Uproar in Bangladesh over Coca-Cola ad denying Israel links

A screengrab from Coca-Cola's commercial, which was released in Bangladesh on June 9, 2024. (Screengrab/YouTube)
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Updated 15 June 2024

Uproar in Bangladesh over Coca-Cola ad denying Israel links

  • Coca-Cola has been enjoying close ties with Israel since 1960s
  • Commercial says the beverage is ‘not from that place’

DHAKA:  Coca-Cola is under fire in Bangladesh for a recent ad aiming to distance the brand from Israel in the wake of a significant boycott resulting from the war on Gaza.

The 60-second video, which first aired on Bangladeshi TV and YouTube on June 9, shows a shopkeeper interacting with a buyer who no longer drinks Coca-Cola as it comes from “that place.” The place is not named in the clip, but seconds later it becomes clear that the reference is to Israel.

The shopkeeper says that Coke “is not at all from that place” and that it “also has a factory in Palestine,” after which the reluctant buyer orders and enjoys the drink.

Social media accounts of Coca-Cola Bangladesh were soon later flooded with comments from Bangladeshis responding to the claims.

Coca-Cola Co. has been enjoying close links with Israel since the 1960s. In 1997, the company was honored by its government for “refusing to abide by the Arab League economic boycott of Israel.”

It owns dairy farms in illegal Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley and a plant in the occupied Golan Heights.

In this context, the advert was for Bangladeshi viewers like Sohel Rahman, a businessman from Dhaka, an “attempt to fool the audience” by twisting the facts.

“Do they think the Bangladeshi people are stupid?” he said.

Sadia Ahmed, an executive from Dhaka’s Gulshan area, saw it as a “mockery” and misinformation.

“The campaign hid this information deliberately to play with the sentiments of the Bangladeshi people. The advertisers thought it would help boost its sales. But the result was the opposite,” she told Arab News. “Now, our boycotting campaign is even stronger, as Coke directly supports Israeli aggression on Palestine.”

While Coca-Cola removed the ad from its social media channels on Wednesday and no longer aired it on local TV, the video continued to make the rounds on social media, drawing comments like: “This feels desperate,” “This advertisement is trying to fool innocent people,” or “Boycott the actors too.”

Saraf Ahmed Zibon, the actor playing the main character in the ad, took to Facebook earlier this week to say he “had never been in favor of Israel” and had presented information and data that was provided to him by Coca-Cola.

The issue of Israel is very sensitive in Bangladesh, where many people say they can relate to the Palestinian struggle and resistance to Israeli occupation, and advocacy for Palestine is officially part of the country’s foreign policy.

Anything undermining the sentiment is unacceptable, especially when people “are dying every day in Gaza due to the Israeli aggression,” said Dr. Rasheda Rawnak Khan, associate professor at the Department of Anthropology of Dhaka University.

“It’s very much clear that this new Coke advertisement is political propaganda. This propaganda can’t be accepted in any case. It hurts the sentiment.”

Since the beginning of the newest Israeli onslaught on Gaza in October 2023, the Bangladeshi government and people have been repeatedly denouncing the deadly bombardment that has killed at least 37,000 Palestinians, destroyed most of the medical infrastructure in the besieged enclave, and displaced 80 percent of its population.

Part of the protest and mobilization in Bangladesh is a movement to boycott Western brands perceived as having links with Israel.

Coca-Cola’s attempt to win Bangladeshis back has resulted in the opposite.

“Coke failed to internalize the sentiment of 180 million people of Bangladesh … and made this socially and culturally (insensitive) advertisement to re-brand in the local market,” Prof. A.S.M. Amanullah, sociologist from Dhaka University, told Arab News.

“The attempt has backfired … I believe, in a couple of weeks, Coke’s sales could be reduced to 50 percent.”

Coca-Cola Bangladesh has not responded to repeated requests for comment about the commercial and its sales in the country.

A drop in demand has already been observed since October and has plunged further since the beginning of this week, with local soft drink brands coming to the fore.

“Last week, the demand was four times higher … A significant part of Coke’s annual sales used to happen during Eid Al-Adha. But this year, it seems that the total sales of Coke will fall drastically,” said Arifur Rahman, a grocery store owner at Dhanmondi, Dhaka.

“Usually, during summer, we used to sell a huge amount of Coke. But the demand started to decline from the beginning of the Gaza attack. The boycott campaign dealt a blow to Coke’s selling graph. Nowadays, people hardly ask for Coke. Instead, they are opting for different local colas.”

In Saudi Arabia, Indonesian health workers build careers, gain opportunities 

Updated 14 July 2024

In Saudi Arabia, Indonesian health workers build careers, gain opportunities 

  • There are at least 600 Indonesian nurses working in Saudi Arabia, one estimate shows
  • Many Indonesian health workers move to the Kingdom for higher salary, to upgrade skills

JAKARTA: For more than a decade, Ade Koswara has served as a perfusionist of the cardiac surgery team at one of Saudi Arabia’s top hospitals, working alongside some of the best in the field. 

The 42-year-old Indonesian, who is originally from Sukabumi, West Java, was responsible for operating the machine that artificially replaces a patient’s heart or lung functions during surgery. 

Since joining the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Riyadh in 2010, he said he has been able to develop his skills and has gained new, previously unthinkable, experiences. 

“There are many precious things I have gained, especially the knowledge and skills that I acquired,” Koswara told Arab News. 

“There are many new devices and equipment that aren’t yet available in Indonesia because they are very expensive, but they have a lot of them here with the amazing support from the government for the people in Saudi Arabia.” 

When he decided to move abroad, like many Indonesians Koswara considered the financial benefits of working in the Kingdom, which would have given him about eight times the salary he was earning at the time from a public hospital in his home country.

“There’s a significant difference financially, in terms of material rewards,” he said. “In 2010, I was earning about IDR 6 million ($372) (per month), which included benefits and incentives, but in Saudi Arabia, I would earn about IDR 50 million.”

Since moving to Riyadh, Koswara — who is also head of the ​​Indonesian National Nurses Association’s chapter in Saudi Arabia — has worked alongside doctors from the US and Europe and learned to keep up with the international standard practiced at the hospital, which has sent him abroad for training to upgrade his skills. 

“I had the opportunity to go to Germany and it was amazing because there was a time when I’d dreamed of going there and it came true … It makes me happy and motivated,” he said. 

“Opportunities here are equal. It’s not just for the Saudis, it’s also there when they see potential in any staff, even when they’re not Saudi nationals.” 

Koswara said there is much potential for other Indonesian nurses to pursue a career in Saudi Arabia. 

“For Indonesian nurses especially, the opportunity for an international career in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia, is huge. We have the potential to enter this market, to gain new and better experiences, and hopefully a better financial reward,” he said. 

Saudi Arabia is among the top destination countries for Indonesian migrant workers and ranked seventh last year, according to government data. 

But as most of them are domestic workers, Koswara estimated that there are at least around 600 Indonesian nurses currently working in the Kingdom. 

Another one is Akhir Fahruddin, who first went to the Kingdom in 2015 to work under the Ministry of Labor and Social Development, which has since become the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development. 

After working for almost three years, Fahruddin came back to Indonesia to continue his studies before returning to Riyadh in 2021 to work as an occupational health nurse, now specializing in protecting and promoting the health and well-being of workers. 

Akhir Fahruddin, an occupational health nurse from Indonesia, sits at the back of an ambulance in Duba, Tabuk while on duty in this photo shared on July 14, 2024. (Supplied/Akhir Fahruddin)

The 33-year-old is now serving a company in Oxagon, a floating port city in the flagship multibillion-dollar NEOM project. 

From the Saudi healthcare system, Fahruddin said he learned about the value of collaboration and respect among health workers. 

“There is no such thing as one person being more superior than another, it’s a positive thing that I’ve learned while working in Saudi Arabia,” he told Arab News. 

“I feel appreciated. When someone appreciates us in practicing our roles, I feel they are valuing my skills, and that’s something that I experienced firsthand.” 

He is also grateful for the time he is permitted to offer prayers, which he has learned from friends was not afforded to workers in other countries. 

“If I compare myself to two of my friends, who are in Japan and Germany, they encounter limitations in practicing their religion. This is in contrast with my experience in Saudi Arabia, where I am allowed to perform my prayers comfortably, they give me time,” Fahruddin said. 

Just four months ago, he experienced a highlight in his career when he resuscitated a patient in an emergency case and was able to save him. 

“He survived. It was very memorable for me because I was able to save a patient whose heartbeat had stopped … It allowed me to reflect on how everything I’ve learned all this time, I was able to put it into practice to save a patient,” he said. 

Most of all, Fahruddin is thankful that his career in the Kingdom has given him an opportunity to support his family back home in Sumbawa, West Nusa Tenggara. 

“I am able to help my family, to help my nieces and nephews to continue their education and my other relatives to pursue higher education,” he said. 

“I am also able to save money for my future and buy assets back home. This is the sort of happiness that I’ve gotten through working here.” 

Hopes high as first Titanic voyage in 14 years happens in wake of submersible tragedy

Updated 14 July 2024

Hopes high as first Titanic voyage in 14 years happens in wake of submersible tragedy

  • The voyage arrives as undersea explorers are still reeling from the deadly implosion of an experimental submersible en route to the Titanic in June 2023
  • The Titan submersible disaster killed all five people on board, including Paul-Henri Nargeolet, who was director of underwater research for RMS Titanic

PORTLAND: The company that owns the salvage rights to the Titanic is undertaking its first expedition to the ship’s wreckage in years, and those involved in the mission said they have both heavy hearts and lofty goals for a trip happening a year after a submersible disaster involving another firm killed five people.
RMS Titanic Inc., a Georgia-based firm, holds the legal rights to salvage the wreck of the ship, which sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912. The company’s first expedition to the site since 2010 launched Friday from Providence, Rhode Island.
The voyage arrives as the worldwide community of undersea explorers is still reeling from the deadly implosion of an experimental submersible en route to the Titanic in June 2023. The Titan submersible disaster killed all five people on board, including Paul-Henri Nargeolet, who was director of underwater research for RMS Titanic.
This summer’s mission to the Titanic “means even more with the passing” of Nargeolet, known as “Mr. Titanic” by many, RMST Inc. president Jessica Sanders said.
The expedition will use modern imaging technology and remotely operated vehicles to capture detailed images of the Titanic, the wreckage site and the debris field, RMST Inc. representatives said.
“This monumental undertaking will allow us to document the Titanic in unprecedented detail and share new discoveries from the wreck site with the public, continuing the extraordinary work and passion of PH,” Sanders said.
The ship headed to the site, the Dino Chouest, will take several days to reach the site and is slated to return around Aug. 13, said Jon Hammond, a spokesperson for RMST Inc.
The work will allow the company to provide a comprehensive analysis of the current condition of the Titanic wreckage site and a detailed assessment of artifacts that can be safely targeted for future recovery, RMST Inc. representatives said.
Nargeolet made more than 35 dives to the Titanic in his lifetime. The implosion also killed Titan operator Stockton Rush; two members of a prominent Pakistani family, Shahzada Dawood and his 19-year-old son Suleman Dawood; and British adventurer Hamish Harding.

The Titanic leaves Southampton, England, April 10, 1912, on her maiden voyage. The company that owns the salvage rights to the Titanic is undertaking its first expedition to the wreckage of the ship in 14 years, and those involved in the mission said they have both heavy hearts and lofty goals for the trip. (AP/File)

OceanGate, a company co-founded by Rush that owned the submersible, suspended operations a year ago. The US Coast Guard convened a high-level investigation into what happened, but it has taken longer than expected and it’s unclear when the investigation will conclude.
Undersea explorers are waiting to learn the results of the investigation and RMST Inc.’s trip to the Titanic site is an important milestone in the site’s exploration, said Katy Croff Bell, founder of the Ocean Discovery League.
“The Coast Guard investigation is still ongoing and they have not released their results yet, so the final chapter in this episode has yet to come out,” Bell said. “One thing that has come out is there is perhaps more interest.”
This month’s journey to the Titanic also will allow comparison to 2010 imaging, RMST Inc. representatives said. The mission also may result in discovery of new areas of the debris field, previously unknown marine life and new areas of deterioration that could provide unobstructed access to the interior of the ship, the company stated on its website.
The vessel making the trip is equipped with two remotely operated vehicles that will be used to capture the first end-to-end mapping image of the wreck field and debris site, RMST Inc. said.
The expedition will include “the highest resolution camera systems ever deployed at the site in an effort to bring new insights about the ship to the community,” said Evan Kovacs, an underwater cinematographer working on the mission.

France’s Bastille Day parade meets the Olympic torch relay in an exceptional year

Updated 14 July 2024

France’s Bastille Day parade meets the Olympic torch relay in an exceptional year

  • Bastille Day marks the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris on July 14, 1789
  • The Olympic torch relay is joining up with thousands of troops marching in Paris beneath roaring fighter jets to mark Bastille Day

PARIS: Paris hosted an extra-special guest for France’s national holiday Sunday — the Olympic flame lighting up the city’s grandiose military parade for Bastille Day.
Just 12 days before the French capital hosts exceptionally ambitious and high-security Summer Games, the torch relay joined up with thousands of soldiers, sailors, rescuers and medics marching in Paris beneath roaring fighter jets.
While people around France mark the day with concerts, parties and fireworks, here’s a look at what the holiday’s about, and what’s different this year:
What does Bastille Day celebrate?
On July 14, 1789, revolutionaries stormed the Bastille fortress and prison in Paris, heralding the start of the French Revolution and the end of the monarchy.
The holiday is central to the French calendar, with events across the country. It aims to embody the national motto of ‘’liberty, equality and fraternity,” though not everyone in France feels the country lives up to that promise.
The Paris parade is the holiday’s highlight. This year, it paid tribute to those who freed France from Nazi occupation 80 years ago, with a re-enactment of the D-Day landings of June 6, 1944, and a presentation by service members from the 31 countries whose troops contributed to the liberation. About half are African nations that were under French colonial rule during World War II.
Who takes part?
Some 4,000 people and 162 horses marched in the tightly choreographed show, among them units that served in NATO missions in eastern Europe, against Islamic extremists in the Sahel, protecting French territories in the South Pacific and global shipping corridors. They were joined this year by three German officers from a cross-border brigade.
The ornamental uniforms are rich in symbolism — most notably those of the French Foreign Legion sappers, with long beards, leather aprons and axes from their original role as route-clearers for advancing armies.
Overhead, 65 aircraft flew in formations, including a British Typhoon fighter alongside French Mirages and Rafales, rescue helicopters and aircraft used in missions from Afghanistan to Mali or international drug busts.
President Emmanuel Macron kicked Sunday’s events off with a review of the troops.
Military bands and choirs played an important role, performing a medley of French military songs, American jazz tunes, a Scottish bagpipe ballad — and the Marseillaise.
The numbers are scaled back compared with previous years, because of Olympics security measures. Around 130,000 police are deployed around France for the holiday weekend.
What’s the political context?
This year’s Bastille Day offered Macron a moment of distraction from the political turmoil he unleashed with snap elections that weakened his pro-business centrist party and his presidency.
The result left a deadlocked parliament with no one clearly in charge. The prime minister could leave office within days, while the left-wing alliance that won the most seats is struggling to agree on a proposed replacement.
Meanwhile, Russia’s war in Ukraine is threatening Europe’s security. At a meeting with military leaders Saturday, Macron said France will keep up support for Ukraine and called for higher defense spending next year because of ‘’approaching threats.’’
What’s different this year?
The Olympic torch relay reached Paris just in time.
The parade wrapped up with the arrival of the flame, escorted by riders on horseback, 25 torchbearers, and cadets dressed in the five Olympic colors forming the shapes of the five interlocking Olympic rings.
The first torchbearer was Col. Thibault Vallette, equestrian gold medalist in the 2016 Rio Olympics, who passed it on to a group of young athletes smiling broadly as they passed it hand-to-hand in front of the presidential tribune.
Usually, the parade travels from the Napoleon-era Arc de Triomphe to the Concorde plaza, where France’s last king and queen were beheaded.
This year, Concorde has been transformed into a huge Olympic venue for breakdancing, skateboarding and BMX. So the parade route headed to the Bois de Boulogne park on the city’s edge instead.
Olympic venue construction around the Eiffel Tower means spectators can’t gather beneath the monument to watch its annual fireworks show, either.
After its Bastille Day appearance, the torch relay will swing by Notre Dame Cathedral, the historic Sorbonne university and the Louvre Museum before heading to other Paris landmarks Monday.

Eight female bodies recovered from Nairobi dump: police

Updated 14 July 2024

Eight female bodies recovered from Nairobi dump: police

NAIROBI: A total of eight bodies, all of them female, have been recovered so far from a dumpsite in a Nairobi slum, Kenya’s acting police chief said on Sunday.
“They were severely dismembered in different states of decomposition and left in sacks,” Douglas Kanja told a press conference, adding that investigations into the gruesome find are ongoing.
Kanja said the first six corpses were found on Friday and body parts of another two women were found on Saturday.
“I would like to assure the public that we are committed to conducting transparent, thorough and swift investigations,” he added.
Kanja also called for public cooperation in the investigation “so that we bring the perpetrators of these heinous acts to book.”
Kanja took up his post only this week after the resignation of national police chief Japhet Koome in the wake of public fury over the deaths of dozens of protesters during anti-government demonstrations last month.

Arab Americans react with shock at attempted assassination of former president Trump

Updated 14 July 2024

Arab Americans react with shock at attempted assassination of former president Trump

CHICAGO:Arab American leaders from the left and the right of American politics said they were in shock that former president Donald Trump was lightly injured in an apparent assassination attempt against him while he was speaking to a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday night.

Initial reports and live television showed Trump addressing the rally and he turned his head to the right as he was speaking when three loud gunshots were heard. Trump grabbed his right ear, which was bloodied, as he was brought to the ground and covered completely by four by Secret Service agents.

Trump raised his hand in the air as he was walked off the rally stage embraced by five Secret Service agents.

Arab Americans reacted with anger and expressions of concern over the attempted assassination in which at least one person was thought to have been killed, as well as the suspected shooter, initial news reports stated. 

Many said it is the result of the hatred that has been directed at Trump by his foes, especially on social media like Facebook, and because of the continued polarization that has divided America politically and socially.

“They tried everything from impeachments to indictments, and when everything failed, they tried to actually assassinate him,” Dr. Massad Boulos told Arab News minutes after the attempted assassination in Pennsylvania.

“But this has just made him the 47th president of the USA. He’s been making calls from the hospital and he’s in a very positive spirit.”

Boulos’s son Michael is married to Tiffany Trump, one of the former president’s daughters.

Boulos said that he was told by the president’s aides in the past that “former president Trump has been asking for a beefed-up security to be provided for weeks, but the Biden administration has refused.”

Yards away, a member of the audience was declared dead from the bullet as it passed the president. A second female audience member was seriously injured as the crowd began screaming.

President Joe Biden issued a statement to say he is grateful that “he is doing well” and emphasized that “there is no place for political violence.” 

Biden said on national TV that he “reached out to Trump at the hospital.” Sources said the Biden campaign confirmed that it is pulling down campaign commercials that have been very critical of Trump.

Bishara Bahbah, chairman of Arab Americans for Trump, blamed “the atmosphere of hatred against President Trump” that has been intensifying over the past several years.

“The Democrats have been demonizing him, making all kinds of horrible attacks against him and against his family. I am not saying they are behind this, but, at the same time, the hatred emanating from the Democratic Party and some of its leaders and members of Congress is making its way down to people like this person who tried to assassinate him,” Bahbah told Arab News.

“I believe he will come out stronger now as a result and that the people will rally around him. We are grateful that he survived. Violence cannot be tolerated. We pray for him that he remains safe.”

Arab Americans on the right and the left said they were “in shock at the violence” that was broadcast on live television.

Jim Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute in Washington D.C., said: “There is a lot we don’t know. But, what we do know is that violent rhetoric can give rise to violent behavior. We need to take action and that violence is never the way to resolve political differences. Our gun-crazy culture is out of control.”

Mohammed Jaber, a trustee on the suburban District 230 High School Board in Orland Park, said: “No human should fear for their life, whether it is a politician or a civilian. We can all agree to disagree, but everyone should be respected regardless of one’s view. It’s completely wrong what happened to Trump at this campaign rally.”

Samir Khalil, president of the Arab American Democratic Club of Illinois, said: “It is truly sad that so many tragic events around the world and the leading democracy nation reach this level of tragic political violence. As a human being I am saddened by this violent behavior. We should expect more intervention from the free world to influence peace and harmony not wars and no more hate. May God bless humanity of the world and the great USA.”

Mary Basta, mayor of the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, said: “I am deeply saddened by the senseless act of violence that occurred today.  Prayers go out to the victims and their families during this incredibly difficult time. Such acts of violence are unacceptable and have no place in our society and do not reflect the sentiment of true democracy.”