News & Current Affairs

July 20, 2009

Enduring allure of Egyptian belly dance

Enduring allure of Egyptian belly dance

Ahlan Wa Sahlan belly dance festival

The Ahlan Wa Sahlan festival has been a big hit this year

Hundreds of women of all nationalities sway their hips and twirl in time to the beat of a drum in a hotel ballroom by the pyramids in Cairo.

Belly dancing is said to have been practised in Egypt since Pharaonic times and now it has caught on around the globe.

It is well-established in Europe and the US and has recently spread to Asia. This year dozens of dancers travelled from China for the Ahlan Wa Sahlan belly dancing festival.

“Because this is the land of dance, women have to come!” declares Raqia Hassan, the festival organiser.

“When she comes she can meet famous dancers and musicians. She can see the pyramids. Anyone who comes to Egypt one time, she cannot stop coming back.”

Japanese belly dance fan

Safa Bakr’s shop attracts women from all over the world

Raqia, who has taught many belly dancing celebrities, leads her large class through the basic moves of the dance putting together a routine.

“It’s fun and you can do this at any age,” says Ewa Horsfield from London. “You can express your own personality. It’s an individual dance. You just listen and respond to the music.”

Many speak of the fitness benefits of belly dancing.

“In China all ladies like for their health,” says Angel from Shanghai.

“This kind of dance began here. Here teachers [are] very, very good so all Chinese ladies want to come.”

Contradictions

Belly dancing is big business in Egypt thanks to the global market.

Designer, Safaa Yasser Bakr, runs a belly dancing costume shop in the historic Khan el-Khalili bazaar.

She helps a Brazilian woman try on a sky-blue sequinned bra and a matching skirt with a split up one side.

“In one show big stars change costume many times,” she tells her. “You need maybe five different pieces.”

Nowadays Safaa sells most of her alluring outfits to foreigners.

Safa Yasser Bakr

Safa sells her wares in Khan el-Khalili – Cairo’s Islamic heart

“I see people coming from France, Italy, United States, Argentina, Spain, Japan,” she says.

But in Egypt at large, many experts fear the dance is losing its appeal.

Society has become more religious and conservative over the past generation and belly dancing is not considered a respectable profession.

“I don’t like belly dancing. I don’t like to see a woman half-naked dancing and moving her body like that,” says one man on the street in central Cairo.

“It has a kind of sexual movement. That’s why I don’t like to watch it,” adds his friend.

An older passer-by remembers the famous dancers of the 1960s with affection but says he would not let his wife or daughters dance in public today.

“I liked the old belly dancer because you could not see a lot of her body,” he remarks. “They were very respectable – not like the new ones now.”

Enduring art

Dance historian, Mo Geddawi, accepts belly dancing is facing a challenging time in Egypt but says this must be seen in perspective.

“Forget about different governments and religion,” he says. “When Christianity and then Islam came the dance was taboo, but people continued to dance.”

“Sometimes in public it is less but the dance never died.”

For now though international devotees help to ensure the dance goes on.

Diana Esposito from New York came to Cairo on a scholarship to study the social and economic reasons for its decline but has become an accomplished belly dancer herself.

“The first time I saw it I thought the movements were so sensual,” she says. “I decided to try something new and it became an addiction.”

“I don’t see the dance being done properly anywhere else in the world. That’s why everyone flocks here – this is the capital of belly dance.”

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July 10, 2009

Leaner GM emerges from bankruptcy

Filed under: Business News, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 7:01 pm

Leaner GM emerges from bankruptcy

General Motors (GM) says it has emerged from bankruptcy protection after creating a “new GM” made up of the carmaker’s best assets.

GM chief executive Fritz Henderson said it was the beginning of a “new era”.

The leaner GM will own four key brands including Cadillac and will be 61% owned by the US government.

Mr Henderson said negotiations were continuing “around the clock” to conclude a deal to sell GM Europe, which includes Opel and Vauxhall.

Mr Henderson said that GM would take the “intensity, decisiveness and speed” of the bankruptcy process and apply it to the new company.

“We will be profitable, we will repay our loans as soon as possible and our cars and trucks will be among the best in the world,” he said.

A smaller GM is being created with a reduced workforce, smaller dealer network and less debt.

‘Cautiously optimistic’

Industry analysts interpreted the short timeframe of the bankruptcy as a good sign.

GM BRANDS
1958 Cadillac Eldorado
BRANDS STAYING
Chevrolet
GMC
Cadillac
Buick
BRANDS GOING
Pontiac*
Saturn#
Saab#
Hummer#
Opel#
Vauxhall#
*= to be discontinued/# = to be sold

“It is the smaller, leaner, tougher, better cost-focused GM,” said George Magliano, an automotive analyst with consulting firm IHS Global Insight.

“But they still have to deal with the problems that they faced longer-term.”

Analysts argue that GM will need to change what it offers consumers and produce more cutting-edge vehicles.

“I’m still cautiously optimistic – they still need to put a product out there that everyone is excited about purchasing,” said Pete Hastings, analyst at Morgan Keegan.

“The challenge in the future is how to approach a marketplace that has been burned by GM,” he added.

The firm lost its title as the world’s largest vehicle-maker in January.

Toyota sold 8.97 million vehicles in 2008, while GM’s global sales had dropped to 8.35 million vehicles.

The new GM will operate with 27,000 fewer US employees and operate 13 fewer US car plants compared with last year.

It will operate the strongest parts of the old company, with only its Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC brands remaining. Others such as Hummer and Saab are being sold off.

The company’s logo will remain the same; blue with white GM letters underlined.

Loan repayment

RECENT ROAD TO GM BANKRUPTCY
Feb 2008: GM posts $38.7bn loss for 2007 and plans to cut 74,000 union jobs
Sept 2008: GM has 100th anniversary
Dec 2008: US state offers $13.3bn in loans to GM and Chrysler; Canada offers $3.3bn
Feb 2009:GM posts $31bn loss for 2008
March 2009: The White House requests a new viability plan from GM and calls for boss Rick Wagoner to resign
May 2009: Reaches deals with US and Canadian unions. GM bondholders approve restructuring
June 2009: GM files for bankruptcy
July 2009: GM emerges from bankruptcy

GM said it planned to repay its government loans before the current 2015 deadline.

The firm is getting $60bn (£37.3bn) in financing from the US Treasury, which gives the US government a 61% share in the new GM, while the United Auto Workers union will have 17.5%.

Canada’s government will have a 12% share and GM bondholders will own about 10% in the new company.

GM said it hoped to float the company on the stock exchange again “as soon as practical”.

The US government has said it does not want to be involved in the day-to-day running of the carmaker.

The company also said it was exploring a partnership with online auction site eBay to make it easier for customers to buy its cars.

Rocky road ahead

GM filed for bankruptcy protection on 1 June, saying it would be forced to liquidate if the plan was not approved.

The plan was strongly supported by President Barack Obama and GM’s 40-day bankruptcy ended two days earlier than that of its cross-town rival Chrysler.

However, it is unlikely to be smooth sailing for the two carmakers.

US car sales have been hit hard as the financial crisis has made it harder to get credit and made consumers reluctant to make big purchases.

During the past six months, car sales in the US have fallen by more than 30%, while in Japan they have declined 20%.

September 15, 2008

Lehman set to go into insolvency

Lehman set to go into insolvency

Graph

Preparations are being made for Lehman Brothers, the fourth-largest investment bank in the US, to file for bankruptcy.

The two strongest potential buyers appear to have pulled out of talks to rescue Lehman – the latest victim of the American credit crisis.

If no new financing comes before Wall Street opens, it will have to seek “Chapter 11” bankruptcy protection.

This could result in a severe shock to the global financial system, as banks unwind their complex deals with Lehman.

Late on Sunday the US central bank, the Federal Reserve, announced new moves to ease access to emergency credit for struggling financial companies.

The Fed said the step – which broadens the types of securities financial institutions can use to obtain emergency loans – was designed to mitigate the potential risks and disruptions to markets.

In a related move, a consortium of 10 investment banks announced a $70bn (£39bn) loan program that troubled financial companies can use to help ease the credit shortage.

The banks – Bank of America, Barclays, Citibank, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and UBS – each agreed to provide $7bn (£4bn) to the pool.

On Monday, Asian stock markets fell amid concerns over the fate of Lehman Brothers.

Singapore stocks dropped 2.26% in morning trading and shares in Taiwan fell 1.83%.

Markets in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Seoul were closed for public holidays.

Lehman employs about 25,000 worldwide, including 5,000 in the UK.

Accountancy firm PWC has already been lined up to run the British operations of Lehman should the firm go into administration.

BBC business editor Robert Peston says UK bank Barclays’ decision to walk away from a Lehman deal was a huge setback for the effort to rescue the Lehman.

Barclays terminated the negotiations because it was unable to obtain guarantees in relation to financial commitments faced by Lehman when markets open on Monday.

Bad bank, good bank

The rescue effort for Lehman was being co-ordinated by the US Treasury and the New York Federal Reserve.

No other large firm should buy Lehman whole – its toxic real estate and securities are too difficult to value
Peter Morici
University of Maryland

The US government had hoped to arrange a bailout under which other US investment banks would finance a “bad bank” that would hold the most “toxic” investments of Lehman in the property and mortgage market.

The “good bank” or rest of the firm, including its investment and wealth management arms, would then be sold to another financial institution, for example Bank of America or the UK’s Barclays.

Although such a deal would have cost the other investment banks millions, it might have restored confidence in the sector and avoided a sharp drop in the share price of all banks.

However, it appears that this plan is falling apart.

“The only thing that can prevent Lehman collapsing would be a huge injection of taxpayers’ money,” a banker close to the talks told the BBC, but added that US Treasury Secretary “Hank Paulson has made it clear he doesn’t want to do that”.

Hard choices

Bank of America, meanwhile, is said to be unconvinced that buying Lehman would be in the interest of its shareholders.

Instead, according to a report in the New York Times, Bank of America is in “advanced talks” to buy investment bank Merrill Lynch for more than $38bn.

HAVE YOUR SAY

It’s amazing that companies which charge high interest to cover risk still need to be bailed out by the taxpayer.

Jack, Canada

Like other US investment banks Merrill has suffered losses of tens of billions of dollars in the subprime crisis, and has seen its share price plummet during recent months.

“No other large firm should buy Lehman whole – its toxic real estate and securities are too difficult to value,” said Peter Morici of the business school of the University of Maryland.

Lehman is up for sale after it reported a $3.9bn (£2.2bn) quarterly loss last week amid concerns over its long term financial viability.

The firm’s share price has plummeted as fears over its future have mounted.

Former Federal Reserve boss Alan Greenspan said the US government faced “very difficult decisions” over Lehman if it could not secure a rescue deal that did not involve public funds.

Yet Mr Greenspan said it would be “unsustainable” for the government to bail out every US bank that got itself into difficulty.

Predicting that Lehman would not be the last to require rescuing, Mr Greenspan added that this would not necessarily pose a problem.

“The ordinary course of financial change has winners and losers,” he said.

September 7, 2008

Shun meat, says UN climate chief

Shun meat, says UN climate chief

Cow road sign

Livestock production has a bigger climate impact than transport, the UN believes

People should consider eating less meat as a way of combating global warming, says the UN’s top climate scientist.

Rajendra Pachauri, who chairs the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), will make the call at a speech in London on Monday evening.

UN figures suggest that meat production puts more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than transport.

But a spokeswoman for the UK’s National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said methane emissions from farms were declining.

People may not realise that changing what’s on their plate could have an even bigger effect
Joyce D’Silva
Compassion in World Farming

Dr Pachauri has just been re-appointed for a second six-year term as chairman of the Nobel Prize-winning IPCC, the body that collates and evaluates climate data for the world’s governments.

“The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that direct emissions from meat production account for about 18% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions,” he told BBC News.

“So I want to highlight the fact that among options for mitigating climate change, changing diets is something one should consider.”

Climate of persuasion

The FAO figure of 18% includes greenhouse gases released in every part of the meat production cycle – clearing forested land, making and transporting fertiliser, burning fossil fuels in farm vehicles, and the front and rear end emissions of cattle and sheep.

Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC chairman

Dr Pachauri has chaired the Nobel Prize-winning body since 2002

The contributions of the three main greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – are roughly equivalent, the FAO calculates.

Transport, by contrast, accounts for just 13% of humankind’s greenhouse gas footprint, according to the IPCC.

Dr Pachauri will be speaking at a meeting organised by Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), whose main reason for suggesting people lower their consumption of meat is to reduce the number of animals in factory farms.

CIWF’s ambassador Joyce D’Silva said that thinking about climate change could spur people to change their habits.

“The climate change angle could be quite persuasive,” she said.

“Surveys show people are anxious about their personal carbon footprints and cutting back on car journeys and so on; but they may not realise that changing what’s on their plate could have an even bigger effect.”

Side benefits

There are various possibilities for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with farming animals.

They range from scientific approaches, such as genetically engineering strains of cattle that produce less methane flatus, to reducing the amount of transport involved through eating locally reared animals.

“The NFU is committed to ensuring farming is part of the solution to climate change, rather than being part of the problem,” an NFU spokeswoman told BBC News.

BBC Green Room logo

Unnatural roots of the food crisis

Snared in a homemade ‘NitroNet’

“We strongly support research aimed at reducing methane emissions from livestock farming by, for example, changing diets and using anaerobic digestion.”

Methane emissions from UK farms have fallen by 13% since 1990.

But the biggest source globally of carbon dioxide from meat production is land clearance, particularly of tropical forest, which is set to continue as long as demand for meat rises.

Ms D’Silva believes that governments negotiating a successor to the Kyoto Protocol ought to take these factors into account.

“I would like governments to set targets for reduction in meat production and consumption,” she said.

“That’s something that should probably happen at a global level as part of a negotiated climate change treaty, and it would be done fairly, so that people with little meat at the moment such as in sub-Saharan Africa would be able to eat more, and we in the west would eat less.”

Dr Pachauri, however, sees it more as an issue of personal choice.

“I’m not in favour of mandating things like this, but if there were a (global) price on carbon perhaps the price of meat would go up and people would eat less,” he said.

“But if we’re honest, less meat is also good for the health, and would also at the same time reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.”

August 26, 2008

German shopper mood remains weak

German shopper mood remains weak

Shoppers in Berlin

German consumers are not in an optimistic mood

German consumer confidence has fallen to a fresh five-year low, as recession and high inflation fears continue to sour the mood among shoppers.

The news came from market research firm GFK, whose forward-looking consumer confidence index has dipped to 1.5 points for September from August’s 2.1.

Further gloom was offered by restated official data which confirmed that the economy contracted from April to June.

Germany’s economic output fell 0.5% quarter-on-quarter in the period.

If this contraction was to continue between July and September, then Germany would formally be in recession.

‘Depressed mood’

Fueled by high energy and food costs, German inflation is continuing at its highest level since 1993, hitting household spending.

German companies are further being hit by high raw material costs, and in addition to lower domestic consumer spending, concerns remain the impact of a global economic slowdown.

The high value of the euro has also been a problem over the past year, although the dollar has rallied in recent weeks, offering some respite to German exporters.

“In addition to the continued price hikes for energy and fast moving consumer goods, expectations of weaker economic development are depressing the consumer mood in particular,” said the GFK report.

GFK surveys around 2,000 consumers for its monthly consumer confidence guide.

August 9, 2008

Aids conference ends with warning

Aids conference ends with warning

HIV particles

More than 30 million people around the world are infected with HIV

An international Aids conference has ended with a warning that commitments made by wealthy countries to fund access to HIV treatment may not be met.

The charity Oxfam said there had been an air of complacency from government and UN officials at the Mexico meeting.

In 2005, the G8 industrialised nations set a goal of providing HIV treatment to all who needed it by 2010.

But with less than two years to go, the G8 leaders have committed little more than a third of the promised resources.

Michel Kazatchkine, the head of the Global Fund to fight Aids, tuberculosis and malaria, said that although lives were being saved on an unprecedented scale, he was deeply concerned at the lack of funds.

Three priorities

“We should be deeply concerned that with less than two years to go before our deadline for universal access, the G8 has committed little more than a third of the resources that it has promised to deliver by 2010,” said Mr Kazatchkine at the close of the six-day conference.

What we have is the sense of real slippage
Robert Fox
Oxfam

Millions of lives were at stake, said Robert Fox, the leader of Oxfam International’s delegation in Mexico City.

“What we have is the sense of real slippage, that well you know it may not be 2010 and it probably will be 2015, as if that doesn’t matter,” he said.

Twenty-four thousand people attended the conference, and the organisers said the voices of those who bore the brunt of the HIV-pandemic had been loud and clear.

Mr Kazatchkine highlighted three priorities to take the battle against Aids forward:

  • Defeating the discrimination against those with Aids virus flourished
  • Focussing research on more coordinated research
  • Strengthening health systems in developing nations

The Mexico City conference was the 17th of its kind since acquired immune deficiency syndrome (Aids) emerged in 1981.

The next conference will be held in Vienna in 2010.

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