ARABICA: Unemployed Saudi Women, 'Arabs Got Talent', Libya Teacher Killing

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

On the road to Nalut, Libya
On the road to Nalut, Libya
Laura Thompson

Many Saudi women clueless about job hunting
A new government study shows that a full quarter of Saudi women aren’t sure how to go about getting a job. Employment among Saudis is being encouraged in a country dominated by foreign workers, and women’s rights initiatives like an internationally publicized driving campaign is a sign of the times in Saudi Arabia.

Response to teacher's murder in Libya
According to a Twitter user, Ronnie Smith’s grieving wife placed lit candles at the spot where the American teacher was assassinated in Benghazi, the city that served as a capital for the Libyan resistance.

زوجة الاستاذ الامريكي روني سميث الذي اغتيل في #بنغازي توقد الشموع في نفس المكان الذي قتل فيه زوجها #ليبيا

— Sarah (@SarahFighi) December 7, 2013

His early morning murder came after a string of other killings, including a car bombing during a police officer’s funeral.

Smith, who described himself as “Libya's best friend,” had been teaching for over a year in a local high school. He was out for an early morning jog when several unidentified men gunned him down.

A number of Libyans tweeted translations of a post reportedly from Smith’s own Facebook page, published just over a month ago: “There is one thing Libyans are good at: making foreigners feel like family.”

Other Internet users criticized Smith, though without endorsing his murder. One Facebook user posted a note pointing to Smith’s relationship with an evangelical church in Austin, Texas. The church had posted a letter indicating that Smith was in Libya in part to spread Christ’s message.

Proselytism is illegal in Libya, and Christian missionaries have been arrested there as recently as earlier this year.

A Lebanese Superstar
Najwa Karam, a Lebanese singer and superstar judge on the recently completed Arabs Got Talent, found herself again in the spotlight — this time on Twitter.

لا تنسوا التغريد مع #مسبحة_ناصر #خاتم_حلمي #نظارة_علي أو #مراية_نجوى لفرصتك بالفوز بأحدى واحدة منهم #ArabsGotTalent

— Arabs Got Talent (@ArabsGotTalent) December 5, 2013

“Najwa’s mirror” was trending Wednesday, next to #Mandela and #PaulWalker. Karam tweeted an image of her phone, asking, “Who will win #Najwa's Mirror? Follow us tonight, on our last episode of @Arabs Got Talent” — a reference to the show's motto "Leave your mirror, pack your luggage and be ready for the new season of Arabs Got Talent."

#NKO من سيربح #مراية_نجوى؟ تابعونا الليلة في الحلقة الأخيرة من @ArabsGotTalent لمعرفة إسم الرابح

— Najwa Karam (@najwakaram) December 7, 2013

Twitter users responded with a firestorm of “Najwa's mirror” hashtags.

Karam created controversy recently when she supported an American singer on what is typically an Arab-only talent show. Jennifer Grout, from Cambridge, Mass., finished third place in the finals. Here is a video of her final performance, in which she sings a famous song by Lebanese-Egyptian singer Souad Muhammad entitled, “I’ve Missed You.”

Beliebers In Tunis
A young Swedish-Tunisian girl living in Stockholm started a Twitter trend after she uploaded a YouTube video asking for Justin Bieber to bring his concert and his new 3-D Believe movie to Tunisia.

Her video plea is followed by a clip of high school girls in Tunisia singing their hearts out to Bieber’s “All Around the World” and declaring themselves “Believers” — not to be confused with Bieber's regular fans, called "Beliebers." One student, Sandra, tells the camera, “I really don’t want to stay home on Christmas Day while other believers are having fun watching the Believe movie.”

#BelieveMovieInTunisia !! <3

— Follow me Bieber plz (@sarrabelieber13) December 9, 2013

Cold aggravates crisis for Syrian refugees
Following snow, ice and freezing temperatures, the UN is more concerned than ever for the almost one million Syrian refugees currently living in the Beqaa region of Lebanon. Many lack heat, wood for fires, and basic protection from the cold in their often watery tents.

One Twitter user lamented, “Where are the rich Arabs and millionaires while displaced children live in tents in #Beqaa in #Lebanon snow.”

أين أغنياء العرب و أصحاب الملايين عن أطفال النازحين في #البقاع في #لبنان ثلج و عايشين في مخيمات

— NURAN ☁️ (@3___NoOr) December 11, 2013

Saudi film wins Oscar nomination
Wadjda, the first feature-length film made by a female Saudi director, has been selected as the Saudi Arabian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards.

أفضل أحداث مهرجان دبي الدولي السينمائي كان قضاء وقتا ممتعا مع مارتن شين! كل الحب, هيفاء

— Haifaa Al Mansour (@HaifaaMansour) December 11, 2013

Director Haifa Al-Mansour — center — with Martin Sheen at the Dubai Film Festival. Translation: "The best of the events at the Dubai Film Festival was spending fun time with Martin Sheen!"

Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour found her 11-year-old actress one week before filming began. In an interview with The Guardian, Al-Mansour said she was committed to using only Saudi actors, despite being hard to find — Saudi actresses, in particular. Her lead actress hails from a conservative family in the capital city of Riyadh, and she reportedly received permission from her family to act until the age of 16, at which time she would need to find a more respectable career path.

Al-Mansour’s film appropriately focuses on the nuanced lives of Saudi women in a country whose especially restrictive, “protective” laws make women’s mobility difficult, though women resist in all kinds of creative, vigorous and often endearing ways. Al-Mansour’s film found financing from the country’s most powerful prince, Al Waleed Bin Talal, the benefactor of a number of endowed professorships in some of the most prestigious U.S. universities (such as Harvard University and Georgetown University).

Here’s the official trailer for Wadjda.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

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.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!