Iran closes businesses, curtails travel amid virus surge

People walk through the closed Tehran's Grand Bazaar, Iran's main business and trade hub, Satuday, Nov. 21, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 21 November 2020

Iran closes businesses, curtails travel amid virus surge

  • The new lockdown measures, which include shuttering most businesses, shops, malls, and restaurants, include Iran’s largest cities of Mashhad, Isfahan, and Shiraz
  • President Rouhani in a speech urged people to follow the measures to help “lessen the death toll”

TEHRAN: Iran on Saturday shuttered businesses and curtailed travel between its major cities, including the capital of Tehran, as it grapples with the worst outbreak of the coronavirus in the Mideast region.
Top Iranian officials initially downplayed the risks posed by the virus outbreak, before recently urging the public to follow measures like wearing masks and avoiding unessential travel.
Iran has recorded daily death tolls of above 430 over the past five days. The Iranian Health Ministry said on Saturday that the total number of confirmed cases has risen to above 840,000.
The new lockdown measures, which include shuttering most businesses, shops, malls, and restaurants, include Iran’s largest cities of Mashhad, Isfahan, and Shiraz. Iranian authorities have designated the nearly 160 towns and cities affected as hot spots because these urban centers have the highest daily per capita positive coronavirus test results.
On Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a televised speech urged people to follow the measures to help “lessen the death toll.” He added that the government plans to supply cash subsidies to Iran’s 30 million poorest people for four months to help them to manage the economic fallout from the new outbreak.
The latest round of restrictions to stem the outbreak came as a spat among top Iranian health officials led to the resignation of at least two officials.
Iranian newspapers said Saturday that the deputy health minister in charge of research, Reza Malekzadeh, resigned from his post in reaction to recent remarks by the Minister of Health Saeed Namaki, who said government-led research projects were not successfully addressing the current needs of the ministry.
In reply, Malekzadeh in his resignation letter criticized government’s mismanagement of the virus outbreak as leading to a “large number of human deaths.”
Iranian news websites also said that Ali Nobakht, an adviser to the health minister, resigned over similar reasons, without providing further details.
In Tehran, the head of the city’s chamber of commerce, Qassem Nodeh, said that the restrictions will lead to the closure of 70% of business in the capital and its surrounding areas.
Manoochehr Nassiri, who runs a lighting shop in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, complained about the closures.
“We shop owners don’t know what to do, considering the economic situation of the country,” he said standing outside his shuttered store.
The closures are set to last two weeks but can be automatically extended.
Beginning on Saturday, government offices that provide essential public services — including banks, post offices, communications and utilities services — will continue their work with half of the regular number of staff. All other government offices will continue working with one third of their staff.
All schools in the capital will also be closed and required to switch to virtual instruction by Internet. Authorities will also close shrines in Tehran and cancel mass prayers in mosques, though it was not immediately clear if the same restrictions would apply in other cities, including the holy city of Mashhad.
Any travel between the affected cities by private car is also suspended. Public transportation will be available but the use of private cars is banned between 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.
People who have tested positive for the virus are required to stay at home and can face a roughly $8 cash fine if they appear in public.
Media organizations, construction jobs, agriculture, heavy industry, and services for the elderly and assisted living are largely exempt from the closures.
Iran has avoided the full lockdowns seen in other countries as it struggles to keep its faltering economy alive in the face of crushing US sanctions. President Donald Trump re-imposed sweeping sanctions on the country after withdrawing from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.


Egyptian festival celebrates Aragouz traditions

Updated 25 November 2020

Egyptian festival celebrates Aragouz traditions

  • The festival this year sheds light on the creative icons that inspired the aragouz

CAIRO: The second Egyptian Aragouz Festival has opened on Nov. 24, at the ancient Bayt Al-Sinnari, in Cairo. The aragouz is a traditional puppet figure dressed in red invented by Egyptians to ridicule situations comically.

Khaled Bahgat, a professor of theater at Helwan University and the founder of the festival and the Wamda Troupe for Aragouz and Shadow Puppets, said the festival is part of the initiative to preserve the Egyptian aragouz, after it was recognized by UNESCO in 2018 as one of the most important Egyptian artistic elements. He said that he wants the Egyptian art of aragouz to reach the world because it is an ancient Egyptian art.

The festival this year sheds light on the creative icons that inspired the aragouz.

The festival opened with a tribute to the great Egyptian creator Abu Al-Saud Al-Abyari in a reading of his story “Aragouz, Author and Idea,” which he published in 1953. Al-Aragouz was an important source of creativity for Al-Abyari.

The reading was followed by entries exploring how the art of aragouz shaped Egyptian comedy in the twentieth century.

The day closed with puppet performances of “The social media aragouz,” which reflected the impact of social media, directed by Ali Abu Zeid, and “The aragouz in the city,” directed by Nabil Bahgat.

On the second day, Reem Heggab will honor her father the late Egyptian poet Said Heggab, reciting one of his poems on the aragouz. This will be followed by two aragouz shows, “The Take Away,” directed by Mahmoud Sayed Hanafi, and “Aragouz, the Land of Myths.”

On Thursday, the theater department of the University of Alexandria will celebrate the aragouz with a lecture by Hany Abou El-Hassan, the head of the department, a workshop and a performance titled “Lorca and the aragouz,” directed by Nabil Bahgat and presented by the Wamda Troupe.

The performance honors the creativity of the Spanish poet and innovator Federico García Lorca, and will be held in the presence of the Spanish cultural attache.

The fourth day of the festival will honor the poet Fouad Haddad, whose son Amin Haddad will recite several poems from his father’s book of poetry entitiled Al-Aragouz. The poetry reading will be followed by a discussion.

Then there will be performances of “Aragouz Al Sima,” directed by Mustafa Al-Sabbagh, and “Al-Aragouz in Danger,” which deals with the greatest challenges facing the art of aragouz.

On the last day, the Faculty of Arts at Helwan University and the Department of Theater Sciences’ troupe will hold an open seminar with the department’s students to discuss ways to preserve the Egyptian aragouz.

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