Saudi Arabia’s MBC Group launches ‘Sukkar’ film with much fanfare in Riyadh

In a conversation with Arab News, Heba Mashari Hamada described “Sukkar” as a “unique singing performance”. (Supplied)
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In a conversation with Arab News, Heba Mashari Hamada described “Sukkar” as a “unique singing performance”. (Supplied)
In a conversation with Arab News, Heba Mashari Hamada described “Sukkar” as a “unique singing performance”. (Supplied)
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In a conversation with Arab News, Heba Mashari Hamada described “Sukkar” as a “unique singing performance”. (Supplied)
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Updated 12 October 2023
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Saudi Arabia’s MBC Group launches ‘Sukkar’ film with much fanfare in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia’s MBC Group launches ‘Sukkar’ film with much fanfare in Riyadh
  • Adaptation of 1912 epistolary novel “Daddy-Long-Legs,’ features young children fighting harsh social conditions

RIYADH: Following its successful premiere in Cairo and Dubai, the movie “Sukkar” was launched with much fanfare by Saudi Arabia’s MBC Group in Riyadh on Wednesday night, attended by cast members, journalists and leading figures from the film industry.

The celebration was held at Muvi Cinemas – Boulevard Riyadh City, with the stars interacting with fans and posing for photographs before the screening.

The movie is an adaptation of the well-known 1912 epistolary novel “Daddy-Long-Legs,” which was made into a successful film starring Fred Astaire in 1955.

It revolves around the diaries of a group of children and teenagers who live in an orphanage and cooperate to face their difficult life circumstances under the harsh management of their orphanage boss, Ratiba.

One of the stars of the movie is Saudi Arabian actress Hajar Mohammed, who plays Tina, a quiet girl who gets into trouble in the effort to pursue a better life within the orphanage.

“This is my first time participating in a big movie like this and since it’s my first time, seeing such a huge crowd lining up to watch the movie makes me very happy, and I hope this is not my last time,” Mohammed told Arab News.

“I can’t describe the happiness that I am feeling, so thanks to everyone who participated in making the dream come true.”

Moataz Hisham, the Egyptian star who portrays Tarik, an ambitious footballer with dreams of becoming famous one day, was thrilled to visit Riyadh for the first time.

“I am very happy that we are premiering this movie in Riyadh, and I am happy to see the huge audience who appeared today to watch the movie.”  

The movie features an impressive ensemble cast including Yasmina El-Abd, Hajar Mohammad, Wedeema Ahmed, Maria Jumaah, Moataz Hisham, Mohammad Al-Harbi, Bavly Remon, and the talents of twins Abdullah and Omar Khaled. It also showcases original songs written by Hamada and is scored by the accomplished Egyptian composer Ehad Abdel Wahed.

Heba Mashari Hamada, the scriptwriter and composer behind the original lyrics of “Sukkar,” envisions the film to deeply resonate with children.

In a conversation with Arab News, Hamada described “Sukkar” as a “unique singing performance” meticulously crafted to provide a “safe and memorable experience for children,” distinguished by its superior quality and unique standards.

“I hope it brings immense joy to both the children and their parents, etching a positive imprint on their future memories,” she said.

Emirati actress Wadeema Ahmed, portraying Najma in the movie, shared her excitement about being in Riyadh.

“One of the biggest challenges during the filming of the musical was the location difference — filming was in Egypt while I’m based in the Emirates,” she explained.

“So, there was a lot of traveling back and forth, but in the end, it was definitely worth it.”

Every filming location, from the orphanage and Fruto Palace to the city and sewage channels, was meticulously developed. All the decorations used in the film are equally distinctive, designed exclusively for this project.

The film was brought to life by MBC Studios with support from Egypt’s Aroma Productions, and distributed by Beirut’s Empire Entertainment.


WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavander AI system

WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavander AI system
Updated 19 April 2024
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WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavander AI system

WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavander AI system
  • Targets’ selection based on membership to some WhatsApp groups, new report reveals
  • Accusation raises questions about app’s privacy and encryption claims

LONDON: WhatsApp is allegedly being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s contentious artificial intelligence system, Lavender, which has been linked to the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, recent reports have revealed.

Earlier this month, Israeli-Palestinian publication +972 Magazine and Hebrew-language outlet Local Call published a report by journalist Yuval Abraham, exposing the Israeli army’s use of an AI system capable of identifying targets associated with Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

This revelation, corroborated by six Israeli intelligence officers involved in the project, has sparked international outrage, as it suggested Lavender has been used by the military to target and eliminate suspected militants, often resulting in civilian casualties.

In a recent blog post, software engineer and activist Paul Biggar highlighted Lavender’s reliance on WhatsApp.

He pointed out how membership in a WhatsApp group containing a suspected militant can influence Lavender’s identification process, highlighting the pivotal role messaging platforms play in supporting AI targeting systems like Lavender.

“A little-discussed detail in the Lavender AI article is that Israel is killing people based on being in the same WhatsApp group as a suspected militant,” Bigger wrote. “There’s a lot wrong with this.”

He explained that users often find themselves in groups with strangers or acquaintances.

Biggar also suggested that WhatsApp’s parent company, Meta, may be complicit, whether knowingly or unknowingly, in these operations.

He accused Meta of potentially violating international humanitarian law and its own commitments to human rights, raising questions about the privacy and encryption claims of WhatsApp’s messaging service.

The revelation is just the latest of Meta’s perceived attempts to silence pro-Palestinian voices.

Since before the beginning of the conflict, the Menlo Park giant has faced accusations of double standards favoring Israel.

In February, the Guardian revealed that Meta was considering the expansion of its hate speech policy to the term “Zionist.”

More recently, Meta quietly introduced a new feature on Instagram that automatically limits users’ exposure to what it deems “political” content, a decision criticized by experts as a means of systematically censoring pro-Palestinian content.

Responding to requests for comment, a WhatsApp spokesperson said that the company could not verify the accuracy of the report but assured that “WhatsApp has no backdoors and does not provide bulk information to any government.”


Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati

Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati
Updated 19 April 2024
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Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati

Eastern European mercenaries suspected of attacking Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati
  • UK security services believe criminal proxies with links to Tehran carried out London knife attack

LONDON: Police said on Friday that a group of Eastern European mercenaries is suspected to have carried out the knife attack on Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati in late March.

Zeraati was stabbed repeatedly by three men in an attack outside his south London home.

The Iran International presenter lost a significant amount of blood and was hospitalized for several days. He has since returned to work, but is now living in a secure location.

Iran International and its staff have faced repeated threats, believed to be linked to the Iranian regime, which designated the broadcaster as a terrorist organization for its coverage of the 2022 protests.

Iran’s charge d’affaires, Seyed Mehdi Hosseini Matin, denied any government involvement in the attack on Zeraati.

Investigators revealed that the suspects fled the UK immediately after the incident, with reports suggesting they traveled to Heathrow Airport before boarding commercial flights to different destinations.

Police are pursuing leads in Albania as part of their investigation.

Counterterrorism units and Britain’s security services leading the inquiry believe that the attack is another instance of the Iranian regime employing criminal proxies to target its critics on foreign soil.

This method allows Tehran to maintain plausible deniability and avoids raising suspicions when suspects enter the country.

Zeraati was attacked on March 29 as he left his home home to travel to work. His weekly show serves as a source of impartial and uncensored news for many Iranians at home and abroad.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program this week, Zeraati said that while he is physically “much better,” mental recovery from the assault “will take time.”


Court orders release of prominent Palestinian professor suspected of incitement

Court orders release of prominent Palestinian professor suspected of incitement
Updated 19 April 2024
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Court orders release of prominent Palestinian professor suspected of incitement

Court orders release of prominent Palestinian professor suspected of incitement
  • Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian was under investigation after questioning Hamas atrocities, criticizing Israel
  • Insufficient justification for arrest, says court
  • Detention part of a broader campaign, says lawyer

LONDON: The prominent Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor, Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, was released on Friday after a court order rejected police findings.

The criminologist and law professor was arrested the previous day on suspicion of incitement. She had been under investigation for remarks regarding the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas and for saying Israelis were committing “genocidal crimes” in the Gaza Strip and should fear the consequences.

On Friday, the court dismissed a police request to extend her remand, citing insufficient justification for the arrest, according to Hebrew media reports.

Protesters gathered outside the courthouse to demonstrate against Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s arrest.

Israeli Channel 12, which first reported the news, did not specify where Shalhoub was arrested but her lawyer later confirmed she was apprehended at her home in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem.

“She’s not been in good health recently and was arrested in her home,” Alaa Mahajna said. “Police searched the house and seized her computer and cellphone, [Palestinian] poetry books and work-related papers.”

Mahajna described Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s arrest as part of a broader campaign against her, which has included numerous threats to her life and of violence. 

The professor was suspended by her university last month after calling for the abolition of Zionism and suggesting that accounts of sexual assault during the Hamas-led attacks on Israel were fabricated.

The suspension was initially criticized by the university community as a blow to academic freedom in Israel. However, the decision was later reversed following an apology from Shalhoub-Kevorkian and an admission that sexual assaults took place.

Since hostilities began last year, numerous dissenting voices in Israel have faced arrest for expressing solidarity with victims of the bombardment in Gaza.

In October, well-known ultra-Orthodox Israeli journalist Israel Frey was forced into hiding following a violent attack on his home.

Bayan Khateeb, a student at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, was arrested last year for incitement after posting an Instagram story showing the preparation of a popular spicy egg dish with the caption: “We will soon be eating the victory shakshuka.”


Sony, Apollo discuss joint bid for Paramount, says source

Sony, Apollo discuss joint bid for Paramount, says source
Updated 19 April 2024
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Sony, Apollo discuss joint bid for Paramount, says source

Sony, Apollo discuss joint bid for Paramount, says source
  • Paramount is already in an exclusive deal with Skydance Media over possible merger

LONDON: Sony Pictures Entertainment and Apollo Global Management are discussing making a joint bid for Paramount Global, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The companies have yet to approach Paramount, which is in exclusive deal talks with Skydance Media, an independent studio led by David Ellison, though some investors have urged Paramount to explore other options.
The competing bid, which is still being structured, would offer cash for all outstanding Paramount shares and take the company private, the source said.
Sony would hold a majority stake in the joint venture and operate the media company, and its library of films, including such classics as “Star Trek,” “Mission:Impossible” and “Indiana Jones,” and television characters like SpongeBob SquarePants, according to the source.
Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman Tony Vinciquerra, a veteran media executive with deep experience in film and television, would likely run the studio and take advantage of Sony’s marketing and distribution.
Apollo would likely assume control of the CBS broadcast network and its local television stations, because of restrictions on foreign ownership of broadcast stations, the source said. Sony’s parent corporation is headquartered in Tokyo.
The New York Times first reported the Sony-Apollo discussions. Paramount and Sony declined comment. Apollo could not be reached for comment.
The private equity firm previously made a $26 billion offer to buy Paramount Global, whose enterprise value at the end of 2023 was about $22.5 billion.
A special committee of Paramount’s board elected to continue with its advanced deal talks with Skydance, rather than chase a deal “that might not actually come to fruition,” said two people with knowledge of the board’s action.
The board committee is evaluating the possible acquisition of the smaller independent studio in a stock deal worth $4 billion to $5 billion.
Skydance is negotiating separately to acquire National Amusements, a company that holds the Redstone family’s controlling interest in Paramount, according to a person familiar with the deal terms. That transaction is contingent upon a Skydance-Paramount merger.


Meta releases beefed-up AI models, eyes integration into its apps

Meta releases beefed-up AI models, eyes integration into its apps
Updated 19 April 2024
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Meta releases beefed-up AI models, eyes integration into its apps

Meta releases beefed-up AI models, eyes integration into its apps
  • AI model Llama 3 takes step towards human-level intelligence, Meta claims
  • Company also announced new AI Assistant integration into its major social media apps

SAN FRANCISCO: Meta on Thursday introduced an improved AI assistant built on new versions of its open-source Llama large language model.
Meta AI is smarter and faster due to advances in the publicly available Llama 3, the tech titan said in a blog post.
“The bottom line is we believe Meta AI is now the most intelligent AI assistant that you can freely use,” Meta co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a video on Instagram.
Being open source means that developers outside of Meta are free to customize Llama 3 as they wish and the company may then incorporate those improvements and insights in an updated version.
“We’re excited about the potential that generative AI technology can have for people who use Meta products and for the broader ecosystem,” Meta said.
“We also want to make sure we’re developing and releasing this technology in a way that anticipates and works to reduce risk.”
That effort includes incorporating protections in the way Meta designs and releases Llama models and being cautious when it adds generative AI features to Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger, according to Meta.
“We’re also making Meta AI much easier to use across our apps. We built it into the search box right at the top of WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram messenger, so any time you have a question, you can just ask it right there,” said Zuckerberg in the video.
AI models, Meta’s included, have been known to occasionally go off the rails, giving inaccurate or bizarre responses in episodes referred to as “hallucinations.”
Examples shared on social media included Meta AI claiming to have a child in the New York City school system during an online forum conversation.


Meta AI has been consistently updated and improved since its initial release last year, according to the company.
“Meta’s slower approach to building its AI has put the company behind in terms of consumer awareness and usage, but it still has time to catch up,” said Sonata Insights chief analyst Debra Aho Williamson.
“Its social media apps represent a massive user base that it can use to test AI experiences.”
By weaving AI into its family of apps, Meta will quickly get features powered by the technology to billions of people and benefit from seeing what users do with it.
Meta cited the example of refining the way its AI answers prompts regarding political or social issues to summarize relevant points about the topic instead of offering a single point of view.
Llama 3 has been tuned to better discern whether prompts are innocuous or out-of-bounds, according to Meta.
“Large language models tend to overgeneralize, and we don’t intend for it to refuse to answer prompts like ‘How do I kill a computer program?’ even though we don’t want it to respond to prompts like ‘How do I kill my neighbor?’,” Meta explained.
Meta said it lets users know when they are interacting with AI on its platform and puts visible markers on photorealistic images that were in fact generated by AI.
Beginning in May, Meta will start labeling video, audio, and images “Made with AI” when it detects or is told content is generated by the technology.
Llama 3, for now, is based in English but in the coming months Meta will release more capable models able to converse in multiple languages, the company said.