Egypt family keeps alive tradition behind Hajj centerpiece
Egypt family keeps alive tradition behind Hajj centerpiece/node/2117306/middle-east
Egypt family keeps alive tradition behind Hajj centerpiece
An embroiderer sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran, Islam's holy book, onto a replica of the Kiswa, the cloth used to cover the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Makkah. (AFP)
CAIRO, Egypt: Under the steady hum of a ceiling fan, Ahmed Othman weaves golden threads through black fabric, creating Qur'anic verses, a century after his grandfather’s work adorned the Kaaba in Makkah’s Grand Mosque.
A ceremonial hanging of the kiswa, huge pieces of black silk embroidered with gold patterns, over the cubic structure that is the centerpiece of the Grand Mosque symbolizes the launch of the Hajj annual pilgrimage, which starts this week.
Othman’s family used to be honored with the task of producing the kiswa.
His family’s creations would be despatched in a camel caravan to Islam’s holiest site in western Saudi Arabia toward which Muslims across the world turn to pray.
Now, Othman keeps the tradition alive in a small workshop, tucked above the labyrinthine Khan Al-Khalili bazaar in central Cairo, where mass-produced souvenirs line the alleys.
The area is historically home to Egypt’s traditional handicrafts, but artisans face growing challenges.
Materials, mostly imported, have become expensive, particularly as Egypt faces economic woes and a devalued currency.
Plummeting purchasing power makes high quality hand-crafted goods inaccessible to the average Egyptian, while master craftspeople find it hard to hand down their skills as young people turn to more lucrative jobs.
This wouldn’t be the case “if there was good money in the craft,” Othman sighed, hunched over one of the many tapestries that fill his workshop.
Sheets of black and brown felt are covered in verses and prayers, delicately embroidered in silver and gold.
Every stitch echoes the “sacred ritual” Othman’s grandfather was entrusted with in 1924.
“For a whole year, 10 craftsmen” would work on the kiswa that covers the Kaaba which pilgrims circumambulate, using silver thread in a lengthy labor of love.
From the 13th century, Egyptian artisans made the giant cloth in sections, which authorities transported to Makkah with great ceremony.
Celebrations would mark the processions through cities, flanked by guards and clergymen as Egyptians sprinkled rosewater from balconies above.
Othman’s grandfather, Othman Abdelhamid, was the last to supervise a fully Egyptian-made kiswa in 1926.
From 1927, manufacturing began to move to Makkah in the nascent Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which would fully take over production of the kiswa in 1962.
The family went on to embroider military regalia for Egyptian and foreign dignitaries, including former presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat.
“In addition to our work with military rank embroideries, my father started embroidering Qur'anic verses on tapestries,” and then reproducing whole sections of the kiswa.
Clients began flooding in for “exact replicas of the kiswa, down to the last detail.”
Though today they offer small tableaus for as little as 100 Egyptian pounds (about $5), massive customised orders go for several thousand dollars, such as replicas of the Kaaba door, which Othman proudly claims are indistinguishable from the originals in Makkah.
But the family has not been immune to the economic turbulence that began with the coronavirus pandemic, which decimated small businesses and craftsmanship in Egypt.
Since early 2020, they have sold around “two pieces per month,” whereas before they would sell at least one tapestry a day.
Othman worries that a sense of “worldwide austerity” makes business unlikely to bounce back.
Today, there might only be a dozen or so craftsmen whose work he considers authentic, with many artisans leaving the craft for quicker cash flows.
“They can make 200 to 300 pounds a day,” ($10-$16) driving a tuktuk motorized rickshaw, or a minibus, Othman said. “They’re not going to sit on a loom breaking their backs all day.”
But still, a century and a half after his great grandfather left his native Turkey and brought the craft with him to Egypt, Othman says he has stayed loyal to techniques learnt as a child when he would duck out of school to watch his father work.
“It’s on us to uphold the craft the same way we learned it, so it’s authentic to the legacy we inherited,” he said.
Jason Greenblatt’s ‘In the Path of Abraham’ offers an inside track on the Middle East peace process
The Abraham Accords have normalized ties between Israel and an Arab quartet: UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco Kicker2:
Greenblatt says normalization will lead to a reasonable, peaceful settlement of the Middle East conflict
Updated 1 min 34 sec ago
MISSOURI, USA: With the two-year anniversary of the historic Abraham Accords upon us, it seems as good a time as any to reflect upon the changes they heralded for the Middle East and North Africa.
The Abraham Accords normalized relations between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
Jason Greenblatt’s “In the Path of Abraham” offers readers an inside account of the thinking and process which made the accords possible. Appointed by President Donald Trump in 2016 as representative for international negotiations, Greenblatt, together with Jared Kushner, Ambassador David Friedman and Kushner aide Avi Berkowitz led the US efforts to broker peace between Israel, the Palestinians and their neighbors.
The book offers a very accessible, clear and forthright account of how they approached this monumental task. In the process, Greenblatt and his colleagues had to throw out much of the received wisdom on the Arab-Israeli conflict accumulated over the years and propagated by a vast army of “experts” on the issue.
The long-held consensus view on this conflict maintained that one could not pursue peace and normalization between Israel and various Arab states until after a final peace deal with the Palestinians had been achieved.
That peace deal with the Palestinians proved ever elusive, however, even to this day, effectively giving the Palestinian political parties a veto over anything to do with Israel in the region.
The MENA region has changed over time, however, even if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears frozen in place.
The old experts, from academics and think tanks to intelligence officers and people manning desks in the State Department or various foreign ministries, largely failed to appreciate the changes.
Pan-Arabism does not exert the same hold over the Arab world that it once did, and while most Arab leaders and their public remain very sympathetic to the Palestinians, they also have their own state interests to look to.
Iran, in particular, looms very large within the risk assessments of various Arab states, and in Israel they can find a militarily and technologically powerful — and determined foe — of Iran with which to make common cause.
An integral part of the MENA region, whether some like it or not, Israel is also not going anywhere. Indeed, in the present circumstances, Israel will neither lose sight of the threat that Tehran poses, nor fail to grasp the geopolitical significance of a nuclear-armed Iran.
Common interests between many Arab states and Israel go beyond Iran as well, as Greenblatt so astutely understood, and the Palestinian leadership’s intransigence in the face of various Israeli peace offers over the years could no longer be permitted to veto such a confluence of interests.
The Abraham Accords, signed in September 2020, normalized relations between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
He writes: “By continuing to make perfect the enemy of the good, the Palestinian Authority had, slowly but surely, eroded much of what was once rock-solid political and financial support by its neighbors.
“For more and more Arab countries, it was one thing to support the desire of Palestinians for a peaceful state, but it had become increasingly untenable to continue to make that cause a higher priority than the competing needs of their citizens who both desired and deserved a more prosperous future as well.”
That common interest resides not just in geopolitical alignments and threats, but in the social and economic realm as well — including energy, food, water, health, and other issues.
Greenblatt provides the example of a recent Rand Corporation study that “forecasts nearly $70 billion in direct new aggregate benefits for Israel and its four partners (the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan) in these free trade agreements over the next decade and the creation of almost 65,000 new jobs.
If all five partners, in turn, trade with one another in a plurilateral FTA, Rand calculates the additional aggregate benefits will exceed $148 billion and the jobs created to exceed 180,000.”
The Arab leaders in the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan proved far-sighted enough and courageous enough to see all this as well and take the necessary steps.
Advocates of the Abraham Accords model argue, rightly or wrongly, that reversing the equation of “peace with the Palestinians first, normalization with the Arab world after” increases the likelihood of arriving at an Israeli-Palestinian peace as well. As evidence, they say some 70 years of Arab League boycotts and shunning of Israel certainly did nothing to achieve peace.
For better or worse, the united Arab front against Israel convinced Israelis of the need to remain militarily strong and vigilant, decreasing their ability to imagine any scenario in which the Arab world would truly accept them and make genuine peace.
Yet since everyone pretty much agrees that an Israeli-Palestinian negotiated peace remains the most difficult and elusive objective, why not marshal the assistance of all those who share that goal?
Most of the Arab states in the MENA region most definitely want a reasonable peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and now the ones that have normalized relations with Israel can help bring it about.
They can help broker talks, they can help persuade both Israelis and Palestinians to find a middle ground somewhere, and, most of all, they can become stronger forces for moderate politics in the region.
Greenblatt and his team understood all this. They did not just sense that the Arab region was ready for a change in policy, however.
They tirelessly worked to help bring about the change for the better, and in the process probably improved the lives of millions in the region.
For that we all owe them our thanks.
Unfortunately, the people who could most benefit from reading this account behind the Abraham Accords will probably never do so. People do not, as a rule, like to read about how they were wrong. There are also more minor things in the book to take issue with, which might dissuade some readers.
Many Americans (including this reviewer) will not at all share the author’s extremely high regard for former President Trump, for instance. To such readers, the same president who threw Washington’s Kurdish allies under the bus in 2017 and 2019 — the very allies who defeated Daesh with a US-backed coalition — cannot be trusted to understand the region nor to always make the right call.
I would also expect Israeli policymakers to receive at least some criticism at some point somewhere in the book. The settlement issue might be a case in point — I still cannot understand how Israel can claim more land in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) without accepting (meaning offering citizenship to) the people there.
The simple unavoidable calculus supporting a two-state solution still seems to be that you cannot have one without the other — if you take all the land, you need to take all the people there too and offer them equal citizenship. If offering them equal citizenship is too dangerous for Israel, then settlements need to stop in order for the Palestinians to retain enough land for a viable and dignified state of their own — whenever they might be ready for that.
Finally, the issue of the Iran nuclear accords remains a thorny one. The uncomfortable truth is that Iran has made more progress toward building nuclear weapons since Trump pulled the US out of the nuclear accord than in the years following its signing. There may be no good answers here as long as the US lacks the appetite for military conflict with Iran, a lack of appetite that the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations all shared.
n Greenblatt’s telling of the issue, things are a good deal simpler: The nuclear deal with Iran was a con job that Obama and Kerry fell for, and Trump put a stop to that. The counterargument is, apart from the targeted assassination of Qassem Soleimani in January 2020, the Trump administration achieved little in the matter of defanging Iran.
The regime remains solidly in place, uranium enrichment has expanded rather than quieted down, and Iranian influence in places such as Iraq and Syria is stronger than ever (especially after Trump chose to let Iranian and Iraqi forces attack Washington’s Kurdish allies in October 2017).
These quibbles notwithstanding, Greenblatt’s book remains well worth picking up. The narrative regarding peace and progress in the MENA region, including an almost contagious optimism for such, could use more space on any bookshelf.
• “In the Path of Abraham,” Jason D. Greenblatt (New York: Wicked Son Publishing, hard cover, 325 pages).
• Reviewer: David Romano, Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics, Missouri State University
Yemen govt has ‘fully’ implemented UN-brokered truce, says FM
The country has experienced the longest cessation of hostilities and violence in eight years over the last six months, resulting in a significant drop in civilian deaths
Updated 05 October 2022
AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s internationally recognized government has carried out all of its obligations under the UN-brokered truce and has made “major” concessions to clear the way for its renewal and the end of the war, Yemen’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.
Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak told reporters in the Moroccan capital Rabat that the Houthis have imposed numerous restrictions and conditions to thwart attempts to extend the truce.
He added that the Iran-backed militia has refused to pay public employees in the areas they control despite having made millions of dollars from the sale of oil ships that entered Hodeidah port during the truce.
“We carried out everything in the armistice agreement and made major concessions. The Houthis erected new roadblocks at every stage of the talks,” the Yemeni minister said, noting that Houthi artillery, explosive-rigged drones, snipers and landmines had killed or injured 1,400 government soldiers and officers, as well as 94 civilians during the truce.
The minister said that the government would only pay public employees in Houthi areas if the militia group would deposit earnings from Hodeidah port into the central bank in accordance with the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement in 2018.
“The Houthis plundered more than 45 billion Yemeni riyals ($18 million) prior to the armistice and have not paid a single riyal in public employee salaries since the signing of the Stockholm Agreement.”
He accused Iran of using the Houthis to further its expansionist goals, vowing to oppose Iran’s attempts to seize control of the country’s resources, including oil.
“The Houthi group imposed the war in order to carry out Tehran's expansionist agenda in the region,” he said. “We will utilize our constitutional right to defend our nation and people, and we won’t let Iran take control of Yemen’s oil riches.”
The international community’s efforts to end the war in Yemen took a major hit this week when the Iran-backed Houthis refused to renew the truce and threatened to target oil ships transporting the country’s oil exports from government-controlled areas.
The Houthis rejected a suggestion to partially ease their siege of Taiz by opening at least one main road leading into and out of the city, and they told UN Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg that they would agree to renew the truce only if the Yemeni government paid public servants in areas under their control.
The country has experienced the longest cessation of hostilities and violence in eight years over the last six months, resulting in a significant drop in civilian deaths.
With the truce, which went into effect on April 2 and has been renewed twice, thousands of passengers have been able to fly from Sanaa airport, and more than 50 fuel ships have entered the port of Hodeidah, ending severe fuel shortages in the Houthi-controlled areas.
Similarly, the EU mission in Yemen has blamed the Houthis’ “maximalist demands” for undermining international efforts to renew the truce and has urged warring factions, particularly the Houthis, to cooperate with the UN’s Yemen envoy and de-escalate.
“We urge in particular the Houthis to moderate their demands and to engage constructively with UN special envoy Grundberg so that the truce can continue and develop into an effective ceasefire, paving the way for a comprehensive process leading to peace in Yemen,” the EU mission said in a statement.
Italian judges’ association condemns Iran for crackdown on protesters
The Court of Auditors Magistrates Association rarely takes a stance on political issues, but in a communique, it criticized the Iranian regime’s tough response to demonstrations
Amini, 22, died at the hands of Iran’s morality police, the Gasht-e Ershad, after being held for allegedly breaching strict dress codes imposed on women
Updated 05 October 2022
ROME: A top Italian judges’ association has condemned Iran for its crackdown on protests over the death in custody of Mahsa Amini.
The Court of Auditors Magistrates Association rarely takes a stance on political issues, but in a communique, it criticized the Iranian regime’s tough response to demonstrations taking place throughout Iran.
Amini, 22, died at the hands of Iran’s morality police, the Gasht-e Ershad, after being held for allegedly breaching strict dress codes imposed on women.
Her death has since sparked protests in almost every province of Iran over the policing of personal freedoms.
In its statement, the association expressed its “deep solidarity and closeness to Iranian women, who are demonstrating in many ways to claim their freedom and against an oppression that has lasted for 40 years, putting their own lives at risk.”
Association president, Paola Briguori, described Tehran’s actions as “horrible and unacceptable,” adding that “when fundamental rights are undermined one cannot remain silent waiting for everything to calm down.”
Briguori said the crackdown on demonstrators reflected “the legacy of a regime that constantly violates human rights and freedom of expression, repressing and nullifying women’s rights. It is time to give voice to the disapproval and to say enough.”
President of the Italian National Press Federation, Beppe Giulietti, took part in a demonstration outside the Iranian Embassy in Rome. He said the media had an important role to play in highlighting the situation in Iran and urged news organizations to “give space to those who have no voice today.”
The decree law stipulates the right of domestic workers to be paid annual leave of no less than 30 days
Updated 05 October 2022
ABU DHABI: The UAE has issued a new federal law to strengthen domestic labor rights.
Decree Federal Law No.9 for 2022 covers all aspects of domestic labor law and guarantees the rights of all parties in a relationship, whether workers, employers or recruitment agents, in line with clear standards and frameworks, the Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported on Wednesday.
The decree law covers working hours, weekly breaks and leave for domestic workers and affirms the right of domestic workers to a paid day off per week, according to the law’s executive regulations.
The executive resolutions issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization are responsible for working hours and leaves.
The decree law stipulates the right of domestic workers to be paid annual leave of no less than 30 days, said WAM.
If the service period is less than a year and more than six months, workers are entitled to two days leave every month, and the employer can specify the start date of the annual leave.
Moreover, the decree law says if domestic workers wish to travel to their home countries on annual leave, employers must cover the cost of their return tickets once every two years.
The decree law affirms the right of domestic workers to sick leave for a period not exceeding 30 days during a contractual year, whether continuous or intermittent if the need for this leave can be proven by a medical report issued by an approved national health authority.
Furthermore, the decree law affirms the right of domestic workers to change their employer based on the requirements set in their contracts and if they have fulfilled their obligations to the original employer, according to the conditions and procedures included in the resolution of the ministry.
The decree law stipulates that the employer will inform the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization about any violations committed by a domestic worker against applicable laws.
Recruitment agents must administer the necessary medical examinations for domestic workers within a period not exceeding 30 days before their entry into the country, the decree law confirmed.
They must treat domestic workers in a humane way, not expose them to violence, and raise their awareness of the relevant authorities they must contact if their rights are violated, stressed the decree law.
The law also prohibits recruiting or temporarily hiring domestic workers without obtaining a license from the ministry, according to the executive regulation of the decree law and the ministry’s resolutions.
If domestic workers are recruited or employed on a temporary basis, they cannot be discriminated against based on by race, religion, nationality, social class or disability. Sexual harassment, whether physical or verbal, is prohibited, along with people being forced to work or do any actions that fall in the category of human trafficking.
The law, which was issued on Sept. 9, will come into force three months after the date of its publication in the Official Gazette.
Iranian girls heckle member of feared paramilitary force
Basij militia used to suppress widespread protests in Iran
Updated 05 October 2022
RIYADH: Iranian teenage girls have heckled a member of the regime’s feared Basij paramilitary force, in a protest stemming from the death of a young woman at the hands of Iran’s morality police.
A video shared on social media shows the girls waving their headscarves in the air and chanting “get lost, Basiji” at the man who was meant to address a crowd of demonstrators. Unconfirmed reports said the video was taken in Shiraz on Tuesday.
The protest came in the third week of unrest over the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, days after she was arrested by morality police, the Gasht-e Ershad, in Tehran for allegedly wearing an incorrect headscarf. Her family say she was beaten in custody. Authorities claim she had a heart attack.
The Basij is a wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that has been designated as a terrorist organization by several states, including Saudi Arabia. Its members have been used against the ongoing protests, in which scores of people have died.
Many of the demonstrations are being led by women and girls, who have been flouting the law on compulsory headscarves in a symbolic show of their opposition to the regime.
A second video posted online this week showed a man yelling “death to the dictator” as girls, who had removed their headscarves, walked through traffic in the northwestern city of Sanandaj. An elderly woman was seen clapping in solidarity as the girls chanted “freedom.”
In a third clip, a teacher appeared to threaten students with expulsion if they did not cover their heads as they took part in a sit-down protest in a schoolyard.
Footage reportedly shot in Karaj meanwhile showed girls chasing a man, believed to be a member of the security forces, as he rode a motorcycle.