ARABICA: Nude Activist, Tunisian Rapper, Other News Buzzing In Arab World

Your weekly shot of what the Arab world is saying, hearing and sharing.

In Sana'a, Yemen's capital
In Sana'a, Yemen's capital
Laura Thompson

Egypt’s "nude activist" gains ire of religious right
Alia Al-Mahdi, a 22-year-old Egyptian woman, has become famous over the past two years for posting nude photos of herself on her blog as a way to protest patriarchy, sexism and violence against women.

Though she now lives in Sweden, where she has been granted asylum, Al-Mahdi is still making waves in her home country with her recent radical feminist and atheist take on the Muslim call to prayer (seen here in its traditional version inside a Cairo mosque).

In a Facebook photo posted Friday, Al-Mahdi replaced the opening of the call to prayer — “God is great” — with “Woman is great.” Where the Muslim muezzin declares, “I testify that there is not god but God,” Al-Mahdi instead proclaims, “There is no god, no ruler, no father.”

A prominent Salafist preacher called Al-Mahdi’s declaration proof of “apostasy” and called for criminal charges to be filed against her. In the Egyptian penal code, blasphemy is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. A figure at Egypt’s centuries-old religious institution Al-Azhar concurred, characterizing the call to prayer as one of Islam’s most sacred rituals.

Al-Mahdi has a history of upsetting her country’s conservative religious establishment. She has previously launched a call for men to send her pictures of themselves wearing the headscarf, and for women who wear the headscarf to send pictures of themselves uncovered.

She also made international headlines when she posed expand=1] nude in freezing cold temperatures in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Sweden to protest the inclusion of Shariah in the Egyptian constitution.

The constitution written and approved under the Islamist-dominated Morsi government named Sharia law (the divine law of God as revealed through the Abrahamic holy books, culminating in the Koran) as the main source of all legislation. This constitution is currently being “amended” by Egypt’s military-backed regime, which has indicated its intention to put the constitution to a referendum next month.

New Egyptian protest law under fire
Thirty Egyptian demonstrators protesting military trials of civilians were arrested Tuesday under a new law that restricts Egyptians’ freedom to protest.

The legislation, adopted Sunday, requires that organizers notify police three days before their intended demonstration. Human rights groups have severely criticized the law as basically criminalizing protests.

Twitter was abuzz with photos and tweets regarding the “protest law,” coming from both sides of the political spectrum. One user, sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, posted the following image with the message: “Your laws will not pass.”

#قانون_التظاهر #عند_أمك #مكملين !! :D :D

— رزان :D (@Razan_ehab) November 24, 2013

Another user drew a parallel with the British occupation and the current military-backed regime, recalling the British prohibition of public demonstrations in Egypt.

#قانون_التظاهر 2013 #مصر #مافيش_فايدة

— azza ahmed (@azza_ahmed9098) November 25, 2013

The Islamist Strong Egypt Party (Misr Al-Qawia), critical of both the Muslim Brotherhood and the military-backed regime, tweeted about the often minor policy differences maintained by the now-deposed Morsi government versus the current regime.

#مصر_القوية | #قانون_التظاهر .. ما بين حكومة #قنديل و حكومة #الببلاوي

— حزب مصر القوية (@MisrAlQawia) November 26, 2013

In Tunisia, the dangers of calling police “dogs”

A Tunisian rapper on the run for months has agreed to appear in court to file an appeal, his lawyer said this week.

Weld El 15 became a nationally known outlaw after he was sentenced to two years in prison, and then 21 months, for his rap song “Boulicia Kleb,” or “Police expand=1] Are Dogs.” The rapper’s lawyer called the case a clear violation of freedom of expression and another example of the intentional marginalization of vocal youth.

But Tunisia’s Islamist Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh supported the prison sentence, insisting that Weld El 15 had incited hate against security forces and judges. Defamation of public officials is a punishable offense.

Reports have also circulated that some police officers harass those found listening to the song. One blogger site posted an interview with the mother of a Tunisian man, living in Switzerland, who was arrested during his summer vacation in Tunis while listening to the song.

Weld El 15 is scheduled to attend a hearing on Dec. 5. In the meantime, two rappers and a French-Tunisian journalist received suspended four-month prison sentences for expressing support for Weld El 15 during a trial earlier this year.

Kuwaiti women gets death sentence for murdering maid
A Kuwaiti woman has received a death sentence following the murder of her maid, whom she allegedly drove unconscious into the desert and then ran over repeatedly with her car. The homicide reportedly followed years of torture.

The Gulf is notorious for the mistreatment not only of its domestic workers, but also of its migrant laborers.

MBC and other prominent Gulf radio stations have been proactive in addressing the problem, broadcasting ads encouraging good treatment domestic help in light of Islamic values and the example of the Prophet Muhammad.

This ad, produced by the Program for the Spread of the Culture of Human Rights, reminds viewers that the Prophet Muhammad instructed Muslims to treat their workers with humanity: “Nourish them with what you eat, and give them to wear what you yourself wear and do not burden them with more than they can handle.”

A member of the Kuwaiti ruling family has also been sentenced to death for murdering his nephew. The alleged reason behind the killing? A disagreement over sports clubs.

A “Saudi Juliette” and her “Yemeni Romeo”
A 22-year-old Saudi woman has apparently traveled illegally to Yemen to elope with the love of her life — Arafat, a poor 25-year-old Yemeni man whom she had met in her Saudi village’s cell phone shop. Her family had refused Arafat’s marriage proposal, planning instead to have her wed another man. Momentarily detained by Yemeni forces for illegally entering the country, Huda found support with the he UN Refugee Agency — the UNHCR helped her get asylum — as well as Yemeni Internet users.

One Yemeni Twitter user posted an image to Huda’s family: “To the family of Huda: Yemenis will keep an eye on your pure daughter.”

مسا الخير والعافيه * ورساله اوجهها الي أسرة الفتاة السعوديه(هدى آل نيران) بسمي وبسم كل متابعيني وبسم كل اليمنين*

— كريم عــ الرحمن ــبد (@karim_ahmadi) November 26, 2013

Another supporter posted an Instagram photo of a poster advertising a Yemeni gathering in support of Huda. It reads, “We're coming, Huda!”

This modern-day Romeo and Juliette tale has perhaps garnered such significant attention because of mounting tensions between the comparatively poor and underdeveloped Yemen and its northern oil-rich neighbor, Saudi Arabia. Like Arafat, many Yemenis travel to Saudi Arabia for work, yet the Saudi government’s recent crackdown on undocumented laborers has forced many Yemenis to return home.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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