Pakistani man, for years a laborer, now lives the Saudi dream as restaurateur 

Special Pakistani man, for years a laborer, now lives the Saudi dream as restaurateur 
Abdul Kabeer Shah, a Pakistani businessman running a successful food chain in Saudi Arabia, talks to Arab News at his home in Islamabad, on March 11, 2023. (AN Photo)
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Updated 17 March 2023

Pakistani man, for years a laborer, now lives the Saudi dream as restaurateur 

Pakistani man, for years a laborer, now lives the Saudi dream as restaurateur 
  • Abdul Kabeer Shah moved to Saudi Arabia in 2000 and worked as an assistant to electricians and plumbers 
  • Now, he co-owns a fast-food chain in Jeddah, with plans to expand to other Saudi cities 

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani man who worked for years as a laborer in Saudi Arabia and is now the owner of a chain of fast-food restaurants sees the Kingdom as a “land of opportunities” and urges more people to seek business possibilities there. 

More than 2.5 million Pakistani expatriates live in Saudi Arabia, working mostly as laborers and low-skilled workers who send home the largest share of the South Asian nation’s remittances. But some, like Abdul Kabeer Shah, are now also striking it big. 

Shah, 44, went to Saudi Arabia as a 21-year-old in 2000 and for four years worked as an assistant for electricians and plumbers in Riyadh and Jeddah. 

In 2004, he joined a food chain in Jeddah, quickly learning to make fast food items like burgers and shawarmas. After four years of working there, one of Shah’s longtime Saudi customers, Dr. Abdullah Eid Saleh Al-Balawi, whom he had befriended at the job and who was impressed with the Pakistani man’s cooking skills and work ethic, offered him the opportunity of a lifetime: to go into the food business with him as a partner in Jeddah. 

Thus was born the food startup The Taste, or Al-Ta’am in Arabic. 

Al-Balawi contributed the initial capital investment in the restaurant and brought Shah on board on a profit-sharing basis. Today, they are both co-owners of the food chain, which has eight branches. 

“This was a turning point in my life. I became a food entrepreneur from a laborer, and suddenly my monthly income greatly increased,” Shah told Arab News in a recent interview at his palatial home in Islamabad, where he was visiting his family. 

Before his fortunes turned in the Kingdom, Shah, one of eight siblings, used to live in a small three-room house in Landhi, Karachi, and dropped out of school in the eighth grade to assist his father, who worked at a retail shop. 

But even as a teenager, Shah had an eye and a passion for business. 

“I developed a liking for business while working with my father at the retail shop,” he said. “So, I always wanted to set up my own business to support my family.” 

Shah and his Saudi business partner employ over 100 workers at their eight restaurant branches in Jeddah, where the main items on the menu are burgers, shawarmas, roasted chicken and pomegranate juice. And while the market is saturated with such food items, Shah said what made their restaurants different was the use of Asian spices, giving the ubiquitous products a unique taste. 

“The use of at least 16 different Asian spices like chili, cinnamon, ginger, cumin and turmeric in our food products make them unique and tasty,” he said. “Our burgers and shawarmas are not only spicy but also have intense aromas and bold flavors, which our customers like the most.” 

Shah’s partner Al-Balawi said the duo was planning to expand and open at least two more branches, one each in the cities of Tabuk and Jeddah, by the end of the year. 

“We are also working on adding more food items in our menu to increase our sales and create additional job opportunities for skilled workers from Pakistan and other nationalities,” he told Arab News in a phone interview. 

The company has also recently hired a dedicated social media team to digitally market its business. 

“We have been using all modern marketing tools and techniques to boost our sales and profits while equally focusing on the quality of our products,” Al-Balawi added. 

Excited about expanding his business, Shah urged more Pakistanis to come to Saudi Arabia and work in businesses and increase remittances to their home country. In 2022, Pakistani expatriates in Saudi Arabia remitted $6.67 billion to Pakistan through official channels, according to central bank data, the largest source of remittances to the South Asian nation. 

“Do your jobs legally and remit money to your country through legitimate channels,” Shah advised foreigners in the Kingdom. “It will be beneficial for both the country and the individuals.” 

Indeed, Shah’s own story and his rise from poverty to wealth and success is no small miracle. Today, he lives in a posh flat in the Al-Adel area of Jeddah and visits his parents in Pakistan at least three times a year. 

“First, I used to live with other laborers in a shared room, and now I have rented my own luxury apartment,” he said. 

In Pakistan, he has purchased a palatial house in an elite neighborhood, where his parents live with his wife and five children. 

“I could not study due to poverty, but I would like my children to receive quality education to achieve their dreams in life,” he said. 

Commenting on Shah’s success, Pakistan-Saudi Arabia Business Council Chairman Junaid Esmail Makda said it was impressive, calling on governments in both nations to facilitate entrepreneurs in exploring and setting up joint-investment opportunities. 

“Saudi Arabia is offering huge investment opportunities for Pakistani businessmen in the food, industry and agriculture sectors,” Makda told Arab News, adding that the Kingdom provides raw materials and energy at competitive rates to facilitate such opportunities.  

“Pakistani businessmen can remit the precious foreign exchange back home from the Kingdom to help boost the economy besides creating job opportunities for the nationals there.” 

Standing on the greens outside his massive Islamabad home, Shah added: 

“Saudi Arabia is a peaceful country and a land of opportunities for businessmen and investors from across the world.” 

Kremlin denies Turkish media reports of planned Putin visit to Ankara

Kremlin denies Turkish media reports of planned Putin visit to Ankara
Updated 27 March 2023

Kremlin denies Turkish media reports of planned Putin visit to Ankara

Kremlin denies Turkish media reports of planned Putin visit to Ankara

MOSCOW: The Kremlin on Monday denied Turkish reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin was planning to visit the Turksih capital, Ankara.

Russian state-owned news agency RIA reported on Monday that the deputy foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey, Iran and Syria may hold consultations in Moscow in early April.

Police fire tear gas as fresh protests erupt in Kenya despite ban

Police fire tear gas as fresh protests erupt in Kenya despite ban
Updated 27 March 2023

Police fire tear gas as fresh protests erupt in Kenya despite ban

Police fire tear gas as fresh protests erupt in Kenya despite ban
NAIROBI: Police fired tear gas to disperse anti-government protests on Monday over the high cost of living, after the opposition vowed demonstrations would go ahead despite a police ban.
Security was tight, with riot police stationed at strategic points in Nairobi and patrolling the streets, while many shops were shut and train services from the capital’s outskirts into the central business district were suspended.
Veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga has urged people to take to the streets every Monday and Thursday, even after protests a week ago turned violent and paralyzed parts of Nairobi.
Police clashed with stone-throwing demonstrators in Nairobi’s largest slum Kibera, where protesters set tires on fire, defying a warning by the Inspector General of Police Japhet Koome who said Sunday that the rallies were “illegal” and would be banned.
The situation was calmer elsewhere in the city, with a heavy police presence in neighborhoods where protests had taken place last week.
During last Monday’s clashes in Nairobi and opposition strongholds in western Kenya, a university student was killed by police fire while 31 officers were injured as running battles erupted between riot police and demonstrators.
More than 200 people were arrested, including several senior opposition politicians, while protesters — as well as Odinga’s own motorcade — were hit with tear gas and water cannon.

It was the first major outbreak of political unrest since President William Ruto took office more than six months ago after defeating Odinga in an election his rival claims was “stolen.”
Despite the police ban, Odinga called Sunday on Kenyans to join what he has described as “the mother of all demonstrations.”
“I want to tell Mr.Ruto and the IG Koome that we are not going to be intimidated,” he said. “We are not going to fear tear gas and police.”
Odinga also accused Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua of orchestrating an operation to cause “mayhem” at Monday’s rallies.
Nairobi residents were wary after the previous violence.
“I may have to close too because I have seen most of my neighbors are closed,” said Mercy Wangare, an Mpesa (mobile money) kiosk attendant at an electronics shop.
“I am just weighing the situation before I decide because the sight of these policemen patrolling around is a sign that it may not end up well.”
The Communications Authority of Kenya has sought to prevent television stations from broadcasting the demonstrations live, but the move was blocked by the High Court.

Ruto, who is currently on a four-day trip to Germany and Belgium, has urged his rival to halt the action.
“I am telling Raila Odinga that if he has a problem with me, he should face me and stop terrorizing the country,” he said Thursday.
“Stop paralysing the businesses of mama mboga, matatu and other Kenyans,” he said, referring to women stallholders and private minibus operators.
Many Kenyans are struggling to put food on the table, battling high prices for basic goods as well as a plunging local currency and a record drought that has left millions hungry.
“If the leaders don’t talk, it is us who are affected. They are rich people, it is who will sleep hungry,” motorcycle taxi driver Collins Kibe told AFP.
During the election campaign, Ruto portrayed himself as champion of the downtrodden and vowed to improve the lot of ordinary Kenyans.
But critics say he has broken several campaign promises and has removed subsidies for fuel and maize flour — a dietary staple.
Demonstrators in Kibera, an Odinga stronghold, on Monday banged empty pots and pans as they faced off against police, chanting “we don’t have maize flour.”
Kenya’s energy regulatory body has also announced a hike in electricity prices from April, despite Ruto insisting in January there would be no such increase.
Last week’s protests proved costly, with Gachagua saying the country had lost at least $15 million.
Police said Friday they had launched a manhunt for suspects involved in last week’s riots, and published photographs showing people throwing rocks at police, burning tires and vandalising property.
But an AFP Fact Check investigation found that a number of the photographs were old and unrelated to Monday’s events.
And on Saturday, a red-faced Directorate of Criminal Investigations issued an apology on Twitter for what it said was a “mix-up of images.”

Taiwan’s former leader Ma begins China visit

Taiwan’s former leader Ma begins China visit
Updated 27 March 2023

Taiwan’s former leader Ma begins China visit

Taiwan’s former leader Ma begins China visit
  • The ex-president is visiting in a private capacity

TAOYUAN: Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou departed for a 12-day tour of China Monday, a day after Taiwan lost another of its 14 diplomatic partners to China.
The ex-president is visiting in a private capacity, bringing a delegation of academics and college students for exchanges, as well as members of his family, but the trip is loaded with political meaning.
Ma’s policies brought Taiwan and Beijing to their closest relationship ever, but his exit from office was overshadowed by massive protests against a trade deal with the mainland and his successor has focused on defending the autonomy of the democratically-governed island that China claims as part of its own territory.
Ma’s visit comes amid rising tensions. Beijing has exerted a long-standing campaign of pressure against Taiwan, poaching its diplomatic allies while also sending military fighter jets flying toward the island on a near daily basis. On Sunday, Honduras established diplomatic relations with China, leaving Taiwan with only 13 countries that recognize it as a sovereign state.
Ma, a member of the opposition Nationalist Party (Kuomingtang), will land in Shanghai before starting his visit in nearby Nanjing. He is expected to tour the mainland from March 27 to April 7, stopping in Wuhan and Changsha, as well as other cities. He is bringing college students from Taiwan to meet with fellow students from Shanghai’s Fudan University and Changsha’s Hunan University.
Ma has framed the visit as a bid to lower the tensions in cross-strait relations through people to people exchange. “I hope through the enthusiasm of the youth and their interactions to improve the cross-strait mood, so bring peace faster, and earlier,” he said to reporters ahead of his departure on Monday afternoon. He also said it would be his first time visiting China.
His trip has not drawn much controversy in Taiwan, where the public is used to seeing Kuomingtang politicians visit China. However, it has been criticized by some political opponents and activists.
A former mainland student leader in the 1989 Tiananmen square protests called on Ma to cancel his trip. “If you have even a strand of affection for Taiwan ... you should announce the cancelation of your trip,” said Wang Dan, a Chinese dissident who previously lived in Taiwan, on his Facebook page.
A handful of protesters from a pro-independence group held a demonstration at the departures area at Taoyuan airport before Ma’s departure. “Ma Ying-jeou is humiliating our nation and forfeiting its sovereignty,” they shouted before police carried them out. “You are a stinky beggar.”
On the other side, a small group of people from the pro-unification camp also came to the airport to show their support. “Cross-strait relations are like flowers blossoming in spring and both sides are a family,” they shouted.
The trip is also a chance for him to honor his ancestors, ahead of Tomb Sweeping Day on April 5. During the festival, which is celebrated in Taiwan and China among other countries, families visit ancestral graves to maintain the burial grounds and remember the dead.
Ma will not go to Beijing, but may meet with Chinese officials.
Ma met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Singapore in 2015, while he was still in office. The meeting was the first between the leaders of the two sides since Taiwan split from mainland China in 1949 during the Chinese civil war, but was considered more symbolic than substantive.
In 2016, the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party won national elections and Beijing cut off contact with Taiwan’s government, citing President Tsai Ing-wen’s refusal to endorse the idea that Taiwan and China are one country.

Myanmar junta chief vows continued crackdown, then elections

Myanmar junta chief vows continued crackdown, then elections
Updated 27 March 2023

Myanmar junta chief vows continued crackdown, then elections

Myanmar junta chief vows continued crackdown, then elections
  • Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military deposed Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government
  • Min Aung Hlaing: Military will take ‘decisive action’ against opponents and ethnic rebels supporting them

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar: Flanked by tanks and missile launchers, Myanmar’s junta chief Monday vowed no letup in a crackdown on opponents and insisted the military would hold elections — weeks after admitting it did not control enough territory to allow a vote.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military deposed Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government over two years ago after making unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud.
The putsch sparked renewed fighting with ethnic rebels and birthed dozens of anti-junta “People’s Defense Forces” (PDFs), with swathes of the country now ravaged by fighting and the economy in tatters.
The military will take “decisive action” against its opponents and ethnic rebels supporting them, Min Aung Hlaing told an audience of around 8,000 service members attending the annual Armed Forces Day parade in the military-built capital Naypyidaw.
“The terror acts of NUG and its lackey so-called PDFs need to be tackled for good and all,” he said, referring to the “National Unity Government,” a body dominated by ousted lawmakers working to reverse the coup.
The junta would then hold “free and fair elections” upon the completion of the state of emergency, he said.
Last month, the military announced an extension of a two-year state of emergency and postponement of elections it had promised to hold by August, as it did not control enough of the country for a vote to take place.
“Serenity and stability are vital” before any election could go ahead, Min Aung Hlaing told the parade.
Planes flew overhead spewing smoke in the yellow, red and green of the national flag and a flight of five Russian-made Sukoi Su-30 jets roared past.
Women lined the streets leading to the parade ground to garland marching soldiers with flowers, images on state media showed.
Armed Forces Day commemorates the start of local resistance to the Japanese occupation during World War II, and usually features a military parade attended by foreign officers and diplomats.
Two years after the coup, the situation in Myanmar is a “festering catastrophe,” United Nations human rights chief Volker Turk said earlier this month, adding that the military was operating with “complete impunity.”
More than 3,100 people have been killed in the military’s crackdown on dissent since the coup, according to a local monitoring group.
More than a million people have been displaced by fighting, according to the UN.
In December, the junta wrapped up a series of closed-court trials of Suu Kyi, jailing her for a total of 33 years in a process rights groups have condemned as a sham.

Voter turnout ticks up in Cuba legislative elections

Voter turnout ticks up in Cuba legislative elections
Updated 27 March 2023

Voter turnout ticks up in Cuba legislative elections

Voter turnout ticks up in Cuba legislative elections
  • Latest provisional figures show voter turnout stood at 70.33 percent
  • Modest increase from the 68.5 percent who voted in last November’s municipal elections

HAVANA: Cuba’s government managed to mobilize voters on Sunday for National Assembly elections, the results of which were a foregone conclusion, as it pushed back against a recent abstentionist trend in the communist-ruled nation.
As many as eight million eligible voters selected from the 470 candidates on the ballot — 263 women and 207 men — are vying for the 470 seats in the congress.
But what was really in play was the number of Cubans refusing to vote.
The opposition had called on citizens to abstain, with one opposition Twitter account branding the vote a farce.
Voting is not obligatory and abstention has risen steadily in recent years.
On Sunday the nation’s 23,648 polling stations closed at 7:00 p.m. (2300 GMT), an hour later than initially announced by authorities.
According to the latest provisional figures released by the National Election Council, as of 5:00 p.m. turnout stood at 70.33 percent.
That marked a modest increase from the 68.5 percent who voted in last November’s municipal elections, the lowest turnout since the island’s current electoral system was set up in 1976.
Last September about 74 percent of eligible Cubans voted in a referendum on a new family code, down from the 90 percent turnout in the 2019 referendum on a new constitution.
Cuba’s communist government does not allow opposition, so most parliamentary candidates are members of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC).
Candidates still must receive 50 percent of votes to be elected.
Voters had two choices: they could tick the names of any number of individual candidates, or they could select the “vote for all” option.
“I voted for the unified vote because, despite the needs, the difficulties that this country can have, I could not imagine” abstaining, Carlos Diego Herrera, a 54-year-old blacksmith in Havana, said.
He said abstaining would be like voting “for those that want to crush us, the Yankees.”
Washington has imposed sanctions on the island nation since 1962, three years after the communist revolution that saw Fidel Castro take power after overthrowing US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Student Rachel Vega, 19, also said she voted for all candidates, considering it “a step forward right now” that would “improve the situation in the country.”
President Miguel Diaz-Canel is among the candidates, as is his predecessor, 91-year-old Raul Castro.
“With the united vote we defend the unity of the country, the unity of the revolution, our future, our socialist constitution,” said Diaz-Canel, 62, after voting in Santa Clara, 175 miles (280 kilometers) southeast of Havana.
The opposition scoffed at the turnout figures, with dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua of the Council for the Democratic Transition in Cuba warning about “the government’s electoral mathematics.”
“At 9am it reports that 18.2 percent of the electorate has voted. At 11am it says 41.66 percent — that is, in less than two hours the turnout increased by 23.46” points, he said on Twitter. “Impossible!!! The polling stations are empty.”
Final figures will be released Monday.