Pro-government marchers call for executions, as protests continue in Iran

Iran has been rocked by street violence that has claimed the lives of dozens people since the death last week of Mahsa Amini, who had been detained for wearing the hijab headscarf in an “improper” way. (AFP)
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Updated 25 September 2022

Pro-government marchers call for executions, as protests continue in Iran

  • Angry protests flared and spread to major cities, including Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz and Tabriz as well as Tehran
  • Security forces fired “semi-heavy weapons” at demonstrators during overnight clashes

TEHRAN: Thousands demonstrated across Iran on Friday at government-backed pro-hijab counter rallies, after a week of bloody protests over the death of a woman arrested for wearing the Islamic headscarf “improperly.”
At least 50 people have been killed by security forces in the anti-government protests, Iran Human Rights, an Oslo-based organization, said on Friday.

Meanwhile, state media has reported that at least 35 have been killed in more than a week of protests that erupted in Iran after the death of a young woman in police custody.
“The number of people who died in recent riots in the country has risen to 35 people,” the Borna news agency, which is affiliated to the sports ministry, said late Friday, citing state television.

The street violence, which IHR says has spread to 80 towns and cities, was triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurd who had spent three days in a coma after being detained by the morality police in Tehran.
As part of the crackdown, Iran has imposed tough restrictions on the use of the Internet in a bid to hamper protesters gathering and stop the flow of images of the backlash from reaching the outside world.
The US announced Friday it was easing export restrictions on Iran to expand Internet services, days after SpaceX owner Elon Musk said he would seek an exemption from sanctions to offer his company’s Starlink satellite service in the Islamic republic.
The new measure will allow technology companies to “expand the range of Internet services available to Iranians,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said.
On Friday, thousands took to the streets in support of the hijab and a conservative dress code at government-backed counter rallies in Tehran and other cities including Ahvaz, Isfahan, Qom and Tabriz.
“The great demonstration of the Iranian people condemning the conspirators and the sacrileges against religion took place today,” Iran’s Mehr news agency said.
State television broadcast footage of pro-hijab demonstrators in central Tehran, many of them men but also women dressed in black chadors.
Amini died on September 16, three days after she was hospitalized following her arrest by the morality police, the unit responsible for enforcing the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.
Activists said she suffered a blow to the head in custody but this has not been confirmed by the Iranian authorities, who have opened an investigation.
After she was pronounced dead, angry protests flared and spread to major cities, including Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz and Tabriz as well as the capital.
In the latest violence, security forces fired “semi-heavy weapons” at demonstrators during overnight clashes in the northern city of Oshnaviyeh, the Oslo-based Kurdish rights group Hengaw said on Friday. The report could not be independently verified.
In nearby Babol, demonstrators were seen setting ablaze a large billboard bearing the image of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in videos shared online.
Iran Human Rights said that its updated toll of 50 dead included six people who were killed by fire from security forces in the town of Rezvanshahr in the northern Gilan province on Thursday night, while the other deaths were recorded in Babol and Amol.
A previous toll from the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) put the death toll at 36.
Some women demonstrators have defiantly taken off their hijabs and burned them in bonfires or symbolically cut their hair before cheering crowds, video footage spread virally on social media has shown.
Security forces have arrested activists including Majid Tavakoli, who has been repeatedly imprisoned in recent years, including after disputed 2009 elections.
Demonstrators have hurled stones at them, set fire to police cars and chanted anti-government slogans, IRNA reported.
“The government has responded with live ammunition, pellet guns and tear gas, according to videos shared on social media that have also shown protesters bleeding profusely,” the CHRI said.
Internet access has been restricted in what web monitor NetBlocks has called a “curfew-style pattern of disruptions” amid the angry protests sparked by Amini’s death.
“Online platforms remained restricted and connectivity is intermittent for many users and mobile Internet was disrupted for a third day on Friday,” NetBlocks said.
Access to social media services, Instagram and WhatsApp have been blocked since Wednesday night, and connections were still largely disrupted on Friday.
The measure was taken in response to “the actions carried out via these social networks by counter-revolutionaries against national security,” Iran’s Fars news agency said.
President Ebrahim Raisi, at a news conference in New York where he attended the UN General Assembly, said: “We must differentiate between demonstrators and vandalism.”
The unrest comes at a particularly sensitive time for the leadership, as the Iranian economy remains mired in a crisis largely caused by sanctions over its nuclear program.

Jailed ex-Sudanese president a hospitalised - lawyer

Updated 17 sec ago

Jailed ex-Sudanese president a hospitalised - lawyer

KHARTOUM: Jailed former Sudanese president Omar Bashir has been admitted to hospital, his lawyer said on Sunday.
Hashim Abu-Bakr did not specify what condition Bashir was being treated for.

Two killed as demonstrators storm governor’s office in southern Syria

Updated 05 December 2022

Two killed as demonstrators storm governor’s office in southern Syria

JEDDAH: Dozens of demonstrators angry over worsening economic conditions in Syria stormed and ransacked the governor’s office in the southern city of Sweida on Sunday, clashing with police, the authorities and witnesses said.

Earlier, more than 200 people had gathered around the building in the center of the Druze-majority city, chanting slogans calling for the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar Assad, they said, amid spiraling prices and economic hardship.

“Down with Assad,” the crowd chanted. Anti-government protests in state-controlled areas in Syria are not tolerated and rare.

Syria’s pro-regime media said tens of “outlaws” stormed the governor’s office and burned files and official papers.

The Ministry of Interior said they had also tried to seize the city’s police headquarters, and that one policeman was killed in the ensuing clashes.

“We will pursue all the outlaws and take all legal measures against anyone who dares to undermine the security and stability of the province,” the regime’s statement said.

Three witnesses told Reuters the governor was not in the building which was vacated before protesters stormed and ransacked offices.

“The governor’s office was burnt completely from the inside,” said Rayan Maarouf, a civic activist and editor of Suwayda 24, a local website that covers the southern region, who said several people were wounded in the exchange of gunshots.

“There was heavy gunfire,” Maarouf told Reuters, saying it was not clear from where the shooting came in the heavily policed area.

A source in the city hospital said one civilian who was being treated had died from gunshot wounds while another was still in hospital after being shot.

Sweida province has been spared the violence seen in other parts of Syria since the start of the over-decade long conflict that began after pro-democracy protests erupted against Assad’s family rule were violently crushed by security forces.

The minority Druze sect, whose faith draws its roots from Islam, have long resisted being drawn into the Syrian conflict.

Many community leaders and top Druze religious leaders have refused to sanction enlistment in the army.

Syria is in the throes of a deep economic crisis where a majority of people after a devastating conflict that killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions struggle to afford food and basic goods.

Witnesses in Sweida told Reuters that once inside the building, demonstrators brought down pictures of Assad.


How freelancing is reshaping post-pandemic Middle East’s world of work

Updated 04 December 2022

How freelancing is reshaping post-pandemic Middle East’s world of work

  • A survey found that 78 percent of workers in MENA region intended to do more freelancing in 2022
  • The survey also revealed that digital marketing and IT are the fastest-growing industries for freelancers

DUBAI: Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic transformed the norms of working life almost overnight, the trend toward flexible contracts, self-employment and telecommuting has been gathering pace across a host of different sectors.

Many attribute this shift away from the traditional 9 to 5 model and the abrupt decline in workplace attendance to a widespread desire for greater autonomy, geographical mobility, and — above all — a better work-life balance.

In fact, two years of social distancing has left employees reluctant to return to the old ways of working, forcing employers to consider new, fully remote or hybrid models, requiring staff to attend in person for only part of the week.

At the same time, the pandemic has stimulated a growth in cross-border hiring, giving recruiters access to a far larger pool of high-quality talent while also creating a ready supply of freelancers and a segment of the workforce often referred to as digital nomads.

This transition was facilitated through the widespread adoption of online video communication platforms, which allowed face-to-face meetings to continue during lockdowns and travel bans, and which have remained popular ever since.

2.2 million Saudi men and women are now working in the private sector, marking a new record in the Kingdom’s history. (Shutterstock)

“The internet is enabling the creation of labor markets where geography doesn’t matter anymore,” Tarek Salam, head of Middle East and North Africa expansion at Deel, a payroll and compliance provider, told Arab News.

Indeed, flexibility and digitalization of work has created new opportunities for companies anywhere in the world to tap global talent. “Remote work has created a new wave of globalization,” said Salam.

“It’s democratizing access to high-paid opportunities across the globe, meaning that the modern professional can work from anywhere and still have access to a high-paying job in an intellectually stimulating work environment.”

While it is hard to accurately measure the size of this new workforce, industry studies suggest there could be as many as 1.56 billion freelancers worldwide, making up a global market worth $1.5 trillion with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15 percent.

In the Middle East, the trend is on a similar upward trend, with international firms tapping skilled workers based in the region and Middle Eastern companies likewise hiring remote staff overseas.

Najlaa Yousef Safdar, digital development manager at Nafisa Shams, a department under the philanthropic organization Community Jameel Saudi. (Supplied)

“Middle East-based talent has been in high demand from companies based in the US, the UK and Canada, with remote hires at least doubling compared to the same period last year,” said Salam.

A 2022 study by the recruitment website Bayt surveyed 1,764 people in more than 20 countries across the Middle East and North Africa about freelancing trends. It found that 70 percent of MENA employers planned to hire freelancers and about 78 percent of workers intended to do more freelancing in 2022.

The study also showed the fastest-growing industries for freelancers are digital marketing (37 percent) and information technology (20 percent).

To help risk-taking entrants succeed, regional governments and private firms have taken steps to make freelancing both a sustainable career for professionals and an attractive resource for employers.

Najlaa Yousef Safdar, digital development manager at Nafisa Shams, a department under the philanthropic organization Community Jameel Saudi, believes freelancing is a financially viable option for those who want to explore other professional goals.

Industry studies suggest there could be as many as 1.56 billion freelancers worldwide. (Shutterstock)

“This means they can explore a new career, without compromising financial stability,” she told Arab News. “It also means that earning additional income from a hobby or interest becomes a viable option.”

The Saudi government has launched a self-employment program to help workers and budding entrepreneurs realize their ambitions. “To date, the numbers are indicative of great success,” said Safdar.

In a recent statement, Ahmed Al-Rajhi, the Saudi minister of human resources and social development, said a total of 1.85 million freelance work documents have been issued covering 225 professions, distributed over 13 categories and 120 sub-activities.


• 70% MENA region employers who had planned to hire freelancers this year.

• 78 MENA workers who had intended to do more freelancing this year.

• 1.56bn  Estimated population of freelancers worldwide.

•  $1.5tn Estimated value of global market for freelancers.

Source: Survey by Bayt in 2022

He added that 2.2 million Saudi men and women are now working in the private sector, marking a new record in the Kingdom’s history.

As of November, the rate of women’s economic participation in the Kingdom also reached a new milestone at 35.6 percent compared to the rate of 17.7 percent prior to the 2016 launch of Vision 2030 — Saudi Arabia’s social reforms and economic diversification agenda.

Some employers are concerned about how flexible, outsourced labor might impact the quality of their work. Safdar says new ways of working will not compromise standards and delivery if they are implemented properly.

“Implementing a framework that encompasses transparent and fair feedback, performance rating, and service delivery quality control will be crucial in the success of the freelancing model,” she said.

Moreover, a survey carried out earlier this year by Deel, in partnership with Momentive, which explored the global impact of remote work across 86 countries, found there were many financial benefits associated with freelancing.

Respondents said that they had made more money in the form of salary raises (59 percent) and increased savings (64 percent) by reducing travel and housing costs.

Flexibility and digitalization of work has created new opportunities for companies anywhere in the world to tap global talent. (Shutterstock)

In addition to this, respondents said remote work had helped them to overcome professional barriers by securing promotions, being more productive, and enjoying a better work-life balance.

“The biggest impact was recorded by parents with children under the age of five (92 percent), and more than one in three respondents expressed that the ability to work anywhere has landed them their dream job,” said Salam.

Azeem Zainulbhai, co-founder and chief product officer at Outsized, a consultancy for flexible talent and financial services, believes long-established career myths are being shattered, as skilled professionals realize permanent employment no longer comes with the level of security it once did.

In fact, Zainulbhai says being independent often provides greater certainty in “future-proofing your career.”

“Being an independent consultant means you quickly assemble a lot of experience and develop your skills more rapidly than permanent employees do, therefore increasing your attractiveness to employers,” he said.

According to Zainulbhai, many professionals no longer attach their worth and identity to a designation or organization, but instead their skillset, knowledge and expertise. This has reduced the attractiveness of permanent employment and the lifetime loyalty often given by employees among older generations.

Azeem Zainulbhai, co-founder and chief product officer at Outsized, a consultancy for flexible talent and financial services. (Supplied)

However, maintaining a consistent flow of freelance work to make a sustainable income can be extremely challenging and at times demoralizing.

“The gap between clients and freelancers can most easily be bridged by aggregating supply and demand, and then matching it,” said Zainulbhai.

Independent talent can adopt a combination of strategies to find new projects through platforms and marketplaces, referrals from previous employers, colleagues, and other freelancers, and more daringly though cold outreaches on LinkedIn or by email.

These strategies may prove useful since one of the most common challenges facing independent talent is the difficulty finding time for business development and networking. As a result, some fail to secure their next project, creating gaps in work consistency and cash flow.

According to Zainulbhai, networking should be a common practice for freelancers, considering the lack of support networks available to flexible talent compared with the perks enjoyed by permanent employees.

Tarek Salam, head of Middle East and North Africa (MENA) expansion at Deel, a payroll and compliance provider. (Supplied)

“Keeping your skills up to date in today’s fast-moving world is crucial in order to remain marketable and relevant,” he said.

Despite these challenges, studies show the trend toward freelancing is set to grow.
“Over the next five years, we anticipate that the type of industries looking for remote talent will diversify, particularly as more businesses embrace the trend and become more well-equipped to hire and onboard global talent,” said Salam.

In his view, if the move toward flexible working is managed well by employers and freelancers, “it’s a win-win situation.”


Iran scraps morality police after months of deadly protests

Updated 04 December 2022

Iran scraps morality police after months of deadly protests

  • Women-led protests swept Iran after a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin died in the custody of the morality police in September
  • The morality police were established under hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to 'spread the culture of modesty and hijab'

TEHRAN: Iran has scrapped its morality police after more than two months of protests triggered by the arrest of Mahsa Amini for allegedly violating the country’s strict female dress code, local media said Sunday.
Women-led protests, labelled “riots” by the authorities, have swept Iran since the 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin died on September 16, three days after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran.
“Morality police have nothing to do with the judiciary” and have been abolished, Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.
His comment came at a religious conference where he responded to a participant who asked “why the morality police were being shut down,” the report said.
The morality police — known formally as the Gasht-e Ershad or “Guidance Patrol” — were established under hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to “spread the culture of modesty and hijab,” the mandatory female head covering.
The units began patrols in 2006.
The announcement of their abolition came a day after Montazeri said that “both parliament and the judiciary are working (on the issue)” of whether the law requiring women to cover their heads needs to be changed.
President Ebrahim Raisi said in televised comments Saturday that Iran’s republican and Islamic foundations were constitutionally entrenched “but there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible.”
The hijab became mandatory four years after the 1979 revolution that overthrew the US-backed monarchy and established the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Morality police officers initially issued warnings before starting to crack down and arrest women 15 years ago.
The vice squads were usually made up of men in green uniforms and women clad in black chadors, garments that cover their heads and upper bodies.
The role of the units evolved, but has always been controversial even among candidates running for the presidency.
Clothing norms gradually changed, especially under former moderate president Hassan Rouhani, when it became commonplace to see women in tight jeans with loose, colorful headscarves.
But in July this year his successor, the ultra-conservative Raisi, called for the mobilization of “all state institutions to enforce the headscarf law.”
Raisi at the time charged that “the enemies of Iran and Islam have targeted the cultural and religious values of society by spreading corruption.”
In spite of this, many women continued to bend the rules, letting their headscarves slip onto their shoulders or wearing tight-fitting pants, especially in major cities and towns.
Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia also employed morality police to enforce female dress codes and other rules of behavior. Since 2016 the force there has been sidelined in a push by the Sunni Muslim kingdom to shake off its austere image.

State news: Iran executes 4 people it says spied for Israel

Updated 04 December 2022

State news: Iran executes 4 people it says spied for Israel

  • Executed prisoners identified as Hossein Ordoukhanzadeh, Shahin Imani Mahmoudabadi, Milad Ashrafi and Manouchehr Shahbandi

TEHRAN: Iranian authorities executed four people Sunday accused of working for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, the state-run IRNA news agency said.
IRNA said the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guard announced the arrests of a network of people linked to the Israeli agency. It said members stole and destroyed private and public property and kidnapped individuals and interrogated them.
The report said the alleged spies had weapons and received wages from Mossad in the form of cryptocurrency.
Israel and Iran are regional arch-enemies.
IRNA identified the executed prisoners as Hossein Ordoukhanzadeh, Shahin Imani Mahmoudabadi, Milad Ashrafi and Manouchehr Shahbandi.