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IS the World Ignoring Syria’s War?

Sun, 2019-08-18 17:40
Air raids on Syria’s Idlib kill a family of seven, say activists Mother and six children reported killed in Deir al-Sharqi as Syria and Russia intensify air raids on the rebel stronghold.

Seven members of one family have been killed in Syria‘s Idlib in an escalation of a Russian-backed offensive against the last major rebel stronghold, according to a war monitor and activists. 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a woman and her six children were killed after an air raid hit their home in the village of Deir al-Sharqi in southern Idlib on Saturday.

The children were all under the age of 18 and included a 4-year-old, said the Britain-based war monitor. Their father survived because he was not home at the time of the bombing, it added. 

The activist-operated Thiqa news agency also reported the casualties and showed images of rescuers attempting to extricate the body of a young boy trapped under the rubble. 

A photographer collaborating with AFP news agency said he saw a man leaving the site of the blast carrying the corpse of a young girl.

A  rescue worker carried the dust-covered body of a second child, he added.

Syria’s Civil Defense, a volunteer rescue group also known as the White Helmets, said Deir al-Sharqi was hit with four air raids that resulted in the killing of the Hammoud family.

By early afternoon on Saturday, the Civil Defense team said it had recorded 31 attacks in the area, including 18 suspected Russian airstrikes.

The deaths in Deir al-Sharqi came a day after at least 13 people were killed in an air raid on a displacement camp in the village of al-Haas.

The dead included a pregnant woman and her unborn baby, local activists said. They had been seeking shelter after fleeing another area.

‘Death toll rising every day’

Syrian troops, backed by Russia, launched the offensive to retake Idlib and surrounding rebel-held areas in late April. The region in northwestern Syria is home to three million people and is part of the last major foothold of opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.

The United Nations has been calling for respecting the lives of civilians as well as medical and humanitarian workers, saying that the death toll is “rising every day”.

In the past four months, the UN documented 500 civilian deaths and said 42 attacks on health care facilities were reported. 

Ahmad al-Dbis, safety and security manager for the US-based Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), which supports medical facilities in the northwest, said the bombardment had widened into populated areas where there were no military positions.

“They are being targeted to drive the people toward forced displacement,” he told Reuters.

Dbis said the number of civilians killed by Syrian government or Russian forces stood at more than 730 since late April.

Russia and Syria say their forces were targeting rebel groups, including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and not civilians. State media reported that two dozen rebel fighters were killed in southern Idlib on Saturday during clashes.

Over the past week, Syrian forces have advanced on the southern edges of Idlib province, with the aim of capturing the town of Khan Sheikhoun, which lies on a key highway that connects government-held Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo.

Air raids on the area have intensified in recent days after a short-lived ceasefire.

The UN said the upsurge in violence has displaced more than 400,000 people.

“Many of these people have been displaced up to five times,” the UN’s regional spokesman for the Syria crisis, David Swanson, told AFP on Saturday.

“Ongoing clashes, shelling and airstrikes, including the use of barrel bombs, continue unabated” and were hindering aid operations, he added.

France called on Friday for an immediate end to the fighting. The French foreign ministry added that it condemned in particular airstrikes on camps for the displaced.

Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011 when the Assad government cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.

Since then, the conflict has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions at home and abroad. 

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Sudanese factions sign historic accord on transitional government

Sun, 2019-08-18 14:42
The opposition and military council met at a ceremony on the Nile to sign ‘constitutional declaration’

Sudan’s main opposition coalition and the ruling military council on Saturday signed a landmark “constitutional declaration” paving the way for a transitional government.

The deputy head of the Transitional Military Council (TMC), Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemeti , and a representative of the opposition alliance Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), Ahmed al-Rabie, put pen to paper at a ceremony held on the banks of the Nile in Khartoum.

Also present were regional and international dignitaries including Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir.

The TMC has ruled Sudan since April, when the military ousted Omar al-Bashir from the presidency following months of protests against his rule in which scores of people were killed.

Brokered by the African Union and Ethiopia, the deal brings to an end months of upheaval which continued after Bashir’s downfall, as protestors continued to demand a civilian government free from army interference.

Videos shared on social media showed hundreds of people on their way to Khartoum on Friday night jubilantly singing but cautious, chanting “Civilian rule, civilian,” as they promised to avenge the estimated 250 allegedly killed by security forces since protests began eight months ago.

A preliminary agreement drawn up at the start of the month set out the future political roadmap, including the creation of a sovereign council comprised of six civilians and five military figures.

The council is set to rule for a 39-month transitional period to civilian rule, of which the first 21 will be military led. The deal has faced criticism from protesters who feel the army may renege on their promises.

On Thursday, the opposition FFC put forward economist Abdullah Hamdok as its candidate to be the first civilian prime minister since Bashir took power in 1989.

“We wish Dr Abdullah Hamdok success in one of the hardest periods in the history of our country and people, a period that the revolutionary Sudanese people are looking forward to and observing with hopefulness,” the Sudanese Professionals Association, the group that spearheaded the protest movement and is part of the FFC, said in a statement on Thursday.

The new leader will be expected to tackle a crumbling economy that was the impetus for the protests against Bashir’s rule.

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Does the Arab League have an Arab policy?

Sun, 2019-08-18 14:36
The first outcome of the peace corridor in northern Syria, agreed upon between Turkey and the U.S., is expected to be the formation of a safe zone for the people of Syria.

By: Yasin AKTAY*

Yasin AKTAY

This safe zone will provide protection for the Syrian people against the massacres committed by Bashar Assad without differentiating between civilians and those armed and offer a zone where he will not be able the threaten Syrians.

In the current situation, the terrorist Democratic Union Party (PYD), spoiled and backed by the U.S., is carrying out ethnic cleansing aimed at Arabs, as well as political cleansing aimed at the Kurds that refuse to go under their control. As a matter of fact, in the face of Arabs in the region being the primary victims of this ethnic cleansing, we can repeat the question we asked the other day in another way.

We had asked whether the Arab League has an immigrant policy concerning migrants – predominantly Arab – that have had to migrate from regions such as Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen.

Today, we repeat the same question, taking it a step further: Does the Arab League show any concern for the ethnic cleansing Arab peoples – especially in Syria and Iraq – are exposed to, any policy based on this concern?

The PYD terrorist organization spoiled and empowered in Syria under U.S. support, is in pursuit of founding an ethnic state in areas where the Arab population is over 90 per cent.

Let there be no misunderstanding, this state is not a Kurdish state. A state that is far from Islam, customs, humanity having nothing to do with being Kurdish aside, we already know from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) experience that efforts are being made to bring forth a freak ethnic state with the claim of a made-up Kurdish language that has nothing to do with Kurdish, and a made-up Kurdish culture, and to deport everybody who opposes it.

Of course, there could be those who receive this practice with joy in the name of the “Kurdish State.” Before anything, those rejoicing in the name of being Kurdish an invasion on peoples in the region by the U.S. and registering as a legionary for such a formation that is brought in like a Trojan horse, have nothing left of their Kurdish identity. There could be no greater Kurdish assimilation than such treachery. Those who receive this with pleasure on behalf of being Kurdish could have nothing left of their Kurdish identity.

However, this is not our topic. The real topic is that there is no objection, no voice rising from the Arab League, an umbrella organization that brings together Arab countries in particular in the name of the value of being Arab, while Arabs are the primary victims of the demographic operation being conducted.

We see Arab countries recently steering towards secularism. Yet, it was no secret that political preferences that were guided by religiosity until now were all motivated by secularism. In other words, these countries did not just convert to secularism, they only recently started to match their appearances with their essence. In other words, the sole difference is that they have openly assumed a secular appearance, no longer needing the religious guise and its legitimizing power. Now, they have no concern such as Jerusalem, no problem such as Palestine, and no care or concern about Muslims being oppressed and pressured in the world.

Forget about being Muslim, should they at least not have any concern about being Arab? Currently, millions of Arabs in Syria are being deported from the region directly for being Arab, and thus are exposed to an ethnic cleansing operation. They make no effort or take any steps to prevent them from facing such oppression. Is it not possible for these Arab countries, that are on really good terms with the U.S., the Arab countries that provide job opportunities for hundreds and thousands of people by contributing to U.S. economy, to warn the U.S. with respect to the Arab ethnic cleansing currently happening in Syria?

As millions of Syrians leave their land as a result of the ethnic cleansing today and are forced to migrate generally to non-Arab countries, do the Arab League countries never discussing this matter on their agenda? If it is not going to include such a topic on its agenda and fight for it, if it is not going to think of a measure against such problems, why was the Arab League founded in the first place, what use does it serve?

I am sure some are smirking at these questions, finding them quite naive. But these questions are sincere, and regardless of what basis an existing organization is founded, it is required to and is capable of doing works true to its name.

If the Arab League ever starts to do work that is true to its name, it should certainly tackle the following questions too: What percentage of Arab migrants from countries such as Syria, Yemen, Libya, Egypt and Iraq that are forced to leave their countries as a result of the conflicts on their own soils, due to the problems Arab countries have produced themselves, are hosted by the very same Arab countries that have directly caused these problems?

Why do the people fleeing these countries seek refuge specifically in Turkey and European countries rather than any Arab country?

When did Arab countries ever think about providing a livable, safe and honourable life quality for their own peoples?

Why is it that non-Arab countries have to think about the honour of Arab peoples and not the administrators of Arab countries?

By doing this, are they not personally producing the excuse and grounds required for non-Arab countries to intervene in Arab territories?

Meanwhile, let us repeat what we always say so there is no room for misunderstanding. Turkey is hosting a larger Arab population than most Arab countries. Therefore, it has the natural right to speak on behalf of Arab peoples.

*Yasin Aktay is a former member of the Turkish parliament and a leading figure of the ruling Justice and Development (AK Party) in Turkey. (Published in Yeni Şafak Turkısh newspaper) August 17 2019

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Egypt’s farmers reject new cotton trade strategy, report

Sat, 2019-08-17 21:12
The Egyptian government has announced a new trading system for cotton, which would be sold through public bidding, raising the ire of farmers who already suffer from severe losses.

In an attempt to restore the Egyptian cotton’s global standing, the Egyptian Ministry of Public Business Sector unveiled June 30 a new cotton trading system in Egypt that will be piloted in Fayoum and Beni Suef governorates during the current harvest season. The system aims at overcoming the disadvantages of the previous trading system and achieving the highest returns for farmers, according to a report published in Al-Monitor by Rasha Mahmoud.

In an Aug. 6 meeting with the heads of cotton trade companies from the private and public sectors to present the new trading system for cotton, Minister of Public Business Sector Hisham Tawfik explained that 17 centers to receive cotton from farmers directly — without an intermediary — will be designated in the governorates of Fayoum and Beni Suef. Cotton will only be received through identification cards and agricultural holding cards, to prevent any fraud by intermediaries, .

According to the new system, special packs made of jute to protect the cotton from contamination will be made available to farmers in the first week of August at the new cotton centers, which are run by a subsidiary of the Cotton, Spinning, Weaving & Clothing Holding Company, Egypt’s largest end consumer.

Tawfik further said that sales will be made through public bidding based on the global price in the cotton exchange market.

Under the old system, the government would set a fixed price for cotton. In 2018, the price of one kantar (99 pounds) of cotton in the Nile Delta was set at 2,700 Egyptian pounds ($163) and 2,500 Egyptian pounds ($151) in Upper Egypt. Farmers complained about those prices, describing them as “unfair” as they do not cover production.

Yet still, the new system was not enough to quell farmers’ anger. Farmers claim the decision would completely destroy the cotton industry, and that it will make farmers suffer even more than they already have in the past few years.

Sayyed Rabie, a cotton trader in Beni Suef governorate, stressed that the success of the new system in restoring the global standing of the Egyptian cotton depends primarily on state intervention to protect the farmer and on imposing rigorous control. He also mentioned concerns that private companies would manipulate cotton prices and reduce its purchase cost from farmers, which would lead farmers to abstain from cultivating it, just like what happened in the past five years.

He said the new cotton trading system will act as a commodity exchange, and the price will change on a daily basis, following the global market trends that are now difficult to determine.

In May, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics issued the annual cotton bulletin for the second quarter of the agricultural season 2018-19, stating that the total cotton exports reached 3,579 metric kantar during the period extending from December 2018 until February 2019, compared to 7,379 metric kantar during the same period of the previous season.

Head of the Egyptian Farmers Syndicate Hussein Abdel Rahman Abu Saddam confirmed the cancellation of the old mechanism under which the government set a fixed price to buy cotton from farmers. He said that buying cotton from farmers at the beginning of next season through public auction will destroy cotton cultivation and is unfair to farmers.

He also complained that the government has neglected farmers and the cotton industry, stressing the setback of cotton cultivation this year, which shrank by about 100,000 acres compared to last year.

Abu Saddam explained that in 2018, the government had set a fixed price of 2,700 Egyptian pounds ($163) for a kantar of cotton from the Nile Delta and 2,500 Egyptian pounds ($151) for a kantar of cotton from Upper Egypt. This move appeared back then to have revived the industry as more than 336,000 acres were cultivated. However, the industry was marked with losses, as marketing the cotton failed since companies preferred to import foreign cotton at lower prices.

On the farmers’ concerns over the new trading system, Mafrah al-Baltagy, a member of the Cotton Exporters Association, said “The bidding system will be difficult to apply. This is because the initial price before any bidding will be subject to ups and downs depending on the global market, which farmers in Egypt will not accept, especially if [global] prices decrease.”

He added, “Reviving the cotton industry requires its ongoing cultivation and exportation, coupled with the formation of a state fund. This fund would set a fixed price at the beginning of each harvest season, and in case the cotton global price decreases farmers will be compensated through this fund.”

Mohamed Saad Temraz, a member of the parliamentary Committee of Agriculture and Irrigation, said that Egyptian farmers suffered a great deal of frustration this year, and such a decision will push farmers to stop cultivating cotton crops.

“Last year the government demanded farmers to plant 250,000 acres of cotton and promised them to take this cotton at a guaranteed price of 3,000 pounds [$181] per kantar. When the harvest was due, farmers were confused because the government did not live up to its promise [as it set lower prices] and the farmers were unable to sell it,” He said.

Temraz noted that some farmers have not been able to sell last year’s crops so far, stressing that this decision is a premeditated measure aimed at discouraging the Egyptian farmers and depriving them of their livelihoods.

Abu Saddam said that Egypt, which was planting 2 million acres of cotton in the 1950s, could not manage to market the production of 236,000 acres in 2019. The government did not fulfill its previous promises to buy cotton from farmers at the guaranteed price it had set, and this was in violation of Article 29 of the constitution, which stipulates that the government commits to “buying basic agricultural crops at appropriate prices to achieve a profit margin for farmers.”

He noted that brokers and traders took advantage of the government’s failure to buy cotton from farmers and bought it themselves at low prices. This has pushed many farmers to abstain from growing cotton this year, thus threatening the future of Egyptian cotton cultivation.

Abu Saddam added that Egypt was the world’s greatest producer of white long-staple and extra-long cotton, until the issuance of Law 210 of 1994 to liberalize the cotton sector, which led to significant losses for textile companies and drowned them in debt, due to the increase in cotton prices as a result of price liberalization at that time. Moreover, the state gradually neglected cotton cultivation and started to export raw cotton at the lowest prices to countries where it is manufactured and re-exported to Egypt at skyrocketing prices.

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Rights groups criticize U.N. decision to hold conference on torture in Egypt

Fri, 2019-08-16 21:00
Human rights activists on Thursday criticized a United Nations decision to hold a conference in Cairo on torture with an Egyptian state organization.

“It’s illogical for a country where torture is systematic to host a conference on torture,” said Mohamed Zaree of the non-government Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.

Egyptian authorities have repeatedly denied allegations that its security forces engage in torture.

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will co-host the regional conference on defining and criminalizing torture with the government’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) on Sept. 4 and 5.

Some 80 participants, both government and non-governmental, from 19 Arab countries are expected to attend.

U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville, who in February had said torture was endemic in Egypt, told Reuters: “It is a fairly standard type of event.”

The NCHR could not be reached for comment and officials at the State Information Service were not available.

Rights activists say General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has overseen a crackdown on freedoms in Egypt since he took power in 2014.

Sisi’s supporters say tough measures are needed to keep the country stable as it recovers from political chaos and tackles economic challenges and an Islamist insurgency in North Sinai.

Authorities say Egypt is a law-abiding state and that any rights violations are merely individual cases whose perpetrators are held accountable. Cairo has frequently dismissed reports by human rights organizations on torture and said they lack credibility and are politically motivated.

Gamal Eid, director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, said the idea of Egypt hosting such an event was a joke.

“More ironic is that this is through the National Council (for Human Rights), the role of which is to always polish the government’s image and complicity in the human rights situation,” he said.

NHCR president Mohamed Fayek will give a welcome address at the conference’s opening ceremony, according to an agenda seen by Reuters.

In February, the U.N. human rights office voiced concern over trials that led to the executions of 15 people in Egypt that month may have been unfair. It said torture may have been used to obtain confessions.

A Reuters report last month found that at least 179 people were executed in Egypt from 2014 to May 2019, up from only 10 people in the previous six years.

In 2017, Egypt raided and shut down the Nadeem Center, which documented alleged human rights abuses and treated torture victims.

“Egypt must be excluded as a place, or as the Egyptian regime, from hosting any forum or event related to human rights,” Zaree said.

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After Trump Push, Israel bans Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from visiting

Fri, 2019-08-16 01:41
Move slammed as ‘affront to the American people’ and’ assault on Palestinians’ right ‘to reach out to decision-makers’.

Israel has decided to bar United Statescongresswomen Congress Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from entering the country ahead of a planned trip to the occupied West Bank, in a move that came shortly after US President Donald Trump tweeted it would “show great weakness” to allow them in.

It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 15, 2019

Trump’s pressure forced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to choose between appeasing a U.S. president who has been a strong political supporter and potentially alienating Congress, where Israeli policy for decades had been to avoid taking partisan sides. Netanyahu’s quick decision to side with Trump suggested it was not a difficult decision.

Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri issued a statement saying that after consultations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials, he decided not to allow Tlaib and Omar to enter because of “their boycott activities against Israel”.

Under Israeli law, backers of the BDS movement, a pro-Palestinian global effort to pressure Israel through boycotts, sanctions and divestment, can be denied entry to Israel.

Democrats quickly blasted the move.

“Israel doesn’t advance its case as a tolerant democracy or unwavering U.S. ally by barring elected members of Congress from visiting because of their political views,” tweeted Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “This would be a shameful, unprecedented move. I urge Israel’s government to allow @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib entry.”

Israel doesn't advance its case as a tolerant democracy or unwavering US ally by barring elected members of Congress from visiting because of their political views. This would be a shameful, unprecedented move. I urge Israel’s government to allow @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib entry.

— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) August 15, 2019

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said Israel’s actions would harm relations between the two allied countries. “I strongly condemn this decision by the Israeli government, which undermines the ability for our two allied countries to have the frank, open and, at times, difficult discussions that we must have in order to ensure Israel remains a secure and democratic nation,” he tweeted.

I strongly condemn this decision by the Israeli government, which undermines the ability for our two allied countries to have the frank, open and, at times, difficult discussions that we must have in order to ensure Israel remains a secure and democratic nation. https://t.co/NRTdxW9s4N

— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) August 15, 2019

The decision on Thursday was swiftly denounced by Miftah, the Palestinian group cosponsoring the planned trip this weekend, as “an affront to the American people and their representatives” and “an assault on the Palestinian people’s right to reach out to decision-makers and other actors from around the world.”

Tlaib and Omar have voiced support for the BDS movement, which seeks to use non-violent means to pressure Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories, dismantle the separation wall, ensure equality for its Palestinian citizens and implement the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their lands.

The US president last month had again targeted Omar, Tlaib and two other Democratic congresswomen of colour with racist attacks, saying the four politicians should “go back” to where they came from.

Tlaib, 43, who was born in the United States, draws her roots to the Palestinian village of Beit Ur al-Fauqa in the occupied West Bank. Her grandmother and extended family live in the village.

Omar, 37, who immigrated to the US from Somalia as a child, represents Minnesota’s fifth congressional district.

The politicians, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress and members of the Democratic party’s progressive wing, have repeatedly said their criticisms of Israel’s government are based on policy differences and are not directed at Jewish people.

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Evidence of Saudi-led coalition’s cover-ups in Yemen

Thu, 2019-08-15 21:55
Report given to UK government claims evidence shows British arms should not be sold to Saudi Arabia

Evidence that the Saudi-led coalition has covered up human rights abuses in Yemen was submitted to the British government in a report by legal and human rights activists on Thursday.

The report claims the coalition has “whitewashed significant civilian harm” and that any internal Saudi investigations into allegations have not been credible despite the UK relying on such investigations to justify its sales of weapons to the Gulf kingdom.

Using witness interviews and photographic evidence, the report by The Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) and Yemeni group Mwatana for Human Rights places blame on the coalition for air strikes it had claimed it was not responsible for and accuses it of disproportionate use of force that harmed civilians.

“This evidence will assist the UK government in deciding whether to grant further arms sales licenses for Saudi Arabia. They can either continue to rely on discredited Saudi/UAE-led coalition assurances or listen to those who have painstakingly documented the constant civilian deaths caused by Coalition airstrikes,” GLAN Director Gearoid O Cuinn said in a joint statement with Mwatana.

The UK Court of Appeals ruled in June that British arms sales to Saudi Arabia were unlawful because the government had illegally approved arms sales without properly assessing the risk to civilians.

The UK has licensed arms sales worth £4.7bn to Saudi Arabia since the Gulf kingdom intervened in Yemen’s civil war in March 2015.

Saudi Arabia is Britain’s biggest weapons purchaser, accounting for 43 percent of Britain’s global arms sales in the past decade. BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest defence company, generates 14 percent or around £2.6 bn ($3.3 bn) of its group sales from the kingdom.

“The UK should have stopped selling weapons to the Saudi/UAE-led coalition a long time ago. We hope this evidence helps them finally make the right decision, and to start seriously pushing for peace,” said Radhya al-Mutawakel, chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights.

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Rabaa Massacre – Calls for Justice Remain Six Years on

Thu, 2019-08-15 19:44
Rights groups keep demanding probe into deadly crackdown on Egyptians protesting against Mohamed Morsi’s overthrow.

Six years ago, Egyptian security forces killed hundreds of supporters of Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president, in what was one of the deadliest days for demonstrations in Egypt’s modern history.

The violent dispersal of the sit-ins at Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda squares on August 14, 2013, resulted in the death of at least 900 people and the wounding of more than 1,000, according toAmnesty International.

The bloody crackdown came weeks after Morsi was overthrown in a military coup led by then-army chief and current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in July 2013 following mass demonstrations.

Egypt’s security forces maintain some of the demonstrators were armed and there were “terrorists” among their numbers.

Despite a wealth of evidence implicating the Egyptian army and police in killing the people protesting against Morsi’s overthrow, no one has ever been brought to trial and the Egyptian government has yet to transparently investigate the massacre.

“Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and the Egyptian military want everyone to forget the mass killings they oversaw during Rabaa massacre,” Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

“But six years on, no one has forgotten their crimes nor the fact that not a single perpetrator has been held to account, and it will remain this way until authorities deliver justice for the many victims and their families.”

The government-appointed National Council of Human Rights produced a report on the events, but its findings are at odds with witness accounts and human rights activists.

Since 2013, hundreds of protesters, including leaders of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, the group Morsi belonged to, have been convicted at mass trials. An Egyptian court in July 2018 sentenced 75 people to death for participating in the protest.

Rallies marking the Rabaa killings have met fierce resistance by Egyptian authorities.

After his removal, Morsi was tried in several different cases.

In April 2015, he was sentenced to 20 years on charges of ordering the arrest and torture of protesters in clashes outside the presidential palace in 2012.

Morsi died in detention after collapsing in a Cairo courtroom in June. The United Nations has called for an independent inquiry into his death.

What happened?

After enormous protests calling for Morsi to step down, the military announced it had seized power on July 3, 2013.

The protests – staged in Tahrir Square one year after Morsi was sworn into office – called for early presidential elections, with demonstrators accusing the president of failing to fulfil his electoral promises.

The now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood called for counterprotests, with people gathering at Rabaa and al-Nahda squares to denounce the military coup.

The sit-in at Rabaa – which at one point drew about 85,000 protesters, according toHuman Rights Watch – extended for more than 45 days.

Demonstrators slept, ate, prayed, and lived at the square. Many hoped the sit-in would succeed in pressuring the military to restore Morsi to the presidency.

As time passed, supporters of the military across the city grew frustrated with the defiant sit-in and calls to disperse them came from both largely pro-military private and state-owned media outlets.

The military-backed government officially ordered the dispersal of Rabaa and al-Nahda on August 14, with armoured vehicles, bulldozers and hundreds of security forces moving in the early hours.

Calls for justice

In 2014, after a year-long investigation, Human Rights Watch documented the events that led to the mass killings, interviewing witnesses and reviewing video footage.

Based on the findings of its 2014 report, the the New York-based group concluded the killings “likely amounted to crimes against humanity” and “were part of a policy”.

Referencing the 2014 report, Page told Al Jazeera that the rights group has continued to call for the investigation and prosecution of people “implicated in serious crimes under international law committed in Egypt in July-August 2013.”

Echoing HRW, Amnesty on Wednesday detailed in a statement how the “legacy of the Rabaa dispersal still haunts Egyptians,” referring to tens of documented cases of unfair trials, imprisonment in inhumane conditions, abusive probation periods, and ongoing impunity, among others.

“The authorities have been trampling over people’s human rights, and in particular the rights of those criticizing the government, to the point that Egypt has become an open-air prison for critics,” read the statement.

“If Egypt has any intention to move on from the ongoing human rights crisis it faces, the authorities must address the lingering legacy of the dispersal of Rabaa,” it added.

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Categories: BFFBTY, MENA

Like today, Sisi committed the worst massacre in Egypt 6 years ago and killed over 1,000 people

Wed, 2019-08-14 15:50
More than half a decade after ‘ Rabaa massacre ‘ the deadly crackdown of supporters of the first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi, human rights activists still call for a probe.

Six years ago, Egypt witnessed one of the deadliest days for demonstrations in its modern history when security forces killed hundreds of supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

The dramatic dispersal of the sit-in at Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square on August 14, 2013, saw soldiers and police shot dead more than 1000 protesters in a matter of hours.

The bloody crackdown came weeks after Morsi was overthrown by the military following mass demonstrations against his one-year rule.

Egypt’s security forces maintain some of the demonstrators were armed and there were “terrorists” among their numbers.

Despite a wealth of evidence implicating the Egyptian army and police in killing the protesters, no one has ever been brought to trial and the Egyptian government has yet to transparently investigate the massacre.

The government-appointed National Council of Human Rights produced a report on the events, but its findings are at odds with witness accounts and human rights activists.

Since 2013, hundreds of protesters, including leaders of Morsi’s government, have been convicted at mass trials. An Egyptian court in July sentenced 75 people to death for participating in the protest.

Rallies marking the Rabaa killings have met fierce resistance by Egyptian authorities.

What happened?

After massive protests calling for Morsi to step down, the military announced the removal of Egypt’s first democratically elected president on July 3, 2013.

Morsi

The protests – staged in Tahrir Square one year after Morsi was sworn into office – called for early presidential elections, with demonstrators accusing the president of failing to fulfil his electoral promises.

The now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most popular political group at the time, called for counter-protests at Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda squares.

Rabaa 2013

The protests developed into the large-scale sit-in against the military coup.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), about 85,000 protesters joined the sit-in, which extended for over 45 days and grew larger and more organised with time.

Protesters slept, ate, prayed, and lived at the square. Many hoped the sit-in would succeed in pressuring the military to restore Morsi to the presidency.

As time passed, supporters of the military across the city grew frustrated with the defiant sit-ins and calls to disperse them came from both largely pro-military private and state-owned media outlets.

The military-backed government, officially ordered the dispersal of Rabaa and al-Nahda on August 14, with armoured vehicles, bulldozers and hundreds of security forces moving in the early hours.

Massacre of Rabaa August 2013 Calls for justice

After a year-long investigation, New York-based HRW documented the events that led to the mass killings, interviewing witnesses and reviewing video footage.

Based on the findings of its 2014 report, HRW concluded the killings “likely amounted to crimes against humanity” and “were part of a policy”.

In a statement on Monday, the rights group called for an international inquiry into the deadly crackdown.

“Five years on from the Rabaa massacre, the only response from authorities has been to try to insulate those responsible for these crimes from justice,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Without justice, Rabaa remains an open wound. Those responsible for the mass killings of protesters shouldn’t count on being able to shield themselves from accountability forever.”

Last June, Egypt’s first democratically elected president Morsi fainted during court session and died afterwards.

The 67-year-old died after fainting during the court session in the Egyptian capital,

Denied medical treatment: Morsi had a history of health issues, including diabetes and liver and kidney disease. He had suffered from medical neglect during his imprisonment, compounded by the poor conditions in jail.

2018 report conducted by three British MPs under the Independent Detention Review Panel, warned that the lack of medical treatment could result in Morsi suffering from a “premature death”.

“Our conclusions are stark,” Crispin Blunt and the panel’s chairman said at the time. “The denial of basic medical treatment to which he is entitled could lead to his premature death.”

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More than 2 million Muslims in Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage

Sat, 2019-08-10 16:27
Pilgrims gather in the mount Arafa, (12 miles) east of Mecca. , for the annual pilgrimage.

Mecca, Saudi Arabia: More than 2 million pilgrims were gathered in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia to perform initial rites of the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage that takes the faithful along a path traversed by the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) some 1,400 years ago.

The Hajj in Islam is meant to be a great equaliser and unifier among Muslims, with pilgrims shedding overt displays of wealth and materialism.

All male pilgrims wear simple terry cloth white garments and women don conservative dress and headscarves, forgoing makeup, nail polish and perfume in an effort to draw closer to God and engage in intense worship for the five-day hajj.

On Saturday, August 10, pilgrims headed early to Mount Arafat, an area about 20 kilometres (12 miles) east of Mecca.

The more than 2 million pilgrims stand shoulder to shoulder for an emotional day of repentance and supplication at Mount Arafat for the peak of the annual Hajj.

Mount Arafat is the site where the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) delivered his final sermon, calling for equality and unity among Muslims.

Earlier, on Friday, thousands of pilgrims circled the cube-shaped Kaaba in Makkah, Islam’s holiest site. They circle the Kaaba counter-clockwise, their hearts tilting toward the structure that’s meant to symbolise the monotheistic principle of the oneness of God in Islam.

Muslims around the world pray toward the Kaaba daily, using compasses to help them pray in its direction.

A large, diverse gathering

The Hajj is one of the largest and most diverse gatherings in the world, drawing more than 1.8 million people from around the world this year, according to Saudi officials.

Several hundred thousand more pilgrims are Saudi residents or citizens. Last year, 2.4 million people took part in the Hajj, with similar numbers expected for 2019.

Faith journey

Those on the Hajj view the pilgrimage as an opportunity to strengthen one’s faith, erase past sins and start anew. The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, required of all Muslims to perform once in their lifetime if they are physically and financially able.

For the well-heeled, the pilgrimage includes a partial stay in towering five-star hotels with lavish buffets overlooking the Kaaba.

But for most, it means sleeping in simple accommodations or even spending weeks sleeping on the ground around Makkah’s Grand Mosque to perform daily prayers and rites near the Kaaba ahead of the Hajj.

Many pilgrims will save for years to perform the Hajj. Charities and wealthier Muslims often also help fund those unable to cover the costs.

In addition to being financially costly, the Hajj is physically demanding, involving much walking and travel between various points along the route.

To ease the journey, the kingdom recently unveiled the first phase of a new high-speed train connecting pilgrims between holy sites in the cities of Makkah and Medina. The kingdom also has a new e-visa system in place for pilgrims.

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Aden clashes continue, risk making Yemen war ‘even more complex’

Sat, 2019-08-10 16:07
Five civilians among 20 people reported dead as fighting between separatists and government forces go on for the third day.

Fighting between Yemeni government forces and separatists in the southern port city of Aden has continued for a third consecutive day, with reports of at least 20 people killed.

The violence in the seat of Yemen‘s internationally-recognised government threatens to open a new front in the country’s devastating war, exposing a rift in a Saudi-led military alliance that has been battling the Houthi rebel movement since 2015.

At least five civilians were among the dead and dozens were wounded in Friday’s violence, according to doctors and security officials who spoke to news agencies and other reporters on the condition of anonymity.

Much of the fighting between forces loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and a United Arab Emirates-backed militia is taking place in areas that are among the city’s most populated, leading to serious concerns for the safety of civilians.

“Many appeals have been issued by civilians who are suffering from chronic diseases because the situation is getting dangerous for them to stay trapped between both fighting sides,” said Al Jazeera’s Mohammed al-Attab, reporting from Yemen’s Houthi-held capital, Sanaa.

In a statement published on Friday, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) expressed deep concern for the safety of its staff and civilians, who have been trapped inside their homes since the fighting began on Wednesday, especially in Aden’s Crater neighbourhood. 

“NRC currently has nine Yemeni staff members who are trapped by the fighting in the Crater area. We are extremely worried about their safety and well-being,” said Mohammed Abdi, the organisation’s country director in Yemen.

“There has been heavy, continuous shelling. We’re still hearing clashes in my neighbourhood,” Amgad, an NRC staff member in Yemen, said.

“The water supply has stopped for days. People have small water tanks with enough water to last for one or two day’s maximum. There isn’t enough water and this is one of the main concerns,” Amgad added. 

‘Not getting along for months’

Now in its fifth year, Yemen’s war between the Houthis and the coalition-backed, pro-government forces has claimed tens of thousands of lives and thrust millions to the brink of famine, in what the United Nations has called the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

The clashes that began on Wednesday in Aden have pitted Hadi’s guards against a militia known as the Security Belt. Hani Bin Braik, deputy head of the so-called Southern Transitional Council, had called upon separatists to march to the presidential palace, which is largely empty since Hadi is based in Saudi Arabia.

The government, in turn, has accused the separatist leader of fomenting sedition that would only serve the rebels and called upon the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to press the separatists to halt their attacks.

“They are on the same side in terms of fighting the Houthis … however, in reality they have not been getting along for months,” Sama’a al-Hamdani, of the Middle East Institute, told Al Jazeera from Washington, DC.

“Southern separatist forces, especially those represented in the Southern Transition Council, have called repeatedly for secession, and feel like the time is ideal to self-determination and to pursue it now,” al-Hamdani added.

“It seems that although they are fighting against a common enemy, the time has come where differences among them are more important than fighting that enemy.”

The International Crisis Group warned on Friday that the fighting would “make an already multi-faceted conflict even more complex and intractable”.

“Such a conflict would deepen what is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and make a national political settlement harder to achieve,” read a statement issued by the Brussels-based group.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN chief, also raised concerns over the fighting and called on the different sides to “recommit themselves to a political process”.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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Egypt Extends Pretrial Detention of Opposition Figure with Heart Condition

Sat, 2019-08-10 07:04

An Egyptian court has extended the pretrial detention of prominent opposition member and former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh for another 45 days on charges of communicating with entities opposed to the Egyptian state and disseminating false news.

In June last year, Aboul Fotouh’s son Ahmed said on Twitter that his father’s health had deteriorated and his life is under threat.

Ahmed noted that his father suffered from angina while in prison “and if it hadn’t been for the fact that he is [originally] a doctor and can try to rescue himself, the outcome would have been different.”

Aboul Fotouh has been held in a prison in Cairo since mid-February 2018 pending investigation into the charges of “disseminating false news” and “leading and attempting to revive an outlawed group”, in a clear reference to the Muslim Brotherhood group, which the Egyptian regime banned and designated as a terrorist organization in 2013 following a military coup

A former leading member of the group, Aboul Fotouh broke with it and became an independent opponent in 2012 when he decided to run in the presidential elections independently from the Brotherhood.

During the same election, the Brotherhood nominated and backed Mohamed Morsi. Morsi became the country’s first democratically elected, civilian president before he was ousted in the 2013 coup then died in custody amid accusation of insufficient medical care in prison.

Aboul Fotouh’s arrest in 2018 came one day after his return from a trip to London, during which he was interviewed by the Qatari satellite channel Al Jazeera. In the interview, he criticized current Egypt’s Al-Sisi, who was Morsi’s defense minister and who led the coup against him.

He has previously been detained more than once under the government of long-time Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.

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Al-Sisi Allocates 47 Red Sea State-Controlled Islands To The Army

Fri, 2019-08-09 21:25

Egypt’s Al-Sisi has issued a resolution allocating 47 state-owned islands in the Red Sea to the army, stating that the land is of strategic military importance.

Most of the islands are currently used for tourism purposes, including Giftun Island in the resort town of Hurghada which is famous for snorkeling, Tobia Island and Abu Hashish Island, also a famous dive site.

The army is estimated to own around 40 per cent of Egypt’s total GDP and owns construction firms, cement plants, hotels and invests in key sectors like tourism.

In June 2017 Egyptian lawmakers approved an accord transferring the two Red Sea Islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia, a victory for the president who had initially signed the deal in 2016 only to have it rejected by the highest administrative court.

The islands were mainly under the control of the Egyptian military since 1949.

When he initially announced the islands would be transferred to Riyadh, Egypt witnessed the largest protests since Al-Sisi’s rise to power in 2014 and in response security forces arrested demonstrators.

Former Egyptian Ambassador Masoum Marzouk was arrested in August 2018 after opposing the transfer of the Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia and calling for a public referendum on Al-Sisi’s rule before the Public Prosecution released him under a presidential pardon.

Resolution No. 380 of 2019 follows closely after news over the weekend that Egyptian authorities would begin implementing a 2016 decree which allocates two kilometers of land on either side of major roads in Sinai as a property of the Ministry of Defence.

When the decree is implemented more than 80 per cent of the local population will be displaced.

Since the military coup in 2013 led by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi against Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi the military started to expand its economic empire.

It has widened its economic activity, including producing cement, supplying medical items to hospitals, as well as running the government’s smart-card system for the distribution of subsidized goods, establishing fish farms and manufacturing water meters.

Moreover, in 2015 al-Sisi issued a law that allows the army to set up companies with the participation of domestic or foreign capital.” Armed forces vans roam the country selling cheap groceries and military retail outlets have popped up, while military agencies have attempted to procure basic commodities from international traders amid shortages,” said Reuters.

In this context, Al-Sisi tends to defend the military in every occasion, saying at a national youth conference held in Sharm el-Sheikh recently that, “In case you’re wondering how large the economy of the armed forces is in terms of GDP, I’m going to tell you so it’s clear: 1 to 1.5 %,” according to Reuters.

Reuters also said,” the size of the military, which produces everything from bottled water to macaroni, has long been a topic of speculation in Egypt but official comment on the scope of its economic activities is rare.”

Al-Sisi also claimed that the armed forces are not entering the economy to profit or compete with the private sector, and that their projects are subject to taxes and regulatory oversight.

He also added that the military would deliver 1,350 projects by 2018 but did not specify their exact nature.

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Egyptian Authorities Block Void Campaign Again after Exceeding 100,000 Votes

Fri, 2019-08-09 18:10

Egyptian authorities have again blocked the website of (Void Egypt Prisons) campaign, an electronic platform (https://batilsegnak.online/) that was launched by Egyptian opposition figures from across the political spectrum for the solidarity with political detainees, gaining a wide-range support from politicians and the public in a few days, exceeding more than 100,000 signatures.

The campaign announced the launch of a new site of solidarity with the detainees and all Egyptians who are subjected to systematic repression and pauperization by the Sisi regime.

The campaign stresses that it will continue until everyone hears about the suffering of Egyptians, who have become either detained or killed or pending.

Besides the possibility of voting for solidarity via its Facebook page, the campaign launched a new website: https://60000.life/

In just few days the campaign reached thousands of online signatures

The number of signatories, on Wednesday, approached 70 thousand. The campaign expressed condolences to the families of the victims of the bombing of the “Institute of Oncology”, blaming the Egyptian regime for the incident.

On its Facebook page, the campaign called for broad solidarity with detainees, regardless of their political affiliation.

In what appeared to be a success for the campaign’s discourse, politicians from different currents expressed solidarity with the campaign’s objectives, saying that “the issue of detainees has a human dimension beyond any other considerations.”

The campaign received support from a variety of symbols, most notably Egyptian actor Khaled Abul-Naga, former presidential candidate Ayman Nour, former Minister of International Cooperation Amr Darrag, former Minister of Legal Affairs Mohamed Mahsoub, former parliamentarian Hatem Azzam, poet Abdel Rahman Youssef, and activist Ahmed Al-Baqri.

The “Void Egypt Prisons” says it seeks to provide various means for signing on the petition, as well as securing its platforms with professional means against hacking.

“The aim of the campaign is to demonstrate broad solidarity with the detainees, and to demonstrate a national consensus to the humanitarian and moral dimension of their cause, regardless of the detainees’ background and political affiliation,” said a close associate of the campaign preparation team.

The campaign also considered that signing the petition “Void Egypt Prisons” sends a message to the detainees that their case is not forgotten, and that their continued detention is rejected by all Egyptians.

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Trouble in Paradise: Cracks are Forming in the Saudi-Emirati Relationship, NI

Fri, 2019-08-09 16:28
“Recent tension in the Gulf affords a glimpse into one of many disputes between Saudi Arabia and the UAE on appropriate responses to common challenges”. “THE NATIONAL INTEREST”

The relations between Saudi Arabia and the UAE have not always been smooth. Even before the latter’s independence in 1971, the affairs between the ruling families, al-Nahyan of Abu-Dhabi and al-Saud of Riyad, were tense due to borders disputes and power struggles. Today, however, it seems that the two countries have never been closer.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have demonstrated, over the last decade, a solid partnership in decisionmaking processes and see eye to eye on major strategic questions in their region. The strength of their cooperation was expressed in varied interests and arenas, such as the backing the rise of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt (2014), joining forces in their campaign in Yemen (2015), imposing an unprecedented boycott on Qatar (2017) and introducing groundbreaking national laws in both states such as the Value Added Tax law (2018)—all of which are taking place in times of rapid and significant changes within their own territories.

The alliance between the two states rests on close personal ties between their leaders—Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince and de-facto ruler, and Mohammed bin Zayed, the Emirati crown prince and de-facto ruler. It’s also based on similar, though not identical, worldviews in which political Islam and Iranian influence form two destabilizing forces in the Middle East. Nevertheless, just like in romantic relations, the more they are becoming intense and weighty, the more difficulties they reveal.

The recent tension in the Gulf affords a glimpse into one of many disputes between Saudi Arabia and the UAE on appropriate responses to common challenges, this time with Iran. While Saudi Arabia took a public stance using confrontational language vis-à-vis Iran, the UAE remained vaguer in its media coverage of events and did not point an unequivocal finger of blame towards Iran.

In the first attack against four oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on May 12, the UAE tried to diminish the significance of the attacks, claiming that the damage caused was minor. Some reports even claimed that Saudi Arabia preferred a military response towards Iran, while the UAE sought to smooth over the situation with a diplomatic resolution.

An additional dispute between the two countries relates to the war in Yemen. Since 2015, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have jointly led the campaign in Yemen against the Iran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels, who have been garnished with weaponry, advisors and money from Tehran.

While the Saudi forces focused on air operations, the UAE army has played a more significant role on the ground, leading to several game-changing outcomes. Even though the Saudis led their allies to the war, it is now the UAE who is steering the wheels by gradually withdrawing from Yemen. In its cautious and sophisticated nature, the UAE had calculated its battles on the expanding fronts and realized that its focus should be granted to more immediate and close challenges. As tension with Iran increased, the UAE took a swift step to tackle the rising threat with greater attention and a reallocation of resources for any possible development. 

The increasing international criticism over the humanitarian effects of the Yemen war was another catalyst for the Emirati withdrawal. The UAE’s pulling off from Yemen without a satisfactory arrangement acceptable to Saudi Arabia, is a probable source for a conflict between them and a death blow to the latter’s attempt to reach a victorious image in this arena.

Despite the increasing tension and apparent disagreements between the countries, their relationship is yet far from a crisis, as it is based on deep ideological and strategic partnership. The disagreements at this point mainly revolve around methods of action and degrees of force that each of the sides is interested in applying, whether in regard to military action, diplomatic decisions or social processes.

Of the two, the UAE behaves like the “responsible adult” in its tactical choices, while Mohammed bin Salman has been portrayed as more reckless. Despite the open channel of communication between the two leaders, their continued proactive policies are increasing the likely challenges in the relationship between them.

The struggle between Iran and the Sunni Arab states has shaped the way researchers, journalists and intelligence analysts have understood and analyzed regional dynamics for many years. This struggle has geostrategic and ideological impacts on the region which affect many arenas. Alongside this struggle, however, another battle has been taking place for a while now which also has a significant impact on the character of the Middle East and beyond. Without standing out to a comparable degree, the competition between the Arab Gulf states, as we have seen in North Africa, Yemen, the Red Sea and the Palestinian arena, has made its mark on the region.

This competition, which is driven by aspirations for influence and prestige in the Arab world, indirectly influences such issues as nuclear proliferation and regional arms races, thus bringing up new challenges for the security of the Middle East.

In the past, both the UAE and Saudi Arabia demonstrated restraint in conducting their foreign affairs. They stood in the shadow of others and made primary use of their comparative economic advantage. Today, they are the driving force behind many regional changes, and are key players in many arenas. However, with this power comes the weight of responsibility for maintaining regional stability. In this matter, it seems that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are implementing divergent approaches regarding the use of their power.

This article had been published first in THE NATIONAL INTEREST magazine in August, 07 2019

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“Void Egypt Prisons” Campaign Gains 70,000 Votes in 3 Days

Wed, 2019-08-07 21:58
The “Void Egypt Prisons” campaign has attracted more than 65,000 votes online in solidarity with political prisoners, demanding their release, three days after its launch.

The number of signatories, on Wednesday, approached 70 thousand. The campaign expressed condolences to the families of the victims of the bombing of the “Institute of Oncology”, blaming the Egyptian regime for the incident.

On its Facebook page, the campaign called for broad solidarity with detainees, regardless of their political affiliation.

Over the past two days, the campaign has highlighted the cases of detained journalist Ayah Alaa and Egyptian activist Mohamed Adel, one of the founders of the April 6 Movement, which embodies the human suffering regardless of the affiliation of political prisoners or their gender.

In what appeared to be a success for the campaign’s discourse, politicians from different currents expressed solidarity with the campaign’s objectives, saying that “the issue of detainees has a human dimension beyond any other considerations.”

The campaign received support from a variety of symbols, most notably Egyptian actor Khaled Abul-Naga, former presidential candidate Ayman Nour, former Minister of International Cooperation Amr Darrag, former Minister of Legal Affairs Mohamed Mahsoub, former parliamentarian Hatem Azzam, poet Abdel Rahman Youssef, and activist Ahmed Al-Baqri.

The “Void Egypt Prisons” says it seeks to provide various means for signing on the petition, as well as securing its platforms with professional means against hacking.

“The aim of the campaign is to demonstrate broad solidarity with the detainees, and to demonstrate a national consensus to the humanitarian and moral dimension of their cause, regardless of the detainees’ background and political affiliation,” said a close associate of the campaign preparation team.

The campaign also considered that signing the petition “Void Egypt Prisons” sends a message to the detainees that their case is not forgotten, and that their continued detention is rejected by all Egyptians.

The campaign outlined its demands that it addressed to to all those it described as free people in Egypt and around the world for “releasing 100 million Egyptians imprisoned by the tyrannical regime in Egypt, releasing all political detainees and forcibly disappeared, victims of notorious emergency law and protest law, and abolishing all precautionary measures including surveillance or others:

“The 100 million Egyptians have become prisoners in their country because of poverty, unemployment and fear. Student and labor activities are also “imprisoned” and restricted. Even the private sector’s economic activities have been constrained by competition of the army’s economic activities…Thus, all Egyptians, males and females, have become “prisoners” in their own homeland. Millions of Egyptians have already become “imprisoned” within the walls of poverty and ignorance that have been pre-meditated by Sisi and his regime.”

Not only those behind bars that are prisoners.

Every Egyptian humiliated at homeland is a prisoner.

Every young man who can’t form a family is a prisoner.

Every woman who can’t afford household expenses is a prisoner.

Every father who can’t afford his kids’ education or treatment is a prisoner.

Every Egyptian that can’t foresee a bright future for his country is a prisoner.

Void – 60,000 Egyptian detainees

Void – 100 million open-air prisoners in Egypt

Void – Egyptian prisons

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Saudi MBS reportedly seeking to fast track trial of Khashoggi suspects

Wed, 2019-08-07 15:14
Confidential UAE document reveals Mohammed bin Salman is concerned the journalist’s murder could become a heavily debated topic during the upcoming US election

The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman is determined to “fast track” court proceedings against the murder squad sent to kill Jamal Khashoggi, before Donald Trump’s re-election campaign starts in earnest, according to a report the Middle East Eye.

Mohammed bin Salman, who is thought by the CIA and Turkish investigators to have ordered the killing of Saudi journalist Khashoggi, wants to close the chapter as soon as possible, according to a report based on Emirati intelligence.

“It was a wise step for Riyadh to move quickly to close the case and indict those responsible before the start of the American presidential election,” the document says. “Otherwise the killing could have been turned into one of the presidential debate topics.”

The report is one of a monthly series written by the Emirates Policy Centre, a think tank with close links to the Emirati government and security services.

Entitled “Monthly Report on Saudi Arabia, Issue 24, May 2019”, the document is of limited circulation and intended for the Emirati leadership. It does not appear on the think tank’s website. A copy has been obtained by Middle East Eye.

Trump has consistently backed the Saudi crown prince, who is the kingdom’s de facto leader, in the international furore which followed Khashoggi’s killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year.

Last month, the US president dismissed a United Nations request for an FBI investigation into Khashoggi’s death, saying it would jeopardise Washington’s arms sales to Riyadh.

Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, released a scathing 100-page report on the Middle East Eye and Washington Post columnist’s assassination, revealing that his killers had referred to him as their “sacrificial animal”.

She said the FBI should open an inquiry and “pursue criminal prosecutions within the United States”.

MEE contacted the Emirates Policy Centre for comment, with no reply by the time of publication.

Closing the case

The Emirati paper reveals that Saudi efforts to close the case are centred on attempts to get Khashoggi’s heirs to accept “blood money” or accept a financial settlement agreed between the parties involved, and thus forgo the right of revenge or “qisas”.

The Saudi authorities plan to use the kingdom’s religious authorities to close the case, the report says.

“There were signs that religious figures would provide a religious view stating that Khashoggi’s heirs had the following choices: they could either forfeit their rights with no compensation, forgo revenge, take blood money or accept a financial settlement agreed by the parties involved,” the document reads.

“These practices are sanctioned by sharia and commonly followed in the Saudi judicial process relating to killings where the parties opt to reconcile based on an amount of money.”

Salah Khashoggi, the slain journalist’s eldest son, recently denied that payments made to the family were an admission of guilt by Saudi rulers. In April, the Washington Post reported the writer’s children were given million-dollar homes and monthly payments of at least $10,000.

However, in its report the Emirates Policy Centre notes Salah Khashoggi’s press release was used to deny any settlement and demand that those who committed, participated in or were associated with the crime be brought to justice.

“The press release emphasised that the financial rewards from the government were not part of a settlement, but a generous assistance from the government and a gesture of kindness to its citizens.”

The report says there were indications that Salah was instructed to issue his statement.

Legal procedures

As the kingdom and crown prince himself were under international pressure to convict those responsible, the report says political advisory committees recommended the government announce legal procedures for those accused.

Eleven unnamed Saudis are currently on trial in Riyadh over the murder, though Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to Mohammed bin Salman thought to have masterminded the assassination, walks free and remains in contact with the crown prince, according to multiple reports. Five of the 11 face the death penalty.

The number of those on trial in Riyadh conflicts with the US State Department’s own list of individuals it deems responsible. In April, Washington sanctioned and issued a travel ban for 16 Saudi citizens over their alleged involvement in Khashoggi’s murder.

In her report, Callamard doubted whether justice would be delivered in Riyadh.

“The trial is held behind closed doors; the identity of those charged has not been released nor is the identity of those facing death penalty,” she wrote.

“At the time of writing, at least one of those identified as responsible for the planning and organizing of the execution of Mr Khashoggi has not been charged.”

Callamard warned that it was questionable whether a financial package offered to Khashoggi’s children amounts to compensation under international human rights law.

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Egypt Calls the Deadly Cairo Blast a Terrorist Incident

Tue, 2019-08-06 03:52

A powerful car bomb explosion outside a hospital in Egypt’s capital killed at least 20 people and injured dozens more, Egyptian authorities said, in the deadliest terrorist attack in Cairo in more than two years.

Egypt’s Interior Ministry said the blast occurred late Sunday after an explosive-laden car driving the wrong way slammed into three others on Cairo’s Nile Corniche, sparking a chaotic scene of fire and metal as rescuers rushed in, according to footage of the aftermath. Another 47 people were injured, the ministry said.

After initially calling it an accident, the Interior Ministry blamed a domestic insurgent group, Hassm, for the explosion. The group has previously carried out a series of attacks targeting Egyptian security forces.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack, which is the deadliest in Cairo since the bombing of a church in December 2016 that killed 29 people, demonstrating how armed militants continue to wage an assault on Egyptian security forces and civilians.

Egypt’s Abdel Fattah Al Sisi condemned the attack on Monday afternoon.

“I would like to express my sincere condolences to the Egyptian people and to the families of the martyrs who were killed in the cowardly terrorist incident in the Qasr Al-Aini area yesterday evening,” Al-Sisi said.

Al-Sisi vowed to restore security and stability in Egypt after he came to power in a bloody military coup in 2013 that overthrew Egypt’s first elected President Mohammed Morsi. But the military takeover added fuel to a slow-burning Islamist insurgency that continues to this day.

The blast took place in front of Egypt’s National Cancer Institute, where shards of metal and glass lay on the street. The front of the building was damaged, with debris strewn along the length of a city block.

The cancer institute didn’t appear to be the intended target of the bombing, according to the Interior Ministry, which said that militants had been moving the car to another unspecified target.

The health ministry said 54 people were evacuated from inside the cancer institute and transferred to other hospitals. Authorities sent 42 ambulances to deal with the crisis, according to a health ministry spokesman quoted in the state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram.

Images broadcast on Egyptian media showed extensive damage inside the institute, with equipment and furniture strewn inside patients’ rooms. The damage was so extensive that the letters of the organization’s sign dangled from the building.

Egypt has grappled for years with lethal attacks by Islamic State and other extremist groups that have killed hundreds of civilians, police, and soldiers.

In May, 14 people were injured when a roadside bomb hit a tourist bus near the Giza Pyramids.

In December 2018, four people were killed in another bombing of a tourist bus near the pyramids.

While the pace of attacks in Cairo and other areas along the Nile has slowed over the past two years, Egypt’s military is engaged in a war with Islamic State militants in the remote North Sinai region, where insurgents have operated for years.

Egypt’s government didn’t declare the blast a terror attack until Monday afternoon, following a day of fervent public speculation about the cause of the blast.

The Egyptian government has faced criticism in the past for how it handles information in the aftermath of attacks and transportation disasters. In 2015 after a Russian airliner crashed in Egypt’s Sinai region killing 224 people, Egypt resisted labeling the incident a terrorist attack until Russia announced that a bomb had brought the plan down.

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Threefold increase in death sentences as Al-Sisi tightens his grip on Egypt

Mon, 2019-08-05 20:23
Amendments to Egypt’s constitution proposed and agreed by a parliamentary chamber dominated by supporters of General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi have, in the words of his political opponents, concentrated more power in the hands of one man than ever before in the Republic.

In effect, they argue, Al-Sisi has crushed any hopes of Egypt being a modern democratic state. According to Hamdeen Sabahi, a former presidential candidate and a senior member of the opposition Civil Democratic Movement alliance, “It is a tyrannical regime that has legitimised and extended its rule.”

The consequences for the people of Egypt, a Reuters report revealed last month, include a threefold increase in the number of death sentences passed by the Egyptian judiciary since Al-Sisi came to power. The Egyptian government did not respond to detailed questions from Reuters regarding the report, but Al-Sisi has claimed previously that Egypt is besieged by terrorism. That, argue his supporters, is why he has extended his powers; he simply needs more time to rescue the economy and defeat the terrorists.

Not many people are convinced by this argument. Since the former General and Minister of Defence came to power through a military coup against the democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, Al-Sisi has cracked down on political opponents, imprisoning thousands of officials and supporters of the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and killing thousands of others. Although the Egyptian police claim that “terrorists” were killed in gun battles on the streets, critics accuse them of carrying out extrajudicial executions.

In order to get the controversial amendments through parliament, MPs, security sources and people with links to Egyptian intelligence have described how Al-Sisi’s supporters rewrote passages of the constitution and then pushed the changes through a pliant parliament. A source familiar with the parliamentary process has claimed that MPs did not contribute when the draft amendments were put together and presented to the House of Representatives. Some deputies who opposed the amendments — which were approved by 531 votes to 22 — allege that they were coerced and intimidated into giving their support. Opponents are known to have faced character-assassination campaigns by the authorities. At least 155 deputies are known to have signed an approving document in advance of seeing the proposed constitutional amendments. Moreover, the government has not responded to requests for clarification of what are believed to be procedural irregularities.

Senior judges wrote a letter to parliament on 16 March, which was seen by Reuters, warning that the amendments “would impinge on the independence of the judiciary.” One senior judge, Samir Al-Bahay, pointed out that justice is the basis of governance; the independence of the judiciary is the basis of justice; and without justice the state will be undermined.”

Judges are right to be concerned. The President of the Republic is now solely responsible for appointing senior judges and the public prosecutor, as well as the selection of one-third of the MPs in a new parliamentary chamber and the Council of Senators. The new constitution also gives the army the right to take over if senior officers believe that Egypt is heading in the wrong direction, although what “wrong” actually means is not made clear.

According to Timothy Kaldas, a non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, a pro-democracy think tank, the Egyptian government has tried to promote the changes as “some normal constitutional rearrangements with the extension of Al-Sisi’s presidential term being just a small part of a package of improvements to the constitution.” Diplomats and opposition figures, though, have said that the President’s advisers were keen to get approval for the amendments ahead of planned fuel price increases in the summer.

Egyptians are feeling the strain from higher sales taxes, reduced fuel subsidies and a weak currency, after the floating of the Egyptian pound. All these measures were part of an economic reform programme backed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Thus, while the economy has steadied, Al-Sisi’s popularity has declined. Official statistics showed last month that one in three Egyptians is living in poverty.

Accusations of terrorist links have even been made against members of liberal parties in Egypt. As well as facing such an allegation, Amir Eissa, a senior member of Al-Dostour, for example, has been detained since reporting to election officials that he witnessed bribes being handed over to voters at a polling station in Al Qalyubia Governorate, north of Cairo on the second day of the constitutional referendum in April. More than 120 opposition figures were arrested before and during the referendum, the Civil Democratic Movement has claimed.

Criticism of the government is virtually non-existent in the Egyptian media. Mohamed Abdel Hafiz, a board member of the Journalists’ Syndicate, has noted that articles are censored by officials prior to publication. Censorship of social media websites has also been discovered. A website dedicated to collecting signatures against the referendum was blocked hours after its launch in March, according to NetBlocks, an internet monitoring group. It was unclear who was behind the move, which happened after the site had already collected 60,000 signatures.

On 24 April, the Egyptian election commission announced that 89 per cent of voters had backed the amendments on a turnout of 44 per cent. The commission declared that the voting process was free and fair. Very few people are convinced.

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Categories: BFFBTY, MENA

Turkey to launch offensive in Kurdish-controlled area in Syria

Mon, 2019-08-05 17:57
Accusing the US of delaying the set up of safe zones, Erdogan announces incursion into Syria to dislodge YPG militia.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has renewed a pledge to carry out a cross-border military operation into northeastern Syria to dislodge Kurdish fighters close to its border. 

In a speech on Sunday during a motorway-opening ceremony in Bursa, Erdogan said Russia and the United States have been informed of the planned operation, but did not say when the offensive would begin.

Turkey had in the past warned of carrying out military operations east of the Euphrates River, but put them on hold after agreeing with the US to create a safe zone inside Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey that would be cleared of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia.

But Ankara has accused Washington of stalling progress on setting up the safe zone and has demanded it sever its relations with the YPG.

The group was Washington’s main ally on the ground in Syria during the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), but Turkey sees it as a “terrorist organisation” allied with the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). 

The planned operation would mark Turkey’s third incursion into Syria in as many years. Turkey conducted two operations into northern Syria in 2016 and 2018 to clear the areas of ISIL members and the YPG. 

“We entered Afrin, Jarablus, and Al-Bab. Now we will enter the east of the Euphrates,” Erdogan said in the city of Bursa. 

Turkey has been deploying large numbers of troops to the border with Syria in recent days.

Finding common ground

A new delegation is arriving in Ankara on Monday for further talks, but it is difficult to predict whether the two NATO allies will be able to find common ground.

Turkey has carried out cross-border operations over the past two years, but on both occasions, the area of operations was under the sphere of influence of Russia.

Turkey and Russia cooperate on Syria. But east of the Euphrates is an area under the control of the US which is allied with the YPG.

On Thursday, the Kurdish-led administration running north and east Syria issued a statement objecting to Turkish threats to attack the area.

“These threats pose a danger on the area and on a peaceful solution in Syria, and any Turkish aggression on the area will open the way for the return of [ISIL], and that aggression will also contribute to the widening of the circle of Turkish occupation in Syria,” the statement said.

It called on the international community to take a stance that stops Turkey from carrying out its threats.

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