Houthis seize properties of late former PM Bajamal

Houthis seize properties of late former PM Bajamal
Houthi fighters display their firepower during a gathering in Sanaa. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 26 June 2022

Houthis seize properties of late former PM Bajamal

Houthis seize properties of late former PM Bajamal
  • Bajamal was a senior member of the General People’s Congress, the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s party, and head of three consecutive governments from 2001 to 2006

AL-MUKALLA: An anti-corruption authority controlled by the Iran-backed Houthis in Sanaa has ordered the seizure of assets belonging to Abdul Qader Bajamal, a late former prime minister, accusing him of misusing public funds, Yemeni activists and local media said.  

Ahmed Nagi Al-Nabhani, a Yemeni activist based in the city, told Arab News that the Supreme National Authority for Combating Corruption issued a seizure order targeting houses, bank accounts and other properties owned by Bajamal over a failed project during his tenure in 2003.

Bajamal was a senior member of the General People’s Congress, the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s party, and head of three consecutive governments from 2001 to 2006.

Al-Nabhani said that the SNACC had sent the case to the Public Funds Court for prosecution, and called for coordinated local and international rights campaigns, mainly from Bajamal’s party, to pressure the Houthis to allow the former premier’s family to access their assets.

“There must be serious and real solidarity with the family of Bajamal, because they are now, according to the decision of the SNACC, banned from using their father’s property,” Al-Nabhani said.

Bajamal died in September 2020 at the age of 67.

In a condolence message to his family, Mahdi Al-Mashat, head of Houthi Supreme Political Council, described Bajamal then as a “sincere, dedicated” national leader who served his country.  

The seizure order against Bajamal came as the Houthis raided the houses of other late Yemeni officials in Sanaa and areas under their control.

In Sanaa, armed Houthis occupied the house of the late Abdul Rahman Bafadhel, an MP and member of the Islamist Islah party, and expelled his daughter and her husband, citing a seizure order, a friend of the family told Arab News.

Bafadhel died in Saudi Arabia in October 2015 in a car accident.

The militia also raided the house of Ameen Ali Al-Kaderi, a late tribal leader who opposed their rule in the central province of Ibb, his son Salah said.

Since taking power militarily in late 2014, the Houthis have issued hundreds of seizure orders and death sentences against military and security leaders, politicians, journalists and activists who rejected their coup and supported the internationally recognized government of the country and military operations by the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen.

The Houthis sold or rented some of the seized properties, turned others into secret detention centers, and gifted others to their leaders.

Abdurrahman Barman, a Yemeni human rights advocate and director of the American Center for Justice, told Arab News that the latest string of seizure orders against Bajamal and Bafadhel show the Houthis are moving to dispossess families of dead politicians of their property under the pretext of fighting corruption.

“This is an attempt to impoverish Yemenis to concentrate wealth, power, the economy, the judiciary, the media and all sources of power in the hands of the group,” Barman said.


Egyptian, Qatari leaders hold talks

Egyptian, Qatari leaders hold talks
Updated 19 sec ago

Egyptian, Qatari leaders hold talks

Egyptian, Qatari leaders hold talks

CAIRO: Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi discussed the latest regional developments, particularly the situation in the Gaza Strip, where Cairo brokered a truce that ended last week’s fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad.

During the phone call, Sheikh Tamim and El-Sisi also discussed measures to strengthen bilateral ties.

The emir expressed his gratitude for Egypt’s efforts to strengthen regional peace and security.


Iran navy says repelled attack on ship in Red Sea

Iran navy says repelled attack on ship in Red Sea
Updated 7 min 26 sec ago

Iran navy says repelled attack on ship in Red Sea

Iran navy says repelled attack on ship in Red Sea
  • Navy escort flotilla was headed by the destroyer Jamaran

TEHRAN: An Iranian naval flotilla thwarted an overnight attack on an Iranian vessel in the Red Sea, a senior commander said Wednesday.
“The escort flotilla of the naval arm of Iran’s armed forces, headed by the destroyer Jamaran... promptly deployed to the scene last night after receiving a request for help from an Iranian ship in the Red Sea, and engaged with the attacking boats,” said the navy’s deputy head of operations, Rear Admiral Mustafa Tajeddini.
“Thanks to the effective (naval) presence and after heavy exchanges, the attacking boats made off,” he told state television.
Tajeddini did not give details of the ship which was targeted or of who was suspected of mounting the attack.
In November 2021, pirates attempted to seize an Iranian oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden, ISNA news agency said at the time.
Two weeks earlier, an Iranian warship repelled an attack by pirates against two oil tankers that it was escorting in the Gulf of Aden.
Like other countries dependent on the shipping lane through the Red Sea and Suez Canal, Iran stepped up its naval presence in the Gulf of Aden after a wave of attacks by Somalia-based pirates between 2000 and 2011.
But the number of attacks has fallen sharply in recent years.


US and Iran study text of revived nuclear deal

US and Iran study text of revived nuclear deal
Updated 10 August 2022

US and Iran study text of revived nuclear deal

US and Iran study text of revived nuclear deal
  • EU expects quick decision on 25-page document after Vienna talks conclude

JEDDAH: The final text of a proposed new nuclear deal with Iran has been sent to Washington and Tehran amid rising expectations that a revived agreement is imminent.

The EU said on Tuesday it expected a rapid response from the two capitals. “There is no more space for negotiations,” EU foreign policy spokesman Peter Stano said. “We have a final text. So it’s the moment for a decision, yes or no. And we expect all participants to take this decision very quickly.”

Talks concluded in Vienna on Monday aimed at reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 agreement with world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for an easing of economic sanctions on Tehran. The original deal collapsed in 2018 when the US pulled out and reimposed sanctions.

Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran and Russia, as well as the US indirectly, resumed talks on the issue last week, after a months-long hiatus. The EU-coordinated negotiations began in April 2021 before coming to a standstill in March.

FASTFACT

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who coordinated the talks, said the text of a proposed new deal had been submitted to the countries involved for a political decision on whether to accept it. Iran said it was studying the 25-page document.

“What can be negotiated has been negotiated, and it’s now in a final text,” Borrell said. “However, behind every technical issue and every paragraph lies a political decision that needs to be taken in the capitals.”

Key challenges to a revived deal remain. European officials urged Iran to drop its “unrealistic demands” outside the scope of the original agreement, including those related to an International Atomic Energy Agency probe into undeclared nuclear material found in Iran.

Iran’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani has flown back to Tehran for political consultations, but the final decision will be made by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The US said the new draft was “the best and only basis on which to reach a deal.” The State Department said: “Our position is clear: We stand ready to quickly conclude a deal on the basis of the EU’s proposals.” Thedeal’s restoration was up to Iran, it said. “They repeatedly say they are prepared for a return to mutual implementation. Let’s see if their actions match their words.”


Crushed by war, Syrian tourism eyes expat uptick

A visitor uses a mobile phone as she walks at Al Azem Palace in Damascus, Syria July 31, 2022. (REUTERS)
A visitor uses a mobile phone as she walks at Al Azem Palace in Damascus, Syria July 31, 2022. (REUTERS)
Updated 10 August 2022

Crushed by war, Syrian tourism eyes expat uptick

A visitor uses a mobile phone as she walks at Al Azem Palace in Damascus, Syria July 31, 2022. (REUTERS)
  • Foreign visitors to Syria today come mostly from countries that have good relations with President Bashar al-Assad's government
  • Syria's economy is in dire straits, hurt by factors including a precipitous decline in the currency's value since 2019, prompted by neighbouring Lebanon's financial collapse

DAMASCUS: Somar Hazim had high hopes when he opened a hotel in Damascus in 2009, adding to a growing number of boutique guest houses in the Old City that were proving to be a hit with tourists, before war broke out and forced him to close down.
Although security returned to Damascus years ago, big-spending foreign visitors have not, with Syria still fractured by war.
Hazim has no plans to reopen his Beit Rose Hotel, an 18th century house with rooms set around a picturesque courtyard, a decision that reflects the weakness of tourism and the wider economy of a country suffering from 11 years of conflict.

People sit at a rooftop lounge in Damascus, Syria August 3, 2022. (REUTERS)

“The number of foreign tourists in Syria — as they were before 2011 ... are still few,” said Hazim, smoking a water pipe at a cafe he owns in another old Damascene house. But he sees a glimmer of hope: more Syrian expats are visiting.
At its peak in 2010, Syria attracted 10 million tourists, many of them Westerners. That all changed in 2011 with the onset of the war that has killed at least 350,000 people and uprooted half the population, forcing millions abroad as refugees.
Foreign visitors to Syria today come mostly from countries that have good relations with President Bashar Assad’s government. They include Iraqis, Lebanese and Iranians on pilgrimage to sites revered by Shiite Muslims.

A man and a woman play backgammon at Somar Hazim's cafe in Damascus, Syria July 31, 2022. (REUTERS)

Visitor numbers rose to 750,000 in the first half of 2022 from 570,000 in the same period of 2021, Tourism Minister Mohammed Rami Martini told Reuters, attributing the rise to the easing of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
He expects visitor numbers this year to recover to levels last seen in 2018 and 2019.
“We have close to 100,000 Iraqis, and there are Lebanese and others from friendly states. But the biggest number are the expatriates,” he said, describing this as a boost to the economy because they spend amounts similar to foreign tourists.
Syria’s economy is in dire straits, hurt by factors including a precipitous decline in the currency’s value since 2019, prompted by neighboring Lebanon’s financial collapse.

Sami Alkodaimi, a Syrian expatriate who lives in Saudi Arabia, uses his laptop at his home in Damascus, Syria August 6, 2022. (REUTERS)

Subsidies on essential goods have been gradually lifted, with prices of items such as fuel rising to unprecedented levels.
Although the currency’s collapse has boosted the purchasing power of expatriates visiting with wads of foreign currency, the gaps in some basic provisions has been frustrating.
Sami Alkodaimi, a Syrian expatriate who lives in Saudi Arabia, stayed away from the country from 2011 to 2019, during the peak of the country’s conflict.
In Syria this summer, Alkodaimi said he felt less hope during this visit, noting higher prices, fuel shortages, and poor electricity provision in the heat of summer.
“I came in my car from Riyadh. The gasoline issue is very annoying. We are trying to obtain it, but with difficulty,” he said.


How active lifestyles, sports and fitness programs are enabling Arab women to beat obesity, manage weight

How active lifestyles, sports and fitness programs are enabling Arab women to beat obesity, manage weight
Updated 10 August 2022

How active lifestyles, sports and fitness programs are enabling Arab women to beat obesity, manage weight

How active lifestyles, sports and fitness programs are enabling Arab women to beat obesity, manage weight
  • Article in The Economist attributes obesity among Arab women to social conservatism restricting outdoor exercise
  • Saudi efforts show why such perceptions are outdated as women take charge of their health and lifestyles

JEDDAH: Obesity rates worldwide have been steadily rising over the past half-century, reaching a point at which experts say many nations are way off schedule to meet the World Health Organization’s 2025 global nutrition targets.

Mindful of the pressures that high obesity rates place on local healthcare systems, to the detriment of quality of life, countries such as Saudi Arabia are working hard to promote fitness and challenge people to change their sedentary lifestyles.

According to a recent study by Ohio State University College of Medicine, obesity and the associated health implications cost the Saudi healthcare system $3.8 billion in 2019 alone, equivalent to about 4.3 percent of the Kingdom’s total annual health expenditure.

Keeping weight under control is nevertheless easier said than done in the age of globalization. (AFP)

Excess weight and obesity — defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that can impair health — is not only a concern in the Arab world. More than a billion people worldwide are classified as obese, which means that they have a body mass index (a measure of body fat based on height and weight) of 30 or higher, and the number is rising.

According to the WHO, obesity is more prevalent among women than men, with factors such as sociocultural issues, economics, genetics and biology all contributing factors. Worldwide, obesity affects 15 percent of women and 11 percent of men. In the Middle East and North Africa, this gender gap is even wider, with 26 percent of women classified as obese compared with 16 percent of men.

A recent article published by The Economist attributes the problem in the region to two key factors: Socioeconomics, on the grounds that the cheapest local foods are usually the most unhealthy, such as bread and rice; and culture, on the grounds that pervasive social conservatism in the Arab region can prevent women from participating in outdoor exercise or shedding calories passively in the workplace.

The reality is, of course, more complex than that. The perception of Arab women as mere sedentary housewives appears grossly outdated as women in the region increasingly enter the labor force, take charge of their diets, and seize new opportunities in the worlds of sports and fitness.

Obesity and the associated health implications cost the Saudi healthcare system $3.8 billion in 2019 alone. (AFP)

Keeping body weight under control, in any case, is easier said than done in the age of globalization. Arab countries, too, have experienced significant lifestyle changes and rapid urbanization that have introduced many additional high-fat foods to the market alongside the pre-existing unhealthy eating habits, including the traditionally carbohydrate-rich Arab diet.

Populations of the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, have found themselves at the sharp end of these developments. Notably, obesity levels have soared in recent decades owing to a mix of unhealthy eating, inactivity and keeping “fat in fashion” — a stereotype associated with Gulf nationals on account of their perceived affluence.

Globally, the perception of obesity varies widely. In many high-income and, increasingly, middle-income countries, weight gain carries a social stigma that fuels a perception of individual weakness that undermines the support for comprehensive prevention, treatment and management measures.

Different ideals associated with weight and body shape can found in various cultures. Specific cultural pressures to be tall and thin are postulated to cause people to misreport their height and body weight in an attempt to appear what is deemed more socially popular and desirable.

A similar situation exists in some places in terms of attitudes to excess weight. Many African and Polynesian, and some Arab, cultures associate overweight women with affluence, health, strength and fertility. In the Gulf region at least, however, being fat is certainly no longer in fashion.

Sulafa Kurdi, a photographer and cafe owner, has been overweight almost all of her life. In August 2020, she took the first steps on a nearly two-year journey to get fit and healthy by signing up with a gym. She chose Sweat Army in Jeddah and began her transformation.


“I was waiting for the right time to make the move and turn my life around,” she told Arab News. “Breaking down that wall was tough but, with the support I received from my coach, the journey was what I needed. I wanted to lose weight the healthy way, the right way and the difficult way.

“Within three months of signing up, I found the discipline to maintain a healthy lifestyle that I still stick to as best as I can. Yes, we all fall off the wagon and feel sluggish at times. With the right support, I’ve managed to get back again and move, breaking my own records.”

FASTFACTS

• Obesity is closely linked to chronic health problems, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

• Excess weight and the associated health implications cost the Saudi health system $3.8bn in 2019.

Indeed, contrary to the assertions in The Economist’s article, anecdotal evidence suggests more and more women in the Arab world are taking control of their physical lives and setting off on a journey to improved their fitness. This has in turn motivated many to pursue their dreams of becoming professional athletes.

Studies have found that engagement in sports and physical activity has been lower among women than men. Now various government-led and private programs are providing women and girls with access to sports facilities, encouraging them to become athletes and even role models for younger generations.

This has challenged outdated stereotypes about women in Saudi Arabia and the wider Arab region and the incorrect notions about social conservatism preventing them from going outdoors both to exercise and to take part in organized sports.

Dubbed “Cleopatra Squash,” Egyptian Nuran Johar has won padel tournaments such as the England Open Junior Championship five times. Meanwhile, Ulfah Alkaabi, one of the UAE’s top padel players, has been making her mark on the court.

Halfway around the world, Saudi Arabia’s female national football team won a silver medal at the Special Olympics Unified Cup in Detroit, Michigan this month.

Although Saudi sprinter and first-time Olympian Yasmeen Al-Dabbagh fell short in her first race in Tokyo 2020, she has set her sights on bringing home a medal from the next Games in Paris in 2024.

By all accounts, women’s participation in sports and fitness boils down to a supportive community. In the Kingdom, the Sports For All Federation has been building community-driven programs to improve overall health through community sports programs, a powerful tool to create a healthy society in line with the Vision 2030 Quality of Life objectives.
 

The Saudi female athletes leading the way. 

SFA says its programs and initiatives are created based on a community’s specific needs and what motivates them, and can be incorporated easily into their daily routines such as walking, running, cycling and other activities. It says the number of female participants in community sports has increased dramatically.

“Since 2018, we’ve seen the numbers reflected across our programs,” an SFA spokesperson told Arab News. “SFA wants to provide women with the right programs and female-driven initiatives to encourage them to go further.

“We provided a special course for ladies in our Spartan race, there was an area for women at SandClash to compete, and the same goes for our Neighborhood Clubs across the Kingdom for women who prefer to have their own spaces.

Women’s participation in sports and fitness boils down to a supportive community. (AFP)

“SFA has also hosted the Global Goals World Cup, a five-a-side women’s football tournament, and is the first country to add basketball to the games. One of the main objectives of SFA is to enable them, provide them with access to facilities, motivate them and feel that they are part of the community.”

Underscoring the importance of community-based physical activity programs, Haya Sawan, a fitness trainer and the owner of SheFit Gym in Jeddah, told Arab News that having such programs is helping to build a strong fitness culture among women.

“There’s been a huge jump in the past five years and you can see more people engaged in some sort of physical activity than ever before. It’s not just a matter of gyms opening, it’s more about changing the mindset and changing the lifestyle,” said Sawan.

“The region’s climate and unique environment restrict us from walking for miles, so we need to put in extra effort just to stay active all day. We utilize the space that we have and create programs fitting for the space, and using vast spaces such as malls and outdoor pathways designated for walking or jogging is a great way to engage the public.

The perception of Arab women as mere sedentary housewives appears grossly outdated. (AFP)

“Initiatives such as the ones launched by SFA where they cooperated with malls makes it so much easier for people to be active. It’s accessible and you can count your steps. It’s a small gesture that makes a difference in the long run.”

That said, personal motivation remains an integral part of any fitness journey, and changing perceptions among Arab women — and wider society — about their role, status and body autonomy no doubt has a part to play.

“I am a strong believer that your thoughts can really control your life,” said Sawan. “A positive mindset will always believe that there’s room for improvement, and look at challenges as a source of motivation to overcome, rather than challenges that would stop you from moving forward. Everything changes.”