MERS Outbreak in South Korea Hits Record High, 3 New Cases, 2 More Die

who says south koreas mers outbreak large and complex, photo courtesy of ritika patel

who says south koreas mers outbreak large and complex, photo courtesy of ritika patel

SOUTH KOREA - An outbreak of MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in South Korea has led to 138 confirmed cases and 14 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Just 17 hours ago news outlets reported 3 new cases with 2 more deaths.

A single traveler brought the disease to South Korea last month and since then it has spread exponentially overwhelming the healthcare system. Contributing factors include overcrowded emergency rooms, the sick and worried returning numerous times to hospitals, additional delays as medical professionals seek second opinions, coupled with an ill-trained medical community unfamiliar with the disease.

Currently, all cases have occurred have been traced back to a hospital where patient zero contracted the disease. Many citizens have started wearing surgical masks to protect themselves from infection. However, the larger community isn't taking any chances either and have subsequently closed more than 2,900 schools and quarantined 3,680 people. (Source: BBC).

An early setback has been a lack of government transparency. President Park Geun-hye has been accused of not being pro-active in his response and of withholding information about who has been infected. The mayor of Seoul, Park Won-soon, said that a now quarantined doctor attended a gathering of more than 1,500 people the day before he was diagnosed with the disease. (Source: New York Times)

However, the WHO has issued a statement that human-to-human transmission of the virus is only possible through very close contact. As long as reasonable measures are taken there is no need for panic. Currently, the WHO is working with scientists to better understand the disease, develop treatment strategies, and determine the best way to respond to the outbreak.

Although the disease is not well understood and has no cure, the spread of it has thus far been predictable. Most contagious diseases are opportunistic and are most easily incubated and spread in hospitals and other healthcare facilities due to close proximity of the infected. Although doctors and scientists are struggling to find a way to treat the infected, predictive and statistical models have proved invaluable in anticipating what part of the population is at greatest risks and thus help communities implement proactive precautions.

The disease originated in Saudi Arabia in 2012, and according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) there is currently no vaccine to prevent MERS-CoV infection, but the South Korea outbreak is the largest outbreak outside of the Middle East. “MERS-CoV is thought to spread from an infected person to others through respiratory secretions, such as coughing. In other countries, the virus has spread from person to person through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected person. (Source: CDC)

Contributing Journalist: @SJJakubowski
Facebook: Sarah Joanne Jakubowski

Saudi Arabia Grapples with Women's Right to Drive Within Existing Restrictions

SAUDI ARABIA - A common Western activity such as driving has been an issue for women in Saudi Arabia for ages. Although women over thirty have been allowed to drive, this right has been curtailed by the stringent restriction to which they are forced to adhere.

Currently, "Saudi Arabian laws" limit their freedom to drive outside of a proscribed schedule which prohibits them driving after 8:00 p.m. Also, an additional restrictive and seemingly punitive issue is that women who are driving are forbidden to wear make-up while operating the vehicle. One would presumably understand the restriction against distracted drivers using cell phones and other communication devices thus taking their attention away from the road, but the wearing of make-up does not seem to fall into this category as women are allowed to wear it in all other instances.

This matter came to the attention of the world because the consul of Saudi Arabia has put on the table for discussion the possibility of removing the time constraints, and also considering the option of allowing women older than 30-years-old to operate a vehicle during restricted hours. Though, these discussion are not open to the public, it seems that this is a growing necessity for a society that is increasingly mobile and where the use of a vehicle would greatly enhance the performance of such mundane duties such as grocery shopping, picking up children from school, etc.

Although the decision to reassess the restrictions imposed on women drivers seems precipitous, in fact women have been actively campaigning for this basic right to drive for years. The consul stated that there is the necessity to create a “female traffic department" in order to bring precise control over the matter, in case a car suffers some damage while being utilized by a woman. There are also restrictions when it comes to women interacting with men while driving. Though these discussion seem to be a recognition of the need for equal rights for women in terms of driving, the additional restriction makes us wonder if this response is a ploy to seemingly comply with women's rights group while in fact devaluing the struggle in which many women defied the laws, boldly driven their cars, and consequently suffered punishment.

Additionally, the existing restriction have resulted in a culture of families hiring drivers to transport women. But, what happens when the traditional family does not have the economic resources to hire someone? Women then are directly dependent of spouses, siblings, parents and even their children in order to accomplish their daily activities, and such restriction are unduly punitive for women who are in the lower classes. Thus, the current debate is considering the possibility that under certain conditions women might drive more days of the week during the hours between 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Restrictions regarding wearing make-up and interacting with men during the driving are not up for discussion and will likely remain in place.

According to The Associated Press, "There have been small, but increasingly bold protests by women who took to their cars in open defiance....over the past year despite the restrictions. The driving ban, which is unique in the world, was imposed because the kingdom's ultraconservative Muslim clerics say "licentiousness" will spread if women drive.”

A protest occurred last October when Saudi women drove around their neighborhoods and recorded themselves on videos which they then posted on social networks such as YouTube as a means to publicize their plight and reinforce their belief in the right to protest this unjust situation. Although there isn't a written law that limits schedules or outlines formal details on restrictions imposed on women driver, these unwritten cultural restrictions have been ubiquitously enforced, and punishments have varied between jail time or other sanctions.

In 2011 forty women protested against the driving ban and as a consequence one of them was sentenced to 10 lashes; however this barbaric punishment was subsequently overturned by the king. The revocation of this sentence can be viewed as an improvement since the situation has been discussed for years over what type of judgement should be meted out for women who break the de facto "driving ban" laws, and corporal punishment of women who are considered disobedient is actively practiced in other traditional cultures.

Since the consuls' discussion are private and there has been no indication of when an announcement of their decision will be made, women who have been demanding their right to drive continue to peacefully protest by driving despite these anachronistic traditions.

Islamic New Year 2014 | The Prophet and Kaaba

dubai 2014 new years eve fireworks, photo by robin appleby

dubai 2014 new years eve fireworks, photo by robin appleby

DUBAI, This year, the new Islamic New Year fell on October 24. The date will mark the anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad's journey from Mecca to Medina in year 622. He led his followers over 200 miles across barren desert to escape persecution. At the time, Mecca was a polytheistic city which was viewed by many different religions as a holy center.

The frequent migrations of these many religious practitioners was to visit the Kaaba, which is a sacred stone structure that was once used to house effigies of gods and goddesses and its presence subsequently changed the city into a prosperous trade center.

When the Prophet insisted that there was only one God people were quite resistant to this credence. At that time theKaaba wasfilled with false idols and, furthermore, in the terms of all the Abrahamic religions it is required that a percentage of one's income (if possible) be given to charity. People worried that this new religious edict would harm the economy as well as their pockets.

As the Prophet Muhammad started his life as a merchant and didn't turn to religion until he was in his 30s -- people questioned both his authority to preach and his sincerity in proselytizing these new values. Consequently, he was threatened and began to fear for his life. The Prophet had heard that the city of Medina would be a sanctuary for the new followers of Islam and thus moved to there.  The first groundswell of converts to Islam were rapidly growing, and thus he found Mecca to be more welcoming.

The year of this journey, called the Hijra marked the beginning of the Islamic calendar. While the Prophet's birth and the founding of the Islamic religion are important, it was decided that the show of devotion in the face of adversary that a more powerful symbol representative of Islamic value should be adopted as the first of the calendar year.

Eventually it became safe for the Prophet Muhammad to return to Mecca. This pilgrimage, called the hajj, became required for all Muslims to make at least once in their lifetime during the 12th month of the Islamic calendar.  However, exceptions are made for those unable to travel. As well as being a personal journey, it is also a way to encourage solidarity amongst Muslims and people from all over the world from all backgrounds came and continue to gather together to give allegiance to Allah.

The Muslim calendar is on a lunar cycle versus the Gregorian calendar used by much of the West. Thus, the start of a month is marked by the first sighting of a crescent moon, and each new day begins at sundown on the previous, versus a new day starting at sun up in the West. Because the 12-months of the calendar differ in length from the more widely used Gregorian calendar, Islamic dates and holidays vary in comparison from year-to-year.

The New Year is recognized in relatively quiet way, with prayers and reflections, but as with the other major religions and in honor of their holidays, we wish our Muslim readers Sana sa'eedah!

Saudi Arabia Blames Camels for MERS Outbreak in US

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Allyson Cartwright, Contributing JournalistLast Modified: 20:24 p.m. DST, 14 May 2014

Riyadh Camel Market, Photo by Charles Roffey SAUDI ARABIA, Riyadh— A second case of an American infected with the MERS virus has been confirmed in Orlando, Florida. As MERS breaches the US border, death tolls of those infected with the virus in Saudi Arabia continue to rise. MERS originated in Saudi Arabia, where they claim that camels are the source of the pathogen that causes the respiratory virus.

There are near 500 diagnosed cases of MERS—short for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome— in Saudi Arabia alone. The Saudi health ministry reports that half of these MERS victims were diagnosed in April of this year. According to Ahram Online, the death toll of MERS victims in Saudi Arabia stands at 121 deaths, four of those within the last week.

The Saudi Ministry of Agriculture has issued a state public health through the official Saudi Press Agency. They urge people who are handling animals to “exercise caution and follow preventive measures”. This kind of warning has not come from Saudi officials since the MERS virus was discovered in 2012. Health experts conclude that the most dangerous animals to handle are camels, a vital livestock for the nomadic culture of Saudi Arabia.

The Ministry of Agriculture suggests when dealing with camels, "It is advisable to wear protective gloves, especially when dealing with births or sick or dead.” The National Turk says that the ministry has also warned that any camel milk should be boiled and camel meat thoroughly cooked before consumption. Also, gloves and face masks should be worn when handling animals or coming in contact with infected people. Despite the link between the MERS pathogen and camels, ABC News says that scientists do not know how the virus is spreading from the animal to people.

There is international concern as the virus is spreading globally. The hajj, the pilgrimage of Muslims to the Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina, will be occurring in this fall as well as during the Ramadan holy month of July. The large numbers of people, estimated at two to five million, will be travelling to Saudi Arabia from all over the world and putting themselves at risk of MERS infection. Some countries have even considered imposing travel restrictions to Saudi Arabia.

In Egypt, where their first case of MERS was diagnosed this April, there is deliberation on banning pilgrims from participating in the Hajj. Ahram Online reports that former Egyptian health minister and member of the special task force for the MERS virus, Mohammed Awad Tag El-Din, said if the “epidemic status of the virus and its development” gets worse then travel restrictions will be considered.

The World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a 5-day mission to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to evaluate the outbreak of the virus. WHO determined that they “recommend the application of any travel or trade restrictions, including for upcoming pilgrimage travel to Saudi Arabia.”

NBC News reports that 17 countries, mostly on the Arabian Peninsula, currently have cases of infected individuals. Countries that have reported MERS infections include Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, the United States and several countries in Europe. NBC News also say that with Dubai being the world’s busiest airport and the Middle East’s growing role in international trade, the MERS virus could eventually have economic implications that go beyond its dangers to health.

Follow Allyson on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @allysoncwright

Sporting News | Saudi Women May Soon See Athletic Opportunities

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Progress towards greater gender equality continues in Saudi Arabia. Last year, King Abdullah allowed the addition of physical education programs in private schools. 2012 saw the first Saudi female athletes competing in Olympic games. And now, the Shura Council has voted to expand athletic programs to public schools throughout the Kingdom. While Saudi women remain some of the most restricted in the world, their cause is gaining momentum.

Growing concerns over women's health are at the core of the movement. Increased heart disease, obesity and diabetes threaten Saudi women at much higher rates than their male counterparts. According to Human Rights Watch, as many as 33% of women likely suffer from obesity, and 25% are plagued by diabetes. Regular exercise through physical education regimens and after-school sporting opportunities could greatly offset these life-threatening conditions, according to doctors.

The Shura Council has little power in Saudi government, but the assembly fills an important gap between the people and lawmakers. The Council's recommendation will be forwarded to the education ministry. This department will have the final say. In recent years, high-power clerics have questioned the longstanding ban on female recreation, stating that the Qur'an does not explicitly oppose this activity.

Externally, Saudi Arabia was the subject of international pressure. Until the 2012 Summer Olympics, the Kingdom was the only country recognized by the International Olympic Committee to prohibit female participants. The London games saw two Saudi women competitors, Wojdan Ali Seraj and Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, who competed in judo and track, respectively. The ladies' achievements were veiled, as the events were not televised in their mother country.

The makeup of the Shura Council is in itself indicative of the direction of the country. Last year, King Abdullah included 30 women on the board of 150 advisors. In the past, the Council had been exclusively male. But, the assembly's new power balance is not representative of wider Saudi society. Legally, women are unable to participate in business dealings, drive cars or even vote. Even so, Saudi women work in sales, education and now, law. Earlier this year, Bayan Mahmoud Al-Zahran was the first woman in the Kingdom to gain her lawyer's license.

However necessary, the implementation of female athletics could prove dubious. Even the discussion of expanding of women's athletics generated controversy from conservative Council members. If the education ministry approves wider sporting provisions, participants will abide by Sharia codes. According to these Islamic laws, traditional attire and female supervision will be mandated during sport practices and events.

The Council's endorsement is just one component of an increasingly progressive Saudi Arabia. Last August, King Abdullah took official action against domestic violence. The order provides victims with necessary medical treatment and levies serious punishments against culpable parties. By most data, Saudi Arabia is home to the most codified gender inequity in the world, and yet, developments continue to give hope to the women of the Kingdom.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Senior Correspondent: @MAndrewRansom

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Women's Rights in the Middle East

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Alex Hamasaki, Student InternLast Modified: 22:40 DST, 4 April 2013

A quick update of the recent rulings on women’s rights in the Gaza Strip and Saudi Arabia.

 Hamas orders gender segregation in schools

Saudi Portrait, Photo Courtesy of Edward MusiakGAZA STRIP, Israel - Gaza’s Hamas-controlled parliament passed a law requiring separate classes in schools for boys and girls in public and private schools from the fourth grade, Aljazeera reports.

Osama Mazini, the Hamas education director, announced on Monday that the February 10th law was approved by parliament.

Article 46 bans “the mixing of students from the two sexes in educational establishments after the age of nine, and work to 'feminise' girls' schools." The law also bans males from teaching in girls’ schools.

In the past, Hamas has enforced conservative religious laws, such as telling school girls to wear traditional full-length robes and headscarves in a besieged territory.

Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, is the Palestinian Sunni Islamic or Islamist organization. The group was founded in 1987 during the First Intifada as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas’ original purpose was to liberate Palestine from Israeli control and to establish an Islamic state in the area of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 when it won in a landslide against its opponents, Fatah.

In July 2009, Hamas’ political bureau Chief announced that they would settle for a resolution of a Palestinian state based on the 1957 borders so long as Palestinian refugees had the right to return to Israel and that East Jerusalem would be the new nation’s capital.

The traditional Muslim organization’s Article 46 forbids the "receipt of gifts or aid aimed at normalising (relations) with the Zionist occupation (Israel)." Article 46 will go into effect in September.

Saudis lift ban on women bicycling

Saudi women can now legally bike in public under certain conditions, Aljazeera reports. The Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice overturned the previous ban on cycling and motorbiking for women. However, women must wear a full-body abaya, be accompanied by a male relative, and stay within certain areas. Women are allowed to ride bikes for recreation purposes only.

Saudi Arabia still bans women from driving. The Shura Council warned that allowing women to drive would “provoke a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality, and divorce.”

Follow Alex Hamasaki on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Student Intern: @aghamasaki

Islamists Destroy Timbuktu, Eye Pyramids of Giza

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 19:20 PM EDT, 11 July 2012

Sphinx & Pyramid of Giza, Photo by English 1050 InstructorUnfortunately, radical Islamist behaving badly has dominated the news this week. This coupled with a dearth of response from moderate Muslims who should vociferously denounce these fringe groups that have hijacked their religion, has provided fertile ground for anger, mistrust, and xenophobia.

Today, news outlets reported the horrific possibility that Egypt’s greatest historical treasure and defining landmark is under threat of destruction. Prominent, radical Muslim clerics are demanding the newly elected President Mohammed Morsi push Egypt toward theocratic governance. As proof of his compliance the clerics are demanding that he impose Islamic law in Egypt just like the newly formed northern Sudan government did.

It is perhaps fortunate that President Morsi is making his first foreign trip today to Saudi Arabia, and thus has been spared the ordeal of addressing these ludicrous demands. The radicalization of his government could play directly into the hands of the military who recently dissolved parliament and would use this or any other opportunity to reassert their dominance.

At issue today is the call by top, radical, Muslim clerics for Morsi to demonstrate his fealty by instituting a program to destroy the last of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - namely, the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the Sphinx, and all others symbols and representations that they deem pagan and ‘idolatrous.’

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World have all been destroyed. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria were all believed to have been destroyed by earthquakes. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus as well as the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus were destroyed during war. Only the Great Pyramids of Giza remains.

The call for the destruction of these significant, historical antiquities by marauding conquerors is not new, but what is disturbing is that in this instance Egyptian are seeking to destroy their national heritage. The fact that these demands were made is a clear sign of the diminished capacity of moderate Muslims to keep the radical fringe in check, which in turn provides ammunition to those who seek to engage in an apocalyptic end of day’s battle between the West and Islam.

Though the destruction of the Pyramids of Giza is unfathomable, the necessary technology can be procured easily by radical Islamist. If they are successful in convincing the Morsi government to destroy the pyramids, there is little that any other nation could do to stop this unconscionable act.

On 9 June 2012, in Mali, Ansar Dine Islamist militia which has ties to Al-Qaeda and fought with the Tuareg to capture the key towns of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal, have begun to impose Sharia law on the populace in the region with the hope of eventually instituted this as the rule of law for the nation.

The Tuareg who are more moderate but fought with Ansar Dine against the military forces of the deposed Malian president Amadou Toumani Touré, have broken ties with the group because they do not ascribe to their strict interpretation of the Quran. Unfortunately, they have unwittingly delivered control of the region into the hands of what some have reported is an organization comprised of criminals and drug lords.

According to reports Ansar Dine Islamists routinely engage in pillaging, rape, and theft in the areas they have conquered. They have also actively desecrated a number of centuries-old mausoleums of Muslim holy men in Timbuktu. The tombs are located at the great Djinguereber mosque, and this sacrilegious act perpetrated under the guise of piety is nothing short of hypocrisy.

In March 2001, Taliban fighters used explosives to blow up the famed 6th century giant statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province, and in both instances the extremists’ leaders, Mullah Mohammed Omar in Afghanistan, and a spokesman for Ansar Dine lauded the destruction of these irreplaceable monuments.

“Muslims should be proud of smashing idols. It has given praise to God that we have destroyed them.”

There is no better time in history for moderate Muslims to take a stand and let their voices be heard. As Edmund Burke said, “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”

Thus, it is imperative that every voice of moderation speak out or risk being tarred by the same brush used by generalists to justify racism, hate crimes, xenophobia, and distrust of not only Muslims, but of all people who do not conform to ‘their’ perception of the world.

As George Santayana stated, “Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.” If we do not stand against this wanton destruction and radical extremism by deploying every means possible, we will surely find ourselves locked in another world war. This time, not with Fascist or Nazis, but with unpredictable, undisciplined, uneducated, radical Islamist; and in the end the collateral damage of this type of engagement will leave no country unscathed.

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Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor: @ayannanahmias