Qatari official’s Iran visit gives hope for talks breakthrough

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi greets Qatar's Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani for a meeting in Tehran on  Jan. 27, 2022. (Iranian Presidency Office/Handout via REUTERS)
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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi greets Qatar's Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani for a meeting in Tehran on Jan. 27, 2022. (Iranian Presidency Office/Handout via REUTERS)
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi meets with Qatari FM Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and his delegation in Tehran on Jan. 27, 2022. (Iranian Presidency Office/Handout via REUTERS)
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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi meets with Qatari FM Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and his delegation in Tehran on Jan. 27, 2022. (Iranian Presidency Office/Handout via REUTERS)
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Updated 28 January 2022

Qatari official’s Iran visit gives hope for talks breakthrough

Qatari official’s Iran visit gives hope for talks breakthrough
  • Sheikh Tamim to meet US President Joe Biden on Jan. 31

DUBAI: Qatar’s top diplomat visited Iran on Thursday, days before Qatar’s emir holds talks in Washington at a crucial time for efforts by Tehran and major powers to revive a 2015 nuclear pact.
The visit by Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani comes after his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian on Monday said Tehran is ready to consider direct talks with Washington if it feels it can get a “good nuclear deal.”
However, Iran’s state news agency IRNA said the visit was not intended to help set up direct talks with Washington.
“Although Doha and Tehran are experiencing good and close relations, this visit ... has fueled some misconceptions. Some are fabricating it to facilitate direct talks with the United States,” IRNA said.
The US and Iran have held eight rounds of indirect talks in Vienna since April aimed at reinstating the pact that lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.
After then-US President Donald Trump quit the nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions, Iran gradually started violating the pact’s nuclear curbs.

BACKGROUND

The US and Iran have held eight rounds of indirect talks in Vienna since April aimed at reinstating the pact that lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.

Significant gaps remain about the speed and scope of returning to the deal, including Iran’s demand for a US guarantee of no further punitive steps, and how and when to restore curbs on Iran’s atomic work.
Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, will hold talks with US President Joe Biden on Jan. 31. They will include efforts to salvage the pact. The minister, Sheikh Mohammed, is expected in Washington on Friday in advance of the emir’s visit.
Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi emphasized the importance of “deepening ties between regional countries” in a meeting with Sheikh Mohammed, who invited the president to attend the Gas Exporting Countries Forum summit in February in Doha.
The lead US nuclear negotiator told Reuters on Sunday that securing the nuclear deal is unlikely unless Tehran releases four US citizens Washington says it is holding hostage.
While ruling out any US preconditions, Iran said on Monday that Tehran and Washington can reach “a lasting agreement on both separate paths (the Vienna talks and the prisoner exchange) if the other party has the will.”
Iranian officials have refused to comment on the matter, but Tehran has repeatedly said it is ready for a full prisoner exchange with Washington.
Tehran denies holding people for political reasons. It has accused many of the dual-nationals and foreigners in its jails of espionage.
Tehran says Iranians detained in the US, mostly for breaking sanctions, are being unjustly held.


Tech booms in the GCC, but women in danger of being excluded

Tech booms in the GCC, but women in danger of being excluded
Updated 16 sec ago

Tech booms in the GCC, but women in danger of being excluded

Tech booms in the GCC, but women in danger of being excluded
  • US, Saudi Arabia have similar rates of women in tech, yet experts say more should be done to boost diversity
  • How Middle East women can capitalize on GCC tech boom was discussed at Arab Women Forum

DUBAI: Tech is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, and the Arab Gulf is increasingly viewed as one of its global centers. At the heart of the region’s tech scene is Dubai, dubbed the “tech hub of the Arab world.”

The UAE’s commercial capital continued to grow over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, in part, perhaps, because of its decision to keep its borders open while most of the world went into prolonged lockdowns.

But this continued growth is also the result of the rising number of technology startups drawn to the UAE, Dubai’s appeal for entrepreneurs and its ability to woo international venture capital firms.

According to Dubai-based research platform Wamda, investments in Middle Eastern tech firms, excluding those in Israel, quadrupled to $2.87 billion last year — with roughly half of that capital flowing into the UAE.

Dubai is now home to several tech startups worth at least $1 billion — known in the business community as “unicorns” for their statistical rarity.

These include Vista Global, a private aviation platform; Kitopi, a cloud kitchen platform; and Emerging Markets Property Group, which manages classified listing websites in Egypt, the UAE and elsewhere.

Yet, despite the burgeoning success of tech startups in the Middle East, Arab women remain poorly represented in the industry.

Despite female involvement in the Emirates Mars Mission, which successfully placed a probe in orbit around the red planet in February 2021, “the lack of presence in this region of women in tech is very visible,” Dr. Nour E. Raouafi, a project scientist with NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Mission, told Arab News.

“If you look at some domains, like space where I am working, the participation of women is not at the level where it should be,” Raouafi added, speaking ahead of his appearance on a panel at the Arab Women Forum, which took place in Dubai on May 17.

According to Endeavor Insight, Saudi Arabia and the US boast a similar participation rate among women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, known as STEM, at 28 percent. This is higher than the UK, which has a rate of just 22 percent.

Nevertheless, experts believe there is far more work to be done to encourage more women to pursue degrees and careers in STEM fields, both in the Arab world and globally.

“We should be striving toward equality at all levels — from management downward — and the best way to do this is to start from the grassroots, from colleges and schools, and to encourage young women to work in space and other fields of tech by providing fellowships and other incentives,” said Raouafi

There are reasons for optimism. Measures designed to enhance the business environment in the Gulf and to eliminate gender discrimination in the workplace are already moving things in the right direction.

“Young professionals, women and men, are now flocking to the Middle East while working for European or US based technology companies,” Philippe Blanchard, founder of Futurous, told Arab News.

“Concrete actions have been taken by the GCC leadership, in support of the IT industry, in setting up an efficient education system, as well as tackling the gender pay gap such as in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.”

However, social perceptions remain an obstacle. “Technology is still considered a man’s world, but there are opportunities to change the mindset,” said Blanchard.

For example, “ensuring the parents, the school teachers and university professors are not pushing specific curriculum based on gender — like nurses for young women and engineers for young men.”


Arab women are now ministers and CEOs, yet stereotypes persist

Arab women are now ministers and CEOs, yet stereotypes persist
Updated 3 min 22 sec ago

Arab women are now ministers and CEOs, yet stereotypes persist

Arab women are now ministers and CEOs, yet stereotypes persist
  • Western and Asian media outlets accused of publishing regressive stereotypes of subdued Arab women
  • Experts say Arab women have a role to play in asserting themselves both in business and in the home

DUBAI: Outdated and harmful stereotypes of meek and oppressed Arab women still prevail in Western and Asian media. 

Despite these faulty notions about who and what they are, Arab women continue to defy expectations and make inroads in the worlds of business, politics, finance, diplomacy and tech.

However, many believe more must still be done to tackle baseless misconceptions about Arab women, their role and their capabilities in the eyes of the outside world.

“We live in a world which has historically looked at our part of the world as a traditional one, where women are more in the family and household,” May Nasrallah, founder and executive chairman of deNovo Corporate Advisers, told Arab News.

A Saudi woman poses for a photo after having a driving lesson in Jeddah on March 7, 2018. (AFP/File Photo)

“But in reality, we are so far away from that (in terms of) the evolution and how much we’ve changed in how we operate here. In the UAE, we have women in government, leadership positions, heads of banks, family groups and ministers, so we’ve changed a lot, but there is a lack of knowledge.”

To change the image of the Arab woman abroad, Nasrallah has urged traditional forms of media, such as television broadcasters, to showcase more female Arab leaders.

“We see multiple examples where they are very impressive,” she said. “It’s about continuing to escalate women to let the world see what they are capable of.”

Another potential area of improvement is in challenging gender expectations that persist within some communities.

Nasrallah and Kanoo were part of a discussion panel on “Arab women’s image,” which took place at the Arab Women’s Forum within the Top CEO conference in Dubai on May 17. (AN Photo/Zubiya Shaikh)

“We need our own traditional images to change internally,” Nasrallah said. “It changes with the different generations and we’re getting there. Look at the leadership around us, and who is running our region right now. It is very forward-thinking, very open minded, and it enhances women in leadership positions. It’s been reflected time and again.” 

Nasrallah believes self-doubt is another obstacle that needs to be overcome in the mindsets of Arab women. Recalling her own time in investment banking, she remembers male colleagues putting themselves forward for promotions or new roles — whether they were capable of them or not.

“Women, on the other hand, second guess themselves and that’s inherent in our configuration, which needs to be changed,” she said. 

A support network at home is also crucial. Nasrallah, who has four sons, said that she drew encouragement from both her father and husband, who pushed her to maintain her full-time career. 

“Having men around us that encourage us to continue to go forth in the business world or workforce is a huge positive.”

Equally, providing the right tools to be successful and to not be afraid to fail would give more women the mentality required to succeed. Having a supportive network of peers would also provide an important ecosystem that can help support them in entrepreneurship.

For Suzy Kanoo, CEO and president of the Khalil bin Ebrahim Kanoo Company and International Motor Trading Agency in Bahrain, raising awareness about the successes of Arab women is key. 

“We talk about how great we are, but women underestimate their strength — it’s unequaled,” she told Arab News.

Saudi entrepreneurs Asmaa Alabdallah (L), founder of BitGo, and Reem Dad (R), co-founder of Taibah VR, stand in front of Halcyon House in Washington. (AFP)

“In my family business, I attend conferences around the Asian continent, and I have noticed they preferred to talk to the male manager, which hit me, and I realized I am blessed to be a part of this region and I am so proud to be an Arab woman.” 

Kanoo, who wrote a book about empowering Arab women called “Hear Us Speak: Letters from Arab Women,” said the West fails fundamentally to understand Arab women and their religion.

“(For the West), being more modest or wearing a hijab has something to do with a woman being more submissive,” she said. 

“(For them) it’s synonymous with that, but when they come here, they see it’s not true at all. This is a choice that everyone has the right to, but I’m respected the same way as someone who wears one and this is the beauty of our region.”

Making an effort to understand, visit and read more about the region would help eliminate such misconceptions, she believes, as foreigners would come to realize that the ideas they have been fed about the role and status of Arab women is false.

However, Kanoo believes an issue arises when Arab women seek to move up the professional ladder. 

“I see that lacking,” she said. “We need more action, with more women on board seats. We’re just as educated. So, we need an extra push and more affirmative action on that.”

She called for more female judges to preside over family courts across the Middle East — a move that would rebalance the mere 8 percent of female judges seen today.

Saudi women jog in the streets of Jeddah's historic Al-Balad district. (AFP)

Arab women must also become more assertive in demanding their rights, taking shame out of the equation, Kanoo added. “Once we stand up and (claim) our rights, that’s it, people start to respect that.”

Generation Z — those born between the mid to late-1990s and the 2010s — is challenging outdated behaviors thanks to social media and evolving parenting habits. “Social media paved the way and parents are another large influence on that,” Kanoo said. 

“More than anything, our governments are helping us through the different reforms we are seeing, across Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Nothing is going to hold Gen Z back. We’re not there yet, but we’re moving forward, which is fantastic.”

But continuing to empower Arab women is not just about reputation or doing the right thing — it is also good for the economy, said Nasrallah.

“A better educated mother will better educate her children and give them opportunities as well, so it’s an ecosystem that will benefit to evolve and grow. 

“More separation brings you down as a society and we need to be lifting ourselves up and showcasing to the world what we are capable of.”

Nasrallah and Kanoo were part of a discussion panel on “Arab women’s image,” which took place at the Arab Women’s Forum within the Top CEO conference in Dubai on May 17. 


Houthi mines have killed 372 people since mid-2019: Report

A member of Yemen's pro-government forces searches for land mines near al-Jawba frontline in the village of Hays, Hodeida. (AFP)
A member of Yemen's pro-government forces searches for land mines near al-Jawba frontline in the village of Hays, Hodeida. (AFP)
Updated 41 min 43 sec ago

Houthi mines have killed 372 people since mid-2019: Report

A member of Yemen's pro-government forces searches for land mines near al-Jawba frontline in the village of Hays, Hodeida. (AFP)
  • Yemenis say that the Houthis have laid mines on roads and around hospitals, schools and farms, and have planted more naval mines in the Red Sea

AL-MUKALLA: Tens of thousands of land mines planted by the Iran-backed Houthis across Yemen have killed 372 people and wounded 754 more since mid-2019, the Yemeni Landmine Monitor said.

The latest victim of unexploded ordnance was a policeman, Mohammed Aklan, who was fatally wounded this week after stepping on a mine outside his home on the outskirts of the western city of Hodeidah, the organization said.

Also this week, a civilian was killed in a mine blast as he was collecting plastic bottles in the eastern section of Hodeidah.

Yemen’s Hodeidah province is plagued with undetected land mines. The Houthis planted thousands of mines in the province in 2017 and 2018 to obstruct a military offensive by government troops.

The new statistics on land mine victims in Yemen comes as activists, diplomats, ministers and members of the public in Yemen launched an online campaign to draw attention to the use of land mines by the Houthis, demanding that the militia hand over maps that show the locations of the devices.

Yemenis say that the Houthis have laid mines on roads and around hospitals, schools and farms, and have planted more naval mines in the Red Sea, calling upon the world, mainly international mediators, to order the militia to hand over maps during the UN-brokered truce.

“The colossal number of land mines planted by Houthis in Yemen has been unconscionable and will take years to discover and dismantle. To help deter more innocent people and wildlife from being murdered or maimed, Houthis should immediately #HandInTheMaps so they can be detected,” the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, D.C. tweeted.

Muammar Al-Eryani, Yemen’s information minister, said that the extensive use of land mines by the militia has turned Yemen into the most mine-saturated area in the world since the Second World War, noting that displaced people cannot return to their homes and farms in liberated areas due to the presence of mines.

“The international community, UN and the UN envoy are required to pressure the Houthi militia to stop manufacturing and planting mines of all kinds, provide maps of minefields, support government demining programs, rehabilitate the injured and reintegrate them into society,” Al-Eryani tweeted.

Brig. Gen. Mohammed Al-Kumaim, a Yemeni military analyst, told Arab News that it is unlikely the Houthis will respond positively to the campaign, and will continue their mine program. “When tens of land mines are removed from a location during the day, the Houthis sneak into the same place to plant them again. Those maps should be taken from the Houthis by force,” he said.


Why positive change in Middle East starts with bringing women into the work force

Why positive change in Middle East starts with bringing women into the work force
Updated 45 min 44 sec ago

Why positive change in Middle East starts with bringing women into the work force

Why positive change in Middle East starts with bringing women into the work force
  • Despite being highly educated, Arab women’s participation in the labor force is the lowest in the world
  • Fixing this deficit is will make regional companies and countries more successful and more competitive

DUBAI: Advancing the role of women in society and the economy is a key driver for change in any country or region, particularly the Middle East.

According to a 2020 study by management consulting firm McKinsey and Co., “increased female participation in professional and technical jobs can turbo-charge economic growth in a region that will be significantly impacted by the Fourth Industrial Revolution — making their participation all the more critical.”

McKinsey emphasized four indicators that correlated with women’s participation in professional and technical jobs: Education, financial inclusion, digital inclusion, and legal protection.

A panel of experts at the Arab Women Forum, held in Dubai on Tuesday, examined what the workplace of tomorrow may look like for women. (AN Photo/Zubiya Shaikh)

For the Middle East, high inequalities in these metrics persisted, most notably in legal protection and financial inclusion — with a significant number of women remaining unbanked.

The goal, the consulting firm said, was to introduce new legal frameworks as an important enabler for ending the gender-based inequalities endemic to the Middle East.

On a more positive note, McKinsey predicted that the share of women in professional and technical jobs was set to more than double by 2030. Crucial, then, was the need to capture this opportunity to bring the Middle East’s women into parity with their peers around the world.

A panel of experts at the Arab Women Forum, held in Dubai on Tuesday, examined what the workplace of tomorrow may look like for women, and asked how companies could attract and retain female talent.

Speakers included Christine Harb, vice president of marketing at Visa Inc.; Dr. Celeste Cecilia Moles Lo Turco, director for PwC Middle East in the environmental, social, and corporate governance, and sustainability fields; Khaled Al-Maeena, chairman of Al-Bilad Media and Publishing and managing partner of Quartz Communications; Dr. Maliha Hashmi, World Economic Forum Global Future Council expert and V20 delegate of the G20; and Anand Vengurlekar, a strategic innovation adviser.

Harb said there were two main challenges facing women in the workplace today. “One is female representation in C-level positions. If we look at the Middle East and North Africa region, we still have a low representation of women in board rooms and C-level positions and, even if companies today are promoting diversity and inclusion, the representation in the region is still very low across industries and the region in general,” she told Arab News ahead of the event.

More women occupy C-level roles now than at any time in the past 10 years — but to address their persistent underrepresentation at all levels, the workplace of the future must provide flexibility and versatility for women, and they must be seen in the top-level roles, Harb added.

“How can women make sure they are sponsored and supported? Companies in the region also need to promote them to (C-suite) roles,” she said.

The second challenge, Harb noted, was the alignment of what organizations say and how they act toward their female employees.

“Many companies today are saying the right things, but there is no psychological safety, as such, for women to feel they can benefit from the flexible working hours or from the conditions that are being put in place that will allow them to find their balance as women,” she added.

She pointed out that some of the challenges stemmed from cultural limitations. “Historically, in the Middle East, most of these roles have been occupied by men.”

And to undo this, a concerted effort had to be made within organizations before a role opened up.

“When we look at the evolution, in the succession planning of these organizations, women were not really prepped to take on (high-level) roles. It’s not just the promotion, but it is about making sure the woman is equipped to be able to take over,” Harb said.


Reformists surge in Lebanon polls

Reformists surge in Lebanon polls
Updated 17 May 2022

Reformists surge in Lebanon polls

Reformists surge in Lebanon polls
  • The outcome signaled a shift in a country devastated by an ongoing financial crisis and soaring poverty
  • The new house is expected to elect a new speaker amid the absence of parliamentary consensus to reelect standing speaker Nabih Berri

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group and its allies lost their parliamentary majority while independents achieved surprise breakthroughs, final elections results showed Tuesday.

The results indicate a fragmented and polarized parliament divided between pro- and anti-Hezbollah lawmakers who will likely find it difficult to work together.

The outcome signaled a shift in a country devastated by an ongoing financial crisis and soaring poverty.

New reformist faces who entered the legislative race on the values of a 2019 anti-establishment uprising made a stronger showing than many had predicted.

Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Al-Bukhari tweeted that the result “proves the inevitability that the logic of the state will win against the absurd excesses of the statelet disrupting political life and stability in Lebanon.”

In the words of a political observer, “neither Hezbollah nor the Free Patriotic Movement is controlling parliament.”

On May 22, the term of the new parliament begins and Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s Cabinet will become a caretaker government.

The new house is expected to elect a new speaker amid the absence of parliamentary consensus to reelect standing speaker Nabih Berri, who has held the position since 1992.

Beirut witnessed on Tuesday morning the burning of a “Revolution Fist” that was set up in the Martyrs’ Square as a symbol of popular protest against the ruling class.

Moreover, the exchange rate of the US dollar against the Lebanese pound on the black market surpassed 30,000 Lebanese pounds for the first time after the elections.

The presidential palace announced that President Michel Aoun was transferred to Hotel-Dieu de France hospital in Beirut “to undergo some medical tests and X-rays.” They reassured the public that Aoun “will leave the hospital in the next few hours when the tests are done.”

The elected parliament does not resemble any of the six previously elected parliaments since the Taif Agreement in 1989. According to political observers, “it reflects the political turmoil the country is going through.”

The loss of several veteran political figures was remarkable in the election. Minister of Information Ziad Makkari said that those forces and figures “should reconsider the work they’ve done for their people.”

He added: “We hope that the forces of change that have reached the parliament seriously contribute to the rise of the country because it can’t endure any longer.”

Remarkably, Hezbollah and its allies won a total of 59 seats out of 128. The group’s allies include the Amal Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Tachnag party and Al-Ahbash Association, along with Jihad Al-Samad, Farid Al-Khazen and Hassan Mourad.

The Amal Movement, headed by Nabih Berri, won 15 Shiite seats, most of which are occupied by current deputies, including two who were charged in the Beirut port explosion case.

Hezbollah won 13 Shiite seats, including current deputies and two new ones.

One Shiite and two Sunni deputies allied with Hezbollah also won.

The Lebanese Forces won 20 seats, including one Sunni deputy who was running on a list supported by the party.

The Free Patriotic Movement won 18 seats.

The Progressive Socialist Party, headed by Walid Jumblatt, won nine seats.

The Lebanese Phalangist Party won five seats, including an Armenian deputy.

The Independence Movement won two seats.

The Marada Movement won two seats, while Al-Ahbash won two seats — one in Beirut and one in Tripoli.

The Islamic Group won one seat.

Camille Dory Chamoun from the National Liberal Party won one seat. The party announced on Tuesday that “they will be part of the bloc that includes the Lebanese Forces and their allies.”

The elections also witnessed the victories — mostly in the north — of six former members of the Future Movement who left the party following former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s decision to suspend his political activity.

Eleven independent candidates won, including some fiercely opposed to Hezbollah, such as Achraf Rifi in Tripoli and Fouad Makhzoumi in Beirut.

Fifteen deputies from civil society and the 2019 revolution won, including doctors, engineers, scientists, lawyers, businessmen and academicians. Their victory breaks the monopoly of the conventional political parties and reflects voters’ revolt against their traditional leaders.

The winners include Rami Fanj, candidate for the Sunni seat in Tripoli. He ousted deputy Faisal Karami, who comes from a veteran political family.

Eight out of 155 women candidates were able to break the parliament’s overwhelming male dominance.

Three of these female winners were already deputies, including Inaya Ezzedine from the Amal Movement, Paula Yaacoubian, who resigned amid the 17 October revolution, and Sethrida Geagea of the Lebanese Forces.

The remaining women deputies are Nada Boustani, former minister of energy affiliated with the Free Patriotic Movement, Ghada Ayoub from the Lebanese Forces and Cynthia Zarazir, Najat Saliba and Halima Kaakour from the civil society movement.