thumbnail text

Pilgrims’ progress

Saudi Arabia [RAILWAYS]

Camels were the mass transit mode du jour when Muhammad led pilgrims the 450km from Medinah to Mecca almost 1,400 years ago. But bullet trains and light railways will soon whisk modern pilgrims safely to their holy destinations.

To date, a rickety ride between Riyadh and Dammam is the only stretch of train track in the Arabian peninsula. But Saudi King ­Abdullah has granted assent for 320km/h trains to speed commuters and pilgrims ­between Islam’s holy cities of Mecca and Medinah, via Jeddah – the main port of entry for the two million Muslims performing the annual hard-going Hajj pilgrimage and year-round Umrah.

Railway tracks will be laid by the pragmatically titled China Railway 18th Bureau next year (contracts for the rolling stock have not yet been awarded). But Samer Arafa, executive vice president of local firm ­Al-Arrab, says the biggest challenge is neither climate nor terrain but the 225 days during the 30-month project when Mecca and Medinah will be off-limits to his contractors because of holy days.

Overcrowding, stampedes and loss of life during the Hajj are not uncommon, so the Chinese have also been asked to ease congestion by building an elevated light railway ­outside Mecca linking the holy sites of Mina and Arafat.

Did you know?
- Saudi Arabia and Turkey also propose rebuilding the historic Hijaz Railway, bringing pilgrims the 1,400km from Istanbul to Medinah, via Damascus. - Women travelling on the Riyadh and Dammam line sit in separate carriages to men. - 364 pilgrims died during a crowd surge at the 2006 Hajj. - As a general rule, three to four people can fit into one square metre. During the Hajj, 10 people squeeze in that space.
- Only 100 pilgrims maximum are allowed to pass through the Mina Valley site at any one time. Tight time-slots are allocated so that 30,000 groups of 100 can make the visit.

Payback time

Guinea [POLITICS]

Guinea is having a clean up since a coup in December. Former politicians have been detained or publicly humiliated until they agree to give back millions of dollars stolen while they were in power.

CDs of new military leader, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, interrogating former politicians on TV have become top sellers. He’s promised elections for the end of the year.

Q&A - Jonathan Shapiro, aka Zapiro

Cartoonist, South Africa

Zapiro is a big thorn in the side of South Africa’s new president Jacob Zuma, who is suing the cartoonist over images of his battles against corruption charges – eventually dropped – and a rape case, which Zuma won.

Zapiro’s work appears in South Africa’s The Mail & Guardian and Sunday Times, and always ­depicts Zuma with a shower on his head – a ­reminder of his claim at the rape trial that he protected himself from HIV by showering after sex.

Does Zuma have a sense of humour?
I’m not sure. He comes across as being jovial and charming but he has a slow “he-he-he’’ laugh, which could mean anything. Previous president Thabo Mbeki was paranoid and didn’t have a sense of irony either but it was beneath him to complain about a cartoon. Nelson Mandela had a tremendous sense of humour.

Is Zuma a danger to freedom of expression?
Very much so and I am worried to see that parts of the South African media are not being very robust. I am feeling huge pressure to be less strident but I can’t go along with wiping out my principles after having spent so many years fighting for this country’s freedom both as a cartoonist and, before that, as an activist.

Are you worried for your country under Zuma?
If the level of debate remains open then things will be OK. But there’s a danger that the ANC culture of nepotism and bullying becomes the national culture.

Election watch

Iran

Facts:
Date: 12 June
Type: Presidential
Incumbent: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Challengers: Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi

Main issues:
- Economy
- Relationship with the West
- Social liberalisation

What it means for the world:
Lots. Iran increasingly fancies itself a superpower, as shown by its support for guerrilla groups in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, and its unrepentant development of nuclear technology.

Word block

Iran

Iran has more languages at risk than any other country in the Middle East. Of its 77 languages, two have disappeared and 23 others could soon die out.

Q&A - Jonathan Shapiro, aka Zapiro

Cartoonist, South Africa

Zapiro is a big thorn in the side of South Africa’s new president Jacob Zuma, who is suing the cartoonist over images of his battles against corruption charges – eventually dropped – and a rape case, which Zuma won.

Zapiro’s work appears in South Africa’s The Mail & Guardian and Sunday Times, and always ­depicts Zuma with a shower on his head – a ­reminder of his claim at the rape trial that he protected himself from HIV by showering after sex.

Does Zuma have a sense of humour?
I’m not sure. He comes across as being jovial and charming but he has a slow “he-he-he’’ laugh, which could mean anything. Previous president Thabo Mbeki was paranoid and didn’t have a sense of irony either but it was beneath him to complain about a cartoon. Nelson Mandela had a tremendous sense of humour.

Is Zuma a danger to freedom of expression?
Very much so and I am worried to see that parts of the South African media are not being very robust. I am feeling huge pressure to be less strident but I can’t go along with wiping out my principles after having spent so many years fighting for this country’s freedom both as a cartoonist and, before that, as an activist.

Are you worried for your country under Zuma?
If the level of debate remains open then things will be OK. But there’s a danger that the ANC culture of nepotism and bullying becomes the national culture.

Loading...

/

15

15

Live

00:0001:00

  • The Continental Shift