How Saudi Arabia’s cultural boom is opening the door to international luxury labels

How Saudi Arabia’s cultural boom is opening the door to international luxury labels
The “Van Cleef & Arpels: Time, Nature, Love” exhibition was hosted at the National Museum of Saudi Arabia. (AN Photo by Abdulrahman Shalhoub)
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Updated 21 February 2024
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How Saudi Arabia’s cultural boom is opening the door to international luxury labels

How Saudi Arabia’s cultural boom is opening the door to international luxury labels

DUBAI: Over the past few years, Saudi Arabia has hosted multiple cultural events spanning art, film and fashion. As the Kingdom accelerates toward Vision 2030, it is fast establishing itself as one of the most significant cultural hubs in the Middle East and a new report titled “New Codes of Luxury in Saudi Arabia,” by the Together Group and The Future Laboratory, has surmised that the cultural boom is opening the door for international luxury brands to gain a stronger foothold in the Saudi market.

“The visibility of these events and publicity, especially for the Saudi public, should encourage luxury brands to participate in the way they seem fit,” Abdullah AlKhorayef, real estate development director at Abdullah Ibrahim Alkhorayef Sons Co., told Arab News.

The report surmises that Saudi Arabia’s creative economies and cultural sectors are in growth mode and states: “The domestic fashion industry, led by the Fashion Commission, is gaining international recognition. Events like Riyadh Season, the Diriyah Biennale and the Red Sea International Film Festival, and investments in the entertainment and video game sectors, are helping establish Saudi Arabia as a leisure hub.”

“I think, now, Saudi Arabia is the biggest cultural hub in the Middle East. Brands need to understand that and not compare it to other regional cities. They need to invest in understanding the Saudi culture, people, and vision,” explained AlKhorayef. He believes that plans for a diversified economy, as set out in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan, are clearly defined and international brands need to take the program

 seriously by compounding their presence in the country. “Employing Saudis and investing in the country will give them a huge advantage over the competition,” he said.  

According to the report, luxury brands are beginning to take note. For instance, last year, German luxury e-tailer Mytheresa hosted an event in Riyadh and collaborated with Saudi influencer Nojoud Al-Rumaihi for its 2023 Ramadan and Eid campaign. Additionally, the e-tailer is ambitious to establish its footprint in the Kingdom and is increasing its on-ground presence via on-site personal shoppers, local PR initiatives and exclusive events for VIP customers. Also, in 2023, the National Museum of Saudi Arabia hosted the “Van Cleef & Arpels: Time, Nature, Love” exhibition featuring 280 important pieces – some of which belonged to royalty and iconic Hollywood celebrities.

Another local industry that is fast growing is fashion. According to the report, the nascent industry is a pivotal element of Vision 2030 and one expected to contribute 1.4 percent to the Kingdom’s GDP, according to Forbes. With the advent of fashion week, held last year in Riyadh, the exposure of homegrown designers is further amplified, offering ample opportunities for homegrown luxury brands to gain a foothold in the market. “The fashion industry has multiple advantages – from preserving and documenting to shaping the culture. Alongside providing employment, industrial manufacturing, and services. This will all eventually help the economy to become less reliant on oil,” AlKhorayef elaborated.


Jury deliberating in Iraq Abu Ghraib prison abuse civil case; contractor casts blame on Army

Jury deliberating in Iraq Abu Ghraib prison abuse civil case; contractor casts blame on Army
Updated 6 min 14 sec ago
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Jury deliberating in Iraq Abu Ghraib prison abuse civil case; contractor casts blame on Army

Jury deliberating in Iraq Abu Ghraib prison abuse civil case; contractor casts blame on Army
  • Raisi said the killings by Israel in Gaza were being committed with the support of the United States and other Western countries

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia: A lawyer for the military contractor being sued by three survivors of the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq told jurors Monday that the plaintiffs are suing the wrong people.
“If you believe they were abused ... tell them to make their claim against the US government,” said John O’Connor, defense attorney for Reston, Virginia-based military contractor CACI, during closing arguments at the civil trial in federal court. “Why didn’t they sue the people who actively abused them?”
The lawsuit brought by the three former Abu Ghraib detainees marks the first time a US jury has weighed claims of abuse at the prison, which was the site of a worldwide scandal 20 years ago when photos became public showing US soldiers smiling as they inflicted abusive and humiliating treatment on detainees in the months after the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.
The suit alleges that civilian interrogators supplied by CACI to Abu Ghraib contributed to the torture the plaintiffs by conspiring with military police to “soften up” detainees for interrogations.
CACI, in its closing arguments, relied in part on a legal theory known as the “borrowed servant doctrine,” which states an employer can’t be liable for its employees’ conduct if another entity is controlling and directing those employees’ work.
In this case, CACI says the Army was directing and controlling its employees in their work as interrogators.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs disputed that CACI relinquished control of its interrogators to the Army. At trial, they introduced evidence that CACI’s contract with the Army required CACI to supervise its own employees. Jurors also saw a section of the Army Field Manual that pertains to contractors and states that “only contractors may supervise and give direction to their employees.
Muhammad Faridi, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, told jurors that the case is simpler than CACI’s lawyers are trying to make it.
He said that if CACI interrogators conspired with military police to inflict abuse on detainees to soften them up for interrogations, then the jury can find CACI liable even if CACI interrogators never themselves inflicted abuse on any of the three plaintiffs.
All three plaintiffs testified to horrible treatment including beatings, sexual assaults, being threatened with dogs and forced to wear women’s underwear, but said the abuse was either inflicted by soldiers, or by civilians who couldn’t be identified as CACI workers. In some cases, the detainees said they couldn’t see who was abusing them because they had bags over their heads.
As evidence of CACI’s complicity, jurors heard testimony from two retired generals who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004; both concluded that CACI interrogators engaged in misconduct.
Faridi told the jury that while many of the soldiers who abused detainees were convicted and sentenced to prison, CACI has not yet been held accountable.
“When our country’s military found out about the abuse, they didn’t cover it up,” Faridi said. “Our country’s military held the military police members who were perpetrating the abuse accountable. CACI escaped liability.”
And Faridi said that even when the Army asked CACI to hold its its interrogators responsible, it still sought to evade responsibility. In May 2004, the Army asked CACI to fire one of its interrogators, Dan Johnson, after one of the Abu Ghraib photos showed Johnson interrogating a detainee who was forced into an awkward crouching position that investigators concluded was an illegal stress position.
CACI contested Johnson’s dismissal, writing that the “photo depicts what appears to be a relatively relaxed scene” and saying that “squatting is common and unremarkable among Iraqis.”
“I’ll leave that to you to consider whether you find that offensive,” Faridi told the jury Monday.
At trial, CACI employees testified they defended Johnson’s work because Army personnel had asked them through back channels to do so. O’Connor said that out of the many hundreds of photos of abuse at Abu Ghraib, the photo of Johnson is the only one depicting a CACI employee, and it shows him questioning not one of the plaintiffs but an Iraqi policeman after someone had smuggled a gun into the prison and shot at military police.
O’Connor also apologized for parts of his case that were “long, annoying and boring” but said he had no choice because the US government claimed that some evidence, including the identities of interrogators, was classified. So jurors, rather than hearing live testimony, were subjected to long audio recordings in which the interrogators’ voices were doctored and their answers were often interrupted by government lawyers who instructed them to not answer the question.
The trial was delayed by more than 15 years of legal wrangling and questions over whether CACI could be sued. Some of the debate focused on the question of immunity — there had long been an assumption that the US government would hold sovereign immunity from a civil suit, and CACI argued that, as a government contractor, it would enjoy derivative immunity.
But US District Judge Leonie Brinkema, in a first-of-its-kind ruling, determined that the US government cannot claim immunity in cases involving fundamental violations of international norms, such as torture allegations. And, as a result, CACI could not claim any kind of derivative immunity, either.
The eight-person jury deliberated about three hours before pausing Monday afternoon without reaching a verdict. Deliberations are set to resume Wednesday.

 


Israel’s Gaza war has negatively impacted human rights, says US report

Israel’s Gaza war has negatively impacted human rights, says US report
Updated 44 min 30 sec ago
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Israel’s Gaza war has negatively impacted human rights, says US report

Israel’s Gaza war has negatively impacted human rights, says US report
  • The Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip has been reduced to a wasteland, and extreme food shortages have prompted fears of famine

WASHINGTON: The war between Israel and Hamas that has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza and resulted in a severe humanitarian crisis has had “a significant negative impact” on the human rights situation in the country, the US State Department said in its annual report on Monday.
Significant human rights issues include credible reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings, enforced disappearance, torture and unjustified arrests of journalists among others, said the State Department’s 2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
The report added that the Israeli government has taken some credible steps to identify and punish the officials who may have been involved in those abuses.
Israel’s military conduct has come under increasing scrutiny as its forces have killed 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the enclave’s health authorities, many of them civilians and children. The Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip has been reduced to a wasteland, and extreme food shortages have prompted fears of famine.
Israel launched its assault in response to a Hamas attack on Oct. 7, in which Israel says 1,200 people were killed.
Rights groups have flagged numerous incidents of civilian harm during the Israeli army’s offensive in Gaza, as well as raised alarm about rising violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Palestinian Health Ministry records show Israeli forces or settlers have killed at least 460 Palestinians since Oct. 7. But so far the Biden administration has said it has not found Israel in breach of international law.
Washington gives $3.8 billion in annual military assistance to its longtime ally. Leftist Democrats and Arab American groups have criticized the Biden administration’s steadfast support for Israel, which they say provides it with a sense of impunity.
But this month, President Joe Biden for the first time threatened to condition support for Israel, and insisted that it take concrete steps to protect humanitarian aid workers and civilians.


India’s Modi accused of targeting Muslims in election speech

India’s Modi accused of targeting Muslims in election speech
Updated 23 April 2024
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India’s Modi accused of targeting Muslims in election speech

India’s Modi accused of targeting Muslims in election speech
  • Modi’s muscular Hindu-first politics is a key part of his electoral appeal and his opponents accuse him of marginalizing India’s 200 million Muslim population

NEW DELHI: India’s main opposition Congress party filed a complaint to the Election Commission Monday accusing Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “blatantly targeting” minority Muslims in a campaign speech.
The world’s most populous country is constitutionally secular and its election code bans canvassing based on “communal feelings.”
Modi’s muscular Hindu-first politics is a key part of his electoral appeal and his opponents accuse him of marginalizing India’s 200 million Muslim population.
The prime minister usually steers away from explicit references to religion — the word “Hindu” does not appear in his Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) 76-page election manifesto.
But at a weekend election rally in Rajasthan, Modi claimed a previous Congress government had said that “Muslims have the first right over the nation’s wealth.”
He said if Congress won “it will be distributed among those who have more children. It will be distributed to the infiltrators.”
“Do you think your hard-earned money should be given to infiltrators? Would you accept this?“
Critics said the phrases were references to Muslims.
In its complaint to the Election Commission, the Congress party said the “divisive, objectionable and malicious” comments were targeted at “a particular religious community” and amounted to “blatant and direct violations of electoral laws.”
They were “far worse than any ever made by a sitting Prime Minister in the history of India,” the complaint said.
Congress party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi told reporters outside the Commission’s office: “We hope concrete action will be taken.”
Modi and the BJP are widely expected to coast to victory in India’s marathon elections, which began last Friday and with the results due on June 4.
Earlier this year, Modi presided over the inauguration of a grand temple to the deity Ram, built on the site of a centuries-old mosque razed by Hindu zealots.
The BJP has frequently invoked the temple on the campaign trail.
BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia told reporters Monday that Modi was calling “a spade a spade” and his remarks resonated with what people thought.


Hamas has ‘moved goal post’ on hostage talks, says State Dept

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller. (video grab/@StateDeptSpox)
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller. (video grab/@StateDeptSpox)
Updated 49 min 36 sec ago
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Hamas has ‘moved goal post’ on hostage talks, says State Dept

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller. (video grab/@StateDeptSpox)
  • Miller said the United States had received a report by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna into the UN aid agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, and is reviewing it
  • Israel has killed 34,151 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry

WASHINGTON: Palestinian militant group Hamas has “moved the goal post” and changed its demands in the hostage negotiations with Israel mediated by Egypt and Qatar, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Monday.
Speaking at a daily press briefing, Miller said the United States would continue to push for an agreement that would see hostages taken on Oct. 7 released and a pause in fighting in Gaza.
Separately, Miller said the United States had received a report by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna into the UN aid agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, and is reviewing it.

 


Nobel laureate urges protest against Iran’s ‘war on women’

Nobel laureate urges protest against Iran’s ‘war on women’
Updated 23 April 2024
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Nobel laureate urges protest against Iran’s ‘war on women’

Nobel laureate urges protest against Iran’s ‘war on women’
  • Narges Mohammadi issues plea from Evin prison amid new crackdown by Tehran’s morality police

JEDDAH: Jailed Iranian Nobel laureate Narges Mohammadi urged Iranians on Monday to protest against the clerical regime’s “war against women” amid a new crackdown forcing women to cover their heads.
Mohammadi, who is being held in Evin prison in Tehran, called on Iranian women to share their stories of arrest and sexual assault at the hands of the authorities.
Iran launched a nationwide operation this month to enforce the wearing of the headscarf. Women have been arrested and taken to police stations by the morality police, and the Farsi hashtag meaning “war against women” has been trending on social media.
“People of Iran, I ask you, artists, intellectuals, workers, teachers, and students ... inside and outside the country to protest against this war against women,” Mohammadi said in a message from inside the prison. “Do not underestimate the power of sharing your experiences. Doing so will expose the misogynistic government and bring it to its knees.” She accused the authorities of bringing “a full-scale war against all women to every street in Iran.”
Mohammadi said she had been joined in jail by Dina Ghalibaf, a journalist and student who was arrested after accusing security forces on social media of putting her in handcuffs and sexually assaulting her during a previous arrest at a metro station. “For years, we have witnessed many women who have endured assault, abuse, and beatings by government agents,” Mohammadi said.
Mohammadi, 52, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year in recognition of her campaign for human rights in Iran, which has led to her spending much of the past two decades in and out of jail. She has been imprisoned since November 2021 and has not seen her husband and twin children, who live in Paris, for several years.