Pope Francis to visit Bahrain in November: Vatican

Update Pope Francis to visit Bahrain in November: Vatican
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Pope Francis meets Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa at the Vatican in 2014 during a private audience. (AFP)
Update Pope Francis to visit Bahrain in November: Vatican
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Pope Francis meets with Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa during a private audience at the Vatican on Feb. 3, 2020. (Reuters file photo)
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Updated 29 September 2022

Pope Francis to visit Bahrain in November: Vatican

Pope Francis to visit Bahrain in November: Vatican

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis will in November visit Bahrain, home to the biggest Catholic church in the Arabian peninsula at the invitation King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, the Vatican said Wednesday.

Francis, 85, will be the first pope ever to visit the majority-Muslim Arabian Gulf country, according to Vatican News.

He has been under doctor’s orders to slow down, after suffering from a painful knee that has forced him to use a wheelchair and cancel some events.

Francis will visit the capital of Manama and city of Awali during the November 3 to 6 trip, and will attend the “Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence.”

Further details of the visit — the 39th international trip of Francis’s papacy — will be released at a later date.

But the pontiff is likely to visit the cavernous Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, in Awali, which opened its doors last year.

The modern-style church lies about 1.6 kilometers from a large mosque and a stone’s throw from an oil well, in the south of the state.

It was built to serve the country’s 80,000 or so Catholics, mainly workers from Asia, mostly India and the Philippines.

The pontiff received Bahrain’s King Hamad at the Vatican in 2014.

The pair discussed “peace and stability in the Middle East” and the Christian community’s positive contribution to the country, the Holy See said at the time.

The trip comes on the back of another journey to a Muslim-majority country, following Francis’s visit to Kazakhstan earlier this month.

27-year-old Iranian subjected to three mock executions in prison: BBC

27-year-old Iranian subjected to three mock executions in prison: BBC
Updated 06 December 2022

27-year-old Iranian subjected to three mock executions in prison: BBC

27-year-old Iranian subjected to three mock executions in prison: BBC
  • Mock executions are a form of psychological torture in which a victim is made to feel that their execution is taking place but it is not carried out
  • Like others, the man's death sentence can be appealed, but Iranian judiciary chief said executions would take place soon

LONDON: A 27-year-old man who is one of six people sentenced to death in Iran over ongoing anti-regime protests has been subjected to several mock executions in prison, the BBC reported

Last month, a Revolutionary Court found Sahand Noormohammadzadeh guilty of acts of “vandalism and arson of public property with the aim of causing disruption to the country's peace and order and confronting the Islamic government,” according to the Mizan News Agency.

Prosecutors accused him of taking part in riots by blocking a highway and setting fire to bins and tires. They showed the court a video in which a man in a mask, whom they claimed was the defendant, is seen pushing a burning garbage can onto the road and placing a railing between two lanes.

Noormohammadzadeh protested his innocence and his lawyer told the court there was no evidence to suggest that his client was the masked man.

A source told BBC Persian that interrogators falsely informed Noormohammadzadeh that his mother had suffered a heart attack and that he must sign a letter if he wanted to speak to her before she died. The letter, according to a lawyer in Tehran, amounted to an admission of guilt, the BBC reported.

The court sentenced Noormohammadzadeh to death for “enmity against God” and he has been subjected to mock executions three times in prison, a source told BBC Persian.

A mock execution is a form of psychological torture whereby a victim is made to feel that their execution is taking place but is not carried out. The BBC’s source said that even before his trial, Noormohammadzadeh was told “to go on a chair, blindfolded, to be hanged.”

Amnesty International has warned that at least 21 people are at risk of being sentenced to death in “sham trials” over the protests in Iran.

While the sentences of the six defendants handed a death penalty can be appealed, judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei said on Monday that the executions would take place soon, the BBC reported.

About 18,200 people are estimated to have been arrested since the nationwide protests erupted in September in response to the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency. Many of them reportedly have been tortured or subjected to other forms of ill-treatment while in custody.

Giza pyramids backdrop for Dior fashion show 

Giza pyramids backdrop for Dior fashion show 
Updated 05 December 2022

Giza pyramids backdrop for Dior fashion show 

Giza pyramids backdrop for Dior fashion show 
  • Naomi Campbell, Lewis Hamilton and Robert Pattinson among celebrities attending Egypt event

CAIRO: French fashion house Dior held its first show at Egypt’s ancient Giza pyramids, presenting its 2023 fall men’s collection in the shadow of the millennia-old tombs.

Naomi Campbell, Lewis Hamilton, Robert Pattinson and K-pop star Cha Eun Woo were among the 800 guests at the show, which took place after sunset with the pyramids lit up in the background.

The event celebrated Egypt’s rich history and culture and put it on the fashion scene. It was well-received by the public, with people celebrating Egypt hosting such a spectacular, global event which received international praise.

Giza marked the fourth location for Dior’s tour after Tokyo, Miami and London.

“My interest in ancient Egypt is about the stars and the sky … It links to Christian Dior in that sense and by way of his fascination with symbols and superstitions that recur throughout his life and work,” men’s artistic director Kim Jones wrote in the show notes.

Egyptian celebrities such as Aladdin actor Mena Massoud, singer Hamaki, Okhtein founders Aya and Mounaz Abdel Raouf as well as rapper Marwan Moussa were also seen watching the show.

The show was a beautiful juxtaposition, with the models walking on the desert’s sand dressed in neutral futuristic outfits, which Jones has become known for.

Before the show, Dior took to the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is yet to be open for the general public, to show a collection guest designed by Tremaine Emor.

The collection was dominated by denim, plaid and varsity jackets.

Egypt hosting such a significant fashion event redefines the country from a solely tourist site to a location where creatives can meet and draw inspiration. 

Before the show, a number of Dior officials went sightseeing.

They visited Saqqara accompanied by Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Tourism and Antiquities Ministry’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. 

Wazir gave them an introductory tour of the area and the excavations taking place, and presented the Christian Dior Couture Chairman and CEO Pietro Beccari with a souvenir on behalf of the council. 

The CEO expressed his happiness at holding the show in Egypt, the ministry statement added.

Beccari urged his friends and Dior customers to visit Egypt and spend more time there to enjoy its unique archaeological and tourist areas.

Iran activists, US brush off claim morality police abolished

Iran activists, US brush off claim morality police abolished
Updated 05 December 2022

Iran activists, US brush off claim morality police abolished

Iran activists, US brush off claim morality police abolished

PARIS: Iranian activists and Western nations have dismissed a claim that the protest-hit regime is disbanding its notorious morality police, insisting there was no change to women’s rights.

There were also calls on social media for a three-day strike in Iran, culminating Wednesday on the annual Student Day, nearly three months into a nationwide wave of unrest sparked by the death in custody of Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa Amini.

Morality police officers had arrested Amini, 22, in Tehran for allegedly flouting Iran’s strict dress code demanding women wear modest clothing and the hijab headscarf.

“Nothing we have seen suggests Iran’s leadership is improving its treatment of women and girls or ceasing the violence it inflicts on peaceful protesters,” the US State Department said.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry said Iranian protesters “want to live freely and in self-determination,” and disbanding the morality police, “if it is implemented, won’t change that.”

Amini’s death on Sept. 16 triggered women-led protests that have spiraled into the biggest challenge to the regime since the 1979 revolution.

Hundreds of Iranians, including some members of the security forces, have been killed.

In a surprise move over the weekend, Iran’s Prosecutor General Mohammed Jafar Montazeri was quoted as saying that the morality police units — known formally as Gasht-e Ershad (“Guidance Patrol”) — had been closed down.

But campaigners were skeptical about his comments, which appeared to be an impromptu response to a question at a conference rather than a clearly signposted announcement by the Interior Ministry.

“Unless they remove all legal restrictions on women’s dress and the laws controlling citizens’ private lives, this is just a PR move,” said Roya Boroumand, co-founder of the US-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Center rights group.

Abolishing the force, activists argued, would mark no change to Iran’s headscarf policy — a key ideological pillar for its clerical leadership — but rather a switch in tactics on enforcing it. And scrapping the units would be “probably too little too late” for the protesters who now demand outright regime change, Boroumand said.

“Nothing prevents other law enforcement” bodies from policing “the discriminatory laws,” she noted.

The morality police have been a familiar sight since 2006 when they were introduced during the presidency of the ultra-conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But the rules, including the headscarf, had been strictly enforced well before then by the clerical leadership that had taken the helm after the fall of the shah in 1979.

How Israel, Jordan and Palestine can cooperate to slow Dead Sea’s demise 

How Israel, Jordan and Palestine can cooperate to slow Dead Sea’s demise 
Updated 05 December 2022

How Israel, Jordan and Palestine can cooperate to slow Dead Sea’s demise 

How Israel, Jordan and Palestine can cooperate to slow Dead Sea’s demise 
  • Water levels have been falling over the past half century, endangering the salt lake’s very existence
  • Joint effort to revive the Jordan River and a canal to the Mediterranean Sea among potential solutions

AMMAN: From Greco-Roman times, the Dead Sea’s unique equilibrium was finely balanced by nature. Fresh water from nearby rivers and springs flowed into the lake, combining with rich salt deposits and then evaporating, leaving behind a brine of 33 percent salinity.

Now, owing to a combination of climatic and man-made factors, this balance has been disrupted. As a result, the Dead Sea has been receding at an alarming rate over the past half century, endangering its very existence.

The Dead Sea has been receding at an alarming rate over the past half century. (AFP)

At the UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, held in Egypt’s resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh in November, a joint Israeli-Jordanian agreement was signed to try to address the Dead Sea’s decline.

However, given that the deal excluded the Palestinians and was signed by an outgoing Israeli environment ministry official, some say that its chances of success are low.

Without sufficient funding, and in the absence of a three-way agreement, Jordan and Israel have instead decided to focus on cleaning up the Jordan River to help replenish the Dead Sea’s main water source.

What was signed by Israeli and Jordanian officials on the sidelines of COP27 was an agreement to this effect. But if the Dead Sea is to be rescued from impending oblivion, it is clear that far more needs to be done to undo the damage to its natural freshwater sources and to set aside political rivalries for the common environmental good.

No one knows exactly how the Dead Sea came into being. The Bible and other religious texts suggest this lifeless, salty lake at the lowest point on Earth was created when God rained down fire and brimstone on the sinful towns of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Russian experts have even tried excavating under the lake bed in the hope of finding evidence to support the Biblical tale. A nearby religious site called Lot’s Cave is said to be where the nephew of Abraham and his daughters lived after fleeing the destruction.

Scientists, meanwhile, point to the lake’s more mundane, geological origins, claiming the Dead Sea is the product of the same tectonic shifts that formed the Afro-Arabian Rift Valley millions of years ago.

Halfway through the 20th century, among the first big decisions made by the newly formed state of Israel was to divert large amounts of water by pipelines from the Jordan River to the southern Negev, in order to realize the dream of Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion to “make the desert bloom.”

If the Dead Sea is to be rescued from impending oblivion, it is clear that far more needs to be done to undo the damage to its natural freshwater. (AFP)

In 1964, Israel’s Mekorot National Water Company inaugurated its National Water Carrier project, which gave the Degania Dam — completed in the early 1930s — a new purpose: to regulate the water flow from the Sea of Galilee to the Jordan River.

One result was that the share of water reaching the neighboring Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan fell drastically, thereby depriving the Dead Sea of millions of cubic meters of freshwater per year from its primary source.

Another potential contributing factor at present is the Israeli company behind Ein Gedi Mineral Water. The Ein Gedi bottling plant has monopolized the use of freshwater from a spring that lies within the 1948 borders of the state of Israel and which long fed into the Dead Sea.

However, not all the blame for the lake’s decline rests with one country. According to Elias Salameh, a water science professor at the University of Jordan, every country in the region bears some responsibility.

“All of us are responsible at different levels for what has happened to the Dead Sea,” Salameh told Arab News. Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria have all sucked up water intended for the Dead Sea in order to satisfy their own needs.


• The Dead Sea receives almost all its water from the Jordan River.

• It is the lowest body of water on the surface of the planet.

• In the mid-20th century, it was 400 meters below sea level.

• By the mid-2010s, it had fallen to 430 meters below sea level.

In 1955, the Jordan Valley Unified Water Plan, brokered by US Ambassador Eric Johnston, allowed Israel to use 25 million cubic meters of Yarmouk River water per year, Syria 90 million and Jordan 375 million.

“But not all countries abided by the commitments made to the American, Johnston,” said Salameh. “It was never signed because Arab countries had not recognized Israel and refused to sign any agreement with Israel. Syria took the biggest portion, getting away with 260-280 million cubic meters annually.”

In the 1970s, Jordan and Syria began their own diversion of the Yarmouk River, the largest tributary of the Jordan River, again reducing its flow. Another agreement, in 1986, gave Jordan the right to 200 million cubic meters. But, in reality, Jordan took barely 20 million.

According to the UN, Jordan is the second most water-scarce country in the world. The 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars, which led to the mass exodus of Palestinians, more than doubled Jordan’s population, making its water needs even more acute.

As a result of these deals and diversions, the Dead Sea receded from roughly 398 meters below sea level in 1976 to around 430 meters below sea level in 2015. What is more worrying, perhaps, is the decline has been accelerating.

“Climate change has aggressively hit Jordan in the past two years,” said Motasem Saidan, University of Jordan professor. (Supplied)

During the first 20 years after 1976, the water level dropped by an average of six meters per decade. Over the next decade, from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, it fell by nine meters. In the decade up to 2015, it fell by 11 meters.

Some attribute this accelerating decline to man-made climate change. Climate scientists say global warming has already resulted in significant alterations to human and natural systems, one of which is increased rate of evaporation from water bodies.

At the same time, the waters of the Dead Sea are not being replenished fast enough.

Although the Dead Sea borders Jordan, Israel and Palestine, and despite the valiant efforts of such cross-border NGOs as Earth Peace, which includes activists from all three communities, no serious collective action has been taken to deal with the ecological disaster.

Cooperation is essential, however, to stave off the wider environmental consequences — most concerning of all being the rapid proliferation of sinkholes along the Dead Sea shoreline.

According to scientists, when freshwater diffuses beneath the surface of the newly exposed shoreline, it slowly dissolves the large underground salt deposits until the earth above collapses without warning.

Over a thousand sinkholes have appeared in the past 15 years alone, swallowing buildings, a portion of road, and date-palm plantations, mostly on the northwest coast. Environmental experts believe Israeli hotels along the shoreline are now in danger.

On the Jordanian side, too, the fate of luxury tourism resorts along the eastern shore of the Dead Sea face is in the balance.

Dead Sea is the product of the same tectonic shifts that formed the Afro-Arabian Rift Valley millions of years ago, scientists say. (AFP)

“The main highway, which is the artery to all the big Jordanian hotels, is in danger of collapsing if the situation is not rectified,” Salameh said.

Israel has developed a system that can predict where the next sinkhole will appear, based on imagery provided by a satellite operated by the Italian Space Agency, which passes over the Dead Sea every 16 days and produces a radar image of the area.

By comparing sets of images, even minimal changes in the topography can be identified before any major collapse.

Israeli officials have been searching for solutions to prevent a further decline in water levels and thereby stave off the spread of sinkholes. One suggestion is the construction of a Red Sea-Dead Sea canal.

A report compiled to assess the potential impact of transferring Red Sea water into the lower-lying Dead Sea found that a moderate flow could slow, but not halt, the retreat of the Dead Sea and reduce the number of new sinkholes per year.

Ironically, it found that too much Red Sea water could have the opposite effect. If the flow was significant enough to raise the level of the Dead Sea, the report predicted the sinkhole problem would be exacerbated.

Because the Red Sea is less salty than the Dead Sea, it would likely increase the dissolution of underground salt deposits and thereby speed up the appearance of sinkholes.

Although many solutions have been suggested to help address the Dead Sea’s decline, none has been implemented owing in large part to a lack of funding.

The Dead Sea receded from roughly 398 meters below sea level in 1976 to around 430 meters below sea level in 2015. What is more worrying, perhaps, is the decline has been accelerating. (AFP)

According to Salameh, the most logical solution proposed to date is the Med-Dead project, which would allow for a channel to run from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea.

Two of the sites proposed for this channel are Qatif, near the Gaza Strip, and Bisan, north of the Jordan River in Jordan. However, such a plan would first require Jordanian and Palestinian approvals.

Jordan has also suggested a similar project establishing a channel from the Red Sea, but Salameh does not consider this feasible.

“The distance is long, and it is not a viable project,” he said.

Houthi officials accused of abusing and isolating ‘critically sick’ journalists

Houthi officials accused of abusing and isolating ‘critically sick’ journalists
Updated 05 December 2022

Houthi officials accused of abusing and isolating ‘critically sick’ journalists

Houthi officials accused of abusing and isolating ‘critically sick’ journalists
  • Yemeni minister calls on international community, UN envoy to condemn militia’s criminal practices, pressure them to free captives

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: The family of a Yemeni journalist taken captive by the Iran-backed Houthis has accused Houthi officials of torturing their son by beating him and placing him in solitary confinement, making another urgent plea to rights organizations and international mediators to persuade the militia to release him.

Abdullah Al-Mansouri, the brother of Tawfiq Al-Mansouri, who was abducted by the Houthis in 2015, told Arab News that Abdulkader Al-Murtada, head of the Houthi prisoner exchange committee, his brother Shehab Al-Murtada, who is the head of Central Security Prison, and his deputy Murad Qassem personally abused his brother by hitting him on the head, leaving him bleeding for a long time before transporting him to a medical facility.

“Instead of administering care for the chronic conditions he got while incarcerated, he was subjected to torture,” Abdullah said, adding that a former inmate informed him that after torturing his brother and the other three journalists — Akram Al-Walidy, Abdul-Khaleq Omran and Harith Hamid — the Houthis placed them in solitary confinement.

In 2015, the Houthis seized four individuals, who were part of a group of journalists, from a Sanaa hotel and convicted them of spying.

The families of the abducted journalists were unable to explain why the Houthis increased the severity of their torture repeatedly.

Citing the instance of detained model Entesar Al-Hammadi, lawyers and activists who have previously spoken to Arab News think that the Houthis become enraged whenever public attention is paid to the plight of detainees. 

“I also wonder why the Houthis continue to periodically abuse Tawfiq and the other journalists. Even if we do not communicate with the media, they will be tortured. This demonstrates the Houthis’ level of savagery,” Abdullah said.

The Yemeni government has formally written to UN Yemen Envoy Hans Grunberg, informing him of the four journalists’ deterioration and urging him to intervene by pressuring the Houthis to release them.

The head of the Yemeni government delegation in charge of prisoner swap negotiations, Hadi Al-Haej, urged the envoy to assist in the release of the journalists, put an end to the Houthis’ continued mistreatment of prisoners, form a committee to investigate prisoner abuses and permit relatives of detainees to visit them in Houthi prisons. 

Yemen’s Information Minister Moammar Al-Eryani said that the three Houthi leaders mistreated the four journalists, shattered Tawfiq’s skull, and placed them in an isolated cell for 45 days.

He referred to these actions as “war crimes.”

The Yemeni minister said on Twitter: “We call on the international community, the UN, the UN envoy, and human rights groups to condemn these criminal practices, to exert real pressure on the Houthi militia to unconditionally release the forcibly disappeared journalists from their detention centers and to label their leaders as terrorists.”

In Sanaa, Houthi leader Al-Murtada denied mistreating detainees, alleged widespread and hidden torture in the jails of the militia’s opponents, and demanded the formation of an international commission to examine human rights violations in Yemen.

“What the mercenaries are propagating, namely that some of our captives have been attacked and mistreated, is pure slander intended to conceal the atrocities perpetrated against the prisoners inside their facilities,” Al-Murtada said on Twitter.

Local rights groups and media reports said that a former inmate in a Houthi jail who was freed in 2020 as part of a major prisoner exchange died from the complications of ailments he developed while incarcerated.

Sadeq Abdul Jalel Al-Batera, who was tortured for years in a Houthi jail in the province of Taiz, succumbed to illness on Friday.