Against corruption and for culture

“Documenting the Undocumented” by Huda Beydoun, 2013.

Misk Art Institute is organizing an October Arab art festival in New York and sending Saudi artists to study in California

By Rasheed Abualsamh

The sweep against corruption in Saudi Arabia began to wind down on Jan. 27, 2018, when Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire businessman, was released from his luxury jail at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in the capital, Riyadh.

Hours earlier, an interview that he gave to the Reuters news agency was posted on the internet. In the video, the prince – whose personal wealth is estimated at US$17 billion, making him one of the wealthiest men in the world — categorically denied that he is corrupt and said he had insisted on spending more time in the hotel to get rid of all suspicions. It seemed strange how he showed the little kitchen where they brought vegan dishes for his meals, since he owns a palace in Riyadh with more than 400 rooms. Alwaleed said he will return to running Kingdom Holding, which includes several cable TV networks, a record label, a stake in Banque Saudi Fransi and large stakes in Citibank, Apple, Twitter, and Lyft, among others.

News of Alwaleed’s release made the value of Kingdom Holding shares rise 10% in one day, after having fallen more than 20% when he was arrested in November.

Bakr bin Laden, the former head of the Saudi Binladin Group, was also freed last week. But the government now controls the construction company, although the Bin Laden family holds several seats on the executive board. The contractor faced difficult times in recent years, despite being hired for decades for the expansion of the mosques in Mecca and Medina. But a lamentable accident occurred in the Great Mosque of Mecca in 2015, when a crane fell during a violent gale and killed 107 people. It seems that this sealed the fate of the company, which never recovered from the accident.

In any case, the Saudi attorney general, Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb, announced on Jan. 30, 2018, the end of investigations into the 325 people who had been detained at the Ritz-Carlton. He also announced that the government had recovered US$107 billion in deals made with the detained princes and businessmen. About 60 prisoners remain, who have refused to make a deal or admit to having made money illegally. They were transferred to Al-Hair prison, south of the Saudi capital, and will face legal proceedings.

As far as the eye can see, 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) has the support of the Saudi population for this anti-corruption campaign and for his liberalizing steps. Under his influence, his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, has allowed Saudi women to drive automobiles from June of this year. Until 2017, the conservative kingdom was the only country in the world that banned women from driving. King Salman also ordered the reopening of cinemas, after a break of more than 30 years, and allowed the entrance of women in sports stadiums to attend football matches.

But it is in the area of ​​culture that MBS is going further. He authorized the formation of the Misk Art Institute and appointed the Saudi artist Ahmed Mater to direct the institution. The Crown Prince already chairs the Misk Foundation, with educational, social, and cultural programs aimed at Saudi youth.

The institution has several Saudi artists on display at a museum in Brooklyn, New York, and is choosing the design for the Saudi pavilion at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. The institute will also organize an Arab art festival in New York in October, and send Saudi artists to study in California. More than 60% of management positions in the entity are held by women.

Saudi directors were very excited about the news that cinemas were going to open again in the country. Until now, they could only display their works abroad or on the internet. Now, with these cultural reforms, they will be able to show their films in local cinemas or on Saudi TV.

Saudi filmmaker Faiza Ambah, who filmed “Mariam” in France in 2015 — about the struggle of a young Muslim woman on whether to use the hijab (Islamic veil) in her public school — told me that she recently showed her film to a mixed group of young Saudis at a café in Jeddah, and then participated in a conversation with the public about the topics touched on in her film.

“The audience’s reaction was very surprising to me,” she said. “First, they understood the movie on several levels. They really were movie fans. Half the audience was female, and two girls talked about relationships that did not work out over the issue of whether or not to use the hijab,” said the director.

According to Faiza, the next exhibition of a movie in that café is already scheduled, and will be a film of another Saudi director, Shahad Ameen.

Faiza told me that she has already received invitations to show short films on Saudi TV, and that the Misk Foundation is granting funding to filmmakers in the kingdom. “The King Abdul Aziz Cultural Center in the Eastern Province is also supporting Saudi filmmakers. They called me a year ago and asked me to share new projects with them, and they wanted to support me. And a university professor who was in the audience offered to provide me her students to be interns on any project that I would execute.”

Only five years ago, this level of official support for Saudi artists and filmmakers did not exist. Film funding always came from the private sector, and even so, several Saudi filmmakers had to seek foreign funding to make their films. But now, it seems the Saudi government has realized the soft power that culture has. It remains to be seen how much freedom Saudi artists will have.

–This article appeared originally in Portuguese in O Globo newspaper.

Saleh’s death leaves Yemen in limbo


By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

The murder of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh by the Houthis on Dec. 4, 2017, as he tried to flee Sanaa, left the country, wracked by a bloody civil war for three years, in limbo.

Saleh ruled Yemen for 33 years until 2012, when he was forced to step down after a series of demonstrations in 2011 on the streets of Sanaa by Arab Spring activists calling for more democracy, and because of pressure from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.

On Dec. 2, 2017, Saleh stated in a TV interview that he was ready to start negotiating with Saudi Arabia. Despite being a strong ally of the Saudis for more than 30 years, Saleh, in a turnaround in 2014, allied himself with his former enemies the Houthi rebels. These are Zaydis, a Shiite strand of Islam, and make up only 30 percent of the population. They have the support of Iran, which made them instant enemies of the Saudis.

In September 2014, the Houthis took control of Sanaa with the help of forces allied to Saleh, forcing President Abdo Rabbo Hadi to flee to Aden in the south and then to the Saudi capital, Riyadh. This triggered the intervention of a Saudi-led coalition to defeat the Houthis and put Hadi back in control of the country.

Saleh’s interview was the signing of his own death sentence. His disappearance from the scene has left both sides of this civil war in limbo, not knowing what to do next. Last weekend, more than 200 people from the intelligentsia linked to Saleh disappeared from the streets of Sanaa, forcibly taken away by the Houthis, Nasser Wedaddy, an analyst, told me in an interview.

The civil war has destroyed the country, which was already the poorest in the Arab world. It is estimated that almost 14,000 people have already been killed or injured. There are close to a million cases of suspected cholera; three million Yemenis are refugees within their own country, and more than 200,000 have fled to neighboring nations.

And the country is divided into three parts: the northern part and the capital controlled by the Houthis; the region of Aden, in the south controlled by forces loyal to Hadi; and much of the region of Hadramuth in the east, controlled by tribes loyal to Al-Qaeda.

Analysts say there may be a bloodbath in the capital if forces loyal to Saleh decide to avenge their leader’s death. “It will take a lot of tribal patience and control to prevent a bloodbath on the streets of Sanaa and other parts of the North,” said Elana DeLozier, director of strategy at the Emerge85 Lab research center in Abu Dhabi. “The enemies of the Houthis include Saleh’s followers; the coalition; the Ahmars (a powerful tribal family); the Salafists; the Islah party, and the General People’s Congress party; the southern resistance; and al-Qaeda. Houthis have no noticeable domestic alliance beyond some tribal support. And that does not bode well for them,” she explained.

The name of Saleh’s son — Ahmed Ali Saleh, who has so far been living in the UAE — has been cited as a possible successor to his father as Yemeni president. But Weddady and DeLozier do not think this will happen because Ahmed does not have much support in the country, and because the current vice president of the government in exile, Ali Al-Mohsen, has a powerful base of co-religionists in Yemen.

“There is a lot of talk about Ahmed coming to power with the support of the GCC, but there are many flaws in the projected scenarios. First, there is no indication that Ahmed can command the same authority as his father. Second, this scenario does not deal cleanly with the legitimate government of President Hadi and his deputy, Ali Mohsen. This has been ardently manifested against Ahmed taking power. Ahmed’s preparation by his father to take power in the future is among Mohsen’s motives to turn against Saleh in 2011. Finally, the Saudi government made many efforts to support President Hadi’s legitimacy even when it was not politically beneficial or convenient. The Saudis do not want to give the impression that they are installing a government in Sanaa,” DeLozier explained.

“Putting aside the formalities, focusing on Hadi is a mistake. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who in his way is the closest copy of Ali Abdullah Saleh,” said Weddady. “He is a very perceptive man who has considerable tribal and support networks. He has a lot of experience shaping the politics of Yemen. He’s the person I take most seriously now.”

Loyalty counts for little in Yemen. Whoever is your ally one day can easily turn into your enemy from one day to the next. Saleh was the master of this game, being first an ally of the Saudis and Americans; responsible for ordering the death of a Houthi leader in the 1990s; then allying himself with the Houthis in 2014. And this past weekend, he wanted to get back with the Saudis. “Governing Yemen is like dancing on the heads of snakes,” Saleh once said.

Yemen deserves an immediate ceasefire to evacuate wounded and sick civilians and allow medicines and food to enter and be distributed. The Yemenis are the most friendly and hospitable in the Arab world, but no one would believe it seeing the destruction of the country today. It is a pity that, because of a minority that wants to control the country, Yemen has been destroyed.

Will JBS Survive a Political Corruption Scandal?


This article was published on the Emerge 85 blog on Aug. 28, 2017:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

If you live in the Americas or Europe, you’ve probably eaten beef or chicken processed by Brazilian meat giant JBS. At its peak, just a few years ago, JBS was slaughtering 90,000 head of cattle a day. Now, battered by a recession and its role in a corruption scandal, its future is set to be smaller.

However, as the world’s largest producer of animal protein, JBS is expected to survive its involvement in one of Brazil’s biggest political scandals not just because of its size, but also because it draws 80% of its income from abroad. In 2016, the company pulled in revenue of $53.5bn. In comparison, its closest rival, Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, made $41.3bn in 2015.

The majority owners of JBS, brothers Joesley and Wesley Batista, are accused of bribing politicians in exchange for rulings and favours that would benefit the business. They are also accused of paying members of congress R$30m ($9.5m) to ensure Eduardo Cunha – who has since been jailed – was elected speaker of the House of Representatives in 2015. The Batistas called the payments “campaign contributions”, claims denied by Cunha who says the money was given directly to each congressman.

Secret contributions to political parties started small, in 2002, amounting to about R$200,000 ($63,514). By 2014, they had ballooned to about R$366m ($116.2m), divided among 24 parties.

The brothers have been under investigation since 2016, with at least five separate cases opened against them during that time. On May 18, 2017, they agreed to tell investigators everything about the scheme – in return for total immunity from prosecution and a R$225m ($71.4m) fine to be paid back over ten years.

Rapid growth and expansion overseas

JBS began life in 1953 as Casa de Carnes Mineira, a small butcher’s shop in Anápolis run by José Batista Sobrinho, father to Joesley and Wesley. That same decade, the planning and building of Brazil’s new federal capital Brasilia gave Sobrinho the chance to expand his business. Envisioned by President Juscelino Kubitschek, Brasilia was born to develop the country’s interior and disperse some of the Brazilian population concentrated along the coastline. But such development takes time, and for several years Brasilia was nothing more than a collection of construction sites – construction sites that, in 1957, Sobrinho began supplying beef to. But it was not until 1970 that the butcher decided to buy his first slaughterhouse and change the company name to Friboi.

By 1980, Friboi had bought another meat processing plant in the Federal District, tripling the number of cattle slaughtered daily to 300. In 1985, Friboi decided to expand out of the meat business, building a plant to produce soaps. But it didn’t take Sobrinho long to once again hear the call of the cattle, and a small meat-processing plant was purchased in Luziânia in 1988. Eight years later, a fourth plant was purchased in Goiânia that would allow Friboi to meet stringent European meat standards and export its goods further afield.

But it wasn’t until 2005, with the purchase of Argentine meat processor Swift Armour, that Friboi’s international expansion began. Two years later it launched an initial public offering and was listed on the São Paulo Stock Exchange. It also changed its name to JBS, in honour of its founder, and bought Swift units in the US and Australia. This also marked the addition of pork and chicken to its range of products.

In 2009, JBS bought major US poultry-processing company Pilgrim’s Pride, significantly boosting its US payroll to 70,000. In 2015, Primo Smallgoods in Australia and Moy Park in Ireland came under its remit. The Moy Park acquisition helped JBS grow its manufacturing and distribution of prepared foods in Europe, and in 2016 the company’s income rose to R$170bn ($5.4bn), up from R$4bn ($1.3bn) in 2006.

To read the rest of my article please visit the Emerge85 website:

Doubts Raised About Effectiveness of New Saudi  Opposition Movement

A Saudi woman drives in Saudi Arabia, where women are still not allowed to drive:



By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

Christian Science Monitor

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – An exiled Saudi millionaire has
taken on the nearly impossible task of bringing reform
to this conservative kingdom.
Talal Al-Rasheed, a member of a leading Saudi family
that once ruled central Arabia for several decades,
announced the launch of a new opposition movement in
August that will focus on ending what he claims is
endemic corruption in the kingdom.
He joins a long tradition of opposition to the ruling
Al-Saud family, some of it even from within the royal
family itself. But all of these opposition movements
have failed in bringing dramatic change to a deeply
suspicious population that has been kept quiet through
massive state subsidies and handsome payouts by the
royal family.
Several Saudi analysts have said they doubt that the
recently launched opposition movement will have much
support among the Saudi population.
Al-Rasheed, who has lived in exile in Paris since
1980, told the Christian Science Monitor in an
interview that his group seeks political and social
reforms in the oil-rich kingdom, which would see the
establishment of an elected parliament and more rights
for women.
The religiously conservative kingdom currently only
has a powerless appointed Shoura Council and women are
barred from driving, voting and holding political
office. Although King Abdullah has allowed limited
reforms such as the municipal elections held last year
for the first time in 40 years, many Saudis say that
change is coming too slowly.
“Our group seeks the following: Democratic,
transparent parliamentary elections; liberating women
and giving them their full rights; arresting the
people who are stealing the government’s money, giving
the press its freedom of expression, and to have the
administrative and legitimate authority at the hands
of the citizens and their elected representatives
only,” said the 70-year-old Al-Rasheed.
Al-Rasheed claims to have 2,000 supporters in the
kingdom, both Sunni and Shia, conservative and
liberal, and says that “there are many wealthy people
who support us.” But not everyone is sure of this wide
range of support.
“I do not believe that he has 2,000 supporters. I’m
very skeptical about this figure,” said Adel
Al-Toraifi, an analyst and newspaper columnist based
in Riyadh.
Nawaf Al-Obaid, a security advisor to the Saudi
government, also doubts the level of support claimed
by Al-Rasheed.
“I have doubts about him saying he has 2,000
supporters in the kingdom,” said Al-Obaid. “I think
they are Internet supporters, people who have
expressed support on their website.”
Al-Rasheed said that his group plans to beam
opposition television programs into the kingdom via
satellite, run an Internet website and publish a
“Our TV station will air democratic programs that call
for justice and equality. We want to eliminate
corruption from governmental bodies, especially the
judiciary where people are using bribes to rule and
issue judgments against Allah’s rules,” explained the
reformer. “Everyone will have access to this TV
station, even people who disagree with us.”
He denied rumors that he was joining forces with
another Saudi opposition leader, the London-based Saad
Al-Faqeeh, although Al-Obaid claimed that Al-Rasheed
would be using the satellite broadcasting company of
Al-Faqeeh to beam programs into the kingdom.
“We have no practical association with Saad
Al-Faqeeh. We respect him because he’s a fighter who
deserves to be respected. However, we view things
differently,” said Al-Rasheed.
Al-Faqeeh and his Movement of Islamic Reform in Arabia
have been effectively neutralized since July 2005 when
the US government managed to link him to Al-Qaeda by
alleging that he posted messages written by the terror
group on his website. Al-Faqeeh’s websites have been
subsequently shut down and he has apparently stopped
broadcasting TV programs into the country.
The Al-Rasheed clan is very large and is part of the
Al-Shammar Bedouin tribe that extends from Hail all
the way into Iraq. Long rulers of Hail in central
Arabia, they ruled most of central Arabia, including
Riyadh, from 1887 until 1902, when the founder of
modern Saudi Arabia Abdulaziz Al-Saud recaptured
Riyadh after living in exile in Kuwait for several
Many members of the Al-Rasheed clan have been
receiving a monthly government stipend, much like the
more than 5,000 princes of the royal Al-Saud family
receive. This has served to pacify them and buy their
allegiance to the Saudi state, though many Al-Rasheeds
still believe that they are the legitimate rulers of
the kingdom.
Talal Al-Rasheed is said to have received millions of
dollars in stipends from the Saudi government over the
years, but he denied that he was still receiving a
“We belong to the Al-Rasheed family and as you know
it’s been a ruling family for decades. We have enough
fortune to cover the cost of our expenses and needs. I
used to receive regular stipends from the government
until 1975. Since then I haven’t received any money
from the Saudi government,” said Al-Rasheed.
“He’s a pretty old man. He’s been living in Paris for
the past three decades. It’s doubtful that he has much
support among the Al-Rasheed clan,” said Al-Obaid.
“He’s trying to have a unified opposition, but how can
you lump liberal Sunnis and Shias with hardcore
But Al-Rasheed said he was confident that his movement
would be successful because of its broad base and
“We can’t measure the success or failure of an
opposition group by seizure of the government through
a coup. Saudis today are not the same as in the past.
They are now part of much smaller world. We are
walking on the same path as others because we want
reform. However, we’re different in being a national
movement that includes all regions of the country,”
explained Al-Rasheed.
But Al-Toraifi disagrees, saying that the reformists
in the kingdom are too disorganized and distracted to
pose much of a threat to the royal family. He also
believes that King Abdullah is trying to bring in
democratic reforms but faces much opposition both from
the powerful “ulama” (religious scholars) and within
his own family.
“King Abdullah is going slowly with reforms as he
faces opposition from within the royal family and
faces regional problems such as the war in Lebanon and
Iran’s expansionist tendencies,” said Al-Toraifi.
“Reforms are coming very, very slowly. The lack of
transparency on the part of King Abdullah in terms of
his reform plan makes it difficult to gauge just how
far he’s willing to go.”


Saudi blocks imports of Brazilian meat from four plants

Brazilian Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi inspects meat at a Seara plant.

UPDATE: The Saudi Food and Drug Authority announced late on March 22, 2017, that the Kingdom was suspending the import of meat from four Brazilian meat processing plants.

Brazilian Ambassador to the Kingdom Flavio Marega met the head of the SFDA on March 22 and explained to him the ongoing investigation dubbed “Weak Meat” being undertaken by the Federal Police.

 By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

BRASILIA—The Saudi envoy to Brazil said that he and other foreign ambassadors in the Brazilian capital are waiting for the conclusions of the Brazilian government’s investigation into the bribing of meat inspectors and alleged export of rotten meat. Thirty-three inspectors and meat company officials have been arrested, and three meat-processing plants have been closed.

Several countries have already put a temporary freeze on imports of Brazilian meat, including China, South Korea and Chile. One of the meat companies being investigated exported chicken parts to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Ambassador Hisham al-Qahtani told me in an interview that Saudi authorities are aware of the accusations that rotten meat was exported from Brazil. He was one of the 33 ambassadors that attended a dinner hosted by Brazilian President Michel Temer on Sunday night at a posh barbecue restaurant in Brasilia to assure them of the safety and quality of Brazilian meat.

“President Temer and Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi explained everything that is happening,” said Qahtani. “They will do an investigation and will inform us of their findings. It is a very complicated situation, so we have to wait to see what the results of the investigation will tell us.”

Qahtani noted that Saudi authorities are aware of the situation. “I don’t know what they will decide in the Kingdom, but they are already aware of the investigation,” he said.

Saudi Arabia is the largest importer of Brazilian chicken in the world. According to Brazilian National Agricultural Society statistics, the kingdom imported more than US$1.150 billion in chicken products from Brazil, which amounted to 746,000 tons, in 2016.

The Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) is responsible for monitoring food safety in the Kingdom, and last sent a team of inspectors to visit Brazilian meat processing plants in 2015, when the Kingdom lifted its three-year ban on Brazilian beef.

Brazil’s ambassador to the Kingdom told me in an interview that he is going to meet with SFDA officials on Wednesday in Riyadh to brief them on the Brazilian government’s investigation.

“So far I have not received any special instructions on how to calm the fears of Saudi consumers,” ambassador Flavio Marega said. “But we are basing our information on what President Michel Temer said at the dinner with foreign ambassadors. I am meeting with the head of the SFDA on Wednesday, and will find out then what the position of the Saudi government is.”

The Brazilian Agriculture Ministry posted a list on its website on Monday of the meat companies being investigated by the ministry and the Federal Police for allegedly exporting adulterated meat products. The Seara company is listed as having exported frozen chicken parts to the Kingdom, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, and the European Union. Seara is owned by the giant JBS Group, the largest meat company in the world. In 2016 it had earnings before taxes of US$1 billion.

The Federation of Muslim Associations in Brazil (Fambras), which does halal certification of Brazilian chicken and beef exports to Muslim countries, said in a statement on its website that the quality of Brazilian halal meat was excellent and that it makes sure that Brazilian meat processors follow all of the necessary rules to produce, store and sell meat suitable for the consumption of Muslims.

“I do not believe that the Saudi authorities will impose restrictions on Brazilian meat since they already follow and inspect the procedures done here in Brazil and they know that there is no risk,” said Ali Zoghbi, the vice-president of Fambras, in an interview from Sao Paulo.

President Temer defended the quality of Brazilian meat, saying on Monday that all of the country’s production of meat could not be devalued because of the actions of a few. “We have more or less 4,850 meat processing plants in Brazil, and only three of them have been shut, apart from the 18 or 19 plants that are going to be investigated,” he said.

“I think the investigation is more centered on corruption rather than the quality of Brazilian meat,” said Miguel Daoud, a business consultant, in an interview with Globo News. “Eighty percent of the meat produced in Brazil is consumed locally. I am not that pessimistic, although this is a very serious investigation by the Federal Police,” he added.

Many analysts have noted that Brazil has built its reputation as an exporter of excellent quality meat products over the past ten years, and that this scandal has the possibility of setting back Brazil’s meat exports by five years.

Brazil’s attorney general asks that politicians be investigated

Attorney General Rodrigo Janot’s boxes of evidence that back up his request to have 83 current politicians investigated for corruption arrive at the Supreme Court in Brasilia on Tuesday evening.


By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

BRASILIA – Brazil’s Attorney General Rodrigo Janot sent a long list of 83 current politicians to the Supreme Court to be investigated for possible involvement in corruption linked to the Car Wash investigation. He sent a further list of 211 suspects to lower courts. In Brazil, politicians in office can only be probed and tried by the Supreme Court.

According to the O Globo newspaper, citing sources that had seen the documents, former presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff are on the list, as well as current senators Aecio Neves and Jose Serra. The president of the House of Representatives Rodrigo Maia; the head of the Senate Eunicio Oliveira; the chief of staff of President Michel Temer, Eliseu Padilha; the general secretary of the Presidency, Moreira Franco; Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes; Minister of Science and Technology Gilberto Kassab, and Minister of Cities Bruno Araujo, are also going to be investigated.

The leader of the government in the Senate, Romero Juca, the leader of the PMDB party in the Senate, Renan Calheiros, and Sen. Edson Lobao will also be investigated, according to O Globo. Former finance ministers Guido Mantega and Antonio Palocci are also included in Janot’s list.

Janot’s list of those to be investigated arrived in seven boxes at the Supreme Court in Brasilia at 5 p.m. They have been placed in a secure room next to the office of the head of the court, Chief Justice Carmen Lucia. Jornal da Band estimated that it will take court employees at least 10 days to initially go through all of the boxes, sorting the evidence that Janot sent the court, and scanning all of the documents into a computer system.  It is not known if the court will release the names of all being investigated, or of just a select few.

The Brazilian capital has been waiting with bated breath for the past two weeks for Janot’s list to reach the Supreme Court, with leading politicians in Congress afraid that their names would be included in the list.

Former President Lula gave testimony to a federal judge in Brasilia on Tuesday afternoon. Lula was asked if he had tried to unduly influence the Car Wash investigations. He denied the accusation, and alleged that he was the victim of a campaign to “massacre” him, reported the Folha de Sao Paulo. In the first minutes of his testimony Lula said that he woke up every morning in his home afraid that journalists would be camped out at his door waiting for him to be arrested.

The presidential palace wants the Supreme Court to release all of the names of the investigated politicians by the end of this week, so as to have time to counter the negative impact the list will have on the opinion of Brazilian voters. The Temer government is trying to push through Congress a major overhaul of the Social Security system, which will raise the mandatory retirement age. It also fears that the opposition will use the names of current government ministers on Janot’s list to attack the Temer administration during nationwide protests to support the Car Wash investigations to be held on March 26.

Some Brazilians skip Carnival for spiritual retreats

Members of the Adventist Church participate in a spiritual retreat during the 2012 Carnival in Brazil.

 By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

BRASILIA – With the official Carnival parades of samba schools in full swing in Brazil, many Brazilians are opting to not participate in a celebration that they believe to be excessive and immoral.

“Many immoral and nearly naked people go to Carnival. They engage in excessive drinking. We like to travel during Carnival without participating in the street dancing. We follow the Bible,” Neusa Lacerda, a 50-year-old housekeeper who lives in Gama, a satellite city around 34 kilometers from Brasilia, told me in an interview.

Born into a Catholic family, Neusa says a Jehovah’s Witness family raised her. She and her husband are now members of the evangelical church, and like to participate in family barbecues on the weekends.

“I have danced in the streets during Carnival in the past,” she said. “But God forgives us. I suffered a lot as my father was an alcoholic, and my religion says that we cannot become drunk. It is a question of self-control.”

Neusa is part of a growing number of Brazilians who are leaving the Catholic Church, which is still the largest in Brazil, and joining evangelical Protestant churches. According to the Datafolha polling firm three in every ten Brazilians (29 percent) are now evangelicals. In 1994, 75 percent of Brazilians considered themselves Catholic. In 2015 that number had fallen to 55 percent. The evangelical churches have been aggressive in recruiting new members, and use singing and other activities to attract Catholics bored by the relative traditionalism of the Catholic Church.

Carnival celebrations are big business in Brazil, with the 2016 one in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, generating R$400 million (US$129 million) in business sales, according to the mayor’s office. It estimates that for every R$1 spent, the city earns R$40 in return. This year in Salvador, Bahia, the local government estimates that R$50 million (US$16 million) will be spent on 197 attractions, with more than half of the expenses being sponsored by the private sector. In the colonial city of Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais, it was reported by the O Tempo newspaper that revelers consumed 1 million liters of beer in the 2012 Carnival.

With the whole country shutting down for four days during the peak of the Carnival, it can be hard for evangelical churches to compete with the large street celebrations all over the country. Just last weekend in pre-Carnival street celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, it was estimated that one million people took to the streets to dance behind “trio eletricos” or mobile bands that blast out happy music for hours on end.

Some evangelical churches have decided to join in the Carnival celebrations, but in squeaky-clean and religious versions. According to the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper the Bola de Neve Church in Guarulhos held a Carnival party on Feb. 10 at its headquarters, with music and dancing. But instead of the sleazy lyrics common in Carnival songs, words praising Jesus were inserted.

But most evangelical churches stay well away from dancing during Carnival and instead promote spiritual retreats where followers can spend their time in reflection and prayers. That is what the Baptist Ebezener Church of Taguatinga, around 24 kilometers from Brasilia, is doing yet again this year. It started holding this annual retreat in 2002, and runs around 20 branches of the church in Brasilia and surrounding cities.

“We are holding a spiritual retreat from Feb. 24-28, and we are expecting 3,000 people to attend,” pastor J. Alves told me in a phone interview.  “We have invited several guest speakers to give lectures during the day, and we have separate activities for the children and teenagers. We will charge each attendee around R$50 (US$16) a day in order to participate.”

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