New chapter for Baghdad’s book street

New chapter for Baghdad’s book street
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People walk past an installation depicting a Christmas tree made of lights and marking the new year 2022 during the reopening of the renovated Al-Mutanabbi street on Saturday. (AFP)
New chapter for Baghdad’s book street
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Costumed performers walk along the reopened and renovated Al-Mutanabbi street in the center of Iraq’s capital Baghdad on Saturday. (AFP)
New chapter for Baghdad’s book street
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Clowns perform during the reopening of the renovated Al-Mutanabbi street, the historic heart of the book trade and an outlet for writers and intellectuals, in Baghdad on Saturday. (AFP)
New chapter for Baghdad’s book street
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People walk along the reopened and renovated Al-Mutanabbi street, the historic heart of the book trade and an outlet for writers and intellectuals, in the center of Iraq’s capital on Saturday. (AFP)
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Updated 26 December 2021

New chapter for Baghdad’s book street

New chapter for Baghdad’s book street
  • Inaugurating Al-Mutanabbi Street comes as recalling a golden age when Baghdad was considered one of the Arab world's cultural capitals
  • It was first inaugurated in 1932 by King Faisal I and named after the celebrated 10th century poet Abul Tayeb al-Mutanabbi

BAGHDAD: The Iraqi capital Baghdad on Saturday celebrated the renovation of the historic heart of its book trade, in the latest sign of an artistic renaissance after decades of conflict and strife.
In a city where explosions once could mean only one thing — violence — colorful fireworks lit up the sky during festivities organized by Baghdad municipality to inaugurate the renovated Al-Mutanabbi Street.
Its new look comes alongside art exhibitions, gallery openings, book fairs and festivals reflecting a fledgling cultural renaissance, and recalling a golden age when Baghdad was considered one of the Arab world’s cultural capitals.
Al-Mutanabbi Street was first inaugurated in 1932 by King Faisal I and named after the celebrated 10th century poet Abul Tayeb Al-Mutanabbi, who was born under the Abbasid dynasty in what would become modern-day Iraq.
A narrow street in the heart of old Baghdad, Al-Mutanabbi has long drawn students and young people, usually on Fridays. But it is also frequented by intellectuals and older bibliophiles.
Normality still hangs by a thread in the Iraqi capital, where rocket and drone attacks sometimes target its highly fortified Green Zone, and where a July suicide attack on a market killed more than 30 people.
There was high security for the costumed performers and musicians who performed along the car-free road of new cobblestones.
The road is lined with shops, freshly-painted and sparkling, but most were closed. Fairy lights garlanded the ornate brick facades and wrought iron balconies.
Private-sector banks financed the work, which began in August.
“Since the 1960s, I would come here every week to look at the books on the stalls and to meet friends,” veteran journalist and writer Zoheir Al-Jazairi told AFP, delighting over the street’s latest transformation.
“It’s an islet of beauty in the heart of Baghdad. You notice the difference compared to the rest of the city,” he said, lamenting the oft-neglected heritage of the capital.
Stretching for just under one kilometer (0.6 miles), the street begins with a statue of its namesake overlooking the Tigris River and ends with an arch adorned with the poet’s quotes.
Visitors can find Arabic translations of American best-sellers side-by-side with textbooks.
There are titles in an array of languages, and every once in a while a hidden treasure can be found nestled between the selections.
Years of sectarian violence followed the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Iraq’s former dictator Saddam Hussein.
The rise of the Islamic State jihadist group in 2014 saw more brutality and bloodshed.
Iraq is trying to recover from its years of violence but remains hobbled by political divisions, corruption and poverty.
Even Al-Mutanabbi Street, a center of intellectual life with its cafes and books, could not escape the past violence.
In March 2007, a suicide car bomb killed 30 people and wounded 60 others there.
Mohamed Adnan, 28, took over a bookshop from his father, who died in the blast.
“He was killed, our neighbors too and several others who are dear to us,” said the history graduate, welcoming the renovation.
“I wish those who left were alive to see how the street has transformed,” he said.
On the banks of the Tigris a singer hummed traditional ballads, beneath the fireworks.


Exclusive: Netflix’s Tinder Swindler stars recount transformation from victim to inspiration for women

Exclusive: Netflix’s Tinder Swindler stars recount transformation from victim to inspiration for women
Updated 17 May 2022

Exclusive: Netflix’s Tinder Swindler stars recount transformation from victim to inspiration for women

Exclusive: Netflix’s Tinder Swindler stars recount transformation from victim to inspiration for women
  • Norwegian-born Cecilie Fjellhoy and Stockholm native Pernilla Sjoholm to deliver special keynote address at Arab Women Forum
  • Defrauded by a con artist, they have hit back by speaking up about their experience of romance scams

DUBAI: Just swipe left. At least that is what many an indecisive Tinder user may have found themselves doing after the notorious case of the dating app fraudster dubbed the “Tinder Swindler” came to light in an explosive Netflix docu-drama earlier this year.

Despite being defrauded by the conman, Norwegian TV personality Cecilie Fjellhoy and Swedish business owner Pernilla Sjoholm are hitting back by speaking up about their experience.

The women will appear during a special keynote address titled “When women fight back” at the Arab Women Forum, held in partnership with Arab News, at the Palazzo Versace Dubai on May 17.

“It was very traumatic,” Sjoholm told Arab News, reflecting on her experience ahead of Tuesday’s forum appearance. “It wasn’t only about the money you have lost. You have lost the way you viewed yourself, how you viewed everything.

“I used to think about fraud as: ‘Oh my God, who gets defrauded? You must be of lower intelligence or something.’ And I’m very embarrassed to say this today, because of what I lost.

“I was 31 years old, and it was not the way I would have imagined my life to be. To lose everything. You also lose your soul.”

 

 

Based on an expose by Verdens Gang, a Norwegian tabloid newspaper known under the abbreviation VG, the program unearthed the story of Israeli national Shimon Hayut, who allegedly posed on the dating app Tinder as Simon Leviev, claiming to be the son of a diamond mogul.

Hayut notoriously charmed women and persuaded them to loan him money, swindling an estimated $10 million from people across the globe.

According to reports, Hayut followed a pattern. After matching with unsuspecting women on Tinder, he would take them on a lavish first date and slowly build up a relationship, all the while dating other women.

Israeli national Shimon Hayut used the Tinder app to scam unsuspecting victims. 

Eventually, the fraudster would confide in them that a nefarious set of “enemies” were after him, persuading the women to send him money on the understanding that he would quickly pay them back.

After a nifty piece of counter-swindling by one woman, Ayleen Koeleman, who had been alerted to the con by the expose in VG, Hayut was arrested in 2019 and sentenced to 15 months in prison for fraud in Israel.

 

 

However, Hayut served only five months behind bars before being released. He has never been charged for crimes related to Fjellhoy and Sjoholm, and denies their claims of fraud.

And the story does not end there. In a shocking twist, Hayut is now pursuing a Hollywood career, while the women he targeted remain in debt to this day.

“We were very disappointed,” said Sjoholm. “Unfortunately, there is no extradition from Israel to Europe. So he’s still there.

From 2017 to 2019, Shimon Hayut used the dating app Tinder to swindle about $10 million from women around the world. (Shutterstock)

“We don’t think that they handled this case properly and they should have. And, unfortunately, that is the way it happens in a lot of fraud cases. I mean, I just know the numbers in Sweden. They drop 96 percent of all the cases they get, because they have too much.”

Instead of consigning themselves to a life of victimhood, both Sjoholm and Fjellhoy are working to inspire women across the world to identify and fight back against romance scams.

“We have talked about a lot of the shame that surrounds fraud and I think that it’s so important to stand up and say that this could happen to anyone,” said Sjoholm.

“Because it’s so common that fraudsters get away with fraud due to people being scared of sharing their story. So I definitely know that we helped a lot of people and hopefully will help a lot of people in the future as well.”

 

 

According to Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting center for fraud and cybercrime, the majority of victims of romance fraud are women. Sjoholm believes women are specifically targeted for their perceived emotional vulnerabilities.

“I think that we women are more emotional people,” she said. “These fraudsters work a lot with emotions, because it is a form of emotional abuse.”

The Tinder Swindler case has raised many questions about what responsibility dating apps ought to hold for romance scams and what more they could be doing to safeguard users.

“I don’t feel like there was a lot that the dating app could have done in our case,” said Fjellhoy, also speaking to Arab News ahead of the forum.

“I feel like just doing proper identity checks so you can’t catfish someone, for example. We see that they have some, but I feel like fraud is much larger than just what happens on the dating app. They take you away from the dating app. It’s just one avenue of many that fraudsters are using.”

Beyond dating apps tightening their safeguards, there have also been calls to improve awareness in schools so that young people are better equipped to spot catfishing — the use of fake accounts to lure victims — and romance scams.

“If you’re going to educate young people, maybe teach them more about what kind of different people exist in the world,” said Fjellhoy.

“There are some people that don’t have empathy, there are psychopaths and narcissists who will take advantage of your empathy and those types of things. But I think it’s important to not put too much emphasis on us as victims as well.”

Indeed, there is a danger of victim blaming if the responsibility for spotting scammers is placed on users, when the onus ought to be on clamping down on fraudsters.

“We didn’t do anything wrong here,” said Fjellhoy. “And fraud will always happen. But, when fraud happens, how do we, as a society, talk about how to stop it?”

 

 

Nevertheless, there are several red flags that dating app users can look out for, says Sjoholm, including “love bombing” — the practice of lavishing someone with attention or affection with a view to influence or manipulate them.

However, Sjoholm believes that the very nature of social media makes it difficult to determine the truth about someone. “When it comes to social media, it is entirely about everyone wanting to show off their best side,” she said.

“Everyone wants to show off the good parts. When it comes to social media, I would say that 95 percent is just fraud in general.”

The mental health repercussions of romance fraud cannot be understated, as victims grapple with both the financial fallout and intense feelings of shame. “Regarding how your mental health is when you realize you’ve been defrauded, I think, for me, why I felt so low that I ended up in a psychiatric ward is that no one took you seriously,” said Fjellhoy.

“And I feel like, for example, you go to the police and they just brush you off. And I tried to contact the banks and they told me: ‘Well, you still need to pay down the loans.’ And you’re still mentally low. It’s double — emotional and economic. You see no way out.”

As a result of her ordeal, Fjellhoy established the Action Reaction Foundation to focus on the mental health challenges of survivors and to lobby for stronger laws as well as policies to protect victims.

One of the lasting effects of the ordeal is an inability to trust others easily. “I’m still having trouble with trust,” said Sjoholm.

“I have more good days than I have bad days. But even on my good days, when someone does something very nice toward me, I can sometimes feel like there’s an agenda behind it. That someone is there to hurt me.

“I can still socialize. I can meet new people, but I’m having a very hard time to really talk to people. I don’t want to take away trust. You should be trusting people, you should be helping people, because that is what makes this world better. But, of course, this has been a tremendous trauma.”

 

 

For Fjellhoy, it is also about having trust in the system to protect victims and take their claims seriously. 

“That the police will be there to protect you, that if you go to the bank, and you’re saying you’re being defrauded, you can get some peace and quiet to figure things out, that they will give that to us,” said Fjellhoy.

“Just so many things that could have made everything that happened afterward much easier, which would have made the fight easier.”

For others who have fallen victim to romance scams, Fjellhoy’s advice is to speak up.

“Please report it to the police, no matter what,” she said. “We know that it hasn’t gone our way. But they need to know about all cases so they can see how big it actually is.

“Please, report it.”


Dutch artist Satori headlines Desert Sound event in Riyadh

DJ NarkBeat engaged the crowd with his notable performance at Desert Sounds'
DJ NarkBeat engaged the crowd with his notable performance at Desert Sounds' "Mars Escape" on Friday. (AN photo/Basheer Saleh)
Updated 16 May 2022

Dutch artist Satori headlines Desert Sound event in Riyadh

DJ NarkBeat engaged the crowd with his notable performance at Desert Sounds' "Mars Escape" on Friday. (AN photo/Basheer Saleh)
  • New wave of events featuring international lineup of artists and diverse activities catering to music lovers, weekend family entertainment in Riyadh

RIYADH: On Friday, a vibrant series of electronic house music bounced off the hills of the Riyadh desert at the NOX Camp Desert Resort, bringing together music, art and desert-sport lovers alike in a one-of-a-kind event.

The exclusive music and art event organizer, Desert Sound Entertainment, presented their premiere “Mars Escape” experience to the Saudi community, transporting about 1,000 attendees to another dimension made distinct by live art, festival makeup and fire performances.

The moon shone, setting up the atmosphere for the celestial night, the music ascended. Headlined by Satori, the international DJ lineup included the likes of Alaa Jazaery, Rafa, NarkBeat, and a surprise performance by local DJ Ibbie.

One. of. the Mars. Escape attendees enjoyed one of the many games and activities 'Mars Escape' had to offer. (AN photo by Basheer Saleh)

The 10-hour festival saw a distinctive blend of artists taking to the main stage. Rafa gave the crowd a sensual and authentically earthy organic house experience while NarkBeat’s performance left the crowd in anticipation with sultry Arabian oud sounds. Alaa Jazaeri, founder of a similar music festival titled “Narratives,” slowed down the groove with an organic and soulful house music set, taking festival-goers on a mini-journey.

The diverse music echoing the valley of the desert culminated with Satori, a world-famous Dutch producer whose music focuses on spirituality and enlightenment. His set took off promptly at midnight and closed the event. His stop at Riyadh is part of his world tour this month with upcoming shows in Moscow, Stockholm and London.

HIGHLIGHT

Rafa gave the crowd a sensual and authentically earthy organic house experience while NarkBeat’s performance left the crowd in anticipation with sultry Arabian oud sounds.

“I would not imagine from this side of the world that people would know me and connect with the music in this way, so it was really a big pleasure. I’ve been playing in this region of course already for a few years, if we speak about Dubai or Egypt, I played in Oman and Lebanon, but never in Saudi,” Satori said in an exclusive interview with Arab News.

Satori’s mellow sounds, crafted under the influence of the Japanese term “Satori,” cannot be narrowed down to a single genre, but rather a feeling. His music combines elements of self-exploration, earthy melodies, psychedelic tones and vivid energy. The crescendo of the piano, synthetic electronic beats and kalimba prompted a series of cheers as people danced. Almost every listener was rhythmically entranced, surrendering to the sound.

AN photo by Basheer Saleh

“For me it feels like I’m part of innovation. There’s something progressing and just to be part of that is really a great honor. It feels like we’re writing history and I’m kind of part of that chapter,” he said of his recent performance. “In the end, music is a universal language, people would connect to that or understand that even if they’re not used to these types of events. People will feel it.”

While primarily centered around the musical performances, the Saudi General Entertainment Authority-certified event also included an array of cultural activities such as art installations, graffiti sites and street art, virtual reality booths, games, and live catering. “We wanted to complete the music experience as a whole, connecting with nature and expressing through art and feeling with music,” assistant manager, Reema Al-Saud, told Arab News.

Event-goers were ready to indulge in the cultural aspect of the experience. “This is my first experience, and it gives a nice vibe,” said attendee Bha’a Mahdi. “I didn’t like that there wasn’t a big crowd. The place is very, very gorgeous. Incredible. It’s unreal. I liked the music, but was hoping the music would have more drops and highs. I felt united with the desert, I even removed my shoes,” he said.

Other members of the audience had similar comments. “The location is good, the vibe is nice. Just one thing: I wish there were more people,” said one attendee.

“The ground traps you. The sand doesn’t give you way to dance or walk,” said another attendee.

This international lineup and diverse activities come after a new wave of events that cater to those music-lovers, the latest being Freaks of Nature, bringing new meaning to weekend family entertainment ventures in Riyadh.


Shows, events canceled in the UAE for mourning period

Shows, events canceled in the UAE for mourning period
Updated 14 May 2022

Shows, events canceled in the UAE for mourning period

Shows, events canceled in the UAE for mourning period

DUBAI: Multiple cultural shows and events in the UAE, including Culture Summit Abu Dhabi and Dubai Comedy Festival, have been postponed following the death of the country’s president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. 

On Friday, the Ministry of Presidential Affairs announced 40 days of mourning with flags at half-mast from Friday, with work suspended in the public and private sector for the first three days, starting Saturday. 

Culture Summit Abu Dhabi was scheduled to take place May 16-18 at Manarat Al-Saadiyat island. The Department of Culture and Tourism is yet to announce the new dates. 

Dubai Comedy Festival will reschedule its upcoming shows including Vir Das, Jo Koy, The Comedy Bizarre and The Laughter Factory till May 16. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Mohamed Hamaki (@hamaki)

Kuwait, along with several other countries, also announced three days of mourning. Egyptian singer Mohamed Hamaki canceled his concert in Kuwait, which was scheduled to take place on May 13, in honor of the late president. 


6 celebrities mourn death of UAE’s Sheikh Khalifa 

6 celebrities mourn death of UAE’s Sheikh Khalifa 
Updated 14 May 2022

6 celebrities mourn death of UAE’s Sheikh Khalifa 

6 celebrities mourn death of UAE’s Sheikh Khalifa 

DUBAI: Messages of condolence poured in this weekend from Arab celebrities following news of the death of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the president of the UAE. 

Hussain Al-Jassmi 

The Emirati singer shared a lengthy message on his social media in honor of Sheikh Khalifa, whom he referred to as his “father and leader.”

Ahlam Al-Shamsi 

The UAE music sensation paid tribute to the late president by sharing videos, pictures and Stories of him on Instagram. “Today, the UAE is sad and orphaned,” she wrote. 

Tamer Hosny

The Egyptian actor and pop singer took to social media to send his condolences to the people of the UAE and to the royal family.

Najwa Karam 

The Lebanese singer’s message referred to the late president as “a leader in the true sense with compassionate hands and good ideas.” 

Mona Zaki 

The Egyptian actress took to Instagram to offer her condolences to the country’s people. She also shared President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s message, in which he said that he “mourns one of the most precious men and one of the greatest leaders.”

Elissa 

“A visionary man…History will remember him, the man with compassionate hands and a bright history,” wrote the Lebanese singer on Twitter.


Trevor Noah to attend latest edition of Culture Summit Abu Dhabi

Trevor Noah to attend latest edition of Culture Summit Abu Dhabi
Updated 13 May 2022

Trevor Noah to attend latest edition of Culture Summit Abu Dhabi

Trevor Noah to attend latest edition of Culture Summit Abu Dhabi

DUBAI: South African comedian and TV host Trevor Noah is set to speak at the fifth edition of the Culture Summit in the UAE.

The Emmy award-winning host will take part in a keynote conversation on May 16, which will follow the event’s theme, “A Living Culture.”

Unlike last year’s virtual forum, this year’s summit — organized by the Department of Culture and Tourism in Abu Dhabi — is an in-person event open to the public by invitation only in Manarat Al-Saadiyat.

It brings together pioneers of art, media, technology, and culture from more than 90 countries to generate new strategies, and identify ways in which culture can transform societies, as well as communities.

The three-day event will examine modern issues causing changes in world culture and creative industries, including the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.