, to exchange training and experience and to increase the level of combat readiness to confront challenges in the region.

The training plan was conducted by the Royal Saudi Land Forces to maintain a high level of performance, training and combat efficiency as part of the annual training programs that are implemented with friendly countries.

The drills were observed by the Greek Deputy Minister of Defense, the Chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff, the commanders of the Greek Ministry of Defense’s forces, the Saudi ambassador in the Republic of Greece, Saad bin Abdul Rahman Al-Ammar, and the Assistant Commander of Paratrooper Units and Special Security Forces Major General Sultan Islam.


Saudi FM meets Colombian, Qatari counterparts 

Saudi FM meets Colombian, Qatari counterparts 
Updated 7 min 19 sec ago

Saudi FM meets Colombian, Qatari counterparts 

Saudi FM meets Colombian, Qatari counterparts 

NEW YORK: Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Saturday met Colombia’s Vice President and Foreign Minister Marta Lucía Ramírez on the sidelines of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

The meeting discussed relations between the two countries and the means to strengthen them to serve common interests. They also exchanged views on regional and international issues of common interest.

The meeting was attended by the Saudi ambassador to the US, Princess Reema bint Bandar; the undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry for multilateral international affairs, Abdulrahman Al-Rassi; and the director general of the Saudi foreign minister’s office, Abdulrahman Al-Daoud.

In a separate meeting, Prince Faisal met Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani. They reviewed relations between the two countries and considered how to best promote them.


Yemen’s civilians paying the price for delisting of Houthis from US terror list

Newly recruited Houthi fighters take part in a gathering in the capital Sanaa. (AFP/File Photo)
Newly recruited Houthi fighters take part in a gathering in the capital Sanaa. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 26 September 2021

Yemen’s civilians paying the price for delisting of Houthis from US terror list

Newly recruited Houthi fighters take part in a gathering in the capital Sanaa. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Conflict mapping shows militia has killed more people since the Biden administration revoked its FTO designation
  • Saudi diplomat says the Kingdom will continue to use UN mechanisms to expose the Houthis’ true terrorist face

LONDON: Seven months after the US removed the Houthis from its list of designated foreign terrorist organizations, the militia is killing more people than before and intensifying its efforts to bring the entire country of Yemen under its extremist doctrine, according to experts.

Within days of their removal, the Houthis escalated their assault on Yemen’s Marib, a province that provides temporary shelter to thousands of internally displaced people and acts as a bastion of the UN-backed government’s pushback against the Houthis’ religious tyranny.

Six months later, the siege of Marib continues to claim lives daily — on both sides — and perpetuates Yemen’s twin humanitarian and economic crises.

If these developments in Yemen are anything to go by, one of Joe Biden’s first acts as US president has backfired badly.

“I am revoking the designations of Ansar Allah, sometimes referred to as the Houthis, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization,” Biden said on Feb. 12.

Citing the “dire humanitarian situation in Yemen,” he said the group’s inclusion on the list would only obstruct the delivery of aid.

“By focusing on alleviating the humanitarian situation in Yemen, we hope the Yemeni parties can also focus on engaging in dialogue.”

Granted, hindsight is always 20/20 but the Biden team never really tried to defend the rationale behind the move with evidence.

“The delisting gave the Houthis and, more importantly, their Iranian sponsors a sense of impunity,” Michael Rubin, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told Arab News. “The delisting also eviscerated international efforts to prevent Houthi supply and finance.”

In fact, Rubin says, the Biden administration’s justification for the delisting of the Houthis — to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid — never made sense in the first place.

“There was already an inspection regime” in place, Rubin said. “The UN had repeatedly reported on the delivery of humanitarian goods. Ironically, it was often the Houthis which prevented the delivery of goods to cities like Taiz not under Houthi control.”

In Rubin’s view, Biden’s decision to delist the Houthis may have had more to do with domestic American politics than what was best for the Yemeni people — and it may have emboldened other regional terrorist groups in the process.

“The Biden administration’s delisting had more to do with reversing what (former president Donald) Trump had done than any consideration of the realities on the ground,” he said.

“As such, Biden’s delisting for purely political reasons undermined the legitimacy of US listings and also encouraged other terrorist groups to demand delisting as a diplomatic concession.”

Drone missiles used by Houthis in Yemen in battles against the coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia and UAE. (AFP/File Photo)

Not only has the delisting failed to concretely resolve the humanitarian situation in Yemen, but it may also have cost more people their lives.

Alexander Jalil is a Middle East and North Africa analyst at the Armed Conflict Location Event Data Project, a highly specialized organization dedicated to recording instances of fatal and non-fatal violence in conflicts or politically unstable locations across the world.

Jalil told Arab News that ACLED’s data, painstakingly collected and verified based on local sources, suggests that not only were the Houthis involved in a higher proportion of the fighting in Yemen after they were removed from the terror list, but they were actually responsible for the deaths of more people.

“The events in the six months after the group was removed from the US terror designation list were also deadlier, as our fatalities count saw an increase between Feb. 12, 2021, and Aug. 12, 2021, compared to Aug. 12, 2020, and Feb. 12, 2021,” Jalil said.

INNUMBERS

* 7,998 - Number of fatalities attributed to Houthis in the 6 months prior to delisting.

* 9,312 - Number of fatalities attributed to Houthis in the 6 months since delisting.

(Source: ACLED)

ACLED’s data shows that in the six months preceding the Houthis’ removal from the terror blacklist, they were responsible for 7,998 fatalities. In the six months after they were removed, they killed 9,312 people — a rise of more than 1,314.

It is not clear exactly what caused this jump in fatalities, but Asif Shuja, a senior research fellow who specializes in Iran at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, told Arab News “the delisting of the Houthis by the Biden administration tilted the balance in favor of Iran.”

Iran has long supported the Houthis, who are ideologically aligned with Tehran’s doctrine of velayat-e faqih — or guardianship of the Islamic jurist. This ideology places supreme control of the state in the hands of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the basis of a religious worldview prescribed by his revolutionary predecessor Ruhollah Khomeini.

Saudi Arabia’s 2015 intervention in Yemen was launched in order to uphold the legitimate Yemeni government, which was forced from the capital Sanaa by the Houthis earlier that year, and to prevent further attacks on the Kingdom.

Tehran now provides funding, arms, training, and ballistic missiles to the Houthis — many of which have been turned against Saudi Arabia, its citizens, and its allies.

The Houthis unleashed a wave of ballistic missile and drone attacks against the Kingdom on Sept. 4, defying calls by the international community for a return to the negotiating table.

All of the missiles and drones were intercepted and destroyed, but falling debris from a missile shot down over Eastern Province injured a boy and a girl in Dammam city.

Falling debris also caused damage to 14 residential houses, coalition spokesman Brig. Gen. Turki Al-Maliki said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency.

A second missile targeted the southwestern region of Najran followed by a third on the adjacent region of Jazan. Earlier that same day, coalition air defenses intercepted three booby-trapped drones launched by the Houthis.

Houthi attempts to target civilians and civilian objects are not only hostile and barbaric but also “incompatible with heavenly values ​​and humanitarian principles,” Al-Maliki told SPA.

Another attack at the end of August struck an airport in Abha, wounding eight civilians and damaging a commercial airliner.

A speech by Shiite Houthi leader Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi is screened as supporters take part in a rally. (AFP/File Photo)

“Houthi attacks are perpetuating the conflict, prolonging the suffering of the Yemeni people, and jeopardizing peace efforts at a critical moment,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement at the time.

Abdullah Al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the UN, told Arab News the Kingdom is actively working to expose the Houthi militia’s true nature as a terrorist organization through the UN Security Council.

“When we send letters to the UNSC or to the secretary-general regarding the various attacks that the Houthis try to launch against Saudi Arabia, our main objective is simply to record the fact,” he said.

Al-Mouallimi added: “We are repulsing these attacks, foiling them well before they hit targets in most cases, and we are exposing them to the international community. We are making them well known to the international community and the world at large.”

Saudi Arabia has confronted the Houthis with force but has also consistently pushed for a peaceful resolution to the war in Yemen that places the people at the heart of any political settlement. But a peaceful end to the conflict is not a goal shared by the Houthi militia.

In his speech to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, King Salman of Saudi Arabia said: “The peace initiative in Yemen tabled by the Kingdom last March ought to end the bloodshed and conflict. It ought to put an end to the suffering of the Yemeni people. Unfortunately, the terrorist Houthi militia rejects peaceful solutions.”

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Twitter: @CHamillStewart