US working with India in new I2U2 approach to Middle East
This is a syndicated column piece from Al Monitor
United States National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan flew to Saudi Arabia on May 7 to meet with Saudi Prime Minister and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, UAE National Security Advisor Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and National Security Advisor of India Ajit Doval.
Their goal was to further connect the Middle East region with India and the world, building on strong Saudi-India ties as well as on the I2U2 format.
Working with Delhi is a new US approach to the Middle East, with the goal of creating strategic synergies around the Eurasian rim, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indo-Pacific.
The current reality supports a framework for the ongoing, unprecedented alignment between India, Israel, and the Sunni Arab states (UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt) to balance the rising Eurasian powers of the region and prepare a US shift towards the Indo-Pacific.
Two major obstacles were the Arab-Israeli conflict and the India-Pakistan conflict. As the world is drifting towards a multipolar system, pragmatism is prevailing and legacy relationships with no strategic purpose are running out of time — paving the way for the Abraham Accords in 2020 and more interest-based relations between India and Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Egypt.
The I2U2 (Israel, India, the US, and the UAE) is the first format to bring together the Middle East and South Asia.
Kuwait media outlet gets female AI news presenter
A Kuwaiti media outlet has unveiled a virtual news presenter generated using artificial intelligence, with plans for her to read online bulletins.
Fedha appeared on the Twitter account of the Kuwait News website on Saturday as an image of a woman, her light-coloured hair uncovered, wearing a black jacket and white T-shirt.
“I’m Fedha, the first presenter in Kuwait who works with artificial intelligence at Kuwait News. What kind of news do you prefer? Let’s hear your opinions,” she said in classical Arabic.
أول مذيعة في #الكويت تعمل بالذكاء الاصطناعي
• #فضة.. مذيعة #كويت_نيوز الافتراضية
• ما هي نوعية الأخبار التي تفضلونها بتقديم #فضة زميلتنا الجديدة؟ .. شاركونا آراءكم pic.twitter.com/VlVjasSdpb
— كويت نيوز (@KuwaitNews) April 8, 2023
The site is affiliated with the Kuwait Times, founded in 1961 as the Gulf region’s first English-language daily.
Abdullah Boftain, deputy editor in chief for both outlets, said the move is a test of AI’s potential to offer “new and innovative content”.
In future, Fedha could adopt the Kuwaiti accent and present news bulletins on the site’s Twitter account, which has 1.2 million followers, he said.
“Fedha is a popular, old Kuwaiti name that refers to silver, the metal. We always imagine robots to be silver and metallic in colour, so we combined the two,” Mr Boftain said.
The presenter’s blonde hair and light-coloured eyes reflect the oil-rich country’s diverse population of Kuwaitis and expatriates, according to Mr Boftain. “Fedha represents everyone,” he said.
Her initial 13-second video generated a flood of reactions on social media, including from journalists.
The rapid rise of AI globally has raised the promise of benefits, such as in health care and the elimination of mundane tasks, but also fears, for example over its potential spread of disinformation, threat to certain jobs, and to artistic integrity.
Author Salman Rushdie attacked in US after threats for 34 years
Author Salman Rushdie was stabbed in the neck at an event in a remote New York district, US, on Friday. The attacker has been detained.
The 75-year-old author’s writings have in the past led to threats. Even as he was airlifted to the hospital, social media was abuzz with sympathisers and hatred both expressing their thoughts.
Governor Kathy Hochul said he’s alive and “getting the care he needs”. The attacker is in custody and his identity will be released later, she said.
Social media posts showed people rushing to Mr Rushdie’s aid after a man with “black clothes and a black mask” jumped onto the stage and attacked him at Chautauqua Institution, about 100 km from the city. The moderator of the talk suffered minor head injuries in the attack. Mr Rushdie fell to the floor immediately after the attack, and the attacker was restrained. The attack lasted 20 seconds.
#SalmanRushdie just attacked onstage at @chq @NBCNews @ABC @cnnbrk pic.twitter.com/I1XT6AmkhK
— Charles Savenor (@CharlieSavenor) August 12, 2022
Moderator Henry Reese and Mr Rushdie were to discuss “the US as asylum for writers and other artists in exile and as a home for freedom of creative expression”. The attack happened around 11 am local time (8.30 pm IST) as Mr Rushdie was being introduced. There were around 2,500 people in the audience.
The Chautauqua Institution, where the attack took place, is located in a rural part of New York. It is known for its summertime lecture series. Mr Rushdie has spoken there before.
A British citizen of Indian origin — living in the US for the past 20 years — Mr Rushdie, 75, has faced threats for decades over his 1988 book, The Satanic Verses, which is allegedly blasphemous towards Islam. A reward was put on his head by the Iranian top leader, though by 1998 the Iranian government said it won’t enforce that ‘fatwa’ or edict. It wasn’t clear if the attack is linked to that, although Twitterati haters started rejoicing (sic) with references to the past.
@SalmanRushdie The enemy of Holy Prophet (saw) & Islam on way to his final destination #hell#SalmanRushdie pic.twitter.com/ouvtWbJrfu
— Sardar Sheraz (@sardarSheraz3) August 12, 2022
After the controversy over The Satanic Verses, Mr Rushdie remained out of the public eye, mostly living under government protection in the UK. But he produced several novels throughout the 1990s, and continues to criticise religious fundamentalism.
His first novel came out in 1975, but one of his seminal works is about modern India, Midnight’s Children (1981), for which he won the Booker Prize.
In 2012, after an Iranian religious outfit “renewed” the bounty on him, he dismissed that threat, saying there was “no evidence” of people being interested in the reward, said the AP report. He even published a memoir, Joseph Anton, about life after the fatwa. The title came from a pseudonym he had used while in hiding.
Iranian writer condemns attack on Salman Rushdie#SalmanRushdie https://t.co/AbDMH9QvEW
— IndiaToday (@IndiaToday) August 12, 2022
Samsung and Apple make merry in Middle East smartphone Q2 sales in 2022
Samsung and Apple have consolidated market share in sales for the second quarter of the year in the Middle East and Africa region even as smartphone shipments dipped 10 percent for the same Q2 period overall.
Macro headwinds have turned the tide with a 7.8% dip year on year and reflecting brands’ enthusiasm, according to a latest research report from Counterpoint’s Market Monitor Service.
The research report by Yang Wang says: “The biggest drag on the market was, unsurprisingly, macro issues. Inflation induced by food and fuel shortages dampened consumer demand while declining domestic currencies against the US dollar reduced the purchasing power of consumers.”
There were also secondary macro factors that impacted the market. For example, some governments imposed food export bans or “non-essential” goods import bans to stem the outflow of foreign currency reserves. Taxes on electronics products were also increased, adding more hurdles to the market’s smooth operation.
The market leader, Samsung, grew YoY from a relatively low base in Q2 2021 when it faced COVID-19 disruptions at its Vietnam production facilities.
The new and revamped Galaxy A-series devices have performed well and were among the best-selling devices during Q2. Samsung’s shipments are expected to grow in H2 with the upcoming launch of its new generation of foldables and as end-of-year sales approach.
Apple’s shipments also grew 2% YoY, largely due to better distribution and product availability in GCC countries. The iPhone 13 series has the best-selling premium devices in the region since its launch.
However, other brands apart from these two took a hit in the numbers. Given the pessimistic global macro sentiment, some brands have restrained activities in the region, according to the report. Brands were under pressure to streamline budgets and activities, which were redirected to more strategic markets and regions.
This meant that incentives to push brand penetration in MEA were scaled back, which in turn forced distributors and resellers to raise prices to defend their margins. These headwinds led to declining shipments for many OEMs.
OPPO, Realme, Vivo and Xiaomi saw steep YoY declines in their Q2 shipments. The OEMs continue to struggle in establishing a foothold in the region, as weak distributor incentives and supply issues have plagued the brands throughout H1 2022.
Furthermore, stiff competition from regional stalwarts Samsung and Transsion Group’s TECNO and Infinix has curtailed market share for the challenger brands. However, the ramping up of local production in Pakistan, specifically for OPPO, vivo and Xiaomi, could help ease supply issues in the region. But it is unlikely to have any substantial effect in 2022.
Despite the underwhelming market performance in the first half of the year, there are some reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the rest of the year.
Though inflation has reached double digits in many countries across MEA, it is not a new phenomenon and most customers have experienced these episodes in the recent past. This has brought them the ability to adapt quickly to the new economic realities. Also, the average selling prices of smartphones are continuing to trend up in the region, suggesting increasing digitization and customers’ need for more sophisticated handsets.
The easing of the global semiconductor shortage, which led to severe product availability issues for MEA in 2021, is also expected to help the market find a stronger footing once the economic issues subside.