A $2 million US lobbying effort and petitions from European lawmakers are piling pressure on Saudi Arabia to release a philanthropist prince jailed for two years without charge amid an intensifying royal crackdown.
The detention of Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz and his father since January 2018 is part of a clampdown under de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that has ensnared not just potential rivals but also figures posing no visible challenge to his hold on power.
The dangerous power plays have also swept up family members of Saad Aljabri, a former aide to another detained prince and top intelligence official, who fled to Canada and holds key state secrets.
The most unlikely target is Prince Salman, a multilingual 37-year-old educated at Paris’s Sorbonne University, who apparently espoused no political ambitions and earned a reputation of being a “walking blank check” for funding development projects in poor countries.
“This is not just an unlawful arrest,” an associate of the prince told AFP. “This is daylight kidnapping. This is a forced disappearance.”
After being detained for around a year in the high-security Al-Ha’ir prison near Riyadh and later in a private villa with his father Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the prince was moved to a secret detention site in March, multiple sources told AFP.
He was mysteriously returned to the villa last week to be reunited with his father, three of those sources said.
It remains unclear why he was moved to the secret site. His telephone calls to his family are monitored by Saudi intelligence, the sources said.
But his return may be a tentative sign that international pressure for his release is working. Saudi authorities did not respond to a request for comment on the case.
A delegation from the European Parliament implored Saudi authorities to release detained royals including Prince Salman during a visit to Riyadh in February, according to a source and an internal report of the tour seen by AFP.
“The European Parliament already asked for information about the case in a letter addressed… to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which (remains) unanswered,” Marc Tarabella, a vice chairman of the parliament’s delegation for relations with the Arab peninsula, wrote to the European Commission.
“I would like to ask you to raise this issue… with the highest relevant authorities in Saudi Arabia appealing for Prince Salman’s release.
“I remain confident that the release would positively impact the relations of the European Parliament with Saudi Arabia,” he wrote.
Separately, leading Washington lobbyist Robert Stryk’s Sonoran Policy Group signed a $2 million contract in May to advocate for the prince’s release “with the governments of the United States, United Kingdom, France, and the European Union”, according to a US justice department filing seen by AFP.
Stryk, known to have close connections with the administration of US President Donald Trump — an ally of Prince Mohammed — was recruited by Hashim Mughal, a Paris-based confidant of Prince Salman, according to the filing.
A source described Mughal, a Pakistani national, as the prince’s former financial advisor who raised $2 million from his personal wealth and by tapping the influential royal’s friends.
The international effort is a gamble that could backfire in a kingdom whose authoritarian rulers are strongly averse to public criticism.
But as private appeals to the rulers go unheeded, the campaign may be the only hope at a time when the kingdom is grappling with a coronavirus-led economic slump and amid unease in Washington with Prince Mohammed’s aggressive policies.
‘Game of thrones’
Prince Salman is among a wave of royals detained as Prince Mohammed, known as MBS, eliminates potential rivals to amass power unseen by previous rulers.
In March, authorities arrested the Saudi king’s brother Prince Ahmed and nephew Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who was edged out as heir to the throne by MBS in 2017.
Two adult children and a brother of Saad Aljabri, once a senior aide to Prince Nayef, were also detained in March, with a source close to the family calling them “victims of a Saudi game of thrones”.
Aljabri, exiled in Canada, earlier attempted to get his children to leave Saudi Arabia but authorities had placed them under a travel ban, the source told AFP.
Princess Basmah bint Saud, another royal perceived to be close to Prince Nayef, has been jailed in Al-Ha’ir for a year without charge along with her daughter.
Her family lost all contact with the princess after they posted a desperate Twitter appeal for her release in April, a source has told AFP.
More baffling is the detention of Prince Salman, whose non-political philanthropic work makes him an unlikely rival to MBS.
What may have rankled the royal court is the prince’s meeting with Congressman Adam Schiff, a Democrat and Trump critic, just before US elections in 2016.
His associates say “nothing political” was discussed.
Schiff’s office told AFP he does not recall specifics of the discussion but they may have talked about “Saudi Arabia generally”.
“Those who pushed for this arrest gravely misread US politics,” Kirsten Fontenrose, a former White House official responsible for policy towards Saudi Arabia and now with the Atlantic Council, told AFP.
“Jailing someone for meeting with a vocal Democrat will only make it more difficult for Trump to maintain close ties to the Saudi ruling family leading up to the US election.
“And it will certainly come back to bite the kingdom if the next administration is led by Democrats.”
Reporting and photos: AFP
Emirates undertakes largest known fleet retrofit project
Emirates has kick-started its plans to upgrade the entire interior cabins of 120 Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 aircraft – two of the largest commercial aircraft types in service today.
This ambitious project, representing a multi-billion dollar investment to ensure Emirates’ customers “fly better” for the coming years, officially commences in November and is managed entirely by Emirates’ Engineering team.
The target is to completely retrofit four Emirates aircraft from start to finish every month, continuously for over 2 years. Once the 67 earmarked A380s are refreshed and back in service, 53 777s will undergo their facelift. This will see nearly 4,000 brand new Premium Economy seats installed, 728 First Class suites refurbished and over 5,000 Business Class seats upgraded to a new style and design when the project is complete in April 2025.
In addition, carpets and stairs will be upgraded, and cabin interior panels refreshed with new tones and design motifs including the iconic ghaf trees which are native to the UAE.
No other airline has handled a retrofit of this magnitude in-house, and there’s no blueprint for such an undertaking. Therefore Emirates Engineering teams have been planning and testing extensively, to establish and streamline processes, and identify and address any possible snags.
Trials began on an A380 in July, where experienced engineers literally took each cabin apart piece-by-piece and logged every step. From removing seats and panelling to bolts and screws, every action was tested, timed and mapped out. Potential impediments to completing the installation of Emirates’ new Premium Economy Class or the retrofit of the remaining three cabins in just 16 days were flagged and documented for expert teams to review and address.
As part of the programme, new purpose-built workshops will be set up at Emirates Engineering to repaint, re-trim and re-upholster Business and Economy Class seats with new covers and cushioning. First Class suites will be carefully disassembled and sent to a specialised company to replace the leather, arm rests and other materials.
From the trials, Engineers discovered several unexpected solutions for instance: that existing food catering trucks could be easily repurposed to move parts destined for refurbishment from the aircraft to the workshop for their refresh, as these vehicles had doors of the right width and offer sufficient space.
Until the retrofit programme starts in earnest in November, a cross-disciplinary team has been assembled to regularly review the planning process, address any issues, and track updates on various aspects of the project such as procurement, staffing, and training.
Emirates’ new Premium Economy cabin class, which offers luxurious seats, more legroom, and a service to rival many airlines’ business offering, is currently available to Emirates customers travelling on popular A380 routes to London, Paris, Sydney. More customers will be able to experience the airline’s new Premium Economy cabins starting from year end, as the retrofit programme picks up momentum.
Eleanor helps over 30 Maldives hotels elevate guest services
Eleanor has been named as one of the top 10 concierge software providers globally.
Based on accurate, timely reviews from real users, the HotelTechAwards rank the world’s best hotel software firms and products and it also provides hoteliers direct access to a growing network of hotel technology professionals and decision-makers.
“The guest experience is the cornerstone of our platform. Our unified resort wide solution, Eleanor, has been built for resorts off the back of many years working in the industry and addresses the needs of both Sales and Marketing departments and perhaps just as importantly, the operational requirements of the team on the ground at the property. The days of resorts working with disjointed systems are now behind us,” says Darren Caple, co-founder and CEO.
“We are on a mission to make the guest’s resort experience as easy and as frictionless as possible. Whereas traditional providers in the market have come at this purely from a guest communication perspective, our background in resorts has allowed us to combine this basic requirement with the streamlining of operational processes. The result is truly a resort wide solution that removes the need for countless different systems to be deployed.
Eleanor allows resorts to deliver consistent, superior service levels to guests across all stages of their journey with contactless features helping to alleviate sensitive touch-points in the post pandemic period. More than 30 properties in the Maldives use our Eleanor platform to help butlers and guest services elevate the guest experience. These properties are seeing an increase in incremental revenue by over 30% and operational efficiencies of 600+ man hours per month. We are also beginning to roll out the platform in some Caribbean properties!”
Eleanor is making waves in the hospitality industry by pushing the conventional limits of what a resort guest app can achieve through its unique ability to facilitate direct bookings for services and activities. The traditional ‘request to book’ feature that is common amongst almost all other hotel apps is removed by a power booking and operational platform sitting at the heart of the solution that covers all the resorts’ departments. It’s this module which realises enormous operational benefits and insights for the resort.
“We, at Eleanor, are humbled and honoured that our clients have provided such positive reviews. Feedback from our clients, partners and hoteliers are incredibly valuable for us and we will continue to improve our offering and services”, said Caple.
To celebrate this success, Eleanor is currently offering resorts a free one month trial, together with free setup and training and discounted monthly fees.
Eleanor, founded in 2018 and has its headquarters in the United Kingdom. Created from over 15 years of hands-on expertise, Eleanor allows resorts to deliver consistent, superior service levels to its guests across all stages of their journey with contactless features helping to alleviate sensitive touch-points in the post pandemic period. Eleanor also helps to unlock operational efficiencies and boost incremental revenue and guest loyalty.
Hotel Tech Report’s Best Concierge Software 2022 Runner Up, reviewed as a preferred and reliable hotel software product by the global hotelier community.
For more information, visit www.eleanorapp.com.
Emirates’ recruiters scour the world for cabin crew talent with 30 city stops
Emirates, the world’s most global airline, is seeking talented people with a passion for service to join its award-winning cabin crew team.
As air travel returns with a vengeance, the airline’s recruiters are busy meeting and hiring candidates in 30 cities from now until the end of June. In this latest drive, Emirates’ teams will travel from Australia to the UK, and dozens of European cities in between, as well as Cairo, Algiers, Tunis and Bahrain.
Abdulaziz Al Ali, Emirates Group’s Executive Vice President for Human Resources said: “There’s no more exciting airline than Emirates for anyone interested in a flying career, and we’ve received tremendous interest since we began our recruitment drive for cabin crew in November.”
“While parts of the application process are done online, we always make the effort to meet our candidates in person whenever we can, and that is why our Talent Acquisition team is doing a whirlwind 30-city tour over the next 6 weeks to assess prospective candidates.”
Emirates’ truly global cabin crew team represent 160 nationalities, reflecting its customer mix and international operations in over 130 cities on six continents.
All Emirates crew are based in the exciting cosmopolitan city of Dubai, with company-provided accommodation, tax-free salary and more benefits.
Interested candidates can read more about the Emirates cabin crew role, and apply online at: https://www.emiratesgroupcareers.com/cabin-crew/
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