Instagram disrupted across Iran amid protests

The UN human rights office says the morality police have stepped up operations in recent months and resorted to more violent methods. (AFP/File)
The UN human rights office says the morality police have stepped up operations in recent months and resorted to more violent methods. (AFP/File)
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Updated 21 September 2022

Instagram disrupted across Iran amid protests

Instagram disrupted across Iran amid protests
  • Protests erupted after a woman who was detained by the country’s morality police for allegedly wearing her Islamic headscarf too loosely was reported dead last week
  • In a separate development, hackers took down the websites of several Iranian state agencies

DUBAI: Iranians saw their access to Instagram, one of the few Western social media platforms still available in the country, disrupted on Wednesday following days of mass protests over the death of a woman who was detained by the morality police.
NetBlocks, a London-based group that monitors Internet access, reported widespread disruptions. Witnesses inside Iran, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of security concerns, said they were unable to log on using mobile phones or home connections.
There was no immediate comment from Iranian authorities on the disruption to Instagram, which would limit the ability of protesters to organize and share information.
Iran already blocks Facebook, Telegram, Twitter and YouTube, even though top Iranian officials use public accounts on such platforms. Many Iranians get around the bans using virtual private networks, known as VPNs, and proxies.
In a separate development, the website of Iran’s Central Bank was briefly taken down on Wednesday as hackers claimed they had targeted the websites of several Iranian state agencies. Later, the official websites of Iran’s president and supreme leader were down.
The apparent cyberattack came amid days of protests over the death of a woman who was detained by the country’s morality police for allegedly wearing her Islamic headscarf too loosely. It also came hours before Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi addressed the United Nations General Assembly.
Central Bank spokesman Mostafa Qamarivafa denied that the bank itself was hacked, saying only that the website was “inaccessible” because of an attack on a server that hosts it, in remarks carried by the official IRNA news agency. The website was later restored.
The Culture Ministry’s website was also unavailable as of Wednesday afternoon.
Hackers linked to the shadowy Anonymous movement said they targeted other Iranian state agencies, including state TV and the office of the presidential spokesman.
Iran has been the target of several cyberattacks in recent years.
In February, dissident hackers put up an anti-government message on a website that streams state television programming. Last year, an online group released video footage from inside Iran’s notorious Evin prison that it claimed to have acquired through hacking.
Later that year, a cyberattack crippled gas stations across the country, creating long lines of angry motorists unable to get subsidized fuel for days. Messages accompanying the attack appeared to refer to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Other attacks, which Iran has blamed on Israel, have targeted its nuclear program and industrial sites.
Iranians have been protesting for days over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old who was arrested by the morality police last week. The police say she died of a heart attack and was not mistreated, but her family has cast doubt on that account, saying she had no previous heart issues and that they were prevented from seeing her body.
The UN human rights office says the morality police have stepped up operations in recent months and resorted to more violent methods, including slapping women, beating them with batons and shoving them into police vehicles.
Amini’s funeral on Saturday sparked protests in the western Kurdish region, where she was from, which eventually spread across country and reached the capital, Tehran. The protesters have clashed with police and chanted against the Islamic Republic itself.
Raisi has called for an investigation into Amini’s death. Iranian officials have blamed the protests on unnamed foreign countries that they say are trying to foment unrest.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made no reference to the protests in a meeting on Wednesday with veterans of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war.
Iran has seen waves of protests in recent years, mainly over a long-running economic crisis exacerbated by Western sanctions linked to its nuclear program.
The Biden administration and European allies have been working to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear accord, in which Iran curbed its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief, but the talks have been deadlocked for months.
In his speech at the UN, Raisi said Iran is committed to reviving the nuclear agreement but questioned whether it could trust America’s commitment to any accord.
Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. It began ramping up its nuclear activities after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 agreement, and experts say it now likely has enough highly-enriched uranium to make a bomb if it chooses to do so.


Arab-Chinese meetings ‘good news for the entire world,’ says China Daily managing editor as President Xi Jinping begins Saudi visit

Arab-Chinese meetings ‘good news for the entire world,’ says China Daily managing editor as President Xi Jinping begins Saudi visit
Updated 4 min 9 sec ago

Arab-Chinese meetings ‘good news for the entire world,’ says China Daily managing editor as President Xi Jinping begins Saudi visit

Arab-Chinese meetings ‘good news for the entire world,’ says China Daily managing editor as President Xi Jinping begins Saudi visit
  • Wen Zongduo expresses gratitude for hospitality shown by “impressive” Saudi capital Riyadh 
  • Veteran Chinese journalist is in Saudi Arabia to cover President Xi’s landmark visit to the Kingdom

RIYADH: A veteran Chinese journalist, who is in the Kingdom to cover President Xi Jinping’s landmark visit, says he is overwhelmed by the warmth of Saudi hospitality and the rapid pace of development of the Saudi capital.

“This is my first visit. I had been eager to come over for years now,” Wen Zongduo, managing editor of China’s leading English-language newspaper China Daily, told Arab News.

“I am very grateful to Saudi officials and diplomats. They provided all help to me and my team to come over to Saudi Arabia, working extra hours on their weekend. Their devotion to work and the assistance they extended to us touched me and my team members.

Wen Zongduo, managing editor of China Daily, with Noor Nugali, assistant editor in chief of Arab News, and other Arab News staff. (AN Photo)

“I must say that Riyadh city is impressive. I can see many high-rise buildings here, with more coming up. It seems the city is going through a period of massive new construction. To me, it seems Riyadh is getting an altogether new life. The Boulevard World, a premier entertainment zone that has many elements from other countries, has just been finished.

“It seems to me that Riyadh is an inclusive city. It is introducing different elements from all over the world in order to make residents’ lives better and exciting and make Riyadh more attractive. These developments I find very impressive.”

Praising the local people for showing great hospitality, Wen told Arab News: “The residents of Riyadh have been kind, generous and helpful…Wherever I have been, everyone has been very helpful.”

Commenting on President Xi’s visit, Wen described it as very important from the standpoint of Chinese news media.

“The summits are significant, especially when our world needs the efforts of all countries, including China, Saudi Arabia and other countries that are facing the same challenges. We are going through a difficult period, which means every country has a responsibility to humanity,” he told Arab News.

According to Wen, instead of arms sales and launching wars, the world needs more efforts to achieve sustainable development, especially when billions of people in the developing world are already experiencing difficulties related to climate change.

There will be three summits in the Kingdom during the visit. (AFP)

“The decision of China and the Arab states to come together in this difficult time is very good news for the entire world,” Wen told Arab News.

“This is also because China and Arab states have been good partners and friends for a very long time…We have every reason to continue and do more for the world in this difficult time.”

President Xi arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday for a three-day visit during which he will meet Saudi, Gulf and Arab leaders.

Three summits will take place while he is in the Kingdom: the Saudi-Chinese summit, the Riyadh Gulf-China Summit for Cooperation and Development, and the Riyadh Arab-China Summit for Cooperation and Development.

The Chinese president’s visit reflects the desire of Saudi Arabia and China to strengthen their bilateral ties, enhance their strategic partnership, and realize the relationship’s full political and economic potential in order to advance their common interests.

More than 20 initial agreements between the two countries, worth over SR110 billion ($29.3 billion), will be signed during the presidential visit. Also on the agenda are a strategic partnership deal and a plan to harmonize the implementation of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 development and diversification project with China’s Belt and Road Initiative.


Podcasts: The future of media in the Arab world?

Photo/Shutterstock
Photo/Shutterstock
Updated 07 December 2022

Podcasts: The future of media in the Arab world?

Photo/Shutterstock
  • As the sector evolves and grows, the introduction of video to podcasting might just be just the push the audio industry needs to propel it to ever-greater heights
  • It is not a question of ‘leaving audio behind,’ said one expert; video is ‘unlocking further potential for the content to reach new realms, creatively, and for more people to access the content’

Arabs are among the biggest consumers of media around the world, with many spending hours each day watching and listening to their various devices, from TVs to smartphones.

In the region, Saudis spend the most time watching TV, averaging 5.2 hours a day, followed by Emiratis on 4.2 hours, according to a report by the consultancy Strategy&.

Moreover, it found that Saudis on average spend 14.2 hours a day engaging with various types of media channels. However, long periods spent staring at devices can result in screen fatigue, which is perhaps a reason for growth of alternative media formats, such as podcasts.

“(A podcast) is an easily consumable content (format) and, most importantly, it offers a screen-less alternative to social media and doom scrolling,” Ramsey Tesdell, the CEO of Jordan-based podcast network Sowt Media, told Arab News.

There are estimated to be more than 10 million podcast listeners in the Middle East and North Africa region, who listen to an average of between five and seven hours of podcasts a week, according to Bella Ibrahim, marketing director of regional podcasting company the Kerning Cultures Network. The biggest markets are in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, she added, but other countries in the region are following suit. 

The rise of new creators and development of improved technologies have helped to create a burgeoning podcast ecosystem, with special events such as “Ignite the Sound” in Saudi Arabia, and “Sada” and “Podfest” in the UAE, bringing creators together.

Statistics reveal the growth in popularity of the medium in the region and internationally. According to Strategy&, 18.4 percent of Saudis listen to podcasts more than once a week. Globally, Spotify said that podcast engagement on its platform has grown from less than seven percent in 2018 to 30 percent this year.

Although podcasting is still a relatively new medium, the ideas and traditions it emerged from are not.

“Audio has always been part of our lives,” Rhea Chedid, a senior podcast manager at Spotify MENA, told Arab News. “The Arab world has a long history of oral storytelling, and podcasts are a continuation of that.”

Still, podcast listenership remains relatively low compared with the popularity of social media and video streaming. And so despite the clear benefits offered by audio content, including hands-free, screenless entertainment, video is, perhaps inevitably, increasingly becoming a pervasive part of the podcast scene.

“Video is an important aspect of entertainment and podcasts will adapt to that as well,” Tesdell said.

Spotify, for example, first flirted with the idea of adding video to podcasts in 2020 during limited tests, after which it rolled out video-podcast options to selected creators through Anchor, a podcast creation and distribution platform it acquired in 2019. Last month, it expanded it video-podcasting capabilities to most global markets in which Anchor is available, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Does that mean the days of the audio-only podcast might be numbered already? Experts say that this is not the way to look at it.

“It’s not a question about audio or video, or leaving audio behind,” said Chedid. Instead, video is “unlocking further potential for the content to reach new realms, creatively, and for more people to access the content they want, in the way they want.”

Moreover, people consume a variety of content types throughout the day, which means that they are not necessarily choosing video over audio.

“The more people there are consuming audio, no matter the format, is a good thing,” Tesdell said.

Videos have been around as a source of online entertainment much longer than audio podcasts — from the early days of YouTube to the new breed of short and snappy footage on sites such as TikTok and Instagram. As a result, distribution and monetization tools are well-developed across video platforms and creators are more familiar with the format, Tesdell added.

In fact, though it might appear counterintuitive, some experts suggest that video might very well be the factor that propels the podcast industry to greater heights.

Spotify, for example, said it has already seen strong adoption of video by podcast creators in markets where it is available, said Chedid.

Video can also serve as a marketing and promotional tool for podcasters, Ibrahim said, but she cautioned: “With all the buzz around video, it’s worth noting that not all podcasts should be forced into being video podcasts. It’s a great format for talk shows but less so for narrative or fiction shows.”

So, do podcasts represent the future of media in the Arab world? Ibrahim certainly believes so.

“Absolutely; the medium of audio storytelling creates a very intimate listening experience,” she said.

Tesdell and Chedid are also optimistic about the future of podcasting but view it more as an increasingly significant part of the wider media ecosystem rather than its future.

“Podcasts will play an important and significant role in the development of Arab media,” Tesdell said.

Chedid added: “Podcasts will be part of the future of media in the Arab world, just like they have become globally.”

 

 


‘Refs for Change’ makes first female referees at men’s World Cup messengers for empowerment

Photo/Supplied
Photo/Supplied
Updated 07 December 2022

‘Refs for Change’ makes first female referees at men’s World Cup messengers for empowerment

Photo/Supplied
  • As part of the campaign, every time a female World Cup ref blows the whistle, Moroccan nonprofit organization MALI tweets about achievements of women pioneers in male-dominated fields
  • The first women to officiate at a men’s World Cup have a ‘unique opportunity to draw attention to the patriarchal system, to male domination and male violence against women’ the organization said

DUBAI: In a groundbreaking move at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, three female referees were, for the first time in the 92-year history of the men’s competition, selected to officiate matches: Stephanie Frappart, Yamashita Yoshimi and Salima Mukansang.

Mouvement Alternatif pour les Libertes Individuelles, a Morocco-based nonprofit organization, decided to use this historic occasion to raise awareness and spark conversations about women’s issues through its “Refs for Change” campaign.

MALI launched its initiative on Nov. 25, coinciding with the start of UN Women’s campaign “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence,” which calls for an end to violence against women and girls.

As part of “Refs for Change,” every time a female referee blows the whistle during a World Cup match, MALI tweets in real time to highlight the achievements of women who are or were pioneers in other male-dominated fields.

“Every day, women across the world make great strides and pioneer in different fields that for a long time were reserved only for men,” said MALI spokesperson and activist Ibtissame Lachgar.

“At the same time, women across the world are subjected to different types of violence. The press often turns a blind eye, causing both groups to remain largely unknown.

“Being pioneers themselves, the first-ever female referees in a men’s World Cup have the unique opportunity to draw attention to the patriarchal system, to male domination and male violence against women through the power of their whistle.”

MALI’s tweets aim to do more than simply raise awareness. They also invite Twitter users to engage in conversation and debate about topics such as women’s rights and gender-based violence, and serve as call for donations to help empower women across the Middle East and North Africa region.

By tweeting in real time during World Cup matches, MALI said it aims to shift the spotlight from men to women who would otherwise never get global attention.

“Transforming female referees and their whistles into messengers of change is a powerful way to hijack the conversation during the World Cup and shine a spotlight on striking statistics that would otherwise remain in the shadows,” said Walid Kanaan, the chief creative officer at TBWA\RAAD, the creative agency that worked on the campaign. It marks the third consecutive year in which the agency has partnered with MALI.

 


Oman’s love of football highlighted with new campaign

Oman’s love of football highlighted with new campaign
Updated 06 December 2022

Oman’s love of football highlighted with new campaign

Oman’s love of football highlighted with new campaign
  • Industrial firm partners with Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj, players including Ali Al-Habsi

DUBAI: Jindal Shadeed, an Oman-based iron and steel company, has partnered with independent agency Wieden+Kennedy to create a new campaign that highlights the nation’s love of football during the FIFA World Cup 2022.

The agency’s India office created “The Steel of Oman” campaign, which celebrates the country’s culture and development.

The agency collaborated with celebrated Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj to create 15 portraits, which were used as print and outdoor averts. The portraits feature talented Omani achievers, the “steel” of the nation, who have been celebrated for their contribution to the nation.

The company also partnered with national team football players including Ali Al-Habsi. The agency collaborated with award-winning director Ayappa K.M. to create a three-minute film that showcases Omani culture with football as the backdrop. The track was composed by Danish musician Sofyann Ben Youssef and focuses on local folk songs.

“The brief was inspiring and the client’s faith in our ability to do something truly authentic pushed us for something truly special,” said Ruchika Khanna, director of digital and business head, W+K India.

“The creative team came up with a simple yet powerful narrative that also enabled us to find interesting production partners who could help bring our ideas to life and we found them in Ayappa and Hassan Hajjaj who are known for their stellar craft,” she added.


MENA content creators highlighted in new video, podcast series

MENA content creators highlighted in new video, podcast series
Updated 06 December 2022

MENA content creators highlighted in new video, podcast series

MENA content creators highlighted in new video, podcast series
  • ‘Play it Forward’ launched by YouTube
  • 5 episodes, stories from Saudi, Egypt, Iraq, UAE

DUBAI: YouTube has launched its latest video and podcast series “Play it Forward with YouTube” or “Hekayat YouTube” in Arabic, focusing on stories from the Middle East North Africa region.

The five-episode series, which is available on the YouTube Arabia channel, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify & Deezer, aims to shed light on the journey and aspirations of content creators from the MENA region.

The majority of watch time of YouTube content that is produced in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt comes from outside these countries.

Content produced in the UAE has the highest number of viewers from outside the country at 95 percent, followed by Saudi Arabia at 60 percent and Egypt at 55 percent.

“I’m always inspired by the creativity and dedication of YouTube creators from MENA,” said Tarek Amin, director of partnerships at YouTube MENA.

“Their journey to content creation and wanting to share more of what inspires them or what needs to be spoken about are stories we hope more people can hear and be inspired from through ‘Play it Forward with YouTube,’” he added.

In each episode, Amin interviews different creators including Passant Nur El-Din and Mostafa Attia from Egypt, Zainab Al-Eqabi from Iraq, Rehab Saad from Saudi Arabia and Anas Bukhash from the UAE.

The first episode was released on Dec. 5 with others coming out every week.