Week of September 24

The new Gen2 Formula E car, being showcased on the sidelines of the press conference in Ad Diriyah. Credit: Center for International Communication (CIC), Ministry of Media, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia will offer an electronic visa for foreign visitors to attend sporting events and concerts beginning in December, the kingdom reported on Tuesday, as part of its effort to diversify its economy and open up its society. At present, foreigners traveling to the conservative Muslim country are largely restricted to resident workers and their dependents, business travelers, and Muslim pilgrims who are given special visas to travel to holy sites. The “sharek” visa process will be introduced in time for a motor race on Dec. 15, according to a statement by the General Sports Authority (GSA). “We hope the Saudia Diriyah E-Prix will see fans from around the globe come to Saudi Arabia to watch this epic sporting spectacle as now your ticket is your visa,” said Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Faisal, vice chair of the GSA. In January, a spokesman for the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage announced that women aged 25 and over can be granted a tourist visa to go to Saudi Arabia alone, but the commission’s proposed regulations are subject to approval by higher authorities.

Also on Tuesday, a German appeals court ruled against an Israeli student who was prevented from flying on Kuwait Airways. The student bought a ticket on the airline from Frankfurt to Bangkok in 2016; however, because the flight required a stopover in Kuwait and Kuwaiti law bans all commercial interactions with Israeli, the ticket was canceled. The court ruled that although it found the Kuwaiti boycott of Israel discriminatory, it was not illegal, and therefore, the student would not receive a new ticket on the airline as requested. In a statement, the court acknowledged that the outcome was “unsatisfying” for the plaintiff but said it had no choice but to dismiss his demand to be able to book a new journey to Bangkok with Kuwait Airways.

Spain’s foreign minister said he will launch an ‘intensive’ consultation process with his EU counterparts to set a timetable for achieving a common position on recognizing Palestine. If the rest of the EU does not agree to pass recognition, Spain says that they will recognize Palestine alone. As of this moment, the EU accepts a two-state solution to the conflict, but has not recognized Palestinian territory as its own sovereign state. According to the Palestinian Authority, there are now 139 countries that recognize Palestine. The European Union has disagreements over a unilateral move of this kind. 

A new study released has revealed that more than one trillion dollars’ worth of food goes to waste in the Middle East each year. According to the study by YouGov earlier this year, Saudi Arabia alone accounts for an estimated economic impact of $13.3 billion per year from food waste, while in the UAE, 40% of the country’s total waste is derived from food. Of the top sources of food waste across the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, 32% came from leftover food from restaurants, while 30% were food that was thrown out after celebrations. More than one third (33%) of all fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and canned foods were found to be thrown out and wasted across the surveyed countries. Across the region, a number of initiatives have been launched recently to encourage people to avoid food waste. For example, a food bank in Saudi Arabia has proposed a fine of SAR1000 ($267) for every kilo of surplus food and the UAE Food Bank collects surplus food for distribution to the needy inside and outside the country. In contrast, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, up to forty percent of food in America is wasted and it costs our economy roughly $218 billion each year (2017).

A former government official in France has proposed an unconventional plan to stem radicalization in the country. Hakim El Karoui, who served in the cabinet of the prime minister as well as the ministry of finance, has suggested in a recent report that increasing the availability of Arabic classes in France’s public schools will reduce the growth of extremism. He argues that by offering language classes at schools, children will be less likely to attend classes at mosques that could possibly expose them to radical ideology.  Some in the government, which has tried several controversial tactics to stop the rise of Islamism in the country – with little success, seem to agree with El Karoui’s assessment, but the proposal has had significant criticism from both those who say linking Arabic to fundamentalist Islam is dangerous as well as those who are opposed to a multicultural France. 

Moroccan singer Saad Lamjarred

A Tunisian radio station has joined the boycott of Saad Lamjarred, a successful Moroccan pop singer who has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women. Two radio stations in Morocco have already announced that they will no longer play the artist’s songs. Lamjarred was recently arrested and charged with sexual assault for the third time in total, and for the second time in France. At the time of his arrest, Lamjarred was already awaiting trial for a 2016 alleged attack in France. Lamjarred has previously walked away from allegations relatively unscathed, and enjoys the support of Moroccan King Mohammed VI, who also contributed to the artist’s legal costs associated with the 2016 arrest. In 2018, women across the world have been increasingly vocal in standing up against specific cases of abuse as well as cultural norms that allow such abuse to persist with impunity. Morocco World News discussed the significance of the Lamjarred boycott in a recent article: For a large number of women’s rights activists, trying — or eventually convicting — Lamjarred is not enough to quell the “rape culture” that he embodies. They argue that the singer’s songs should be boycotted to ensure a “meaningful step” towards ridding Morocco of its predominantly patriarchal culture. Boycotting Lamjarred, they hope, will deter many other men. And so critics are now venting their outrage on various platforms on social media, using the hashtag #Masaktach (I will not be hushed) to call on Moroccan radio stations to join the boycott initiative.”  What do you think? 

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