Rejected by New Zealand, reporter turns to Taliban for help

Charlotte Bellis. (Charlottebellis/Instagram)
Charlotte Bellis. (Charlottebellis/Instagram)
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Updated 30 January 2022

Rejected by New Zealand, reporter turns to Taliban for help

Charlotte Bellis. (Charlottebellis/Instagram)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: A pregnant New Zealand journalist says she turned to the Taliban for help and is now stranded in Afghanistan after her home country has prevented her from returning due to a bottleneck of people in its coronavirus quarantine system.
In a column published in The New Zealand Herald on Saturday, Charlotte Bellis said it was “brutally ironic” that she’d once questioned the Taliban about their treatment of women and she was now asking the same questions of her own government.
“When the Taliban offers you — a pregnant, unmarried woman — safe haven, you know your situation is messed up,” Bellis wrote in her column.
New Zealand’s COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told the Herald his office had asked officials to check whether they followed the proper procedures in Bellis’s case, “which appeared at first sight to warrant further explanation.”
New Zealand has managed to keep the spread of the virus to a minimum during the pandemic and has reported just 52 virus deaths among its population of 5 million.
But the nation’s requirement that even returning citizens spend 10 days isolating in quarantine hotels run by the military has led to a backlog of thousands of people wanting to return home vying for spots.
Stories of citizens stranded abroad in dire circumstances have caused embarrassment for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her government, but Bellis’s situation is particularly striking.
Last year, she was working for Al Jazeera covering the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan when she gained international attention by questioning Taliban leaders about their treatment of women and girls.
In her column Saturday, Bellis said she returned to Qatar in September and discovered she was pregnant with her partner, freelance photographer Jim Huylebroek, a contributor to The New York Times.
She described the pregnancy as a “miracle” after earlier being told by doctors she couldn’t have children. She is due to give birth to a girl in May.
Extramarital sex is illegal in Qatar and Bellis said she realized she needed to leave. She repeatedly tried to get back to New Zealand in a lottery-style system for returning citizens but without success.
She said she resigned from Al Jazeera in November and the couple moved to Huylebroek’s native Belgium. But she couldn’t stay long, she said, because she wasn’t a resident. She said the only other place the couple had visas to live was Afghanistan.
Bellis said she spoke with senior Taliban contacts who told her she would be fine if she returned to Afghanistan.
“Just tell people you’re married and if it escalates, call us. Don’t worry,” Bellis said they told her.
She said she sent 59 documents to New Zealand authorities in Afghanistan but they rejected her application for an emergency return.
Chris Bunny, the joint head of New Zealand’s Managed Isolation and Quarantine system, told the Herald that Bellis’s emergency application didn’t fit a requirement that she travel within 14 days.
He said staff had reached out to Bellis about making another application that would fit within the requirements.
“This is not uncommon and is an example of the team being helpful to New Zealanders who are in distressing situations,” Bunny wrote.
Bellis said that pregnancy can be a death sentence in Afghanistan because of the poor state of maternity care and lack of surgical capabilities.
She said that after talking to lawyers, politicians and public relations people in New Zealand, her case seems to be moving forward again, although she has yet to be approved passage home.


Iraqi actress Enas Taleb, fat-shamed by The Economist, set to sue British magazine

Iraqi actress Enas Taleb, fat-shamed by The Economist, set to sue British magazine
Updated 29 sec ago

Iraqi actress Enas Taleb, fat-shamed by The Economist, set to sue British magazine

Iraqi actress Enas Taleb, fat-shamed by The Economist, set to sue British magazine
  • In July, the British publication used an image of the actress for an article titled ‘Why women are fatter than men in the Arab world’

LONDON: Iraqi actress and TV host Enas Taleb is suing The Economist for using her image in an article about the epidemic of obesity among women in the Arab world, according to Newlines Magazine.

In July, The Economist ran a feature titled “Why women are fatter than men in the Arab world,” in which it pointed blame at socioeconomics — on the grounds that the cheapest local foods are usually the unhealthiest — and pervasive social conservatism in the Arab region.

The British magazine chose an image of Taleb performing at Iraq’s annual Babylon Festival to go with the piece, portraying the actress as an example of such obesity, with a line in the last paragraph stating “Iraqis often cite Enas Taleb, an actress with ample curves (pictured), as the ideal of beauty.”

In an interview with Newlines Magazine, Taleb said she was preparing to sue the English publication.

“I have decided to take legal action against The Economist for their cover story. I am demanding compensation for the emotional, mental and social damage this incident has caused me. My legal team and I are arranging the next steps,” Taleb told Rasha Al-Aqeedi of Newslines Magazine.

“Audiences have loved me for many years. It was disappointing to see an international outlet label me as if all my accomplishments mean nothing. I am healthy and happy with the way I look, and to me that is all that matters,” she added.

The Economist did not respond to questions from Arab News.

The feature sparked outrage among Arab and non-Arab readers with some accusing the publication of double standards.

“In reaction to the piece in The Economist, some readers voiced their incredulity at what they described as a double standard in the conversation about women’s bodies in the West versus in ‘other” cultures,’” Al-Aqeedi wrote in her piece.

“Plus-size artists such as Lizzo and models like Ashley Graham are celebrated for their role in making the body-positive movement mainstream. It is difficult to find an example of an internationally respected publication that has held up a photo of a ‘fat’ Western woman as a means of shaming her,” she added.

The article was widely criticized across the Arab world for falling short in examining the factors that contribute to the obesity issue, where women in particular are affected.

Even though there seems to be a general consensus about the issue, the reality is more complex.

An outdated vision of Arab women being “mere sedentary housewives,” the rise of globalization, which brought significant lifestyle changes and rapid urbanization across the Arab region, and a general predilection for staying up late at night, are all considered contributing factors to the epidemic in the region, which The Economist failed to address.

Despite the magazine’s backhanded compliment to the Iraqi star, Taleb claims The Economist’s piece was an insult not just to her, but to all Arab women.


Was pineapple a topping too far for Domino’s in Italy?

Was pineapple a topping too far for Domino’s in Italy?
Updated 10 August 2022

Was pineapple a topping too far for Domino’s in Italy?

Was pineapple a topping too far for Domino’s in Italy?
  • The US restaurant chain has decided to take a bight of humble pie and withdraw from the birthplace of pizza

DUBAI: Mamma Mia! Did Domino’s go a topping too far when it started selling pineapple pizza pies in Italy?

Whatever the reason, the US restaurant chain has decided to take a bite of humble pie and withdraw from the birthplace of pizza.

The world’s largest pizza chain called it quits in Italy after closing the last of its 29 stores, only seven years since struggling – but failing – to win over the hearts and stomachs of locals with the American versions of the pie.

With an ambitious plan of distinguishing itself from local restaurants by providing a structured national delivery service, plus a promise to use purely Italian ingredients including “100% tomato sauce and mozzarella,” Domino’s strategy appears to have failed to satisfy the palates of Italians overly protective of their cherished national dish.

But notwithstanding the pineapple pizza, Domino’s pizza varieties suchas Mexican, cheeseburger, kickers BBQ and BBQ chicken failed to impress Italians who profess for their unending love for simple and traditional pizzas like margherita and marinara.

The American chain’s exit from Italy was met with derision on social media for even attempting to establish a foothold in the birthplace of pizza.

“Trying to open Dominos Pizza in Italy is like trying to sell snow in the North Pole,” one Twitter user said.

Domino’s ambitious expansion gameplan was seriously unhinged at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which practically shut dine-out businesses in all of Italy, and the scaling up of home deliveries by traditional pizza makers through third party services such as Deliveroo, Just Eat Takeaway.com or Glovo.

“We attribute the issue to the significantly increased level of competition in the food delivery market with both organized chains and ‘mom & pop’ (independent) restaurants delivering food, to service and restaurants reopening post pandemic and consumers out and about with revenge spending,” the company reported in its fourth-quarter 2021 results.

Franchise holder EPizza was earlier granted protection from its creditors for 90 days as part of its bankruptcy process it filed in April, but that protection ended last month.

The company had $10.8 million of debt at the end of 2020, according to the latest audited annual reports.


New Dubai Hindu temple goes digital with QR-coded bookings

New Dubai Hindu temple goes digital with QR-coded bookings
Updated 10 August 2022

New Dubai Hindu temple goes digital with QR-coded bookings

New Dubai Hindu temple goes digital with QR-coded bookings
  • The online booking system for visitors was launched with the aim to prevent crowding in the area and ensure the safety of visitors, officials said

DUBAI: A Hindu temple, set to open in Dubai later this year, will be accepting QR code-based appointment bookings for visitors, officials told national daily, Gulf News

The online booking system for visitors was launched with the aim to prevent crowding in the area and ensure the safety of visitors, officials said, adding that the temple accommodated about 1,000 people. 

“We will be opening the booking system through our existing website and a new app that will be launched by September 1,” temple trustee Raju Shroff told Gulf News. 

The temple – an extension of the Sindhi Guru Darbar temple in Bur Dubai – will open on Oct. 5, but bookings can be made starting from September. 

The 70,000-square-feet temple and community center is located in the Corridor of Tolerance in Jebel Ali that houses several churches and the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurudwara, the report added. 

Temple officials said it would be opening in two phases: the place of worship will open in October and the rest of the facilities will open by Jan. 14. 

The facilities include a 4,000 square-foot banquet hall, a multipurpose room, and a knowledge room. 

The knowledge room is open to interfaith leaders who want to organize on-site and online sessions, the officials added. The temple will also organize celebrations for Hindu festivals such as Diwali and Navratri after the official opening.


Petoya Lounge is Saudi Arabia’s ‘first five-star hotel for cats’

Petoya Lounge is Saudi Arabia’s ‘first five-star hotel for cats’
Updated 10 August 2022

Petoya Lounge is Saudi Arabia’s ‘first five-star hotel for cats’

Petoya Lounge is Saudi Arabia’s ‘first five-star hotel for cats’
  • Staff say the animals that stay there will be petted and exercised several times a day, and owners can check up on their furry friends by watching live streaming video using a free app
  • The hotel’s founder and owner, Houda Al-Otaibi, said that this first facility is for cats and kittens but more will open soon for other animals

RIYADH: Cat owners in Saudi Arabia can now send their beloved pets on a vacation to the Petoya Lounge in Riyadh, which describes itself as the country’s first five-star hotel for pets.

Cats and kittens can be booked into the facility for a few hours or several days. Staff say the animals will be regularly petted, eight times a day, and exercised, three times a day. Owners who are missing their furry friends can even check up on them by watching live streaming video using a free app. The facility also offers a variety of food and treatment options for its residents.

In a video about Petoya Lounge published by Reuters, a woman is shown sitting on the floor surrounded by more than seven cats, some of which eat from her hand. Kittens can also been seen jumping around on furniture and playing with wooden objects, tunnels and other toys provided for their comfort and entertainment. Several are shown being placed in small beds.

“Petoya is the first authorized five-star hotel in Saudi Arabia for pets,” said its founder and owner Houda Al-Otaibi, who appears in the video playing with a kitten, gently petting it and feeding it.

“This is our first branch, for cats, and (other) branches that will be for other animals are coming soon.”

She added that the hotel aims to be “an outlet for cats and their owners to rest and feel comfortable.”


Apparent photo of Adele in Egyptian music icon’s dress sparks controversy

Apparent photo of Adele in Egyptian music icon’s dress sparks controversy
Updated 09 August 2022

Apparent photo of Adele in Egyptian music icon’s dress sparks controversy

Apparent photo of Adele in Egyptian music icon’s dress sparks controversy
  • The stunning dress was purported to have previously been worn by Egyptian music icon, singer, songwriter and actress Umm Kulthum
  • The image sparked debate among Egyptian and Middle Eastern social media users

DUBAI: A photo of Adele in an elegant dress, alleged to have been worn earlier by Umm Kulthum, spread like wildfire across social media in Egypt and the Arab world on Tuesday.
On Monday and Tuesday, social media users exchanged a photo of English singer and songwriter in the dress.
The stunning dress was purported to have previously been worn by Egyptian music icon, singer, songwriter and actress Umm Kulthum.
The image sparked debate among Egyptian and Middle Eastern social media users who were split between those who believed it was true and those who said it had been faked.
According to fact check, the image turned out to have been photoshopped and the photo was published in 2017 when Adele wore the green Givenchy gown to the 2017 Grammy Awards red carpet.
A comment read: “International singer Adele wears the same dress and shoe of late Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum.”
The photoshopped image garnered thousands of likes, shares, retweets and comments, with the post proving especially popular among Egyptian users.
However, the buzz soon died down after it transpired that the Adele image had been published on Getty Agency’s website.
Al Arabiya Egypt tweeted that an Egyptian designer had modified the image of Umm Kulthum in the dress in June 2019 when he attached it to his digital CV on a specialized website for graphic designers’ resumes.
The publication then conducted an online vote asking participants whether they believed Adele did wear Umm Kulthum’s dress.
Over 3,600 users voted, with just 15 percent of respondents saying that they believed that Adele wore the late Egyptian icon’s dress.