Tunisia, Morocco hoteliers eye an end to COVID-19 downturn

Tunisia, Morocco hoteliers eye an end to COVID-19 downturn
Empty sunbeds and shades are seen along a beach in Tunisia’s resort town of Hammamet, about 66 km south of the capital Tunis. (AFP)
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Updated 14 October 2021

Tunisia, Morocco hoteliers eye an end to COVID-19 downturn

Tunisia, Morocco hoteliers eye an end to COVID-19 downturn
  • The country found itself on European nations’ red lists, making it virtually impossible for holidaymakers from major markets including France, Germany and Italy to visit

HAMMAMET, Tunisia: The October sun warms the sands of Hammamet beach on Tunisia’s east coast, but the coronavirus pandemic still casts a shadow and visitor numbers are yet to bounce back.

After two ruined seasons in a row, operators in Tunisia and Morocco are licking their wounds and hoping the lifting of travel restrictions will spell better days.

This year was better than the last, “which was really a terrible season. But (2021) was still only half as good as 2019,” said Haykel Akrout of the Bel Azur hotel.

The luxury facility, with swimming pools overlooking rows of deckchairs along the shore, had to halve its capacity of 1,000 beds in July as a spike in coronavirus cases battered Tunisia.

The country found itself on European nations’ red lists, making it virtually impossible for holidaymakers from major markets including France, Germany and Italy to visit.

But as restrictions have begun to ease, some have managed to reach the North African country.

Elena Bakurova flew in from Vladivostok in the east of Russia to celebrate her 44th birthday and “discover Africa.”

Yanis Merabti, from France’s Lyon, said he had chosen a holiday in Tunisia for the price and the weather.

“France isn’t like this in October. You can’t get to the beach or enjoy the sun, it’s cold,” he said. “It’s so nice here.”

Akrout said the hotel was at around 30 percent capacity, with Russians making up roughly half that number.

“We are talking about survival — it’s nowhere near profitable,” he said.

Dora Milad, head of the FTH hoteliers’ association, said the “catastrophic” 2020 season had battered the sector, with hotel stays down by 80 percent.

This year saw an 11 percent uptick, she said. “That’s very slightly better ... but it’s still far from normal.”

In a good year like 2019, Tunisia registers about 9 million hotel stays, and the tourism sector accounts for up to 14 percent of gross domestic product — providing livelihoods to around 2 million Tunisians.

Nearby Morocco also depends heavily on visitors to its coastal resorts and historic inland cities.

This season saw a modest influx of tourists when the country reopened its borders in June following months of closure.

Roughly 3.5 million visitors had entered the country by the end of August — up from 2.2 million the year before.

But that is still far short of the 13 million registered in the same period of 2019.

Facing its own spiking COVID-19 caseload, Morocco was forced to impose new restrictions, such as limiting travel to the tourist hot spots of Marrakech and Agadir.

“The recovery has been focused on the coastal cities, but it has been slowed down by the restrictions imposed in August,” said Hamid Bentahar, the president of the country’s tourism federation.

In neighboring Algeria, the sector depends largely on domestic tourism, also hit hard by the pandemic.

National Hoteliers’ Federation chief Ahmed Oulbachir said facilities were operating at just a quarter of their normal rate.

Tunisia has seen its coronavirus cases tumble since their mid-year peak, and finally has had some good news on the tourism front too.

Key markets the UK and France have both removed the country — along with Morocco and Algeria — from their travel red lists.

For the Bel Azur, “it’s already too late,” said Akrout.

“But at least it lets us save the 2022 season, as we can sign contracts with tour operators.”

Hotels in Hammamet are now preparing for a recovery.

But Akrout says it is time to rethink the sector beyond the cliches of “camels and the beaches.”

“Mass tourism has shown its limits. It’s time to make use of magnificent sites that are totally unexploited,” he said.

Milad of the Tunisian hoteliers’ association agreed.

The sector has “sat on its laurels” since the 1960s and failed to fully exploit country’s desert south, spectacular interior and the ancient ruins of Carthage, near Tunis, she said.

She also pitched the capital Tunis as a destination for weekend city escapes.

Since the start of the last century, “Tunisia has been a destination for winter breaks in the sun, and to treat lung conditions,” she added.

“That could be an opportunity, after Covid, to regenerate and get out in the fresh air.”


Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes

Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes
Updated 27 October 2021

Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes

Moroccans protest mass vaccination rules; some skirmishes
  • Decision came into effect Oct. 21 and stipulates that Moroccans must provide proof of vaccination to enter workplaces
  • The pass is also required to access indoor services such as restaurants, banks and travel

RABAT, Morocco: Demonstrators took to the streets in cities around Morocco on Wednesday, some clashing with police as they denounced the country’s decision to require coronavirus vaccination passes to be allowed to work and enter public venues.
The decision came into effect Oct. 21 and stipulates that Moroccans must provide proof of vaccination in order to enter their workplaces. In a statement, the government has said employers have “direct legal responsibility” to enforce the decision.
The pass is also required to access indoor services such as restaurants and banks as well as domestic and international travel.
The North African kingdom of 36 million people has Africa’s highest vaccination rate, with more than 50 percent of the population fully inoculated. Earlier this month, the government also started administering booster shots.
But the abrupt and unusually widespread vaccine requirements have also prompted opposition, and led to big crowds at vaccination centers as people rushed to get shots.
In the capital, Rabat, protesters gathered outside the parliament building and chanted slogans against the rule, arguing that it goes against fundamental human rights and civil liberties. Police formed a line to prevent the angry demonstrators from getting inside the legislature.
A few protesters clashed with police as they were pushed away down Mohammed V Avenue that leads to the parliament building.
Among protesters was Nabila Mounib, a member of parliament and the secretary general of the opposition Unified Socialist Party. She joined the protest after being barred from entering the parliament building for showing up without a vaccination pass.
Similar scenes unfolded in other Moroccan cities, with dozens of protesters taking to the streets in the country’s most populous city, Casablanca, as well as tourist hotspots of Marrakech and Agadir. They shouted “United against the pass!” as police pushed and swung batons at some of the demonstrators in an attempt to disperse them.


Lebanese PM distances self from minister’s Houthi Yemen ‘self-defense’ claim

Lebanese PM distances self from minister’s Houthi Yemen ‘self-defense’ claim
Updated 3 min 29 sec ago

Lebanese PM distances self from minister’s Houthi Yemen ‘self-defense’ claim

Lebanese PM distances self from minister’s Houthi Yemen ‘self-defense’ claim
  • The Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council said in a statement he rejected Kordahi’s comments
  • Najib Mikati said George Kordahi’s comments on TV did not reflect government’s, president’s position on Yemen

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Wednesday distanced himself from comments made by the country’s Information Minister George Kordahi suggesting that the Iran-backed Houthis were “defending themselves”
in Yemen.

Kordahi had been responding to a question from the host of “Barlamanasha3b,” an Al Jazeera-affiliated youth TV show, asking about his position on the conflict in the war-torn country.

During the interview recorded on Aug. 5, one month before being appointed information minister, Kordahi said: “The Houthis in Yemen are a resistance movement, defending themselves and not attacking anyone.” He added that the group was acting in self-defense against the “Saudi-UAE attack on Yemen.”

Mikati said: “Kordahi’s statement reflects his personal opinion which we do not accept. These comments do not express the government nor the president’s (Michel Aoun) position on the Yemeni issue. Lebanon is committed to its ties with Arab countries.”

When Kordahi’s remarks later surfaced in a video posted online, they sparked a frenzy on social media and an official protest to the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs from Yemen’s Ambassador to Lebanon Abdullah Al-Deais.

Kordahi replied by saying he had not intended “in any way, to offend the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or the Emirates,” and expressed his “love and loyalty to the leaders and people of the two countries.”

He added: “What I said about the war in Yemen being an absurd war that needs to stop, I said it with conviction, not in defense of Yemen, but also out of love for Saudi Arabia and the UAE.”

But Al-Deais said Kordahi had only “added insult to injury, as he did not apologize, but rather confirmed what he had said.”

The Yemeni envoy added: “Kordahi’s remarks go against Lebanon’s clear position toward Yemen and its condemnation of the Houthi coup and its support for all relevant Arab and UN resolutions.”

Following a meeting with Aoun on Wednesday, Mikati added: “It is true that we distance ourselves from conflicts, but we do not distance ourselves from any Arab position in solidarity with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

This position is a constant position, and we look forward to the best relations.

“Kordahi’s comments will not affect the general course, especially since the constants of the Lebanese position on relations with Arab countries were stated in its ministerial declaration. The interview with Kordahi took place before he was appointed minister and was broadcast yesterday,” Mikati said.

Separately, Lebanon’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed out that Kordahi’s comments reflected his “personal stand” and “do not reflect the government’s position.”

In a statement, it said: “The ministry has repeatedly condemned the terrorist attacks on Saudi Arabia and maintains its position in defending the security and safety of its Gulf brothers, for whom it holds love, respect, and appreciation, and refrains from interfering in their internal and external policies.”

The Gulf Cooperation Council noted that Kordahi’s remarks showed his limited knowledge and lack of understanding of the situation in Yemen.

GCC Secretary-General Dr. Nayef bin Falah Al-Hajraf condemned, “the Lebanese minister of information’s defense of the Houthi coup group, while ignoring the intransigence of the Houthi movement against all international efforts to end the Yemeni crisis, and at a time when the Saudi Houthi group is targeting missiles and marches, targeting the defenseless Yemeni people, and preventing relief aid from reaching the stricken areas.”

Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid Al-Bukhari on Wednesday met with Al-Deais.

In a statement issued by the Saudi embassy, Al-Bukhari reaffirmed “the Kingdom’s position on supporting legitimacy in Yemen, reaching a political solution, in accordance with the terms of reference represented by the Gulf Initiative and its executive mechanism, the outcomes of the Comprehensive National Dialogue Conference and the resolution 2216, in order to preserve Yemen’s unity, integrity, respect its sovereignty and independence, and reject any interference in its internal affairs.

“The Iranian-backed Houthis continue hostilities and terrorist operations by firing ballistic missiles and booby-trapped drones to target civilians and civilian objects in Saudi Arabia, violating international and humanitarian law by using civilian populations in Yemeni civilian areas as human shields, and launching booby-trapped boats and remotely marching, posing a serious threat to regional and international security,” he said.

The Saudi envoy highlighted, “the legitimate right of the Saudi-led coalition to restore legitimacy in Yemen, to take and implement the necessary measures to deal with these hostilities and terrorist attacks, and to prevent the smuggling of weapons into these militias that poses a threat to the freedom of maritime navigation and global trade in the Bab Al-Mandab Strait and the Red Sea.”

Al-Bukhari praised “the efficiency” of Saudi air defenses in intercepting and responding to more than 400 ballistic missiles, 791 drones, and at least 205 naval mines.


Supporters prevent Lebanese Forces Geagea eader from attending hearing

Supporters prevent Lebanese Forces Geagea eader from attending hearing
Updated 23 sec ago

Supporters prevent Lebanese Forces Geagea eader from attending hearing

Supporters prevent Lebanese Forces Geagea eader from attending hearing

BEIRUT: Supporters of the Christian Lebanese Forces party on Wednesday blocked roads to leader Samir Geagea’s residence as he failed to turn up for a hearing at army intelligence over fatal clashes in Beirut.
Geagea was summoned to the hearing, scheduled for 9 a.m. local time on Wednesday, amid claims by the Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally the Amal Movement that Lebanese Forces (LF) supporters shot dead seven of their followers in clashes on Oct. 14.
Geagea has denied the claims and said he is being unfairly targetted for his support of a probe by Judge Tarek Bitar into the August 2020 Beirut port explosion that Hezbollah opposes.
“We won’t let anyone, not Hezbollah nor Iran nor Syria or anyone try to subjugate us,” LF protester Fadi told Reuters.
“We are here today in 2021 sacrificing for Samir Geagea just like he sacrified for us in 1994 so Lebanon could remain and we could remain,” Fadi, who did not give his last name, said.
Geagea, a former warlord, was imprisoned after Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war and released in 2005 following the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon after three decades of occupation.


Western envoys met with Sudan’s PM in his residence

Western envoys met with Sudan’s PM in his residence
Updated 27 October 2021

Western envoys met with Sudan’s PM in his residence

Western envoys met with Sudan’s PM in his residence
  • The mission added that the envoys found Hamdok in good health

CAIRO: Envoys from France, Germany, Norway, the UK, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations met with Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok at his residence, the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission Sudan (UNITAMS) wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

The mission added that the envoys found Hamdok in good health.


US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption

US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption
Updated 27 October 2021

US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption

US urges Iran to show ‘good faith’ in talks resumption
  • Iran's negotiator said after talks with EU mediators in Brussels that Tehran had agreed to resume talks
  • “This window will not remain open forever as Iran continues to take provocative nuclear steps”: State Department

WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday urged Iran to show “good faith” and quickly revive a nuclear deal after the clerical state indicated it would return to negotiations in Vienna next month.
Iran's nuclear negotiator said after talks with European Union mediators in Brussels that Tehran had agreed to resume talks in Vienna next month. These discussions had been on hiatus since June.
"We are prepared to return to Vienna, and we believe that it remains possible to quickly reach and implement an understanding on return to mutual full compliance" with the 2015 nuclear deal, a State Department spokesperson said.
The talks should focus on "closing the small number of issues that remained outstanding at the end of the sixth round of talks in June," he said.
"As we have also been clear, this window will not remain open forever as Iran continues to take provocative nuclear steps, so we hope that they come to Vienna to negotiate quickly and in good faith."
President Joe Biden has repeatedly offered to return to the nuclear accord reached in 2015 but his administration has voiced growing frustration at the prolonged delay, which comes as a new hardline government gets settled in Tehran.
Then president Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 and imposed sweeping sanctions, leading Iran to step up contested nuclear work in protest.