Lack of Wind Slows Frenchman Crossing Atlantic In Barrel

French adventurer Jean-Jacques Savin is 36 days into his attempt to cross the Atlantic in a specially built orange barrel.

With no engine, sails or paddles, the unusual craft relies on trade winds and currents to push him 4,800 kilometers from the Canary Islands to Caribbean in about three months.

On Wednesday, he reported awaking to an early spring morning and clear sky with a beautiful crescent moon. However, he said there was not a lot of wind, which was slowing his travels.

He described his journey as a “crossing during which man isn’t captain of his ship, but a passenger of the ocean.”

Savin spent months building his bright orange, barrel-shaped capsule of resin-coated plywood that is strong enough to withstand battering waves and other stresses.

The barrel is 3 meters long and 2.10 meters across. It has a small galley and a mattress with straps to keep him from being tossed out of his bunk by rough seas.

Portholes on either side of the barrel and another looking into the water provide sunlight and a bit of entertainment. The unique craft also has a solar panel that generates energy for communications and GPS positioning.

As he drifts along, Savin is dropping markers in the ocean to help oceanographers study ocean currents. At the end of the journey, Savin will be studied by doctors for effects of solitude in close confinement.

He also posts regular updates, including GPS coordinates tracking the journey, on a Facebook page. 

Savin’s adventure, which will cost a little more than $65,000, was funded by French barrel makers and crowdfunding.

Savin hopes to end his journey on a French island, such as Martinique or Guadeloupe. “That would be easier for the paperwork and for bringing the barrel back,” he told AFP.

Facebook Takes Down Vast Iran-Led Manipulation Campaign

Facebook said Thursday it took down hundreds of “inauthentic” accounts from Iran that were part of a vast manipulation campaign operating in more than 20 countries.

The world’s biggest social network said it removed 783 pages, groups and accounts “for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior tied to Iran.”

The pages were part of a campaign to promote Iranian interests in various countries by creating fake identities as residents of those nations, according to a statement by Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook.

The announcement was the latest by Facebook as it seeks to stamp out efforts by state actors and others to manipulate the social network using fraudulent accounts.

“We are constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people,” Gleicher said.

“We’re taking down these pages, groups and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they post. In this case, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action.”

The operators “typically represented themselves as locals, often using fake accounts, and posted news stories on current events,” including “commentary that repurposed Iranian state media’s reporting on topics like Israel-Palestine relations and the conflicts in Syria and Yemen,” Gleicher said.

“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our manual review linked these accounts to Iran.”

The operation dating back to as early as 2010 had 262 pages, 356 accounts, and three groups on Facebook, as well as 162 accounts on Instagram and were followed by about two million users.

Facebook said the fake accounts were part of an influence campaign that operated in Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, U.S., and Yemen.

Facebook began looking into these kinds of activities after revelations of Russian influence campaigns during the 2016 U.S. election, aimed at sowing discord.

Peruvian Emigre Gives US Voice to Venezuela Hard-liners

An emigre who once fled a right-wing strongman in Peru has made his U.S.-based television program a forum for hardline opponents of Venezuela’s leftist President Nicolas Maduro — including some who are quite ready for the shedding of blood.

“I am a conspirator in favor of freedom,” Jaime Bayly says.

Bayly’s news and opinion program airs each weeknight on Mega TV, a relatively small network of Spanish-language stations around the United States. But YouTube videos of his programs are viewed by tens of thousands of people across the hemisphere.

Programs have frequently featured Venezuelan opposition leaders such as Henrique Capriles, Leopoldo Lopez and other critics of the Maduro administration, many of whom have encouraged their country’s entrepreneurs and military officials to repudiate the embattled leader.

That campaign got a dramatic boost last week when the head of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress, Juan Guaido, a Lopez protege, proclaimed himself the country’s interim president. The United States, Canada and a dozen regional nations quickly announced that they recognize Guaido — and not Maduro — as president, saying Maduro’s re-election last May was a sham.

Hours after Guaido’s announcement, Bayly was behind his wooden desk on television calling on members of Venezuela’s all-important military to rally behind the National Assembly leader and maintaining that “the dictator Maduro has his hours counted.”

Bayly says he has done nothing wrong, but his program has featured guests who openly advocate killing Maduro and quite a few of his supporters.

In a program following an Aug. 4 attempt to assassinate Maduro with explosives-laden drones, Bayly expressed regret it failed.

He also had a sympathetic exchange on the program with opposition activist Roberto Olivares, an occasional guest, who called toppling Maduro “a spiritual duty.” 

“What good is it to annihilate Maduro if Cabello takes office?” Bayley responded, referring to socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello. 

Maduro aware of Bayly

However, Bayly then noted Maduro’s denunciations of assassination plots and said: “But it seems to me that’s the natural consequence of all the evil he has done, no?”

With no objection from Bayly, Olivares proposed “a civilian-military junta, more military than civilian, that at a minimum would impose order for six months, a year, to be able to clean up certain radical factions on their side who are going to remain in the country and have to be eliminated as well, and eliminate them is kill them, full stop.”

Maduro has taken note of such statements, accusing Bayly of conspiring with the U.S. to remove him from power and saying he had proof the political commentator was involved in the done attack.

“It’s easy for a U.S. television station to direct the death of a president,” Maduro said. “What would happen if a braggart like this one, from a Venezuelan TV station, ordered the assassination of the president of the United States? We would prosecute him, because that is a serious crime.”

Where is FCC?

David Smilde, a professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Tulane University, said the Federal Communications Commission has never paid as much attention to Spanish-language media as it should. 

“Jaime Bayly engages in speech that can reasonably be said to incite violence,” Smilde said. “It is doubtful that an English-language show with this content would be able to operate without FCC investigations or impediments.” 

Bayly says that before the drone incident, a group of soldiers told him of the planned attack.

“I didn’t know if it was true or false. They told me: ‘Let’s kill him with drones,’” the commentator told The Associated Press in a December interview at his home in Key Biscayne, an island near Miami where dozens of wealthy Venezuelan families live.

“They wanted money to hide or to plot a second conspiracy,” Bayly said, adding that he made calls soliciting support to exiled Venezuelan businessman and U.S. officials, but without success. He did not identify the people he called.

No direct role in plots

Bayly insisted he played no direct role in violent plots to bring down Maduro. 

“No, it doesn’t come to that,” he said. “It’s about promoting it, persuading people that it’s the best option.”

“I ask rich Venezuelans, free in exile, to understand that they are the ones who have to solve the problem,” Bayly said.

A well-known novelist and journalist in Peru, Bayley fled to the United States in 1992 during the strong-arm government of Alberto Fujimori. After Fujimori was driven from power in 2000, Bayley began returning home and dabbling in politics, and several times toyed publicly with a presidential run.

Targets abuse of power

Speaking slowly, he reiterated his disdain for both right-wing and left-wing dictatorships and said he is solely taking a stand against abuse of power.

“You have to be transparent,” he said.

Bayly said he has been threatened because of his opposition to Maduro. After the assassination attempt, Bayly said, his car was rammed against a lamp post. The attacker managed to flee.

“I do not know if they wanted to scare me or if they wanted to kill me,” he said.

Bayly said he feels afraid at times, but tries to focus on his job: putting the news in context and giving his owns opinion.

“I prefer not to think about that because if I let myself be trapped by fear, I don’t leave my house, I don’t do the program,”he said.

Venezuelan Opposition Leader Accuses Security Forces of Threatening His Family

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido says security forces showed up at his wife’s Caracas apartment Thursday in an effort to intimidate him.

Guaido said the agents from a feared police unit arrived at the unit Thursday, asking for his wife, Fabiana. In a tweet, Guaido said the incident happened while his 20-month-old daughter and her grandmother were home and that if anything happened to the child, he would hold socialist leader Nicolas Maduro responsible. There was no immediate response from the Maduro government.

In comments to reporters, Guaido thanked neighbors who rushed to the apartment, banging pots and pans after the police showed up. Guaido, whom the U.S. and other countries recognized as Venezuela’s interim president, said the neighbors denounced and vocalized what was happening at that moment and came to protect and watch over his wife and daughter while the agents searched for information.

 

WATCH: Venezuela’s Guaido Accuses Maduro of Intimidating His Family

Reports say the agents later left the building.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio also tweeted about the incident and described the security forces as “Maduro shock troops.” Rubio said the incident was clearly an effort to intimidate Guaido and the opposition.

Guaido, the president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, declared himself interim president last week after the Assembly declared that Maduro’s re-election last May was illegitimate, as most opposition candidates either boycotted the race or were prevented from running. The United States has recognized Guaido as interim leader.

In a Jan. 30 opinion piece for The New York Times, Guaido said more than 50 countries have either recognized him as interim president or the National Assembly as the legitimate authority in Venezuela, and has appealed to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for humanitarian assistance. Guaido says he has begun the process of appointing ambassadors and “locating and recovering national assets tied up abroad.”  

Guaido claims he has held “clandestine meetings” with members of the military to convince them to withdraw their support for Maduro, which he says is “crucial to enabling a change in government.”

Venezuelans took to the streets of Caracas Wednesday in response to Guaido’s call for a peaceful, two-hour, midday protest “to demand that the armed forces side with the people.” He is offering amnesty to soldiers who back his movement and reject Maduro’s socialist government.

“Mr. Maduro no longer has the support of the people,” Guaido wrote.

During an interview with Russia’s RIA news agency Wednesday, President Maduro said he is ready to hold talks with the country’s opposition forces and hold early legislative elections; but, he rejected Guaido’s demands to hold a new presidential election before 2025.

The White House says President Donald Trump expressed his “strong support” for efforts to restore democracy in Venezuela during a conversation Wednesday with Guaido.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump and Guaido also committed to maintaining “regular communication to support Venezuela’s path back to stability, and to rebuild the bilateral relationship” between the two countries.

Trump issued a tweet earlier Wednesday acknowledging Maduro’s offer to negotiate with Guaido, but warned Americans not to travel to Venezuela “until further notice.” 

Five foreign journalists have been detained by Venezuelan authorities covering the deteriorating political situation.  A Spanish reporter and a Colombian television producer working for the Spanish news agency EFE were detained Wednesday, a day after the arrest of two French television journalists in Caracas. Two Chilean television journalists were detained for several hours Tuesday before they were expelled from the country.  

The collapse of world energy prices, corruption and failed socialist policies have created an economic and humanitarian crisis in oil-rich Venezuela.

Food, fuel and medicine are in extremely short supply. Inflation is out of control. Millions of Venezuelans have fled the country, and Maduro has shown little tolerance for opposition-led protests.

Maduro has blamed his country’s woes on the United States, which he accuses of working with the opposition to topple the government. He has called world leaders who want him gone “Trump sycophants.”

The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on PDVSA, Venezuela’s government-owned oil company. The sanctions announced Monday will freeze any assets the state-owned PDVSA has in the United States, and bars U.S. firms and citizens from doing business with it.

PDVSA’s U.S.-based subsidiary, Citgo, which refines Venezuelan oil and sells Citgo brand gasoline in the U.S., will continue to operate as usual. But any money Citgo earns will be placed in a blocked account.

Maduro said the United States is trying to “steal” Citgo from Venezuela.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Venezuela can get relief from the sanctions when control of the oil company is turned over to Guaido.

Alvaro Algarra, VOA Spanish Service’s reporter in Caracas, contributed to this story.

Defense Lawyer: Government Witnesses Lied about El Chapo

A defense lawyer at the U.S. trial of the Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo has accused government witnesses of lying about his exploits.

Attorney Jeffrey Lichtman asked jurors in closing arguments Thursday to not accept testimony by dishonest cooperators as fact.

 

Lichtman singled out an allegation by a cooperator that Joaquin Guzman had paid a $100 million bribe to a Mexican president to call off a manhunt. He argued that made no sense since authorities still arrested his client and sent him to the U.S. in 2017 to face drug-trafficking charges.

A prosecutor in her closing Wednesday called the evidence against Guzman “overwhelming.” She argued that his constant attempts to evade capture were proof of his guilt.

 

Jury deliberations are expected to begin Monday.

 

 

Defense in El Chapo Drug Trial Calls Government’s Case a ‘Fantasy’

Lawyers for alleged Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman are calling the government’s case “a fantasy.”

Guzman is on trial in New York for 10 charges ranging from drug trafficking, money laundering, and murder when he allegedly led the Sinaloa drug cartel.

In summing up, the defense’s case for the jury, attorney Jeffrey Lichtman says prosecutors failed to see what he calls the “600 pound gorilla” in the courtroom — reasonable doubt.

Lichtman told the jury the government’s witnesses “lie, steal, cheat, deal drugs, and kill people.”

“A house that’s built on a rotten foundation won’t stand for too long. We have to trust the word of these lunatics?” he asked.

Lichtman said an allegation that Guzman paid former Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto a $100 million bribe to call off the manhunt for him makes no sense because the manhunt went forward.

If there were a bribe, Lichtman said it would likely have come from  the fugitive who he says is the cartel’s real leader — Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada. Pena Nieto denies taking any bribes.

In summing up their case, federal prosecutors said Wednesday  there is an “avalanche of evidence” to convict Guzman. They displayed rifles, a bulletproof vest and a brick of cocaine. They say they also have intercepted phone calls, text messages, and written letters ordering drug deals and killings. 

Prosecutors say Guzman’s goal was to smuggle huge quantities of illegal drugs to the United States and make millions of dollars, saying it doesn’t matter who was in charge of the cartel because Guzman was  “one of the top bosses.”

Guzman was captured and extradited to the United States, two years ago after his dramatic escape from Mexican prisons.

The case will now go to the jury. If convicted, Guzman faces life behind bars.

 

 

 

Apple Busts Facebook for Distributing Data-Sucking App

Apple says Facebook can no longer distribute an app that paid users, including teenagers, to extensively track their phone and web use.

In doing so, Apple closed off Facebook’s efforts to sidestep Apple’s app store and its tighter rules on privacy.

The tech blog TechCrunch reported late Tuesday that Facebook paid people about $20 a month to install and use the Facebook Research app. While Facebook says this was done with permission, the company has a history of defining “permission” loosely and obscuring what data it collects.

“I don’t think they make it very clear to users precisely what level of access they were granting when they gave permission,” mobile app security researcher Will Strafach said Wednesday. “There is simply no way the users understood this.”

He said Facebook’s claim that users understood the scope of data collection was “muddying the waters.”

Facebook says fewer than 5 percent of the app’s users were teens and they had parental permission. Nonetheless, the revelation is yet another blemish on Facebook’s track record on privacy and could invite further regulatory scrutiny.

And it comes less than a week after court documents revealed that Facebook allowed children to rack up huge bills on digital games and that it had rejected recommendations for addressing it for fear of hurting revenue growth.

For now, the app appears to be available for Android phones, though not through Google’s main app store. Google had no comment Wednesday.

Apple said Facebook was distributing Facebook Research through an internal-distribution mechanism meant for company employees, not outsiders. Apple has revoked that capability.

TechCrunch reported separately Wednesday that Google was using the same privileged access to Apple’s mobile operating system for a market-research app, Screenwise Meter. Asked about it by The Associated Press, Google said it had disabled the app on Apple devices and apologized for its “mistake.”

The company said Google had always been “upfront with users” about how it used data collected by the app, which offered users points that could be accrued for gift cards. In contrast to the Facebook Research app, Google said its Screenwise Meter app never asked users to let the company circumvent network encryption, meaning it is far less intrusive.

Facebook is still permitted to distribute apps through Apple’s app store, though such apps are reviewed by Apple ahead of time. And Apple’s move Wednesday restricts Facebook’s ability to test those apps — including core apps such as Facebook and Instagram — before they are released through the app store.

Facebook previously pulled an app called Onavo Protect from Apple’s app store because of its stricter requirements. But Strafach, who dismantled the Facebook Research app on TechCrunch’s behalf, told the AP that it was mostly Onavo repackaged and rebranded, as the two apps shared about 98 percent of their code.

As of Wednesday, a disclosure form on Betabound, one of the services that distributed Facebook Research, informed prospective users that by installing Facebook Research, they are letting Facebook collect a range of data. This includes information on apps users have installed, when they use them and what they do on them. Information is also collected on how other people interact with users and their content within those apps, according to the disclosure.

Betabound warned that Facebook may collect information even when an app or web browser uses encryption.

Strafach said emails, social media activities, private messages and just about anything else could be intercepted. He said the only data absolutely safe from snooping are from services, such as Signal and Apple’s iMessages, that fully encrypt messages prior to transmission, a method known as end-to-end encryption.

Strafach, who is CEO of Guardian Mobile Firewall, said he was aghast to discover Facebook caught red-handed violating Apple’s trust.

He said such traffic-capturing tools are only supposed to be for trusted partners to use internally. Instead, he said Facebook was scooping up all incoming and outgoing data traffic from unwitting members of the public — in an app geared toward teenagers.

“This is very flagrantly not allowed,” Strafach said. “It’s mind-blowing how defiant Facebook was acting.”

 

Survey: 2018 ‘Worst Year Ever’ for Smartphone Market

Global smartphone sales saw their worst contraction ever in 2018, and the outlook for 2019 isn’t much better, new surveys show.

Worldwide handset volumes declined 4.1 percent in 2018 to a total of 1.4 billion units shipped for the full year, according to research firm IDC, which sees a potential for further declines this year.

“Globally the smartphone market is a mess right now,” said IDC analyst Ryan Reith.

“Outside of a handful of high-growth markets like India, Indonesia, (South) Korea and Vietnam, we did not see a lot of positive activity in 2018.”

Reith said the market has been hit by consumers waiting longer to replace their phones, frustration around the high cost of premium devices, and political and economic uncertainty.

The Chinese market, which accounts for roughly 30 percent of smartphone sales, was especially hard hit with a 10 percent drop, according to IDC’s survey, which was released Wednesday.

IDC said the top five smartphone makers have become stronger and now account for 69 percent of worldwide sales, up from 63 percent a year ago.

Samsung remained the number one handset maker with a 20.8 percent share despite an eight percent sales slump for the year, IDC said.

Apple managed to recapture the number two position with a 14.9 percent market share, moving ahead of Huawei at 14.7 percent, the survey found.

IDC said fourth-quarter smartphone sales fell 4.9 percent – the fifth consecutive quarter of decline.

“The challenging holiday quarter closes out the worst year ever for smartphone shipments,” IDC said in its report.

A separate report by Counterpoint Research showed similar findings, estimating a seven percent drop in the fourth quarter and four percent drop for the full year.

“The collective smartphone shipment growth of emerging markets such as India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Russia and others was not enough to offset the decline in China,” said Counterpoint associate director Tarun Pathak.

 

Greece to Ratify Macedonia’s NATO Accession in ‘Coming Days’

Greece will bring Macedonia’s NATO accession agreement to parliament for ratification “in the coming days,” the government spokesman said Thursday, which will bring into effect the change of the country’s name to North Macedonia.

Once parliament ratifies the NATO protocol, Greece’s Foreign Ministry will inform Macedonia’s Foreign Ministry of the result, a move which will automatically bring into effect the name change, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said. He didn’t give a specific date.

 

The name change deal, dubbed the Prespa Agreement after the border lake where it was signed last year, ends a 27-year dispute between the two neighbors that had kept the former Yugoslav republic out of NATO and the European Union. Greece argued that the use of the name “Macedonia” implied territorial claims on its own northern province of the same name and usurped Greek history and culture, and had blocked its neighbor’s efforts to join NATO over the issue.

 

Tzanakopoulos said the nearly three-decade dispute had given rise to “the monster of lies, nationalism and extreme historic revisionism” in Greece. Greek lawmakers’ Jan. 25 ratification of the deal was “a historic milestone for peace, cooperation and stability in the Balkans,” he said during a media briefing, adding that the agreement restores Greece’s “leading role in the Balkans.”

 

The agreement’s ratification “symbolizes the victory of political courage and respect of the country’s history, over opportunism, nationalism, the taking advantage of patriotism and the commerce of hate,” he added.

 

The deal has been met with vociferous opposition by many in both countries, with critics accusing their respective governments of making too many concessions to the other side.

 

Once the deal comes into effect, Macedonia will have a five-year period to implement many of the practical changes it must make, including changing vehicle license plates and issuing new passports.

 

 

Diverse, International Flock Awaits Pope Francis’ UAE Trip

At St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Dubai, an effort to transcribe the Bible in the native tongue of its flock saw the holy book presented in 52 languages — a sign of the cosmopolitan welcome awaiting Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the United Arab Emirates.

The diversity among its parishioners can be seen in its pews and heard in the sermons of St. Mary’s priests, who celebrate Mass and offer prayers in Arabic, English, French, Tagalog, Tamil, Urdu and other languages.

The church, they say, offers an anchor for the Roman Catholics among the UAE’s vast foreign labor force, many of whom live in this federation of seven sheikhdoms alone while their families stay home.

“The whole world meets here in a way,” said the Rev. Lennie Connully, the parish priest of St. Mary’s. “We have people from all over.”

Pope Francis’ visit from Feb. 3 through Feb. 5 marks the first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam. The pontiff will visit Abu Dhabi, the headquarters of the Catholic Church’s Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, which covers the UAE, Oman and Yemen.

There are nine Catholic churches in this federation of seven sheikhdoms governed by hereditary rulers; four other Catholic churches are in Oman. The Catholic flock’s rapid growth followed the discovery of oil in what was previously known as the Trucial States. Officials consecrated the first Catholic church in Abu Dhabi in 1965.

As Abu Dhabi became a major oil exporter and Dubai grew into the skyscraper-studded city it is today, the Emirates’ rapid economic expansion drew millions of foreigners to everything from white-collar office jobs to hard-hat construction work. Of the over 9 million people now living in the UAE, around 1 million are Emirati while the rest are foreign-born.

In 2010, there were an estimated 940,000 Christians living in the UAE, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center report, including 750,000 Catholics. The report suggests the number of Christians in the UAE would rise to about 1.1 million by 2020, with Catholics making up the lion’s share. The Catholic Church itself believes there are some 1 million Catholics in the UAE today.

The backbone of that population is Filipino and Indian. Life for them and others can be incredibly difficult as many move to the UAE often leaving their families and loved ones back home.

“The church is a base for them. They are far away from their homes,” Connully said. “They don’t have an extended family to support them. That family atmosphere is created here.”

Rulers in the UAE, which has described 2019 as the nation’s “Year of Tolerance,” have supported the Catholic community in the past by donating land for their churches. However, there are limits in this Muslim nation.

Proselytizing by non-Muslims remains illegal. Islam is enshrined as the UAE’s official religion in the country’s constitution, with government websites even offering online applications to convert. Conversion from Islam to another religion, however, is illegal, the U.S. State Department has warned. Blasphemy and apostasy laws also carry a possible death sentence.

At St. Mary’s and other churches, crosses are for the most part carefully concealed behind compound fences. There are no bells that toll to mark the start of services, though loudspeakers on minarets proclaim the call to prayers, like at the mosque across the street from St. Mary’s.

Despite facing restrictions, Christians in the UAE have never faced the violence that has targeted those in Syria and Iraq during the rise of the Islamic State group and other militants. Coptic Christians, a minority in Egypt that has faced extremist attacks in their homeland, also can safely worship.

In recent years, militant attacks have only exacerbated a “long, slow decline” of Christianity in the wider Middle East that began with mass migrations of the 19th Century, said Robin Darling Young, a professor studying church history at the Washington-based Catholic University of America.

The growth of ultraconservative Islamic beliefs, like Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, coupled with the creation of independent states, further fueled that, she said. America’s 2003 war in Iraq and the chaos that followed made it even worse, she said.

“Particularly in areas where Wahhabi Islam is strong, like the Arabian Peninsula, Christians have been subject to more restrictions,” Young said. “The UAE is trying to make itself look better to the West by permitting, under certain restrictions, public Christian worship.”

Catholics in the UAE, however, make a point to thank the UAE’s ruling sheikhs for being able to worship freely. During a recent Mass at St. Mary’s, the Father Andre Francisco Fernandes led worshippers in a prayer asking for God’s blessings upon “the rulers of the UAE,” specifically naming UAE President and Abu Dhabi ruler Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Fernandes’ sermon that day focused on the parable of the loaves and the fishes, the story of Jesus Christ feeding a crowd of 5,000 with just five loaves of bread and two fish. The priest urged those listening to keep their faith and view the world with an open heart.

“Every day, miracles are happening,” he told parishioners. “We need to believe.”