How Expo 2020 Dubai ensured that no country went unrepresented at the event – Arab News
DUBAI: During the first week of October, when the Taliban takeover of the country and the ensuing chaos were still fresh in the minds of Expo 2020 Dubai visitors, the Afghanistan pavilion found itself in a conspicuous position despite being closed.
However, the unit has been open since then, thanks in part to the support of the host government. It is the same story for the pavilions of Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and the Bahamas.
On display inside the Afghanistan pavilion, located in the Sustainability District, is an impressive collection of carpets, precious stones, daggers, antique jewelry and traditional attire — totems of a country with a diverse cultural heritage, the result of being a crossroads of many civilizations and empires for centuries.
The collection belongs to Omar Rahimy, who fled Afghanistan in 1978 at the urging of his father to escape the turmoil that followed the communist takeover. When Rahimy left for Austria, he took items from his father’s antiques shop in Kabul, which have now found their way to the expo pavilion.
The opening of the Afghanistan pavilion was the result of efforts by the UAE government, coupled with the commitment and dedication of Rahimy himself, sources told Arab News.
While the host government provided generous support, Rahimy went out of his way to prevent the pavilion falling victim to the vagaries of Afghanistan’s politics.
The rationale behind underwriting the construction and maintenance of pavilions of states in the grip of severe economic or governance crisis is to avoid any country going unrepresented at Expo 2020 Dubai, the latest iteration of a global event that aims to educate the public, share innovation, promote progress and foster cooperation.
It is part of the expo’s mission to make sure all the world’s 192 countries (as designated by the UN) are present in Dubai through their own specially designed pavilion.
As a result, Expo 2020 Dubai can justifiably claim to be the first ever World Expo in which all nations are represented and where no participating entity is at a disadvantage in terms of opportunity and economic possibility.
Like Afghanistan, Lebanon’s inclusion is a remarkable feat given the political, economic and social challenges the country faces, which run from power outages, fuel shortages and civil unrest to the collapse of the central banking system.
Inside the Lebanon pavilion, located in the Opportunity District, are showpieces of the country’s rich creative scene, including artworks, design objects, crafts, fashion and food.
“Our pavilion space and its construction took place thanks to a generous grant from the UAE to Lebanon,” Mohammed Abu Haider, Lebanon’s director general at the Ministry of Economy, said.
“It wasn’t a surprise to us because the UAE has always stood by Lebanon and its people through good and bad times. We are truly thankful, especially since without this grant Lebanon would have been unrepresented at the world’s largest expo.”
The pavilion provides a platform for Lebanon’s manufacturers and dealers to network as well as explore new avenues of trade and cooperation.
“Being situated in the Opportunities District of the expo allows Lebanon to meet other cultures, visions and success stories in order to tap into every available opportunity that can benefit the Lebanese economy and the Lebanese people,” Abu Haider said.
Syria’s pavilion is another case in point. Located in the Sustainability District, the structure pays homage to the country’s heritage as the cradle of some of the world’s earliest known alphabets and musical notation, alongside contemporary arts and designs under the theme “We will rise together.”
The UAE paid for the entire pavilion.
“Syria has been going through a crisis since the civil war started in 2011,” Hala Khayat, adviser to the Syrian pavilion, said.
“Participating in Expo 2020 Dubai was a dream that, as a nation, we did not originally think possible because we had internal issues to solve. However, thanks to the generosity of the UAE that paid for the pavilion, we were lucky to open a new chapter to show the best of Syria to the world.”
Through its pledge of “one nation, one pavilion,” the UAE made available architectural and design guidance to make sure that every country is represented.
Often at global events, participation is dependent on a nation’s economic means and cultural influence. Those that come up short tend to get relegated to the sidelines or excluded altogether.
“At the Milan Expo in 2015, I remember how most African countries were placed in a large hall with no distinct features,” Ahmed Al-Enezi, senior manager for arts and culture at Expo 2020, said.
“It’s an incredible feat that the UAE has allowed for every country to be represented no matter what economic hardship and conflicts they are undergoing.”
Expo 2020’s mission is to offer a global platform for “cross-pollination” between cultures, Maha Al-Gargawi, an Expo 2020 Dubai spokesperson, said.
“There are 192 countries participating which not only makes this the most international World Expo, but the most inclusive,” she said.
It is not just the UAE’s Middle Eastern and Central Asian neighbors who have benefited from grants and support. Take the Bahamas, an archipelago and country on the northwestern edge of the West Indies.
Although the Bahamas is well known for its luxury tourism and offshore-banking industries, its economy is grappling with an unprecedented crisis wrought by a combination of natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Bahamas originally started as a self-build participant in Expo 2020 Dubai to construct a 15,000 sq ft pavilion in conjunction with architectural students from the University of the Bahamas,” Tony S. Joudi, the Bahamian ambassador to the UAE and Qatar, said.
“But since the time of that commitment, a major hurricane hit the Bahamas and caused severe devastation to our economy’s infrastructure and left thousands of people dead with many others homeless.
“This was followed in 2020 by the COVID pandemic which didn’t spare the Bahamas and thus caused another major setback in the health system, adding a further dent to the economy and devastating the lives of the Bahamian people.”
Located in the Sustainability District, the pavilion’s message is tied to Expo 2020 Dubai’s collective vision of working in harmony with the environment to live more sustainably.
“The UAE has been extremely supportive, generous, and passionate about our cause and helped the Bahamas in many ways … granting all the rights and privileges given to any friend in need,” said Joudi.
Al-Gargawi, the Expo 2020 Dubai spokesperson, put it this way: “Every country has a voice, and every country has an equal standing here. It’s the first time in World Expo history that countries are not segregated by their economy or their geography. It’s one nation for one pavilion unit.
“This stems from the vision of the leaders of the UAE who believe that the city of Dubai and the UAE is a platform for the whole world and that is what Expo 2020 tried to do.”
Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor

TEHRAN: A cyberattack on Sunday disrupted access to Iran’s privately owned Mahan Air, state TV reported, marking the latest in a series of cyberattacks on Iranian infrastructure that has put the country on edge.
Mahan Air’s website displayed an error message saying the site couldn’t be reached. The carrier said in a statement that it had “thwarted” the attack and that its flight schedule was not affected, adding it has faced similar breaches in the past.
Many customers of Mahan Air across Iran received strange text messages on Sunday. A group calling itself Hoosyarane-Vatan, or Observants of Fatherland, claimed in the mass texts to have carried out the attack, citing the airline’s cooperation with Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. The self-described hacking group did not provide any evidence.
Mahan Air flies from Tehran to a few dozen destinations in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
The US Treasury Department, which polices compliance with sanctions, blacklisted the airline in 2011 for allegedly “providing financial, material and technological support” to the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force.
TEL AVIV: Residents of Israel’s seaside metropolis Tel Aviv have for years complained of how expensive it is, with living costs taking a chunk out of their paychecks.
Now a new report affirms their quibbles. Tel Aviv has emerged as the most expensive city to live in, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, a research group linked to the Economist magazine.
The city, which was previously ranked 5th most expensive, has now surpassed other pricy places like Paris and Singapore.
Economists attribute the jump to a strong appreciation of the shekel against the dollar.
In its report Wednesday, the Economist Intelligence Unit also pointed to a rise in grocery and transport costs.
The report did not include housing prices — another common complaint among young professionals and families trying to live in the bustling city.
“It’s really hard to live here. You pay the rent and you pay for something small and you live, like, from paycheck to paycheck so it’s really hard,” said Ziv Toledano, a transplant from northern Israel. He said his expenses have nearly doubled in Tel Aviv.
Israeli news outlets constantly compare the prices of basic goods in Israel to other Western nations, hammering into audiences what has been clear to their wallets for years: That the country is far more expensive than others.
Tel Aviv is Israel’s financial and cultural epicenter. It boasts a thriving high-tech scene, world-class restaurants and a stretch of Mediterranean beach lined by gleaming new hotels and condominiums.
The shekel is one of the world’s strongest currencies, with its value buoyed in large part by heavy foreign investment in the local high-tech scene.
Dan Ben-David, head of the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research and an economist at Tel Aviv University, said goods and services in Israel in general are more expensive than in other countries. Tel Aviv is more expensive because it is the country’s economic hub, with high-paying tech jobs drawing talent from across the country who are driving up prices of food and rent.
“Israel is expensive, and in that regard, Tel Aviv is more expensive than other places in Israel’s because that’s where the good jobs are,” he said.
The city draws even more Israelis wishing to live close to its vibrant cultural and social scene.
Compounding the issue, Ben-David said, is major congestion leading into the city and inadequate transit to its suburbs and surrounding cities, sending even more people wanting to reside in the city.
That, along with foreign buyers, has sent real estate prices skyrocketing, making purchasing an apartment in Tel Aviv almost unattainable for the average Israeli.
Even modest apartments in desirable areas can cost 4 million shekels, or over $1.2 million.
A decade ago, hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets to demand a solution to the rising cost of living.
Successive Israeli governments have struggled to create better job opportunities in other parts of the country and attempts to extend public transit are ongoing, but slow.
LONDON: Unconfirmed media reports suggested that Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi is set to resign on Friday, Reuters reported on Thursday.
Kordahi’s resignation announcement was made following his meeting with Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Wednesday.
Kordahi’s party, Al-Marada, is looking into who will replace him, and has appointed Minister of Education Abbas Al-Halabi as the acting information minister until then, Lebanese Al-Jadeed TV reported.
Several Gulf countries severed diplomatic ties with Lebanon in protest made by Kordahi that were critical to the war in Yemen.
LONDON: The political situation in Libya will remain unstable whether or not planned elections go ahead later this month, experts have warned, pointing to legal, political, and security failings that endanger stability in the near future.
In an event hosted Thursday by London think-tank Chatham House and attended by Arab News, a panel of speakers outlined their grim predictions for the future of Libya’s political roadmap.
Wolfram Lacher, senior associate at the German Institute for International Affairs, warned that the political situation is even worse than in the lead-up to the 2014 election, which ultimately saw the eruption of conflict between Tripoli and Benghazi-based parties.
“The current situation is immensely more problematic than it was in 2014. It’s not comparable at all,” said Lacher.
Parliamentary and presidential elections are planned for Dec. 24 for the first time since the cessation of hostilities in a civil war between the Government of National Unity’s Tripoli-based forces, the Government of National Accordand Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army, based in Benghazi.
Lacher explained that the years of division that ensued during that civil war have led to a more divided country than in pre-2014.
The creation of rival administrations, Lacher said, “essentially led to the whole constitutional architecture of Libya breaking down. There is no basis anymore than anyone agrees on.”
He continued: “We’ve had two civil wars in Libya since (2014) that have inflicted deep rifts on the social fabric. The militias have grown incredibly powerful since 2014, and much more politically involved.”
But Lacher warned that the legal process convened to run this month’s elections actually threatens to enflame these divisions, not heal them — as the election was intended to do.
Libyan authorities are currently embroiled in a dispute over the legal basis upon which certain candidates, such as former Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh, could run. Some candidates have argued that Dbeibeh should be barred from running for President because he did not comply with laws that force officials to resign a minimum of three months before an election takes place.
But these ostensibly legal technical issues — that appear administrative in nature — have an important role in deciding the outcome of the vote itself, as well as the political reality and intra-Libyan dynamics in the days following the vote.
Experts warned that militias and armed factions could refuse to accept the vote if it does not go their way, and use legal issues, such as certain candidates being allowed to run, as grounds to delegitimize the entire process. It is not clear what would happen if losing candidates choose to do this.
Zahraa Langhi, member of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, told participants that both the LNA and GNA are currently benefitting from a political stalemate in Libya, and so they have no true interest in seeing a free and fair election carried out.
“The current political stalemate, the political fragmentation — all these forces are benefitting from it,” Langhi said, explaining that any delay in the election could “reward” those who spoil the election’s integrity.
She also said that interim governments, convened as part of international multilateral measures, “failed miserably” to rectify Libya’s political fragmentation — despite that objective being a “major, basic milestone in the roadmap to creating national unity.”
Langhi lamented a failure by the UN to engage effectively with actors on the ground in Libya.
“The (UN) special envoy is leaving (his post) in a couple of days, leaving the whole process without oversight.”
She said that the UN has left the issue of vetting candidates — fundamentally important to a safe and secure election — to Libya’s judiciary, which she believes has “failed to address the issue.”
Now Libyans are left with a series of candidates that Langhi said do not provide any real choice for Libyans, the most prominent of which are former Prime Minister Dbeibeh, former warlord Haftar, and possibly even Saif Al-Islam Qaddafi — son of late dictator Muammar Qaddafi. “This cannot continue,” she said.
But Otman Gajiji, former chairman of the Libyan High National Election Commission, cast doubt on the possibility that Libyans will manage to vote freely and fairly at all.
Not only do Libyans not have enough time to familiarize themselves with the dozens of candidates currently in the running for election, he said, but a series of attacks on polling stations are a grim omen for voting day.
“There are new unofficial reports that four polling stations were attacked by armed groups in Aziziya, and one was in Tripoli — all voter cards, or most of the voter cards, were taken by these armed groups. For me that is a very bad sign,” Gajiji said.
He added: “We are 22 days, three weeks, ahead of the elections. Such events are not a good indicator for the near future, or for the future of the elections.”
BEIRUT: Elections held by professional syndicates in Lebanon over the past few weeks have not ended in tangible change.
The results of polls for the Lebanese bar associations, the Order of Pharmacists of Lebanon, and the Lebanese Press Editors’ Syndicate returned expected candidates, while the elections of the Lebanese Dental Association were suspended after a fight broke out between members.
Hezbollah members, meanwhile, entered the vote counting hall and proceeded to destroy ballot boxes.
However, the elections of the Order of Engineers and Architects saw the only official breach for the opposition candidates.
The last of these elections were those of the Press Editors’ Syndicate, which was held on Wednesday and saw an unprecedented voter turnout exceeding 73 percent. Twenty-seven candidates contested 12 seats on the syndicate’s council.
Joseph Kosseifi, the re-elected head of the syndicate, told Arab News that “journalists are part of this Lebanese society, but the syndicate is not politicized. It is the least politicized of the liberal professions syndicates. It is normal for journalists to have political tendencies, however, the work of the syndicate is related to the profession.”
Many of the candidates had called for change. May Abi Akl, who scored the second largest number of votes among the candidates who lost, was one of them. She noted that her decision to run for election “aimed at bringing about change within the Press Editors’ Syndicate and preventing the election of a closed list that only represents itself. Our objective was to introduce new blood into the syndicate and we were able to stir up the still water.”
As the results were announced on Wednesday night, the opposition candidates chanted “down with the rule of the ruling class.” However, Kosseifi said: “Whoever wants real change has to be a partner within the public assemblies and this is not happening. All the revolution on the streets was able to achieve is make people protest and scream. Apart from that, they failed to achieve a qualitative breach.”
Activist Dr. Ziad Abdel Samad said that “the elections of the liberal professions syndicates gave indications regarding the alignment of the ruling parties. Their performance was not good, even among themselves. We saw the Shiite duo, the Amal Movement and Hezbollah, working alone, while the Future Movement-Progressive Socialist Party alliance was somewhere else. On the other hand, the weakness of the ruling parties was not matched by a unified opposition.
“There are two opinions within the opposition. Some say that holding on to pure opposition will not achieve anything and that it sometimes needs an alliance with the opposing political forces to bring down the symbols of the ruling class. For example, an alliance between the opposition forces and the Kataeb Party could make a difference in regards to removing the representatives of the Free Patriotic Movement. However, others stress the importance of unifying all of the forces that are not part of the ruling class to be able to confront it,” Abdel Samad explained.
Electoral expert Zeina El-Helou told Arab News: “The political forces, no matter how opposed to the ruling class, want to build an alliance with me in order to take from me, not to give me. There are fundamental differences between the forces of the revolution and the opposing political forces. We do not agree on any political objective. How can we be their allies? They tell us to be their allies now and oppose them in Parliament. Does that mean that we are replacing one party of the ruling class with another party? We do not want to fight battles in Parliament. We want the Parliament to work. We want to make changes.”


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