King Charles III: A friend of the Arab world

Special King Charles III: A friend of the Arab world
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Wearing traditional Arab robes, the former Prince Charles takes part in a Saudi sword dance known as ardah at the Janadriyah cultural festival near Riyadh in February 2014. (Reuters)
Special King Charles III: A friend of the Arab world
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Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz welcomes Prince Charles in Riyadh on February 10, 2015. (SPA photo)
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Prince Charles and Princess Diana meet King Fahd at Gatwick Airport during the saudi monarch's state visit to England in March 1987. (Getty Images)
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Jordan's King Abdullah II (2nd-R) and his wife Queen Rania (R) receiving Prince Charles and his wife Princess Camilla at al-Husseiniyah Palace in Amman on Nov. 16, 2021. (AFP file photo)
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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C-R) and his wife Intissar Amer (R) welcome Prince Charles (L) and wife Camilla in Cairo on Nov. 18, 2021. (AFP)
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Prince Charles talks with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) when they met for dinner at Clarence House in central London on March 7, 2018. (AFP)
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Prince Charles is welcomed at the Al-Jahili Fort in Al-Ain, UAE, by UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, then crown prince, on Nov. 7, 2016. (AFP)
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Updated 10 September 2022

King Charles III: A friend of the Arab world

King Charles III: A friend of the Arab world
  • New monarch’s engagement with the Middle East ensures continuity of friendship forged by the late queen
  • As Prince of Wales, Charles showed a lifelong commitment to building bridges between faiths and cultures 

LONDON: In November, the Prince of Wales and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, embarked on the first overseas tour by any member of the British royal family since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which had brought a temporary halt to such trips two years earlier.

To those familiar with the interests closest to the prince’s heart, the choice of the Middle East as the destination came as no surprise.

Visiting Jordan and Egypt, the prince was honoring his lifelong commitment to the building of bridges between different faiths and cultures, and exercising his fascination with, and love of, a region with which he has always been deeply engaged.

On his visit to Jordan, the prince was keen to express his admiration for the work being done in the country on behalf of refugees, many of whom had been displaced by the war in Syria.

Prince Charles plays with children during his visit to the King Abdullah Park for Syrian Refugees at Ramtha city, north of Amman, on March 13, 2013. (AFP)

He has been particularly concerned with the plight of refugees throughout the region. In January 2020 he was announced as the first UK patron of the International Rescue Committee, the organization working in 40 countries “to help people to survive, recover, and gain control of their futures.”

In Jordan, he met and spoke to some of the 750,000 people being hosted by the country, many of whom rely on support from donor countries, including the UK and Saudi Arabia.

The prince’s sense of the history of the region, which in many cases is linked inextricably with that of his own country, is keen. While in Jordan, he planted a tree to symbolize the UK-Jordanian partnership, and to mark the centenary of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan — a product of the allied defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, and which was finally granted independence from the British mandate in 1946.

In Cairo, the prince and the duchess were welcomed by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. It was the prince’s second trip to Egypt. He had visited previously in 2006, as part of a tour that also included Saudi Arabia and which had been carried out to promote better understanding and tolerance between religions, and in support of environmental initiatives and the promotion of sustainable job opportunities and training for young people.

Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb (C-L), Grand Imam of al-Azhar, receives Prince Charles and his wife Camilla upon their arrival at the mosque in Cairo on Nov.18, 2021. (AFP)

After visiting Cairo’s Al-Azhar mosque, the prince underlined his commitment to interfaith harmony in a speech at Al-Azhar University.

He said: “I believe with all my heart, that responsible men and women should work to restore mutual respect between religions, and we must do everything in our power to overcome the mistrust that poisons the lives of many people.”

Similar to his mother, who passed away on Thursday, Charles has always been devoted to ecumenism and the promotion of harmony between faiths.

As King Charles III, he now inherits Queen Elizabeth II’s role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and the title Defender of the Faith — and, like her before him, he has always made clear that he sees this role as being better defined as defender of all faiths.

During a BBC interview in 2015, he said: “It has always seemed to me that, while at the same time being Defender of the Faith, you can also be protector of faiths.

“The Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.”

With more than 3 million Muslims in the UK, Islam is the second-largest religion in the country, and Charles’ interest in the religion is well known.

Prince Charles starts a basketball training match at the Saudi Sports Federation for Special Needs complex on the outskirts of Riyadh on February 10, 2004. (AFP)

In 2015, during a Middle East tour that took him to Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE, it emerged that the prince had spent the previous six months learning Arabic with a private tutor, in order to be able to read the Qur’an in its original language, and to be better able to decipher inscriptions in museums and other institutions during his many trips to the region.

A royal aide revealed that the prince was “enormously interested in the region.”

Known for his passion for Islamic history, art, and culture — at the University of Cambridge in the 1960s, the prince read archaeology, anthropology, and history at Trinity College — Charles has always taken a close interest in the heritage of the Middle East.

In particular, he has followed closely and several times has visited the extensive archaeological work taking place in and around AlUla and the ancient Nabataean city of Hegra, inscribed in 2008 as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Prince Charles, accompanied by then Saudi tourism chief Prince Sultan bin Salman, tour the historical town of AlUla in Madinah province on Feb. 11, 2015. (AFP)

On a visit to Saudi Arabia in 2013, he enjoyed a tour of the Wadi Hanifa and watched with great interest a presentation on the Diriyah project, which is transforming the historic Wadi into a destination for global cultural tourism, with the preserved ruins of Diriyah, capital of the First Saudi State and birthplace of Saudi Arabia, at its heart.

Charles is a keen artist, and that interest is reflected on his personal website, — in the throes of being updated to reflect his new standing — on which four watercolors he painted in the Middle East are showcased.

A combination of pictures from Prince Charles's personal website shows his paintings of the Middle East. Clockwise, from top left: Gulf of Aqaba, Jordan (1993); Port of Suez, 1986; overlooking Wadi Arkam, Asir Province, 1999; and Ad Diriyah, KSA, 2001. 

The earliest, dated 1986, is of a ship in Port Suez, Egypt. Two others are landscapes painted in Saudi Arabia — a view of Wadi Arkam in the remote southwest Asir province in 1999, and a study of a historic palace in Diriyah, painted in 2001.

Since his investiture as Prince of Wales in 1969, Charles has made innumerable visits to countries in the region, formally and informally. Private visits aside, as Prince of Wales Charles made five official visits to Jordan, six to Qatar, seven to both Kuwait and the UAE, and 12 to Saudi Arabia.

It was a tradition that began in 1986 when he embarked on a nine-day tour of the Middle East, during which he visited Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia with his then wife, Diana, Princess of Wales, from whom he would separate in 1992.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana in Jeddah in the late 80s. (Getty Images)

Just how seriously Charles takes his and Britain’s links with the region is underlined by the number of meetings he has had at home and abroad, with members of Middle Eastern royal families — more than 200 in the past decade, including with those of Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the UAE.

As Prince of Wales, it was part of Charles’ job to promote the mutual interests of Britain and its allies, and in pursuit of that duty he paid many formal and informal visits to Saudi Arabia, the UK’s most influential ally in the region.

The prince’s role as a bridge between his country and all the nations of the Gulf, in particular, has always been mutually beneficial. For example, the day after a visit to Riyadh in February 2014, during which the prince gamely accepted an invitation to don traditional Arab dress and take part in a sword dance, it was announced that British aerospace company BAE had completed a deal for the sale to the Kingdom of 72 Typhoon fighter jets.

Then-Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall pictured in front of the Sphinx at the Giza Pyramids plateau on the western outskirts of the Egyptian capital on November 18, 2021. (AFP)

As the Prince of Wales, Charles has had many charitable interests, but perhaps none has been as global in its outlook as The Prince’s Foundation, dedicated to “realizing the Prince of Wales’ vision of creating communities for a more sustainable world.”

Focused on education, appreciation of heritage, and the creation of equal opportunities for young people, at home and abroad, the foundation has run satellite programs in more than 20 countries, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where it operates permanent centers.

In Saudi Arabia, the foundation established a building arts and crafts vocational training program in Jeddah’s old city, Al-Balad, giving students the opportunity to become involved in the Ministry of Culture’s restoration projects in the city.

During the Winter at Tantora festival, held in AlUla from Jan. 10 to March 21, 2020, the foundation staged an exhibition titled “Cosmos, Color and Craft: The Art of the Order of Nature in AlUla,” and ran a series of hands-on workshops in conjunction with the Royal Commission for AlUla.

In the UAE, since 2009 the foundation has been working with the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation to deliver traditional arts workshops in the capital.

On his visit to Egypt last year, the prince met young craftspeople from the Egyptian Heritage Rescue Foundation and The Jameel School. Supported by The Prince’s Foundation, the school teaches young Egyptians classes in traditional Islamic geometry, drawing, color harmony, and arabesque studies.

Prince Charles and his wife Camilla are greeted by officials and a children's quartet as they arrive to visit the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt on Nov. 19, 2021. (AFP)

Unsurprisingly, the foundation has attracted donations from many influential friends in the region. As the Prince of Wales, Charles’ bonds with the royal families of the region have always been deeper than the necessary ties demanded by wise diplomacy.

For example, he considered King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia as a personal friend and, after the monarch passed away in January 2015, flew to Riyadh to pay his final respects and express his condolences to his successor, King Salman, in person.

In Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who died on Thursday, the Middle East and its peoples had a lifelong friend, close to its leaders and committed to building and maintaining bridges between faiths and cultures.

In King Charles III, that precious friendship clearly is destined to continue unbroken.



Philippines’ largest prison holds mass burial for 70 inmates

Philippines’ largest prison holds mass burial for 70 inmates
Updated 14 sec ago

Philippines’ largest prison holds mass burial for 70 inmates

Philippines’ largest prison holds mass burial for 70 inmates
  • They were among 176 corpses found by police during an investigation into the death of an inmate
  • Bodies are normally held at accredited funeral homes for three months to give relatives time to retrieve them
MANILA: The bodies of 70 inmates from the Philippines’ largest prison were laid to rest Friday in a mass burial, weeks after their decomposing remains were discovered in a Manila funeral home.
They were among 176 corpses found by police during an investigation into the death of an inmate, who was accused of being involved in the killing of a journalist in early October.
Most of the deaths were due to “natural causes,” said Cecilia Villanueva, the Bureau of Corrections’ acting director for health and welfare services.
Among them was a Japanese national.
Villanueva said 127 of the 140 bodies buried so far were badly decomposed and could not be autopsied again.
The bodies began piling up in the funeral home in December 2021 after their families — most of them poor — did not claim them.
Villanueva blamed “constraints” for the failure of corrections staff to ensure the inmates were given timely burials.
Bodies are normally held at the accredited funeral home for three months to give relatives time to retrieve them.
Friday’s mass burial was the biggest ever by the Bureau of Corrections, Villanueva told reporters.
Minimum security inmates carried the 70 plywood coffins to their final resting place — cheap concrete tombs in a cemetery inside the prison complex.
The gruesome discovery at the funeral home was only the latest scandal to rock the troubled Bureau of Corrections, which runs the country’s overcrowded prison system.
Its chief Gerald Bantag is accused of ordering the killing of radio broadcaster Percival Mabasa, as well as Cristito Villamor Palana, an inmate who allegedly passed on the kill order to the gunman.
After Bantag was suspended from his job as director general, a huge pit was discovered next to his former official residence inside the prison complex.
Bantag claims it was for scuba diving, not an escape tunnel for inmates.
Among the remaining bodies still at the funeral home, eight would be re-examined by Raquel Fortun, one of the country’s two forensic pathologists.
Villanueva said an average of one to two prisoners died every day inside New Bilibid Prison, where about 29,000 inmates are held in a facility designed for 6,435.
There were only five doctors to treat the prisoners, but the Bureau of Corrections was trying to hire more.
“We are doing everything we can, we try to provide health care, just as health care is provided to the public, but there are so many constraints,” Villanueva said.

Finnish PM warns Russian win would empower aggressors

Finnish PM warns Russian win would empower aggressors
Updated 02 December 2022

Finnish PM warns Russian win would empower aggressors

Finnish PM warns Russian win would empower aggressors
  • First-ever visit by a Finnish prime minister to Australia and New Zealand
  • ’Make no mistake, if Russia wins its terrible gamble, it will not be the only one to feel empowered’

CANBERRA: Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin warned an Australian audience Friday that a Russian victory over Ukraine would empower other aggressors and urged democracies against forming “critical dependencies” on authoritarian states such as China.
Marin was speaking in Sydney at the end of the first-ever visit by a Finnish prime minister to Australia and New Zealand. Australia’s pursuit of a free trade deal with the European Union was on the agenda.
She used a speech to urge democracies to ramp up sanctions against Russia.
“Make no mistake, if Russia wins its terrible gamble, it will not be the only one to feel empowered,” Marin told the Lowy Institute international policy think tank.
“Others will also be tempted by the same dark agenda,” she added.
A free trade agreement being finalized between the European Union, which includes Finland, and Australia was an opportunity to develop resilient supply chains, she said.
“We have become far too dependent on cooperation with regimes that do not share our common values,” Marin said, using Finland’s reliance on Russian energy as an example.
“Our dependencies are becoming our weaknesses faster and in more important areas of our societies than we would like to happen,” she added.
She described trade with China as a “reality.”
“We all have worries when it comes to China and we must make sure that we don’t have that kind of critical dependencies when it comes to China,” Marin said.
“We cannot be dependent, for example, on microchips or semiconductors or any kind of critical technologies when it comes to authoritarian countries. Because if those trading routes would be cut suddenly, then we would be in trouble,” she added.
Marin later met Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at his official Sydney residence. The pair released a joint statement saying their talks “underlined the need to work together in strengthening their resilience as open and democratic societies and in fostering sustainable development.”
They prime ministers “agreed that managing complex supply chains, energy sources and investing in trustworthy critical and emerging technologies was needed to promote economic, political, social and environmental stability as well as human rights,” the statement said.
Australia, which is the most generous donor to Ukraine’s war effort outside NATO, and Finland, a country that is soon to become a NATO member and shares a 1,300-kilometer border with Russia, demanded in the statement Moscow immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine.

Up to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed since Russian invasion: Zelensky aide

Up to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed since Russian invasion: Zelensky aide
Updated 02 December 2022

Up to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed since Russian invasion: Zelensky aide

Up to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed since Russian invasion: Zelensky aide
  • 5,937 Russian troops had been killed in the nearly seven months of fighting

KYIV: As many as 13,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed since Russia’s invasion in February, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky has said.
“We have official estimates from the General Staff... And they range from 10,000 ... to 13,000 dead,” Mykhailo Podolyak told Ukraine’s Channel 24 on Thursday.
Zelensky would make the official data public “when the right moment comes,” he added.
In June, as Russian forces battled to take full control of the easternmost Lugansk region, Zelensky said Ukraine was losing “60 to 100 soldiers per day, killed in action, and around 500 people wounded in action.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in September said 5,937 Russian troops had been killed in the nearly seven months of fighting to that point.
Both sides are suspected of minimizing their losses to avoid damaging the morale of their troops.
Top US general Mark Milley last month said more than 100,000 Russian military personnel have been killed or wounded in Ukraine, with Kyiv’s forces likely suffering similar casualties.
Those figures — which could not be independently confirmed — are the most precise to date from the US government.
Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed in the worst fighting in Europe in decades.

US, South Korea and Japan impose fresh sanctions on North Korea

US, South Korea and Japan impose fresh sanctions on North Korea
Updated 02 December 2022

US, South Korea and Japan impose fresh sanctions on North Korea

US, South Korea and Japan impose fresh sanctions on North Korea
  • US Treasury Department threatened sanctions against anyone dealing with those directly involved in weapons development
  • Washington’s action blocks assets of three North Korean officials in the US

WASHINGTON: The United States, Japan and South Korea have imposed fresh sanctions on North Korean individuals and entities in response to Pyongyang’s recent slew of missile tests.
Washington’s action, announced Thursday, blocks any assets of three North Korean officials in the United States, a largely symbolic step against an isolated country that has defied international pressure over its weapons programs.
The US Treasury Department also threatened sanctions against anyone who conducts transactions with Jon Il Ho, Yu Jin and Kim Su Gil, who were identified as directly involved in weapons development.
The recent North Korean missile launches, including the test of an intercontinental ballistic missile with the range to hit the US mainland, “pose grave security risks to the region and entire world,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
The sanctions “underscore our sustained resolve to promote accountability in response to Pyongyang’s pace, scale and scope of ballistic missile launches.”
Blinken added that the action was taken in coordination with US allies South Korea and Japan, and noted that the European Union issued similar designations of the three in April.
Tokyo and Seoul on Friday also announced new sanctions.
South Korea said it would target eight individuals, including a Taiwanese and a Singaporean national.
They have “contributed to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and evasion of (pre-existing) sanctions,” the South Korean foreign ministry said in a statement.
All are already subject to US sanctions, the ministry added, and South Korea’s new restrictions are expected to “alert the domestic and international community of the risks of transactions with these entities.”
And Japan said that in response to Pyongyang’s “provocative acts,” it was freezing the assets of three North Korean groups — Korea Haegumgang Trading Corp, Korea Namgang Trading Corp. and Lazarus Group — and one person, Kim Su Il.
The United States has voiced frustration that China, North Korea’s closest ally, and Russia have blocked efforts at the UN Security Council to impose tougher sanctions.

SpaceX gets US approval to deploy up to 7,500 satellites

SpaceX gets US approval to deploy up to 7,500 satellites
Updated 02 December 2022

SpaceX gets US approval to deploy up to 7,500 satellites

SpaceX gets US approval to deploy up to 7,500 satellites

WASHINGTON: The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said on Thursday it approved SpaceX’s bid to deploy up to 7,500 satellites, but put on hold some other decisions.
SpaceX’s Starlink, a fast-growing network of more than 3,500 satellites in low-Earth orbit, has tens of thousands of users in the United States so far, with consumers paying at least $599 for a user terminal and $110 a month for service. The FCC in 2018 approved SpaceX plans to deploy up to 4,425 first-generation satellites.
SpaceX has sought approval to operate a network of 29,988 satellites, to be known as its “second-generation” or Gen2 Starlink constellation to beam Internet to areas with little or no Internet access.
“Our action will allow SpaceX to begin deployment of Gen2 Starlink, which will bring next generation satellite broadband to Americans nationwide,” the FCC said in its approval order, adding it “will enable worldwide satellite broadband service, helping to close the digital divide on a global scale.”
The FCC said its decision “will protect other satellite and terrestrial operators from harmful interference and maintain a safe space environment” and protect “spectrum and orbital resources for future use.”
In August, a US appeals court upheld the 2021 decision of the FCC to approve a SpaceX plan to deploy some Starlink satellites at a lower Earth orbit than planned as part of its push to offer space-based broadband Internet.
In September, SpaceX challenged the FCC decision to deny it $885.5 million in rural broadband subsidies. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in August Starlink’s technology “has real promise” but that it could not meet the program’s requirements, citing data that showed a steady decline in speeds over the past year and casting the service’s price as too steep for consumers.