How Albania’s history can inspire people of Middle Eastern states in turmoil

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Updated 18 September 2022
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How Albania’s history can inspire people of Middle Eastern states in turmoil

  • Ferit Hoxha, Albania’s permanent representative to UN, recalls two different eras: before and after communism
  • Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries can help to imbue other Middle Eastern countries with positive energy

NEW YORK CITY: There are few forms of human suffering in the world today that the Balkan country of Albania had not known along its tortured path through the 20th century.

It experienced North Korea-style isolation when the repressive Stalinist dictatorship that ruled it from 1945 to 1985 cut the country off from outside information and influences, on top of Albania’s drawback of being a historically obscure and inaccessible country.

Absolute leader Enver Hoxha cut ties not only with the West, but also with the former Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union itself, and eventually China.

Under his 41-year rule, Albanians had known what contemporary Syrians know all too well: The cruelty and absurdity of life under a totalitarian regime, with countless deaths and forced disappearance of loved ones into prison camps, all while the rest of the country plunged into economic destitution and misery.




Albania's head of state Enver Hoxha votes on November 1978. ( AFP)

Similar to the Lebanese and the Yemenis of today, the people of Albania then had known only a life of queues for bread and fuel.

The big Ponzi scheme the Lebanese awoke to and have continued to reel under since 2019, has a precedent in Albania as well. In the 1990s, the country was convulsed by the dramatic rise and collapse of pyramid schemes, but in a more literal sense.

Hundreds of thousands of Albanians lost their savings. When the schemes collapsed, riots erupted across the country, the government fell, the nation descended into anarchy, and a near civil war ensued in which 2,000 Albanians were killed.

And similar to the Afghans, the Ukrainians, and the more than 200 million other migrants on the move in the world today, Albanians are familiar with the pain of exile and displacement. During the civil war, they fled the country en masse. Many Albanians trying to escape were shot. Again, in the late 1990s, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians fled Kosovo to escape marauding Serbian forces.

But then came the rupture. In December 1990, just over a year after the Berlin wall was torn down, the communist government of Albania fell, ushering in the end of history after which Albania could follow only one path: Toward capitalism, democracy, and freedom.

Ferit Hoxha, Albania’s permanent representative to the UN, clearly remembers a world that was violently split asunder into two: Before and after authoritarian communism.

He told Arab News: “I grew up in a country where you have one newspaper, one voice, one line, and you are not allowed to think. I was told by my parents to think twice about what I said and to whom I said it.”

Freedom, he said, begins “when you put in doubt what you hear. Freedom does not mean that you can do everything you want. No. Freedom is built through institutions, laws, rules, accountability, justice.”

The search for freedom has a deep resonance in a country such as Albania, the chronicle of whose political history, according to Hoxha, has a recurrent theme: Domination.

“Through centuries, Albanians have fought to really find their place, their rights, and to define their future. They have not always had the chance,” he added. And he noted that Albanians had always resisted through “language, culture, identity.”

He recalled a time when his country was a pariah in the world. “And of course, when you are a small country and not an important one as we were at the time, you just get forgotten. You may think of yourself as the center of the world, but in reality, you are forgotten.”




Images of Roman Catholic clerics killed or persecuted in Albania, ahead of a visit Pope Francis in 2014. Under communism, Albania banned all religion and sought to suppress faith leaders for decades. (AFP)

Thirty years later Albania is anything but forgotten. As the world experiences unprecedented upheaval, with woes ranging from the coronavirus pandemic and war in Ukraine to the drought and imminent famine in Somalia, Albania has been one of the loudest voices championing the underdogs from its seat in the UN Security Council.

Member countries, who often campaign for a seat for years, have a say in peacekeeping missions and the council’s other approaches to conflict hotspots, plus a strong voice on issues of international peace and security.

What in the past 30 years transformed Albania from a pariah state to a vocal advocate of universal values on the international stage? What happened along the way?

Hoxha said: “What happened was transformation. The progress and change seen (in the early 1990s) were like nothing else Albania has known for the past 2,500 years. So sweeping was the change, so strong was the desire, and so profound was the transformation.”

He is aware that Albania’s painful past will sound familiar to people in many countries even in these post-modern times.




Albania’s Permanent UN Representative Ferit Hoxha during an interview with Arab News at the UN General Assembly. (AN Photo)

His impassioned speeches at the Security Council carry within them the conviction of lived experience. When he enshrines the UN Charter and universal principles in his statements, they take on a renewed meaning. His words in the chamber have the ring of truth and clarity.

During a recent Security Council meeting on Syria, for instance, Hoxha began by saying that there was no other place in the world where the expression “no end in sight” applies to than Syria.

He pointed out that after 11 years of violence and “everything in the book of crimes committed by many but especially by that regime that started it all,” the solution in Syria now hinged crucially on the political process, “and I don’t think there will be a meaningful political process without accountability.”

Hoxha added: “If I were a senior citizen (in Syria) today, despite how much I might have suffered, despite how many members of my family might have died or are missing among those 130,000 people who are unaccounted for, and despite many members of my family being in the notorious prisons of the regime, I will ask one question: Can I build my future with the same people? Can I build my future with the same domination of one part of the country over everything else?

“If the answer is yes, then we are going to see the next chapter of the war begin.

“Because there is one thing that we have learned from Albania’s thousands of years of domination: That at the end of the day, whatever we do, people want freedom, peace, and prosperity. Deep down you have that boiling desire to really live a dignified life. And there is no human being on Earth that would like to live without a minimum of dignity.

“That’s why for me, without accountability, Syria will not see an end.”




An officer salutes members of Albania's sole military academy train 30 kilometers from Tirana, preparing themselves to work with the international force to be deployed in the country. (AFP/File Photo) 

From Palestine to Yemen, Libya and Lebanon, there was a common thread, according to Hoxha, and that was “instability.” Although each situation was unique, Hoxha laid the blame for instability at the feet of the political classes who had failed to come together or move on from their own narrow interests to those of their people and country.

“That’s one big weakness of the political class. When the political class is not really able to come together, then you have weak institutions which do not permit the country to really move forward.

“So, there is one big test of maturity for many countries to acquire: Do we want to build things for all of us, or just for some of us?”

That, he said, was the case in Yemen, for example, where a “big drive” of investment in a process initiated by the Yemeni political class would provide a buffer against and significantly weaken the many external influences of self-seeking countries that were bearing upon the Yemenis.

“That’s why now we are so eager to support the truce, extend it, and resolve the remaining issues, such as the closure of roads in and out of Taiz, the Houthis’ lack of cooperation, and so on.

“The objective is to get the necessary attention and support by the council. The support of the Security Council is crucial because it is that kind of positive tsunami you cannot go against,” Hoxha added.

There is one thing that we have learned from Albania’s thousands of years of domination: That at the end of the day, whatever we do, people want freedom, peace, and prosperity.

Ferit Hoxha, Albania’s permanent representative to UN

In Libya, the problem was legitimacy, according to Hoxha.

“Today, we have two governments in Libya, two parallel settings, and nothing good can come out of that until some legitimacy is restored.

“Everywhere we have seen seizure of power by force or by other means, or by proxies, that hasn’t lasted. It may have lasted for a certain time, but it failed to win the hearts and the minds of the people.”

Just like Albania had friends that stood by its people as they scrambled to find their bearings in a new world after years of isolation, Hoxha believes the Middle East can benefit from the “positive energy” that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries can radiate into an otherwise miserable region.

Hoxha pointed out that their role was nowhere else as needed as it was in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

He described Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf countries as important players who were becoming more active.




A handful of Albanian communists shout slogans holding a portrait of late Albanian communist dictator Enver Hoxha during a May Day march in Tirana on May 1, 2016. (AFP)

“They can be extremely helpful in advancing not only the cause of women, peace and security, and advancing rights everywhere, but also, more than anything else, they can help to infuse the countries of the wider Middle East with positive energy, to enable them to get out of the rut in which they have been stuck for the past 70 years or more.”

Hoxha said the power of Gulf countries was “immense,” their influence was growing, and their ability was there, but that they needed to act in a more coordinated way.

“Because they are important per se, but they also have friends and relations with other powers. And I hope this is used not only bilaterally, but regionally and globally to really push for peace and a solution for the Middle East.

“We are asking for a bigger, more coordinated role with other actors in making sure that we have a process that would really help everyone to move forward in the most complex and the most tragic conflict that we have known since the Second World War, which is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he added.

 


Outstanding female achievement recognized at 10th Arab Women of the Year ceremony in London

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Outstanding female achievement recognized at 10th Arab Women of the Year ceremony in London

LONDON: Arab women from diverse professional backgrounds were honored for their global achievements at an annual awards ceremony in London, with Saudi Arabia leading the praise for female empowerment.

The 10th Arab Women of the Year Awards, organized by the UK-based London Arabia Organization, this year celebrated eight females for their achievements in business leadership, research and development, creativity, cultural pioneering, social development, cultural exchange, cybersecurity education, and humanitarian aid.

Omar Bdour, chief executive officer of the organization, said: “We don’t set a category, because we want every woman to go to our website for nominations and feel that she’s not pushed away, so it’s open to all fields and anyone can nominate anyone.”

This year saw the entry of new categories in creativity, as well as cybersecurity education, he told Arab News during the ceremony that was hosted at the Carlton Tower Jumeirah on Wednesday. Through the awards, organizers aim to strengthen UK-Arab ties by focusing on empowering Arab women worldwide.

Winners with their award at the 10th Arab Women of the Year Awards. (Supplied)

Princess Noura bint Faisal Al-Saud, founder of Saudi Fashion Week and the Global Culture House, a Saudi boutique consultancy, thanked King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “for their vision and enablement of women with the minister of culture.”

The princess dedicated her award in cultural pioneering to “all the women out there.”

She said: “I was recently in the public sector, so I owe this to the Ministry of Culture for furthering my career, as well as from a personal perspective, my dear parents and siblings, and the other people that have supported my career growth through partnerships and opportunities.”

Princess Noura joined the ministry in 2019 where she headed strategy development for the Kingdom’s fashion sector and helped support and nurture local talent.

Winner of the social development achievement went to Emirati Khuloud Hassan Al-Nuwais, a businesswoman and strategist who has been profiled as one of the UAE’s inspirational leaders in 2014 and played a key role in establishing the Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Foundation, a national charity dedicated to facilitating public-private social development programs and initiatives.

To mark the 10th anniversary of the awards, organizers decided to host the first annual Arab Women’s Summit on Thursday at Lancaster House. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)

“My journey from the private sector to philanthropy was a decision driven by a desire to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others.

“Our leadership’s commitment to empowering women in the UAE has given me the opportunity to grow, to give and to serve as I reflect on this journey,” Al-Nuwais said.

Baria Alamuddin, a member of the organization’s advisory board, said: “(Awards that celebrate) successful women give them a lot of confidence, a lot of things to look forward to.

“I think in the Arab world we need it, because for a long time women in the Arab world have been brought up (to believe) that the brother and the boy can do more things and are more important.”

A writer and journalist, she noted that Arab societies were “reaching some kind of an equilibrium,” but that Arab women still “lacked a bit of self-confidence.”

Bahraini ambassador to UK Fawaz bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa with an award winner. (Supplied)

On the awards’ cybersecurity category, she added: “It is extremely important in our part of the world (and) we need it because, as you know, this is almost the new enemy in the new world, and we cannot live without our internet and our connections.”

Alamuddin also called for equal opportunities for women in computer programming, journalism, the army, parliament, and many other fields.

And she praised the increase in Saudi female participation in the workforce, currently running at 34 percent, which had already surpassed the Vision 2030 target of 30 percent of the labor market.

“What I like about Saudi women is their passion. They really want to arrive, they really want to succeed, they really want to be firm believers, and they’re not only proud of their country, but also to participate in the development of their country and the Arab world at large,” Alamuddin said.

London Arabia annually hosts sessions at the British Parliament and various universities on the sidelines of the awards ceremony, but this year, to mark the 10th anniversary, organizers decided to host the first annual Arab Women’s Summit on Thursday at Lancaster House with former UK Prime Minister Theresa May as headline speaker.

Baria Alamuddin (C), a member of the organization’s advisory board, spoke at the Arab Women’s Summit. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)

Kiran Haslam, chief marketing officer for the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, a key sponsor of the event, said: “It’s a very important summit and some of the discussion points that we’ve had, the recipients of the awards from the ceremony, which was absolutely sensational to experience, and to hear their own words of what motivated them and drove them to succeed in the way that they have, was absolutely fantastic.”

He pointed out that the two-day event took seriously the opportunity, vision, and ambition of the Kingdom under the country’s leadership.

“What we have is an extraordinary development in society which sees 85 percent of the workforce in Diriyah being Saudi, 36 percent being female, 16 percent of the female population of employees we have are in senior leadership positions, which is a real testament to the vision and the ambition and sees really delivering the Diriyah project through extremely authentic eyes, hearts, and minds.

“The entire Vision 2030 path that has been laid is unlocking so many very special ways in which society is developing.

“I encounter young Saudi women all across the world who are being recognized and awarded for exceptional things, their exceptional perseverance, their intellect, dedication, and focus on particular subjects and causes,” Haslam added.


Bangkok lab leads ‘halal science’ development as Thailand seeks to become industry hub

Researchers work at the Halal Science Center in Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok on Feb. 22, 2024. (AN photo)
Updated 03 March 2024
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Bangkok lab leads ‘halal science’ development as Thailand seeks to become industry hub

  • Thailand is seeking to become a regional halal hub, increase halal exports
  • Bangkok center in talks with SFDA to establish halal science lab in Saudi Arabia

BANGKOK: For the last two decades, Dr. Winai Dahlan has helmed the development of halal research initiatives in Buddhist-majority Thailand to ensure food safety standards that conform with Islamic laws. 

The country’s start in halal science began as an answer to increasing calls by Thai Muslims for scientific testing in halal food development in the late 1990s after the discovery of beef sausage products for Muslim consumers that were tainted with pork caused an uproar. 

The demands of Muslim consumers in the country, which make up about 5 percent of Thailand’s 66 million population, along with increased awareness of halal standards, led to the establishment of a halal research center at the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. 

“When the Thailand policymakers realized the significance of the science … Chulalongkorn University (and) myself at that time … established a small laboratory in the Faculty of Allied Health Science,” Dahlan, who is the center’s director, told Arab News. 

That small lab eventually became a full-scale facility, with the government granting a budget for the public university to do so following controversies related to halal food products in the region.

“In that year, 2003, Thailand finally had the first halal laboratory.” 

The center, which operates under the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, is the only one of its kind in Thailand and has been dubbed the world’s first halal science institution. 

It developed the standardization known as HAL-Q, or the Halal Assurance, Liability-Quality System, which has been adopted to integrate halal standards into food safety and is used by more than 770 factories employing more than 200,000 people across the kingdom. 

Dahlan’s team had worked on the Shariah-compliant ICT Logistics Kontrol system, or SILK, an information technology system developed for the halal supply chain, logistics and traceability management that is also compatible with HAL-Q. 

They also developed the Halal Route app, which will soon be launched in Arabic and functions as a directory and review platform for Muslim travelers to easily find mosques and halal restaurants when visiting Thailand. 

The Halal Science Center’s leading role in the field also provides an economic opportunity for Thailand, at a time when the government is seeking to boost the country’s halal exports. 

“Thailand has great potential for becoming a regional halal hub because of its abundance of raw materials to produce halal food in response to the demands of many countries worldwide,” the Thai government’s public relations department said in a statement issued on Feb. 27. 

“Thailand also has great opportunities to increase its halal exports to both Muslim and non-Muslim countries.” 

Thai exports of halal food products reached around 217 billion baht ($6 billion) in the first 11 months of 2023, growing 2.6 percent compared to the same period in the previous year, with over 15,000 halal food producers in the country, according to official data. 

Many countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines, have set up strategies to tap into the thriving global halal market, which is estimated to be worth more than $7 trillion. 

But in Thailand, there is still a need to educate the private sector on halal-related matters, Dahlan said. 

“I think (this is) very important in order to boost up the total exports to Muslim countries … We still have room for expanding our product to the Middle East.” 

Dahlan has grown more optimistic with recent developments in Saudi-Thai relations, which were officially restored in 2022. 

“After that, it’s like (a) broken dam, water comes (out), big flood of Saudi tourists to Thailand … We have a very high expectation for the relationship, and also for the export,” Dahlan said. 

Since then, the center has taken part in the Thailand Mega Fair 2023 in Riyadh, during which Dahlan gave a lecture on the nation’s halal science development. He said the center is also in talks with the Saudi Food and Drug Authority about establishing a halal science laboratory in Saudi Arabia. 

“From the Thai side, especially for the Muslims in Thailand, they are so excited. We have been waiting for 32 years for the normal relationship between Thailand and Saudi Arabia.”


Shehbaz Sharif becomes prime minister of Pakistan, nation politically divided and in economic crisis

Updated 03 March 2024
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Shehbaz Sharif becomes prime minister of Pakistan, nation politically divided and in economic crisis

  • New PM will have to tackle tough opposition, maintain relations with army and fix security and financial problems
  • Lowering political temperatures will be key challenge for Sharif as ex-PM Khan maintains mass support in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s newly elected lower house of parliament on Sunday elected Shehbaz Sharif as prime minister for a second time, putting him back in a role he had stepped down from ahead of general elections on Feb. 8. 

Sharif, the candidate for his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and coalition allies, secured a comfortable win over Omar Ayub Khan of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) backed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of jailed former PM Imran Khan. 

Elections last month threw up a hung National Assembly and have been followed by weeks of protests by opposition parties over allegations of rigging and vote count fraud. 

In his first speech as PM, Sharif, 72, spoke of Pakistan’s burgeoning debt, saying it would be his government’s top priority to solve the economic struggles of the nation of 241 million people. 

“The parliament that we are sitting in, even the expenses of its proceedings are being paid through loans … Your salary and the salaries of all these people are being paid through loans,” the new PM said, as PML-N lawmekers cheered and opposition members chanted slogans against the leader of the house. 

“We will make Pakistan great and raise our heads high and move forward.”

Sharif, the younger brother of former three-time premier Nawaz Sharif, played a key role in keeping together a coalition of disparate parties for 16 months after parliament voted Imran Khan out of office in April 2022, and in securing a last gasp International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout deal in 2023. 

 

“CHALLENGES” 

Independent candidates backed by Khan gained the most seats, 93, after the elections, but the PML-N and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of the Bhutto dynasty agreed to an alliance to form a coalition government on Feb. 20. No single party won a majority.

The Sunni Ittehad Council backed by Khan alleges that the election was rigged against it and has called for an audit of the polls. Lowering political temperatures will thus be a key challenge for Sharif as Khan maintains mass popular support in Pakistan, and a continued crackdown on his party and his remaining in jail would likely stoke tensions at a time when stability is needed to attract foreign investment to shore up the economy.

Sharif’s main role will also be to maintain ties with the military, which has directly or indirectly dominated Pakistan since independence. Unlike his elder brother, who has had a rocky relationship with the military in all his three terms, the younger Sharif is considered more acceptable and compliant by the generals, most independent analysts say.

For several years, the military has denied it interferes in politics. But it has in the past directly intervened to topple civilian governments three times, and no prime minister has finished a full five-year term since independence in 1947.

Sharif also takes over a time when the new government will need to take tough decisions to steer the country out of financial crisis, including negotiating a new bailout deal with the IMF. The current IMF program expires this month. A new program will mean committing to steps needed to stay on a narrow path to recovery, but which will limit policy options to provide relief to a deeply frustrated population and cater to industries that are looking for government support to spur growth. 

Inflation touched a high of 38 percent with record depreciation of the rupee currency under Sharif’s last government, mainly due to structural reforms necessitated by the IMF program. Pakistan continues to be enmeshed in economic crisis with inflation remaining high, hovering around 30 percent, and economic growth slowing to around 2 percent.

Other big moves by Sharif will include the privatization of loss-making state-owned enterprises such as the flagship carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). The Sharifs have close ties with rulers in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which could help in securing investments in several projects Pakistan has lately showcased for sale.

Although defense and key foreign policy decisions are largely influenced by the military, Sharif will have to juggle relations with the US and China, both major allies. He is also faced with dealing with fraying ties with three of Pakistan’s four neighbors, India, Iran and Afghanistan.

Pakistan is also facing a troubling rise in militancy, which Sharif’s government will have to immediately tackle. 

“There are certainly difficulties but nothing is impossible if there is a will to do,” Sharif said in his maiden speech. 

“It is a long journey, thorny journey, full of hurdles but those nations who surmounted these huge obstacles, they became again, one of the most growing nations around the world.”

“CAN DO ADMINISTRATOR” 

Sharif, born in the eastern city of Lahore, belongs to a wealthy Kashmiri-origin family that was in the steel business. He started his political career as the chief minister of Punjab in 1997 with a signature “can-do” administrative style. Cabinet members and bureaucrats who have worked closely with him call him a workaholic.

As chief minister, the younger Sharif planned and executed a number of ambitious infrastructure mega-projects, including Pakistan’s first modern mass transport system in Lahore.

He was caught up in the national political upheaval when his brother was ousted from the premiership by a military coup in 1999 and he went into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Sharif entered the national political scene again when he became the chief of the PML-N after the elder Sharif was found guilty in 2017 on charges of concealing assets related to the Panama Papers revelations. The Sharifs have been emboriled in multiple corruption cases over the decades, which they say are politically motivated. 

Married twice, Shehbaz Sharif has two sons and two daughters from his first marriage. Only one of his sons, Hamza, is in politics and was briefly CM of Punjab in 2023.

With inputs from Reuters


A party like no other? Asia’s richest man celebrates son’s prenuptials with a star-studded bash

Updated 03 March 2024
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A party like no other? Asia’s richest man celebrates son’s prenuptials with a star-studded bash

  • Tycoons from around the world, heads of state and celebrities arrived in Jamnagar for Anant Ambani’s big fat wedding
  • Ambani family has a tradition of throwing lavish and over-the-top parties while displaying family’s political and economic clout

NEW DELHI: What happens when the son of Asia’s richest man is about to get married?
His father throws a three-day prenuptial bash four months before the actual ceremony.
Tycoons from around the world, heads of state, as well as Hollywood and Bollywood stars descended on the small western Indian city of Jamnagar on Friday where billionaire industrialist Mukesh Ambani is kickstarting a big fat wedding celebration for his youngest son.

This handout photograph taken and released by Reliance on March 1, 2024, shows Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg (L) with his wife Priscilla Chan attending a three-day pre-wedding celebration hosted by billionaire tycoon Mukesh Ambani, for his son Anant Ambani and Radhika Merchant in Jamnagar. (AFP)


The nearly 1,200-person guest list includes pop superstar Rihanna, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Sunder Picha, Ivanka Trump and Bollywood celebrity Shah Rukh Khan.
All eyes are on Anant Ambani, 28, and his long-time girlfriend Radhika Merchant, 29, who will tie the knot in July. Radhika is the daughter of Viren Merchant, CEO of Encore Healthcare Pvt. Ltd., and entrepreneur Shaila Merchant.
Such festivities keep up with the Ambani family’s tradition of lavish and over-the-top parties while displaying the Indian billionaire’s economic and political clout.

This handout photograph taken and released by Reliance on March 1, 2024, shows Ivanka Trump (2R), daughter of US' former president Donald Trump with husband Jared Kushner (L), a White House adviser under Trump attending a three-day pre-wedding celebration hosted by billionaire tycoon Mukesh Ambani (R), for his son Anant Ambani and Radhika Merchant in Jamnagar. (AFP)


Here is everything you need to know about the family and the prenuptial bash that captivated the country.
WHO IS MUKESH AMBANI?
Mukesh Ambani, 66, is currently the world’s 10th richest man with a net worth of $115bn, according to Forbes. He is also the richest person in Asia.
His Reliance Industries is a massive conglomerate, reporting over $100 billion in annual revenue, with interests ranging from petrochemicals, and oil and gas to telecoms and retail.

This handout photograph taken and released by Reliance on March 1, 2024, shows director at Reliance's new energy business and Reliance Foundation Anant Ambani (R), son of billionaire tycoon Mukesh Ambani, with his fiancée Radhika Merchant addressing guests during their three-day pre-wedding celebration in Jamnagar. (AFP)


Under Ambani’s leadership, Reliance — founded by his father in 1966 — sparked a telecom price war with the launch of the 4G phone and broadband service Jio in 2016. Today, it has more than 420 million subscribers and offers 5G services. Earlier this week, Disney struck an $8.5bn deal to merge its India business with Ambani’s Reliance Industries, forming a new media giant.
The Ambani family owns, among other assets, a 27-story private apartment building, named Antila, worth $1 billion in Mumbai. It has three helipads, a 160-car garage, a private movie theater, a swimming pool, and a fitness center.
Ambani’s critics say his company has flourished mainly because of political connections during the Congress governments in the 1970s and 80s and subsequently under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rule after 2014. They say “crony capitalism” in India has helped certain corporations, such as Ambani’s, thrive.
Mukesh Ambani, 66, has started passing the torch to his two sons and daughter. The oldest son, Akash Ambani, is now chairperson of Reliance Jio; his daughter, Isha, oversees retail; and the youngest, Anant — who will wed in July— has been inducted into the new energy business.
DO YOU WANT A PARTY LIKE NO OTHER? THE AMBANIS HAVE YOUR BACK
Extravagant parties are the Ambanis’ specialty.
In 2018, when his daughter married, Ambani made the headlines because of the grand celebrations, with pop sensation Beyoncé performing at the pre-wedding festivities. At the time, Former US Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry were among those who rubbed shoulders with Indian celebrities and Bollywood stars in the western Indian city of Udaipur.

Indian businessman Mukesh Ambani (R) with wife Nita Ambani attends the wedding reception his daughter Isha Ambani (2nd R) who wedded Anand Piramal (R), son of Indian billionaire industrialist Ajay Piramal, in Mumbai on December 14, 2018. (AFP)


Later that year, the happy couple, Isha Ambani and Anand Piramal, officially celebrated their engagement overlooking the picturesque Lake Como in Italy. In December 2018, they got married at the Ambani residence in Mumbai.
WHAT IS SO FASCINATING ABOUT THE PRE-WEDDING SHINDIG?
The three-day pre-wedding bash offers a glimpse of the opulence expected at the July wedding.
The Ambanis are celebrating it at the family’s hometown of Jamnagar — a city of around 600,000 in a near-desert part of Gujarat state — where they also have the business’ main oil refinery.
Guests will don jungle-themed outfits to visit an animal rescue center run by the groom-to-be, Anant. Known as “Vantara,” or “Star Of The Forest,” the 3,000-acre (about 1,200-hectare) center houses abused, injured and endangered animals, particularly elephants.

This handout photograph taken and released by Reliance on March 1, 2024, shows Bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan (C) with his wife and actress Kareena Kapoor Khan (2L) upon their arrival at Jamnagar Airport in Jamnagar, to attend a three-day pre-wedding celebration hosted by billionaire tycoon Mukesh Ambani, for his son Anant Ambani and Radhika Merchant. (AFP)


The invitation also says guests will start each day with a new dress code, with mood boards and an army of hair stylists, makeup artists and Indian wear designers at their hotel to help them prepare.
There will also be traditional Hindu ceremonies in a temple complex.
The guests, many arriving by chartered planes, will be served 500 dishes created by around 100 chefs.
The guest list also includes Mohammed Bin Jassim al Thani, the prime minister of Qatar; Stephen Harper, former Canadian prime minister; and Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema.
On Wednesday, the Ambani family organized a community food service for 51,000 people living in nearby villages. 


Trump wins caucuses in Missouri and Idaho and sweeps Michigan GOP convention

Updated 03 March 2024
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Trump wins caucuses in Missouri and Idaho and sweeps Michigan GOP convention

  • Trump earned every delegate at stake on Saturday, bringing his count to 244 compared to 24 for former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley
  • March 5 is Super Tuesday, when 16 states will hold primaries, the largest day of voting of the year outside of the November election

COLUMBIA, Missouri: Former President Donald Trump continued his march toward the GOP nomination on Saturday, winning caucuses in Idaho and Missouri and sweeping the delegate haul at a party convention in Michigan.

Trump earned every delegate at stake on Saturday, bringing his count to 244 compared to 24 for former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. A candidate needs to secure 1,215 delegates to clinch the Republican nomination.
The next event on the Republican calendar is Sunday in the District of Columbia. Two days later is Super Tuesday, when 16 states will hold primaries on what will be the largest day of voting of the year outside of the November election. Trump is on track to lock up the nomination days later.
The steep odds facing Haley were on display in Columbia, Missouri, where Republicans gathered at a church to caucus.
Seth Christensen stood on stage and called on them to vote for Haley. He wasn’t well received.
Another caucusgoer shouted out from the audience: “Are you a Republican?”
An organizer quieted the crowd and Christensen finished his speech. Haley went on to win just 37 of the 263 Republicans in attendance in Boone County.
Here’s a look at Saturday’s contests:
MICHIGAN

Michigan Republicans at their convention in Grand Rapids began allocating 39 of the state’s 55 GOP presidential delegates. Trump won all 39 delegates allocated.
But a significant portion of the party’s grassroots force was skipping the gathering because of the lingering effects of a monthslong dispute over the party’s leadership.
Trump handily won Michigan’s primary this past Tuesday with 68 percent of the vote compared with Haley’s 27 percent.
Michigan Republicans were forced to split their delegate allocation into two parts after Democrats, who control the state government, moved Michigan into the early primary states, violating the national Republican Party’s rules.
MISSOURI
Voters lined up outside a church in Columbia, home to the University of Missouri, before the doors opened for the caucuses. Once they got inside, they heard appeals from supporters of the candidates.
“Every 100 days, we’re spending $1 trillion, with money going all over the world. Illegals are running across the border,” Tom Mendenall, an elector for Trump in 2016 and 2020, said to the crowd. He later added: “You know where Donald Trump stands on a lot of these issues.”
Christensen, a 31-year-old from Columbia who came to the caucus with his wife and three children age 7, 5, and 2, then urged Republicans to go in a new direction.
“I don’t need to hear about Mr. Trump’s dalliances with people of unsavory character, nor do my children,” Christensen said to the room. “And if we put that man in the office, that’s what we’re going to hear about all the time. And I’m through with it.”
Supporters quickly moved to one side of the room or the other, depending on whether they favored Trump or Haley. There was little discussion between caucusgoers after they chose a side.
This year was the first test of the new system, which is almost entirely run by volunteers on the Republican side.
The caucuses were organized after GOP Gov. Mike Parson signed a 2022 law that, among other things, canceled the planned March 12 presidential primary.
Lawmakers failed to reinstate the primary despite calls to do so by both state Republican and Democratic party leaders. Democrats will hold a party-run primary on March 23.
Trump prevailed twice under Missouri’s old presidential primary system.
IDAHO
Last year, Idaho lawmakers passed cost-cutting legislation that was intended to move all the state’s primaries to the same date in May. But the bill inadvertently eliminated the presidential primaries entirely.
The Republican-led Legislature considered holding a special session to reinstate the presidential primaries but failed to agree on a proposal in time, leaving both parties with presidential caucuses as the only option.
“I think there’s been a lot of confusion because most people don’t realize that our Legislature actually voted in a flawed bill,” said Jessie Bryant, who volunteered at a caucus site near downtown Boise. “So the caucus is really just the best-case scenario to actually get an opportunity to vote for a presidential candidate and nominate them for the GOP.”
One of those voters was John Graves, a fire protection engineer from Boise. He said the caucus was fast and easy, not much different from Idaho’s usual Republican primary. He anticipated the win would go to Trump.
“It’s a very conservative state, so I would think that Trump will probably carry it quite easily,” Graves said. “And I like that.”
The Democratic caucuses aren’t until May 23.
The last GOP caucuses in Idaho were in 2012, when about 40,000 of the state’s nearly 200,000 registered Republican voters showed up to select their preferred