Nepal celebrates 70 years since first Everest summit

Hari Budha Magar, former Gurkha veteran and double amputee climber who scaled Mount Everest poses for a photo on the 70 anniversary of the first ascent of Mount Everest in Kathmandu, Nepal, Monday, May 29, 2023. (File/AP)
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Updated 29 May 2023

Nepal celebrates 70 years since first Everest summit

  • Top Nepali climbers, including the record holder for most Everest ascents Kami Rita Sherpa, were honoured in a ceremony

KHUMJUNG: The sons of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa led celebrations in Nepal on Monday to mark the 70th anniversary of the historic first ascent of Everest.
The scaling of the 8,849-meter (29,032-foot) peak on May 29, 1953, changed mountaineering forever and made the New Zealander and his Nepalese guide household names.
"In a whole lot of ways, it was not just Ed Hilary and Tenzing Norgay that reached the summit of Mount Everest, it was all of humanity," Peter Hillary said at a school founded by his father in the remote village of Khumjung at 3,790 metres.
"Suddenly, all of us could go," he said.
And gone they have. In the past seven decades, more than 6,000 climbers have climbed the world's highest mountain, according to the Himalayan Database.
It remains dangerous, with more than 300 losing their lives in the same period, including 12 this year. Five others are missing, putting 2023 on course to be a record deadly year.
As well as supporting tourism, the rapid growth in the climbing industry has raised revenue for Nepal, which today charges foreigners an Everest permit fee of $11,000.
Family members of both the climbers joined locals and officials at the school on Monday morning to inaugurate the Sir Edmund Hillary Visitors Centre, housed in the original building that opened in 1961.
Butter lamps were lit in front of a photograph of Hillary and Tenzing, and their sons, Peter Hillary and Jamling Norgay, cut a red ribbon to open the doors to the centre.
A renovated museum is also being opened in Tenzing Norgay's name in Namche Bazaar, the largest tourist hub in the trek to the Everest base camp.
In Kathmandu, officials and hundreds from the mountaineering community joined a rally with celebratory banners.
Top Nepali climbers, including the record holder for most Everest ascents Kami Rita Sherpa, were honoured in a ceremony.
Sanu Sherpa, the only person to climb the world's 14 highest peaks twice, called on the government to support the Nepali guides, who bear huge risks to carry equipment and food, fix ropes and repair ladders.
"The government has not done much for the Sherpa. I think it would be of great help and we would be happy if the government helps educate children of those climbers who died on mountains," Sherpa told AFP.

Brazil’s banana spider aids erectile dysfunction treatment

Updated 28 September 2023

Brazil’s banana spider aids erectile dysfunction treatment

  • A molecule from the spider's venom triggers the release of nitric oxide, which is essential for an erection
  • Scientist says the research could be especially useful in the fight against cancer

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil: Three decades ago, Brazilian researchers began studying a curious side effect from banana spider bites: the toxin left victims with priapism, a painful and persistent erection.
The scientists were inspired to develop a synthetic molecule using some properties of the spider’s poison to create a gel to treat erectile dysfunction, which is now undergoing promising clinical trials.
Covered in thick brown hair, and with a maximum size of up to 15 centimeters (six inches), the arachnid is one of the most poisonous in the world.
It is found in several South American countries, and was nicknamed for its common presence in banana plantations, but it is also called the “wandering spider” or “armed spider.”
In the southeastern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, it is found in rural areas as well as urban centers.
At the Ezequiel Dias Foundation (FUNED), a medical research center in the state’s capital Belo Horizonte, a biologist delicately grabs one of the spiders with a pair of tweezers and stimulates its fangs to get a few drops of venom.
FUNED then sends the venom to the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) which has been researching which component could be replicated to treat erectile dysfunction, which affects tens of millions of men around the world.
“The venom is only used to learn the properties of the molecule” which causes the priapism in bite victims, said Maria Elena de Lima, a UFMG researcher.
Brazilian biotech company Biozeus has bought the patent for the molecule.
The company wants to sell it in an ointment, which would be rubbed on the male organ when required, resulting in an erection in a few minutes, said de Lima.
The molecule triggers the release of nitric oxide, which is essential for an erection as it increases blood circulation and allows blood vessels to widen.
De Lima said the research could be especially useful in the fight against cancer, as men suffering prostate cancer often refuse a procedure to remove the prostate because it can damage nerves and lead to erectile dysfunction.
After the first phase of clinical trials was approved by Brazil’s Anvisa regulatory agency, the medication has now moved into the second of three phases prior to being approved for sale.
De Lima said the discovery of a potential erectile dysfunction treatment was a message “not to destroy animals, even poisonous ones, because there is a real library of molecules that are still unknown.”

Iran clerics to embrace AI to help with religious activities

Updated 26 September 2023

Iran clerics to embrace AI to help with religious activities

  • Push to adopt AI comes months after Iran’s supreme leader dubbed it ‘satanic’
  • Technology to help with fatwas, public communications, interpretations

LONDON: Iran’s clerics are embracing artificial intelligence to assist with the dissemination of religious teachings, months after the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared it “satanic” but then subsequently made a dramatic about-turn.

The initiative comes from the holy city of Qom, a center of Islamic learning and pilgrimage which is home to half of Iran’s 200,000 Shia clerics, the Financial Times reported on Sunday.

The push to adopt AI has support from the top, with Khamenei now urging the clergy to explore the technology, and the head of Qom’s seminary welcoming its use to “promote Islamic civilization.”

However, the government’s recent move to explore the use of AI in religious seminaries is a stark contrast to its previous position.

In April, in a first against a non-human entity, Khamenei issued a fatwa against AI, calling it “satanic.”

Religious leaders have argued that the country’s people are demanding that society be modernized, and AI was a way to respond to these calls while holding onto traditional values.

They hope that advanced technology can help them disseminate Islamic texts faster and allow religious rulings, known as fatwas, to keep pace with Iran’s rapidly evolving society.

“Robots can’t replace senior clerics, but they can be a trusted assistant that can help them issue a fatwa in five hours instead of 50 days,” said Mohammad Ghotbi, who heads the Eshragh Creativity and Innovation House in Qom.

“Today’s society favors acceleration and progress,” Ghotbi argued, adding that the religious establishment should not oppose the desire of Iranians to share in global technological advances.

However, skeptics highlighted how adopting AI may prove challenging for Islam’s intricate legal system.

Some people have expressed concern that AI cannot comprehend the complexity of religious rulings or the values imparted by traditional learning methods.

Despite these challenges, Ghotbi argued that the initiative in Qom is a sign that Iran’s religious establishment is willing to embrace new technologies to stay relevant in the modern world.

He argued that while the tools change the goals remain the same, insisting that AI would not necessarily result in Iran becoming more aligned with the secular views of the West.

“We’re working on localizing the use of technology because our cultural values differ,” he said.

’Break down walls’: Tunisia dance show celebrates diversity

Dancers perform during a show aimed at raising awareness of children with disabilities, in Tunis on September 20, 2023. (AFP)
Updated 26 September 2023

’Break down walls’: Tunisia dance show celebrates diversity

  • As the ensemble performs together, the audience is captivated by 16-year-old Rayen descending from his wheelchair onto the stage to perform his mesmerising dance number

TUNIS: A performer on a wheelchair, another who is blind and a third with Down syndrome share the stage for a pioneering new dance show seeking to push the boundaries in Tunisia.
Choreographer Andrew Graham says “the show is not about disability at all” but rather a celebration of diversity and inclusion that also involves migrants and LGBTQ artists.
“The idea is to break down all the walls,” said Graham, 35, whose production “Lines” premiered this weekend and runs until October 8 at the Dream City Festival in Tunis.

Tunisian actress and dancer Sondos Belhassen performs during a dance show aimed at raising awareness of children with disabilities, in Tunis on September 20, 2023. (AFP)

The performance brings together 15 dancers from different segments of society in the north African country.
It offers an opportunity for “sharing and mutual aid,” said Gabonese dancer Cedric Mbourou, 29.
The performance comes at a difficult time for Tunisia, which recently saw a wave of racial violence mainly targeting migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.
Mbourou himself was forced to go into hiding after an anti-migrant speech by President Kais Saied set off a wave of attacks.
“We see people just dancing for an hour non-stop,” said Graham, a Franco-British dance artist and teacher based in Marseille with his company L’Autre Maison.
“And very quickly the onlooker becomes interested in the dance and not necessarily who they are but in what they actually do.”

Graham hopes that this “very ambitious” show can “travel around the world, in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.”
As the ensemble performs together, the audience is captivated by 16-year-old Rayen descending from his wheelchair onto the stage to perform his mesmerising dance number.
Graham conceived of “Lines” after directing workshops in Tunis in 2021 for L’Art Rue, the organizer of Dream City, and activities aimed at making art accessible to underprivileged children.
The choreographer said he also drew inspiration from the stories of his grandfather, a Sicilian from Tunisia, and from “this extremely mixed country that has blended many cultures.”
The show features rhythmic “hadra” chants from the Muslim Sufi tradition and electronic music beats.
On stage, the singer and dancer Iyed — who at just 13 years old studies at the prestigious music conservatory in Tunis, and who is visually impaired — is gently hoisted into the air by the other performers.
His mother Hakima Bessoud, 49, is proud to join her son as they live out a passion that she said was a “childhood dream.”
She left a tourism sector job in 2018 to accompany her son to the conservatory and said that, since rehearsals started for “Lines,” her life has been “turned upside down.”
“Before, I had the routine of a homemaker: children, the house,” she said. “Now, I have a lot of energy, and I rush to do everything to attend rehearsals.”

Bessoud, who says she hails from a conservative background, said she welcomed being around the show’s openly gay dancer and actor Ahmed Tayaa.
“I have no problem with differences,” she said. “We must accept everyone, even Iyed is different.”
Tayaa, meanwhile, said he was amazed to see his sister Nourhene, 21, who has Down syndrome, perform.
He marvelled at having “discovered the artist that is Nourhene.”
“We all have a disability,” he said. “The people who see the show will discover their disability on the inside.”
“Lines,” he said, is “a paradise for people with all kinds of differences.”
One of the show’s professional dancers, Sondos Belhassen, 55, hailed the experience as “unique for a dancer,” saying they had experienced “something wonderful.”
“I wonder what weight it will leave in their universe, what memories they’ll keep?“
She said the performance had forced her to “readjust everything.”
“We are forced to experiment,” she said about working with performers whose physique is not “typical of a dancer.”
“We have a free body that can do anything, even the unexpected.”


‘The warmth, the goodness’: From Shahrukh Khan to Messi, global celebrities all praise for Saudi Arabia

Updated 25 September 2023

‘The warmth, the goodness’: From Shahrukh Khan to Messi, global celebrities all praise for Saudi Arabia

  • Superstars from film, fashion, music, sports been part of influx into Kingdom
  • Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning cultural initiatives are attracting worldwide interest

DUBAI: Over the years, Saudi Arabia has opened its doors to celebrities and stars from across the world as the Kingdom made its presence known in the global entertainment space. Here are 10 superstars who have visited Riyadh and were left in awe of the Saudi capital.

Sofia Vergara

The US-Colombian actress, most famous for her role in “Modern Family,” is no stranger to Saudi Arabia and also brought her trademark glamor to a promotional video for the VIA Riyadh luxury destination in the Saudi capital earlier this year.

She also dazzled on the red carpet of the 2023 Joy Awards in Riyadh in January. “I would like to dedicate the award to all the amazing women in the Kingdom and to all the women in the Middle East who are building a better future for all the women. Your dreams can come true, and they will if you use the two most important things: your mind and your culture,” Vergara said after accepting the Personality of the Year Award.


A post shared by VIA Riyadh | (@viariyadh)

Lionel Messi

While there has been an influx of international football stars joining the Saudi Pro League this year, the Argentine sensation — who plays for Inter Miami — visited Riyadh this summer, along with his wife and kids, for a sightseeing trip.

“The best thing about holidays is spending quality time with our loved ones,” he wrote to his 480 million followers on Instagram. “Flashback to my visit to Riyadh, playing local games and making crafts with the warmest Saudi people.”

“If you are still planning your holidays, head to the cool mountains of (Asir) and chill at 17°C degrees,” he advised his fans.

The pictures feature the footballer playing with his sons and wife Antonella Roccuzzo.

He also shared an image of the picturesque mountains of Asir.

Messi visited the Kingdom in May and went to At-Turaif, the 300-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site in Diriyah, and also explored some of Riyadh’s more contemporary attractions.

He also went on a guided tour in Diriyah and dined out at Al-Bujairi Terrace.


A post shared by Leo Messi (@leomessi)

Jason Momoa

Back in 2017, “Game of Thrones” and “Aquaman” star Jason Momoa visited Saudi Arabia as part of the pop-culture convention Comic Con Arabia.

“The food in Saudi Arabia is good. I missed Thanksgiving at home, so this was a true substitute,” he told Arab News.

Mada Abdelhamid, WWE star and Momoa’s trainer, posted a photo of himself and Momoa on Instagram, posing in front of a huge plate of traditional Saudi delicacies kabsa and mansaf.

“The before and after. Now this is what I call a FEAST!!!!! Eating like kings over here in Saudi Arabia. We literally couldn’t move afterwards ... but we couldn’t stop eating either. Very fitting that we were over here during Thanksgiving. Our stomachs felt right at home #FeastForABeast,” Abdelhamid wrote.

Momoa also took to social media to write about his experience visiting Riyadh’s iconic Najd Village: “Mahalo Saudi Arabia you treated me like royalty. Aloha to the fans and new friends. I had so many amazing experiences. I’ll be back very soon. Mahalo omar for fattening me up, the food here is amazing @najdvillagesa aloha j,” he wrote, using the Hawaiian words for thanks (mahalo) and love (aloha).

The actor also visited Al-Thumamah National Park during the same visit.


A post shared by (@realdealmada)

Steve Aoki

US-Japanese DJ Steven Hiroyuki Aoki surprised fans at the MDLBEAST music festival in Riyadh in 2019 with a special remix of tunes by Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu.

“I love collaborating across cultures, it’s my favorite thing in the world,” Aoki told Arab News at the time.

Aoki, who also performed earlier that year at Jeddah World Fest, said he “loves” the people of Saudi Arabia and that he did not realize he had a huge fan base in the Kingdom.

“It is surprising and incredible … to see so many fans in Saudi Arabia … everyone is so loving and so kind. They are just beautiful people,” he said, adding that he was keen to return to the country for future performances.

“The people want it. You feel the energy in the crowd, they want this kind of music here,” he said.

Aoki also recently performed in Riyadh for a Gamers8 concert and gushed about his experience afterwards. “I love the Saudi crowd. I’ve been playing here since 2019… I did Jeddah, I did MDLBEAST three times. And the Saudi crowd, they’re full of life. They’re an explosion of energy and passion and excitement. And this is what an artist dreams to have... For fans to really express themselves,” he said.


A post shared by Steve Aoki (@steveaoki)

DJ Khaled

Renowned artist and producer DJ Khaled made a surprise appearance at XP Music Futures in Riyadh in December 2022, ahead of his headlining performance at the region’s largest music festival, MDLBEAST SOUNDSTORM.

Coming to the region for the first time, his experience of the culture and people was unlike any other, he said. The quality of life and overarching excitement appealed to the artist. “When we were driving over here and I was looking around, I put my head out the window and somebody screamed ‘Khaled!’ and I appreciate the love, and I said ‘Joe, man, people here are just happy,’” he told Arab News.


A post shared by DJ KHALED (@djkhaled)

Katie Holmes

The popular US actress visited the Kingdom on a trip with British actor Idris Elba and retired French footballer Thierry Henry in 2018.

Holmes took to social media to share several snaps from her trip to Riyadh, waxing lyrical about the architecture in a caption for one photograph, and revealing, for another image, that she was “so grateful for this amazing and inspiring time.” During her visit, Holmes also had lunch with Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, along with Elba and Henry.

She also opened up about her trip, saying the country was “so beautiful.” “It was a long trip, but I really enjoyed it. I love the women that I met.” 

“It was really inspiring to see these women enjoying the new freedoms they now have and there is a sense of creativity that is happening,” she added.

John Travolta

US actor John Travolta, best known for his starring roles in “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease,” made his first-ever appearance in Saudi Arabia in 2017 to discuss his career, during a two-day gala event.

Travolta answered questions from fans in the Saudi capital. “I have been completely touched by the warmth and embracing nature of everyone since I’ve arrived,” said the actor at the event titled, “A Night with Travolta,” organized by the Saudi Entertainment Authority.

Jackie Chan

The celebrated actor and martial artist Jackie Chan was in Riyadh in 2019 to accept a Joy Excellence award, and said that he was looking forward to filming movies in Saudi Arabia.

“It’s my first time in Saudi, and I know it’s a big country. After only a few hours (travelling) here and looking at locations I know there’s a good place for car chasing, explosions, action; so, next time, I hope to come back with my crew,” Chan said.

The movie legend — who also visited Jeddah for the Red Sea International Film Festival in 2022 — thanked Saudi Arabia for inviting him to the country, and expressed hopes the Kingdom would become a leading center of regional film and television production.


Shah Rukh Khan

The Bollywood superstar — who most recently shot his upcoming film “Dunki” in Saudi Arabia — visited the Kingdom for the first time in 2019 to accept a Joy Excellence award.

“We have been talking about the hospitality, the warmth, the goodness and the love that has been showered upon us … and for most of us, it’s our first trip to the Kingdom of Saudi,” Khan said at the event.

“Inshallah, we all wait with bated breath because cinema has opened up here in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. You have so many new stories to tell, and we as the world look forward to being of help in any which way we can be of help.”

Idris Elba

The British actor — known for his roles in “Luther” and “The Wire” — first visited Saudi Arabia in 2018 to speak at the launch of the $35 billion “Quality of Life” program of cultural, sports and entertainment initiatives.

“Saudi Arabia gave me an opportunity to make my film here. It made sense on an economical model,” Elba said at the event. “I would definitely be here — why not?”

“Saudi Arabia has an awesome opportunity to spread its culture through filmmaking,” he added.

The actor also reflected on his time in Saudi Arabia later in a podcast.

“I found Saudi was warm and welcoming to me, in a surprising way, if I’m honest,” the actor said during the inaugural episode of a talk show produced by the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture, or Ithra.

He went on to explain that it was, “surprising because I wasn’t sure if my work had ever resonated in Saudi.”

Naomi Campbell

British supermodel Naomi Campbell visited Saudi Arabia in 2019, appearing at several events including the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah and a panel discussion titled “Diversity and Inclusion in the Fashion Industry” in Riyadh. 

“I had to actually pinch myself and say I am in Saudi Arabia at the Red Sea Film Festival, the first one ever, this historical event,” said Campbell at the time.

“It’s really about the change that’s happening around the world. I have been doing this for 35 years and I am really honored and happy to be here, still, in the business … and to see the change.”

During the fashion panel in Riyadh, the model discussed her love of humanitarian work, which began in 1993 in Africa with Nelson Mandela, and the resulting cultural influences she has experienced.

“There is a bridge between Saudi Arabia and Africa,” she said. “There are so many similarities and I really believe that Africa can teach the Middle East (about) textile and the Middle East can teach artisan work to Africa.”

Four tombs discovered in Roman necropolis in Gaza

Updated 24 September 2023

Four tombs discovered in Roman necropolis in Gaza

  • Archaeologist Fadel Al-Otol: Discovery marks the first complete Roman necropolis, or cemetery, fully unearthed in Gaza
  • Total number of tombs dating back 2,000 years now stand at 134 since the necropolis was discovered last year

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: Four Roman tombs dating back 2,000 years have been discovered in the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian archaeologist said Saturday, bemoaning a lack of resources that has delayed excavations in the besieged territory.

“With the discovery of these four tombs, the total number of tombs in this Roman cemetery, dating from the period between the first century BC and the second century AD, now stands at 134 tombs,” said archaeologist Fadel Al-Otol.
The discovery marks the first complete Roman necropolis, or cemetery, fully unearthed in Gaza, he told AFP.
“Fragments of pottery and metal pieces used in funeral rituals” have been found in the resting places, added Otol.
The cemetery is notable for its pyramid-shaped tombs. Inside them, a team of technicians, working under the direction of Otol, undertake restoration work using rudimentary tools.
“Two lead coffins, one adorned with clusters of grapes and the other with dolphins swimming in water, were recently discovered on the site,” noted the Palestinian archaeologist, who lamented a lack of financial resources.
The funding for the excavation and restoration work comes from the British Council’s Fund for the Protection of Culture.
Impoverished Gaza, home to around 2.3 million Palestinians, is under a tight land, air and sea blockade imposed by Israel, whose defense ministry controls all crossings except Rafah, which is controlled by Egypt.
The territory has been ruled by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas since 2007.