The structural integrity of the Derna dams had been under scrutiny for nearly four decades, revealed Al-Sediq Al-Sour, a Libyan state prosecutor. This revelation comes amidst ongoing searches for victims from the catastrophic floods last week.
The initial concerns over the dams’ structural health can be traced back to 1986. These were built in the 1970s by a Yugoslavian firm and underwent substantial damage following a powerful storm. An official investigation authorised by the Libyan administration a decade afterwards disclosed cracks and fissures in their construction.
Fast-forward to 2007, Arsel Construction Company, a Turkish enterprise, was brought on board to oversee the maintenance of these dams and to construct an additional one. While the company’s official site asserted the completion of the project by November 2012, recent satellite imagery indicates the absence of the third dam. Attempts to get a statement from Arsel went unanswered.
The tumultuous NATO-endorsed revolution and subsequent civil strife in 2011, resulting in the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi, led to many foreign businesses retreating from Libya.
Post this, nearly £1.6m was designated for the dams. However, a state audit from 2021 suggested that the maintenance remained lacklustre. Al-Sour indicated that a thorough investigation surrounding the dam’s failure and fund appropriation is imminent.
The catastrophic flood led to the death of over 11,000 individuals, and an alarming 10,000 are yet to be accounted for, leaving Derna in ruins.
Othman Abduljaleel, the health minister of Libya’s eastern regime, confirmed on Sunday the interment of 3,283 individuals. Many of these burials took place in large communal graves on the outskirts of Derna, whilst others were transported to neighbouring towns.
The relief efforts are continuously impeded by an absence of coordination, challenges in channeling aid to the most affected regions, and the annihilation of Derna’s infrastructural foundations, inclusive of multiple bridges.
Preceding the onslaught of Storm Daniel, the divided Libyan leaderships – one in the west, underpinned by assorted armed factions, and another in the east, aligned with the so-called Libyan National Army – disseminated contrasting advisories.
Derna’s local council proactively encouraged citizens to vacate coastal zones. In contrast, numerous locals cited receiving mobile notifications persuading them to remain indoors.
Activists now champion the cause for an international inquiry, expressing concerns about the efficacy of a domestic examination in a nation so polarised.
Given the political instability and entrenched internal conflicts, Libya has been a fertile ground for unchecked corruption within its public institutions, as highlighted by Transparency International.
On another note, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya expressed apprehensions regarding potential water contamination post the dam’s failure, predicting another dire crisis. Haider al-Saeih, at the helm of Libya’s Centre for Combating Diseases, reported on television that approximately 150 individuals in Derna contracted diarrhoea from tainted water consumption.
Image Credit: AP Photo/ Jamal Alkomaty
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati commenced his formal dialogues at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, engaging in discussions with U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland. Caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib was also present during the talks.
The primary emphasis of the discussions was the intricacies of the Lebanese-American alliance, as well as the manifold challenges Lebanon is presently grappling with.
Mr Mikati made a fervent appeal to the global community, urging them to stand by Lebanon in its struggle with the escalating Syrian displacement dilemma, emphasising the monumental threat it places upon Lebanon and the fabric of its society.
Mikati remarked, “We’ve finalised the reform schemes stipulated by the International Monetary Fund, and it’s now up to the parliament to take the necessary actions.”
In response, the U.S. delegate Ms Nuland urged Lebanese political factions to hasten the appointment of a new head of state. She underscored Washington’s endorsement of any intra-Lebanese discourse concerning this.
Moreover, Nuland beseeched Lebanon to bolster its collaborative efforts with global entities, notably the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. This is in an effort to address not only the current Syrian displacement issue but all facets of the displacement concern.
Reaffirming Washington’s continued backing for the Lebanese Army, the US official underscored the imperative need to finalise economic and fiscal reforms.
Mahsa Amini’s name, forever etched into the annals of Iranian history, represents more than just a tragic tale of a young woman’s untimely death. It stands as a symbol of resilience, resistance, and empowerment for countless Iranian women who have decided to take a stance against the mandatory hijab and the suppression of their rights. Her legacy has birthed a movement that resonates not only within Iran’s borders but also across the globe.
On the anniversary of her death, amid the clatter of helicopters and heightened security measures, the Iranian government’s efforts to suppress any form of commemoration were clear. Detaining her father, Amjad Amini, roadblocks leading to Aichi cemetery, and the shutting down of the internet were just some of the measures the regime employed to contain the swelling tide of dissent. Despite such oppressive measures, the spirit of Amini’s fight for women’s rights remains undeterred.
The chants of “Woman, Life, Freedom!” are not merely slogans. They encapsulate the aspirations and dreams of millions of Iranian women, who, inspired by Amini’s sacrifice, have started to challenge the status quo. Many have taken the brave step of forgoing their headscarves, publicly defying a deeply entrenched system of religious and legal mandates. The authorities, left with the dilemma of how to respond to this growing tide of resistance, have doubled down on repressive measures, from deploying smart cameras and morality police to shuttering establishments serving women with a “loose hijab.”
Mahsa Amini’s tragic end in police custody remains a contentious issue, with her family insisting she succumbed to brutality at the hands of the ‘morality police’, and the government attributing her death to a pre-existing neurological condition. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding her demise, there’s no disputing the profound impact her story has had on the women’s rights movement in Iran.
International voices, from Joe and Jill Biden to Amnesty Iran, have lauded Mahsa’s impact, recognising her role in shaping a historic movement for gender equality. The wave of protests and commemorative events held in various cities around the world signifies the global resonance of her story.
Yet, as with all revolutions, the path is fraught with challenges. The looming ratification of a new hijab law threatens to impose even stricter penalties on those deemed in violation. The severe internet restrictions, crackdown on VPNs, and arrest of dissidents reflect a regime grappling to retain its grip on a changing society. Even academia hasn’t been spared, with professors at top universities facing expulsion, presumably linked to their support for the movement.
However, the attempts to subdue the burgeoning women’s rights movement in Iran seem futile in the face of a determined populace. The persistent campaigns, both within and outside Iran, showcase a populace eager to embrace change.
Mahsa Amini’s legacy serves as a poignant reminder that change is often birthed from sacrifice. As her mother poignantly stated, while the past year was filled with “sadness and sorrow”, the outpouring of “love and comfort” from all corners of the world serves as a testament to Mahsa’s enduring impact.
As Iranian women continue to redefine societal norms and expectations, they are armed with the legacy of Mahsa Amini, a beacon of hope and a symbol of defiance in the face of repression. Her story, far from fading, only grows more potent with each passing day, serving as a clarion call for equality, respect, and human rights.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File
The events of September 11, 2001, will forever be etched in the annals of history as a turning point in global geopolitics, especially in the Middle East. The terrorist attacks on the United States not only shattered the skyline of New York City but also sent shockwaves throughout the Middle East region, reshaping its political, social, and security landscapes. The U.S. responses to 9/11 triggered a series of events that continue to reverberate in the region to this day and speak to a complex tapestry of successes and failures in American policy.
The fallout: Unintended consequences of U.S. reaction
The 9/11 attacks were the deadliest foreign assault ever on U.S. soil, resulting in 2,977 innocent lives lost. In his remarks, President Bush added that while American freedom was under attack, the U.S. would undoubtedly win the war that had been waged upon it. For Bush, the notion of American exceptionalism demanded the unprovoked attacks required a strong and resolute response to protect national security and prevent future acts of terrorism. The way the U.S. went about its response, however, was deeply flawed and often counterproductive. The legacy of these flawed policies underscores the importance of thoughtful approaches to addressing complex global challenges.
In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. launched its “War on Terror,” a multifaceted and global campaign aimed at dismantling al-Qaeda and preventing future terrorist threats. Two primary theatres emerged: Afghanistan and Iraq.
In Afghanistan, the U.S. invasion aimed to remove the Taliban from power, disrupt al-Qaeda’s core leadership, eliminate terrorist sanctuaries, and weaken its ability to conduct large-scale international attacks. While the initial phase of the war achieved these goals, the subsequent years witnessed a protracted conflict with unforeseen consequences. The U.S. effort to stabilize Afghanistan struggled amid insurgency and regional power dynamics.
The primary rationale for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the purported presence of weapons of mass destruction, but the invasion had broader implications for the region. The toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime triggered sectarian strife and unleashed forces that Iraq struggled to contain for years to come.
One of the most significant and unintended consequences of the 9/11 attacks was the emergence of new extremist groups in the Middle East. Al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization responsible for 9/11, was not the only group operating in the region, but its audacious attack galvanized jihadists and set in motion a new wave of militancy. Afghanistan and Iraq became epicenters of violence and instability, leading to the emergence of new extremist groups. The region saw the rise of extremist groups such as ISIS, which exploited the power vacuums created by the conflicts. These groups posed significant security threats not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but also globally.
Iran watched the developments in Afghanistan and Iraq with a mix of apprehension and opportunity. The fall of Saddam Hussein ultimately shifted the balance of power in Iraq in favour of the Shiite majority. Iran sought to capitalize on this by cultivating Shiite militias and political groups in Iraq, effectively increasing its influence in the country. Moreover, the Bush administration’s inclusion of Iran in the “Axis of Evil” further strained U.S.-Iran relations. These tensions would later play a role in Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities and regional proxy conflicts. Today, Iran remains one of only four country’s the U.S. has designated as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Hard lessons: Military choices undermine soft-power efforts
The U.S. engaged in diplomatic outreach to build international support for its counterterrorism efforts. This involved seeking cooperation from regional and international partners, including NATO countries. However, trust issues and concerns about U.S. motives hampered diplomatic efforts. The perception of U.S. unilateralism and pre-emption in the Iraq War eroded trust among traditional allies and regional actors.
These trust issues spilled over to the battlefield. The U.S. managed to form alliances such as the “Coalition of the Willing” to share the burden of combat operations and provide legitimacy to their interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. When it came to delegating responsibility to its partners, however, the U.S. chose to dominate the planning and execution of military actions. This approach led to the perception that the coalition was in name only.
The U.S. invested in public diplomacy efforts to improve its image and engage with Middle Eastern populations after its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. These initiatives to win hearts and minds, promote American values, and counter extremist narratives included cultural exchange programs, educational scholarships, and English-language teaching. The U.S. also sought to counter extremist narratives through various media outlets and information campaigns, including the creation of Arabic-language media such as the satellite television channel Alhurra and Radio Sawa. These outlets faced credibility issues and struggled to compete with established regional media organizations.
Doubts about U.S. motives undermined the impact about many of these efforts, and this skepticism carried over to the superpower’s efforts to promote democratic governance and human rights in the region. The thinking behind this policy was that addressing political grievances would help counter extremism, however, they were met with accusations of hypocrisy, particularly because the U.S. continued to support authoritarian regimes that were allies in the War on Terror. The absence of WMDs also undermined the legitimacy of the Iraq War and fuelled anti-American sentiments across the Middle East, leading to protests and strained diplomatic relations.
One of the most controversial aspects of the War on Terror was the use of extra-legal renditions and enhanced interrogation techniques, including torture. Techniques such as waterboarding, stress positions, and sleep deprivation were employed on detainees at various detention facilities, including Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib in Iraq. These practices undermined the moral high ground the U.S. sought to occupy, sparking global outrage with critics arguing that they violated international law and human rights standards.
Some Middle Eastern governments, particularly those with close ties to the United States, cooperated in the rendition of individuals suspected of terrorism. These countries allowed U.S. intelligence agencies, including the CIA, to detain and transport individuals through their territory or airspace. This cooperation often raised concerns about complicity in practices that violated international human rights standards, including the use of torture. Jordan, for example, was used as a transit point for the rendition of suspected terrorists. Jordanian intelligence agencies were known for their involvement in interrogations that raised concerns about torture and human rights abuses.
The legacy of the 9/11 campaigns: Human suffering and moral failure
The prolonged military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq reinforced a militarized approach to counterterrorism, which inadvertently led to collateral damage and civilian casualties. The wars led to widespread displacement, with millions of Afghans and Iraqis forced to flee their homes. Internally displaced persons and refugees faced dire conditions, lacking access to basic necessities and enduring harsh living conditions. Between 2002-2003, public opinion of the U.S. was less favourable in the Middle East, compared to elsewhere around the world. By 2022, regional opinion polling found that more than half the respondents agreed that the United States has become an unreliable partner, and that the region should reorient its attention towards Russia and China as partners.
The human cost of post-9/11 war zones is estimated to be nearly 4.6 million causalities. While the figure represents an approximation that includes both direct casualties as a result of war, many others – especially children lost their lives due to the reverberations of war, including devastation brought on by economic impacts and the spread of diseases.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq also resulted in significant casualties among U.S. military personnel. Over seven thousand American soldiers lost their lives in post 9/11 war operations, while many more were wounded in combat operations. Deployments to combat zones also took a toll on the mental health of U.S. service members. The exposure to combat stress, traumatic experiences, and multiple deployments contributed to high rates of PTSD and other mental health issues among returning veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, responsible for providing healthcare and benefits to veterans, faced challenges in meeting the needs of a large and growing veteran population. Reports of long wait times, inadequate mental health services, and bureaucratic inefficiencies raised concerns about the quality of care provided. From 2001-2011, the U.S government had spent nearly $31.3 billion providing medical care and disability benefits for nearly 650,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans as a result of injuries sustained during their tours.
In the wake of these complex and interwoven events, it is imperative that U.S. policymakers internalize the profound lessons offered by the flawed foreign policies following 9/11. These lessons underscore the need for nuanced, well-considered approaches that prioritize diplomacy, international cooperation, and respect for human rights as fundamental cornerstones of effective global engagement. Dealing with terrorist attacks presents an inherently challenging landscape, one where policymakers must resist ideological rigidity and instead adopt pragmatic, thoughtful strategies.
The complexity of the modern world demands a flexibility of thought and an openness to nuanced solutions that can adapt to the evolving nature of global threats. Such an approach acknowledges that while security remains paramount, it should not come at the expense of civil liberties, human rights, or long-term stability. Achieving a balance between security and the preservation of democratic values is a delicate but essential task for policymakers navigating the post-9/11 world.
Dr Kristian Alexander is a senior fellow and director of the International Security & Terrorism Program at Trends Research & Advisory in Dubai.
Gina Bou Serhal is a researcher at Trends Research & Advisory in Dubai.
A few weeks ago, an elderly Egyptian mother appealed to President Al Sisi to have mercy upon her innocent son, jailed since 2009. She requested a Presidential pardon to release her son from prison. Her fear is that she will die before hugging her son again as his father had recently passed away.
Unjustly convicted in January 2010 without a fair trial, her son, Gerges Baromy, received a 15-year hard labor prison sentence. Held in custody for a year awaiting trial, Baromy, a bread vendor, was an innocent victim of sectarian violence and the unjust courts. During his incarceration, his family begged for mercy many times; it was denied four times. As tradition allows, requests are presented to the Egyptian president during the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice (Al Adha) when forgiveness is offered to well-behaved prisoners.
A Coptic scapegoat
Baromy was a bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time becoming the Christian scapegoat in an unverified rape narrative that allegedly took place in the daylight hours; no crime was proven. No facts were presented in the court except for an official medical report, which stated that Baromy was sexually impotent, rendering the accusation false. The young Muslim girl was never medically examined nor made a statement. Despite all this, Baromy was found guilty of rape.
Long before the verdict, rumor of Baromy’s guilt spread through the villages and sparked firebombing of Coptic homes and shops for five consecutive days forcing Baromy’s family to be displaced and lose their home. There was an immediate, unappealable Bedouin Court decision that permanently handed over Baromy family property to Muslim marauders and forbid the family to return to their village.
While Baromy was jailed without bail, Hamman al-Kamouni opened fire on a Naga Hammadi church killing one police guard and six Christians leaving the Coptic Christmas Eve service. Al-Kamouni said he was avenging the honor of the raped Muslim girl.
Baromy’s trial was seething with tension as the terrified defense attorney stood inside the courtroom while outside Islamic radicals surrounded the building. He managed to present the forensic report confirming Baromy’s sexual disability. Under intense pressure from vigilante forces, he was unable to complete his arguments, and nothing was presented by the prosecutor. Making matters worse, Baromy’s lawyers were now handling the high-profile al-Karmouni revenge case for the innocent murder victims, which distracted their energies away from the Baromy matter.
Baromy’s case became secondary for his lawyers who were more focused on publicity and legal victory in the Naga Hammadi martyrs’ case. Baromy became a victim of circumstance for a second time due to his lack of defense. Furthermore, upon his mother’s request for a pardon, his lawyers neglected to advise her that rape cases are an exclusion from presidential forgiveness.
The zeitgeist of Egypt was revolution. There were uprisings in the streets against President Mubarak. A not-guilty verdict for a Christian male accused of raping a Muslim girl was risking retaliation and street justice. In March of 2011, Baromy was declared guilty, and his legal right of appeal was denied.
The verdict had far-reaching consequences. The political insurrection in the streets used Baromy’s “victimhood” and “guilt” to fuel both sides of the religious skirmishes taking place. Coptic organizations, Egyptian human rights organizations, the anti-Mubarak revolutionary April Six movement, and socialists sided with Baromy, using the issue to pour into the streets and fuel anti-Mubarak protests.
Baromy’s village of Farshout returned to sectarian calm. State police were sent in and national security tightened everywhere to avoid any political spark that might ignite this volatile moment. No doubt Baromy was dealt a grave injustice as well as his mother who will now wait for 2025 for “injustice” to be served in full.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File
Morocco, a pivotal nation in North Africa, was hit by a devastating earthquake on Friday night. The aftermath has resulted in the loss of over 2,000 lives, with thousands more injured. The impact of the earthquake has been felt deeply, especially around the nation’s epicentre near the bustling city of Marrakech.
On Friday, at precisely 11:11 p.m. local time (6.11 p.m ET), Morocco was shaken by the quake. Its epicentre was identified in the High Atlas mountain range, approximately 72 kilometres southwest of Marrakech, a city with a population nearing a million.
Shockwaves from the earthquake rippled far and wide, with reports of tremors being felt as far north as Casablanca.
Classified as “strong”, the earthquake had a magnitude of 6.8. Its shallow depth compounded its destructive nature. Such earthquakes are rare in this region, with the US Geological Survey noting that the area has experienced only nine quakes of magnitude 5 or higher since 1900. This recent earthquake has been the deadliest in Morocco since the catastrophic 1960 event, which claimed over 12,000 lives.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the quake has affected over 300,000 individuals in Marrakech and its neighbouring areas. Notably, some of the most significant damage occurred in areas proximal to the Atlas Mountains. Towns in the mountain foothills, like Asni, have reported severe destruction, with many homes heavily damaged or destroyed. The provinces of Al Haouz and the city of Taroudant have also been gravely impacted.
Emergency services have been actively deployed to the affected areas, although damaged roads and debris have hindered accessibility. In remote villages within the mountain foothills, reaching victims has proven particularly challenging.
Heartbreaking stories emerge from survivors. Mohammed, a resident of Ouirgane, painfully recounted how he lost four family members. For many, like Mohammed, homes have been lost, and lives irrevocably altered.
Many Marrakech residents chose to stay outdoors, fearing aftershocks. The Moroccan government has been proactive, mobilising resources to manage the disaster and urging its citizens to remain calm.
In a gesture of solidarity, King Mohammed VI has established a relief commission to provide aid to those affected by the earthquake.
The global community has been quick to respond to the crisis. Numerous leaders worldwide have extended their condolences and have pledged support.
Turkey has offered to send personnel and tents. Notably, Algeria has offered to reopen its airspace, closed since 2021 due to diplomatic tensions, to facilitate humanitarian efforts.
Leading global figures, including US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, have sent their condolences.
Furthermore, international organisations such as the International Red Cross have voiced concerns about the long-term recovery process. Hossam Elsharkawi, the Red Cross’s Middle East and North Africa director, mentioned that recovery and reconstruction might span years. Spain has also pledged support, sending specialist workers to assist with the ongoing rescue operations.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that they are closely monitoring the situation and are poised to offer any necessary support.
Image Credit: Mosa’ab Elshamy/AP
Lebanon’s Caretaker Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, expressed the nation’s unwavering commitment to the decision made by the United Nations Security Council, which extends the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for a further year.
This assertion came during a pivotal meeting at the Grand Serail on Wednesday between Prime Minister Mikati and the Head of Mission and Force Commander, Major General Aroldo Lázaro. The Prime Minister conveyed, “The Lebanese government stands poised to bolster its collaboration with UNIFIL, leveraging the army’s capabilities to uphold security in the southern region of Lebanon.”
Mr Mikati extolled the ongoing pragmatic synergy between the Lebanese army and UNIFIL. He further urged international forces to intervene and prevent Israeli transgressions that infringe upon Lebanese sovereignty.
The meeting saw Major General Lázaro at the helm of a delegation from UNIFIL, joined by Lebanese Government Coordinator with UNIFIL, Brigadier General Mounir Chehade, and advisor to Prime Minister Mikati, Ziad Mikati.
This week saw Sandra De Waele step into her role as the newly appointed European Union Ambassador to Lebanon.
During her first official week, Ambassador De Waele held meetings with Lebanon’s key figures, including the caretaker Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Abdallah Bou Habib, Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, and caretaker Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, as reported in an EU Delegation statement.
The statement further highlighted Ambassador De Waele’s emphasis on the European Union’s enduring relationship with Lebanon. She voiced the EU’s resolute commitment to the Lebanese citizens, especially considering the escalating socio-economic turmoil the country faces.
Ambassador De Waele commented, “I am keen to foster close relations with the Lebanese authorities, civil society groups, and the global community to steer Lebanon towards a period of recovery.”
She went on to stress the importance of Lebanon implementing structural reforms, saying, “Institutionalising such reforms is paramount for Lebanon to cultivate resilient state entities that genuinely represent and are accountable to its people. Such a step will undeniably enrich EU-Lebanon ties.”
With over a quarter-century of service under her belt for the European Union, De Waele boasts an impressive career, encompassing assignments in various EU Delegations and most recently a pivotal role at the External Action Service headquarters in Brussels.
Image Credit: Christian Lue on Unsplash
Beirut, the fabled capital of Lebanon, has long resonated in the annals of history and the hearts of those who’ve meandered its labyrinthine streets. Yet beyond its celebrated landmarks, there are tales and nuances that many remain oblivious to. Here, we delve into five such enigmatic facets of the capital of Lebanon.
To truly fathom the depths of Beirut, one must move beyond the surface and delve into the hidden stories that make the capital of Lebanon a city of timeless allure.
Baklava, with its golden layers of flaky pastry, sweet nut filling, and honeyed syrup, is arguably the crown jewel of Middle Eastern desserts. It stands out not merely because of its rich taste but also due to its illustrious history and growing global popularity.
When we dive into the world of Middle Eastern desserts, there’s a plethora of options, from the creamy Kunafa to the delicate Ma’amoul. However, what sets Baklava apart is its intricate blend of textures and flavors. The crispiness of the phyllo dough juxtaposed with the softness of the sweet filling offers a delightful experience that few other desserts can rival. Each bite delivers a taste of roasted nuts, often pistachio or walnut, intertwined with the sweet, aromatic touch of cinnamon or clove. This symphony of flavors is then enveloped in a syrup, often infused with rose or orange blossom, giving Baklava its characteristic sweetness.
While many Middle Eastern desserts are delectable, few have gained the global acclaim that Baklava enjoys. Can you recall the last time someone mentioned they didn’t like Baklava? It’s a rarity, indeed. Its allure is so universal that it’s hard to find a dissenting palate. Whether served at a traditional Middle Eastern festivity or as a gourmet dessert in a European cafe, Baklava fits seamlessly into any setting, making it a favorite across cultures and continents.
One of the telltale signs of Baklava’s rise to global fame is its availability in supermarkets around the world. What was once a treat reserved for special occasions in Middle Eastern households is now available for everyone to enjoy, from the aisles of upscale grocery chains in London and New York to local markets in Sydney and Cape Town. This accessibility has been instrumental in introducing countless people to the wonders of Middle Eastern desserts, with Baklava serving as the delightful gateway.
Moreover, as global cuisines continue to mingle and fuse, Baklava has found its way into the heart of many fusion dishes. Don’t be surprised to find Baklava cheesecake or Baklava ice cream the next time you’re at a trendy dessert parlour. This confluence of culinary worlds further solidifies Baklava’s position at the forefront of global desserts.
Mohamed Al-Fayed, the renowned Egyptian businessman and former owner of Fulham FC, passed away recently at the age of 94. As tributes pour in and the world mourns his death, there’s a renewed interest in his personal life, particularly about his family. Many are keen to know, who was Mohamed Al-Fayed’s wife, and how many children did he have?
Mohamed Al-Fayed was married twice. His first wife was Samira Khashoggi, with whom he had a son, Dodi Al-Fayed. Their marriage, which began in 1954, was short-lived, lasting just two years.
Years later, in 1985, Mohamed Al-Fayed married the Finnish socialite and former model, Heini Wathén. The couple had four children together: Camilla, Omar, Jasmine, and Karim.
Samira Khashoggi was not only the first wife of Mohamed Al-Fayed but also a well-known figure in her own right. As the founder of Al Sharkiah Magazine and an author of seven books, Samira had a distinguished career. Her lineage was also noteworthy, being the daughter of Mohammed Khashoggi, the personal doctor to the King of Saudi Arabia.
Heini Wathén, the second wife of Mohamed Al-Fayed, was a Finnish socialite and former model. Born on February 24, 1955, she was introduced to Mohamed by his son Dodi, leading to their eventual marriage.
While Mohamed Al-Fayed will be remembered for his business ventures and ownership of Fulham FC, his legacy lives on through his children and the mark they’ve made in their respective fields. As we remember him, it’s also essential to recognize the family that stood behind him and their contributions to society. Whether it’s through sustainable farming, environmental entrepreneurship, or fashion, the Al-Fayed family continues to make an impact, even in Mohamed’s absence.
In the shadowed streets of southern Syria, a chorus of voices is rising, echoing from a past filled with unrest and seeking a future devoid of oppression. Almost a decade ago, similar voices calling for change were met with violence, plunging the nation into a brutal civil war. Today, those voices have returned, louder and clearer, ringing through the cities of Sweida, Daraa, and even the coastal province of Tartus. They bring forth not only the scars of a past conflict but also the fresh wounds of a nation undergoing a severe economic crisis. Their message is unequivocal: it’s time for change.
It started as murmurs of dissatisfaction in Sweida in August. The removal of fuel subsidies, the dramatic plunge of the Syrian currency – from 47 pounds to the dollar to a record low of 15,500 – and surging inflation all converged, driving the citizens to the streets. But while the flame might have been lit by economic distress, it rapidly ignited long-standing political grievances.
Shouts of “Bashar out! Syria free!” echoed through the city, juxtaposed with posters proclaiming, “Syria is not a farm. We are not sheep.” Such open criticism of the government, particularly in areas under its control, has historically been rare. Yet, as the nation’s economic woes deepened, the discontent became increasingly public.
At the heart of these protests is the emblematic three-star flag of Syria’s 2011 uprising, a symbol of the people’s yearning for autonomy and freedom. Moreover, signs criticizing Iran, which has long supported President Bashar al-Assad, are pervasive. This external influence has become a focal point of contention, further highlighting the rifts between Assad’s regime and many of his citizens.
The recent protests, while reminiscent of those from a decade ago, carry unique nuances. Sweida, home to the majority of Syria’s Druze community, remained neutral during the initial conflicts. Now, the heartland of this religious minority is at the epicenter of the protests. Despite divisions within the Druze leadership regarding the demonstrations, the community’s engagement signals a profound shift in the nation’s political landscape.
Daraa, on the other hand, bears the weight of history. It was here that the 2011 protests began, which were met with a violent government response that catalyzed the ensuing civil war. Today, its streets are once again filled with protesters, evoking memories of a decade past and hopes for a brighter future.
While the protests in the south are overt, other regions under government control, like the coastal province of Tartus, are more discreet in expressing discontent. Residents quietly display postcards proclaiming, “Syria belongs to us, not to the [ruling] Ba’ath party.” Such acts, though subtle, are profound markers of a nation’s collective sentiment.
The Road Ahead for Assad
The confluence of economic hardships and political grievances poses a significant challenge for President Bashar al-Assad. The current wave of protests, while rooted in economic issues, has rapidly evolved into a wider call for political change. With the echoes of 2011 still resonant, Assad faces a delicate balance: addressing the legitimate concerns of his people while navigating the political intricacies of his regime.
The resurgence of these protests suggests that the scars of the past have not faded, and the Syrian people’s yearning for change remains undiminished. The unfolding events will undoubtedly shape the trajectory of Syria’s future and, crucially, the legacy of Assad’s reign.
Image Credit: Handout/Suwayda 24/AFP
Kuwait, a jewel of the Middle East, boasts of its rich culture, dynamic economy, and modern marvels. Yet, lurking behind this progressive facade is a ticking time bomb – obesity. Kuwait ranks first globally in obesity and a disconcerting second in diabetes rates, as per the World Health Organization data. These figures cast an alarming shadow over Kuwait’s aspirations and future.
The statistics are eye-opening: 39.7% of Kuwait’s population over 18 is obese, overshadowing the US’s 38.5%. This isn’t just a numerical race but an indicator of deep-rooted issues, ranging from sedentary lifestyles, unhealthy dietary habits, genetic factors, and overall societal norms. Dr. Abeer Al Bahwa, Director of the Health Promotion Department, highlighted the disturbing trend of obesity in the 18 to 29 age bracket, the age of the country’s future torchbearers.
It’s undeniable that obesity isn’t merely about aesthetics or size. The complications associated with obesity, including heart diseases, stroke, and diabetes, are the leading causes of death worldwide. And if unchecked, Kuwait is steering towards an unprecedented health catastrophe.
Yet, beyond the physical ailments, obesity brings with it a myriad of psychological and social issues, especially for the younger generation. When children bear the brunt of weight-related complications, it becomes a shared societal failure. The Gulf region as a whole is wrestling with this challenge. By 2035, Kuwait could see over half of its adult population not just overweight but teetering into obesity.
Addressing obesity, particularly in children, is paramount. Dr. Al Bahwa suggests measures like encouraging healthy eating habits, promoting physical activity, integrating physical education into school curricula, and ensuring adequate sleep. While these are commendable, they must be executed with vigor and consistency.
Despite these grim statistics and projections, World Obesity Day on March 4th slipped under Kuwait’s radar. Mainstream media, healthcare promoters, and civil society organizations failed to magnify this issue. A blatant oversight, especially when the World Obesity Atlas indicates a potential scenario where half of Kuwait’s population could be obese by 2035.
On the financial front, the repercussions of obesity could shave off over $5.6 billion from Kuwait’s projected GDP by 2035. An amount that could be redirected towards infrastructural advancements, educational reforms, or sustainable initiatives.
While globally, obesity rates are escalating with predictions that half of the global populace will be overweight or obese by 2035, nations, including Kuwait, must introspect on the existing preventive measures. The rise in obesity cannot solely be attributed to individual choices; systemic issues, societal pressures, and a myriad of complex factors interplay in this scenario.
The widespread availability of calorie-laden processed foods, which provide fleeting satisfaction, is a significant contributor. Creating awareness about nutritious foods, making them accessible, and ensuring their affordability could be the first step towards pivoting to healthier dietary habits.
The World Obesity Federation’s report demands attention, not just from governments and policymakers but also from every individual, community, and society at large.
As Louise Baur, president of the World Obesity Federation, rightly points out, we need a unified, concerted effort to safeguard the future generations from the adverse impacts of obesity. Kuwait, with its resources and potential, is at a pivotal juncture. The pressing question remains: Is Kuwait doing enough, or does the real change start at home?
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The glistening lake in Donegal was an unlikely setting for a revelation. A conversation with a 10-year-old Liverpool supporter, who listed Ronaldo’s goals with conviction, made it clear: football is changing. Ronaldo’s feats in the Saudi league may raise eyebrows, but they signify the shifting sands of football’s global landscape.
Football, long hailed as the ‘beautiful game’, is currently in the spotlight for the massive influx of Saudi money. Notably, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia has been acquiring some of the world’s most celebrated players, like Ronaldo from Manchester United and Benzema from Real Madrid, at jaw-dropping prices. The world gasped when Riyadh’s gargantuan offer for Mbappé was made public. When even sporting legends like Usain Bolt jest about the irresistible allure of Saudi money, it makes one wonder: is football’s soul being auctioned to the highest bidder?
The reasons behind Saudi’s aggressive football investments are manifold. Some opine it’s a strategy to diversify their oil-reliant economy. Others see it as an attempt at “sportswashing”, where the country seeks to divert attention from its controversial geopolitical maneuvers by shining in the football arena. But irrespective of intent, one thing is evident: if the financial trajectory persists, the Saudi Pro League is bound to become a magnet for global football talent.
Historically, countries like Brazil, Argentina, and the Netherlands have seen their football standards dwindle due to the commercialization of powerful European leagues. The Premier League, La Liga, and Serie A started hoarding global talent, leaving other leagues in their shadows. The paradigm now seems to be shifting towards the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia at the helm.
But is it solely about Saudi Arabia? Is the nation singularly responsible for this change? While the kingdom is pouring unprecedented sums into the game, it is crucial to remember that football’s commercialized trajectory started much before. Oligarchs, petro-states, and billionaires have dabbled in the game, often molding it to fit their whims and fancies. Today, elite European football, although a global entertainment product, has retained some essence of its working-class past. But with Saudi Arabia’s entrance, even this essence is under threat.
It’s crucial to draw parallels with China’s fleeting football dream. The Chinese Super League (CSL) once lured European football’s crème de la crème with irresistible salaries. But it collapsed as rapidly as it rose, primarily because it banked solely on foreign stars and overlooked grassroots development. Saudi Arabia, however, has seemingly learned from CSL’s downfall. By securing younger players and global icons alike, the Saudi Pro League is already eclipsing its Chinese counterpart.
As for concerns about ‘sportswashing’, they are not unfounded. Countries have historically used sports as PR tools. And given Saudi Arabia’s contentious political standing, its foray into football might well be an attempt to polish its global image. But if the world’s best players keep marching towards the Middle East, fans will follow, irrespective of politics.
Football’s core has always been its fans. From European alleys to South American streets, the game evolved organically, knitting communities together. If Saudi Arabia genuinely wishes to etch its name in football’s annals, it should aim to nourish the game at its roots, not merely splurge on its fruits.
In the face of this paradigm shift, fans worldwide have a choice: lament the game’s departure from tradition or adapt to its new era. The football of yore, with its intimate local ties, might be fading, but its global allure remains undiminished. Whether that’s for better or worse is a tale only time will tell.
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Reports emerging from Azerbaijan reveal that their embassy located in Beirut, Lebanon was reportedly assailed by individuals believed to be of Armenian descent on Thursday. No injuries were noted following the incident.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry announced, “Approximately 50 individuals, identified as being of Armenian origin, assaulted the embassy’s surrounding barriers, hurling bottles filled with paint and potential explosive materials.”
It was further highlighted that the Lebanese entity tasked with safeguarding diplomatic premises was promptly informed about the occurrence. Nevertheless, the purported assailants evaded capture, making their getaway prior to the police’s arrival at the scene.
In light of the incident, Azerbaijan’s ministry has made an earnest plea to the Lebanese government to apprehend the culprits. They have also intensified security measures around their mission.
Historically, diplomatic ties between Azerbaijan and Armenia have been strained, rooted in a dispute that began in 1991. This contention revolves around the Armenian military’s occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh – a region globally acknowledged as Azerbaijani territory – and seven nearby regions.
By autumn 2020, after 44 days of skirmishes, Azerbaijani forces reclaimed several cities, villages, and other territories from Armenian control. This conflict reached a temporary cessation courtesy of a truce orchestrated by Russia. Negotiations for a comprehensive peace agreement between the two nations have been underway ever since.
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In a bid to fortify ties against looming security challenges, the United Kingdom and Iraq are set to enhance their partnership, primarily targeting terrorism and the burgeoning menace of drug trafficking. The two nations have expressed their keen interest in fortifying their security association to pinpoint and tackle shared severe organised crime threats.
Tom Tugendhat, UK’s Security Minister, expressed the country’s intent to bolster Iraq’s capabilities against drug manufacturing and distribution during his recent visit to Baghdad. Mr Tugendhat emphasised on the imperative need to augment their existing collaboration against terrorism, stating the aim is to “identify and address shared serious organised-crime threats.”
Drawing attention to the intricacies of the situation, he mentioned, “Human smuggling, trafficking, narcotics and money laundering operate collectively as a criminal network, severely undermining Iraq’s statehood.”
Historically, Iraq has been more of a conduit for drugs, notably the amphetamine Captagon, with its primary source being neighbouring Syria. However, recent indicators suggest a shift in production sites towards Iraq.
Highlighting the gravity of the situation, Mr Tugendhat revealed that a facility manufacturing Captagon was unearthed last month in a province adjacent to Saudi Arabia, strategically positioned for facilitated access to the kingdom.
Elaborating on the interconnected nature of these crimes, Mr Tugendhat commented, “There’s an inherent interlink between narcotics, human trafficking, terrorism, and violence. These illicit activities, especially drug trafficking and human smuggling, don’t just afflict Iraq but resonate throughout the region, impacting many of our regional allies.”
Iraq’s Prime Minister, Mohammed Shia Al Sudani, lauded his nation’s “significant efforts” in combating drug and human trafficking. Highlighting the forthcoming collaboration, Mr Al Sudani mentioned that both the Iraqi and British interior ministries are on the cusp of inking agreements that delineate their cooperative strategies on these pressing concerns.
A spokesperson from the UK side confirmed that the focal point of these accords would be the exchange of information, supporting efforts against terrorism and the broader spectrum of “serious organised crime”.
In a strategic move to spur more investment, Bahrain, known as the Arabian Gulf’s most petite oil producer, recently granted golden licences to five companies that have committed over $1.4 billion to extensive investment projects within the kingdom.
This initiative is a part of Bahrain’s larger strategy to shift its economic focus from oil and promote business expansion. The past few years have seen Bahrain rolling out several plans to foster growth. In 2021, a significant economic reform plan was set in motion, pledging around $30 billion towards pivotal projects intended to fuel post-pandemic growth, heighten job opportunities for locals, and magnetise foreign direct investments.
Following this ambitious plan, the government proposed cost-saving measures with an end goal of generating over 20,000 jobs for its citizens by the upcoming year. The efficacy of these efforts is evident. Bahrain’s economy bolstered by 4.9% the previous year, marking the most commendable growth rate since 2013, predominantly driven by the country’s non-oil sectors.
Initiated in April, the golden licence scheme extends a host of benefits to both local and international corporations. These perks range from priority in land allocation for investments and expedited access to governmental services like building permit approvals to financial support avenues through the Bahrain Development Bank and the labour fund, Tamkeen.
Furthermore, beneficiaries can anticipate an enhanced collaboration with diverse governmental departments, a dedicated account manager courtesy of Bahrain’s Economic Development Board, and a potential revision of standing laws or regulations as deemed necessary.
The principal objective behind this enticing scheme is clear: to pull in investments from both domestic and international shores, thereby facilitating economic progression and local job creation.
To qualify for this golden ticket, companies must either propose major investment initiatives that promise to introduce more than 500 jobs within Bahrain or commit to an investment exceeding $50 million. The pioneer beneficiaries of this scheme comprise notable names such as Citi, Eagle Hills Diyar, Infracorp, Saudi Telecom, and the Whampoa Group, all of which have been greenlit by the government to initiate or enhance their operations within the kingdom.
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Safety fears have been raised at Beirut Airport following an inspection that has brought to the forefront urgent shortcomings in safety measures.
The inspection report draws attention to the shortcomings in air navigation services (ANS) that must be urgently tackled. This encompasses air-traffic control, communication, navigation, surveillance, and meteorological services.
Undertaken by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) as a pre-audit, the report’s findings emerged from a support mission to Lebanon this June. This mission aimed to offer guidance for the upcoming Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP), slated for the subsequent year. The purpose of such missions is to pinpoint and rectify areas of weakness.
ICAO, recognised as the global standard for aviation safety, consistently undertakes audits of its member states to ensure their competence in upholding rigorous safety oversight systems.
As a signatory to the Chicago Convention, Lebanon is bound to meet the standards and best practices recommended by ICAO. After its maiden audit in 2008, Lebanon underwent four more audits, the latest one being in 2017. Presently, Lebanon’s score stands at 58.5, trailing behind the global average of 69.8.
Should a grave safety concern be recognised during an audit, ICAO has the authority to red-flag any country in violation of global aviation regulations. While these red flags don’t carry any legal mandate, they play a crucial role in alerting other nations, which then independently choose the subsequent course of action, including the potential suspension of flights.
The report pointed out multiple “systemic deficiencies” related to ANS, primarily focused on air-traffic control. The pivotal role of air-traffic controllers in guiding flights safely from take-off to landing can’t be understated. One of the glaring issues highlighted in the report is the staff shortage in ATC, a matter that poses significant risks for Lebanese aviation. As one aviation specialist aptly put it, an overwhelmed controller might inadvertently make errors with potentially devastating outcomes.
The report further emphasised the pressing need for the Lebanese civil aviation authorities to recruit and retain experienced and qualified staff for air traffic services. Another glaring issue is the lack of updated obstacle registries and functionality checks for navigation aids. An expert, after analysing the report, highlighted the crucial role these navigation tools play in aiding pilots.
The report also drew attention to the blurred lines between the regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC), and ANS service providers, a situation that raises concerns about conflicts of interest. To potentially alleviate some of the staffing concerns, an expert proposed running the airport for limited hours, a departure from its current round-the-clock operation.
While the deficiency in air-traffic controllers has been a longstanding concern, the current economic crisis in Lebanon has exacerbated the problem. The plummeting value of the national currency and the subsequent socio-economic repercussions have intensified the staffing crisis at Beirut airport.
A source revealed the alarming statistic that currently only 15 air-traffic controllers are certified against a standard requirement of 87. The economic downturn, which saw salaries drastically cut, has spurred many to leave the country. This exodus has resulted in arduously long shifts for the remaining controllers, often stretching 24 hours at a go.
The urgent situation is further complicated by the aging workforce, with an average age of 45. Recruitment locally hasn’t picked up pace, while hiring internationally would strain finances. Furthermore, those in junior positions, such as ground staff or assistants, lack the essential training and certification.
Efforts to address this staffing concern have been made. During a recent interaction with the Public Works Committee, the Caretaker Public Works Minister, Ali Hamie, considered roping in air-traffic controllers from ICAO to mitigate the staff shortfall. However, questions remain on why those who successfully cleared the 2018 air-traffic controller exam haven’t been considered for these positions. Reports suggest that the approvals weren’t granted owing to concerns of a sectarian imbalance in recruitment.
The urgency of the situation is palpable, and the onus is now on Lebanese authorities to act swiftly.
Oman has nearly doubled the duration of paid maternity leave in a series of sweeping reforms put forth by the nation’s government.
Previously, women could enjoy up to 50 days of paid maternity leave, a figure which has now been revised to 98 days.
Additionally, the reforms herald the introduction of seven days’ paid paternity leave, a benefit that was non-existent in the past.
In a significant move, non-Muslim workers are now entitled to 14 days of paid bereavement leave if their husband passes away.
These reforms have been met with widespread approval from both employers and workers.
Mohammed Al Rahbi, employed in the oil and gas sector, commented on the positive implications, stating, “The new rights for employees, including those not from Oman, mark a tremendous stride towards achieving a balanced work-life dynamic.”
Moreover, the modified law now permits employees to avail study leaves for exams.
Mohammed Al Farsi, a legal associate at Decree, a firm dedicated to providing a comprehensive English database of Omani royal decrees and laws, remarked, “The current Labour Law has been crafted to protect workers’ rights while simultaneously offering an encouraging milieu for businesses.”
Mr Al Farsi pointed out that these laws were a rejuvenation of the 2003 legislation, encompassing subjects like contracts, wages, working hours, and penalties.
He further noted, “Distinct aspects of the new Labour Law could radically transform Oman’s employment scenario.”
A significant update in the Labour Law enables companies to end contracts with Omani employees who are not performing up to the mark.
Fatma Al Balushi, an Omani business proprietor, voiced her endorsement for this amendment. She opined that it would propel companies to uphold superior standards in their workforce.
Echoing her sentiment, Mr Al Rahbi expressed optimism about the potential prospects these changes could usher in for Oman’s job sector. He concluded, “The government’s commitment to fostering a just and inclusive working milieu is evident through these reforms.”
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A consortium comprised of French, Italian, and Qatari energy companies initiated offshore exploration in Block 9 of the eastern Mediterranean on Tuesday, marking a promising development in Lebanon’s long-awaited gas initiatives.
TotalEnergies, Eni, and QatarEnergy embarked on their exploration approximately 120 kilometers from Beirut. The commencement was attended by Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati, parliament speaker Nabih Berri, and other key officials, as highlighted by the National News Agency.
While TotalEnergies’ general manager in Lebanon, Romain de La Martiniere, stated that the substantive drilling is set to commence in the forthcoming days, this venture is not without its historical challenges. The original agreement for gas exploration was signed between TotalEnergies, Eni, and Russia’s Novatek in 2018. However, they halted operations in Block 4 in 2020 due to inadequate gas finds. Block 9’s exploration faced postponements, largely attributed to Lebanon’s maritime border disputes with Israel. These differences were finally settled in October, leading to a swift call for energy exploration in Block 9.
This recent exploration venture is bolstered by the Transocean Barents rig, which arrived at Block 9 last week. While Novatek exited the consortium last year, QatarEnergy joined earlier this year, resulting in both TotalEnergies and Eni holding 35% stakes each and QatarEnergy retaining the remaining 30%.
The significance of this endeavour cannot be overstated. Lebanon, plagued by acute electricity shortages exacerbated by the economic and political turmoil since 2019, finds its residents grappling with electricity accessibility for merely one to three hours daily. Escalated fuel prices, due to dependency on fuel-powered generators, have aggravated the situation.
A potential solution lies in Lebanon’s budding natural gas sector. However, the country’s aspirations to leverage its offshore oil and gas reserves have been hampered by multifaceted challenges, ranging from complex geological conditions and domestic political challenges to diplomatic tensions related to maritime boundaries.
Despite these adversities, Lebanon’s renewed attempt at offshore exploration, supported by significant international stakeholders, might just signal a turning point in the nation’s energy and economic trajectory.
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The Syrian administration has taken bold steps in an attempt to revitalise its beleaguered economy by simultaneously doubling the salaries in the public sector and curbing fuel subsidies. These declarations were promptly communicated after the Syrian pound plummeted to a historic low against the US dollar in the unofficial exchange arena.
This drop in the currency’s value has exacerbated hyperinflation, plunging a staggering 90% of Syrians below the poverty threshold. Recent economic pressures have led to infrequent demonstrations, even in areas traditionally supportive of the government.
Since the onset of civil unrest in 2011, following President Bashar al-Assad’s aggressive response to nonviolent calls for democratic reforms, Syria has been grievously impacted. The resultant civil conflict has claimed the lives of over half a million citizens.
Current figures suggest that a significant 70% of Syrians, equating to over 15 million people, are in dire need of humanitarian aid, with 12.1 million facing food scarcity.
Wednesday saw the introduction of presidential mandates, proclaiming a sweeping 100% salary and pension increment for public sector workers, armed forces members, and government affiliates. This marks the initial salary augmentation since December 2021.
These directives also formalised the standard minimum monthly wage, setting it at 185,940 Syrian pounds. This translates to £17.09 when converted at the official exchange rate, but is much lower when pegged to the prevailing unofficial rate. To contextualise, at the war’s commencement, the Syrian pound’s exchange rate to the dollar stood at 47:1.
Based on data from May, this adjusted wage would hardly suffice to purchase even one-third of the essential monthly groceries for a typical family of five, as per the World Food Programme’s estimates. Moreover, it would barely cover a mere tenth of a similar family’s most basic household expenses.
As inflation soars, vulnerable families grapple with escalating bills. The minimum household spend, according to the WFP, has surged by 62% since May 2022 and an astonishing 159% since September 2021.
In an accompanying overnight announcement, Syria’s commerce department publicised a complete withdrawal of petrol subsidies and a semi-withdrawal of fuel oil subsidies, effectively hiking the cost of both commodities.
The Prime Minister, Hussein Arnous, expressed last year that reductions in fuel subsidies would serve to alleviate the budget deficit and aid in stabilising the Syrian pound, benefiting impoverished families. Yet, financial experts highlight that the government’s inability to uphold these subsidies and indicate that the raise in public sector wages may inadvertently spur further inflation and currency depreciation. This could potentially nullify any economic advantages in the coming months.
Government officials attribute the grave economic plight and the struggles of everyday Syrians to the stringent US sanctions instated in 2019, which zero in on entities extending support to Assad’s regime. The US maintains that these measures exempt humanitarian assistance.
At the recent Saudi-China Business Forum in Beijing, entities from Saudi Arabia and China endorsed multiple housing and infrastructure contracts, highlighting the strengthening bond between the two nations.
The forum, chaired by Saudi Arabia’s Minister for Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing, Majid bin Abdullah Al-Hogail, primarily concentrated on investment possibilities between the two nations in areas such as urban infrastructure, housing, real estate development, and financing. During the event, Al-Hogail extended an invitation to Chinese companies to engage in Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning real estate market.
According to the Saudi Press Agency, a total of 12 agreements related to infrastructure development and financing were signed during this event, with the total value exceeding £1 billion ($1.33 billion). Although the specifics of the entities involved have not been disclosed, it has been confirmed by the Saudi Ministry for Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing that Al-Hogail interacted with representatives from the Chinese state-backed investment powerhouse, CITIC. Their discussion centred on construction opportunities in Saudi Arabia and the potential adoption of “green housing technology,” as detailed in a press statement released on Tuesday.
The bigger picture: Ties between Saudi Arabia and China are evidently deepening. Earlier in March, China played a pivotal role in brokering the pact that saw the restoration of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Moreover, economically, Saudi Arabia hosted the Arab-China Business Conference in June, which generated deals surpassing £7 billion ($10 billion). Just last month, Saudi Aramco procured a stake worth £2.5 billion ($3.4 billion) in the Chinese petrochemical entity, Rongsheng Petrochemical Co. Ltd.
In 2022, it’s noteworthy to mention that Saudi Arabia was China’s primary supplier of oil.
Nearly a month after its initial release in Algeria, the Barbie film has been removed from cinemas across the nation. Reports from the online news platform, 24H Algerie, highlight that Algeria’s Ministry of Culture and Arts issued an urgent directive to cinemas in major cities such as Algiers, Oran, and Constantine to immediately cease the film’s screening.
To date, neither the ministry nor the Algerian Audiovisual Regulatory Authority has provided an explanation for this sudden directive or made any comment.
Following its release in select Algerian theatres last month, film distributors initiated the removal of the Hollywood blockbuster from their weekly schedules. This move mirrors decisions made by authorities in Kuwait and Lebanon, where the film was banned due to its commentary on gender and sexuality.
The abrupt cancellation has prompted a flurry of discussions on social media. Supporters voiced their frustration using the hashtag “#IAmBarbie”, with others condemning the act as an instance of “censorship” and “bigotry”. Leila Belkacem, a prominent writer, expressed her discontent on Facebook, questioning the motives behind the censorship given the private behaviours of some officials.
Fatima Ait Kaci, who had anticipated watching the film with her granddaughters visiting from Canada, expressed her dismay upon discovering the change in schedule at the Riadh El Feth cinema in Algiers. She criticised Algerian authorities for their lack of transparency and responsibility.
This incident follows the recent suspension of programming by the private TV channel Es Salam, accused of broadcasting content contrary to Islamic principles and Algerian societal norms.
Directed by the acclaimed Greta Gerwig, the film stars Margot Robbie, portraying the iconic Barbie, and Ryan Gosling as her partner, Ken. While the film does not include explicit sexual scenes or direct references to LGBTQ+ rights, it has faced criticism due to its vibrant representation and overarching message of gender equality and inclusion. This theme is particularly controversial in areas where same-sex relationships are prohibited by law.
Despite the regional controversies, the Warner Bros production has achieved significant success, grossing over $1bn globally. This outstanding performance has positioned it as the top-grossing film directed by a woman in cinematic history.
Accounts of Lebanon’s former central bank governor, Riad Salameh, alongside those of his close relatives and associates, have been frozen on orders of the interim central bank governor, Wassim Mansouri. This move comes in the wake of sanctions placed on them by the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada.
The decision emerged after the Special Investigation Commission, responsible for combating money laundering and terrorism financing, convened. Those named include Salameh’s son Nady, brother Raja, associate Marianne Hoayek, and former partner Anna Kosakova.
Beyond freezing their assets in Lebanese financial establishments, the directive also waives bank confidentiality for the said individuals, facilitating investigations by judicial authorities. Salameh, once celebrated as the bulwark of Lebanon’s fiscal stability, now faces scrutiny both domestically and abroad. His policies have been criticised for precipitating Lebanon’s economic downfall, marked by the plummeting value of the Lebanese pound and soaring inflation.
Recent findings from a forensic audit by New York firm, Alvarez & Marsal, disclosed Salameh’s prolonged misconduct, including $111 million in “illegitimate commissions”. This audit, a demand of the international community and the International Monetary Fund, only underscores their waning confidence in Lebanon’s economic management.
Salameh’s tenure as the central bank governor from 1993 until 31st July is under intense scrutiny, with arrest warrants in both France and Germany probing the alleged misappropriation of $330 million from the Lebanese central bank during his tenure. Charges of embezzlement and financial misdemeanours have been laid in Lebanon against Salameh, his brother, and Hoayek.
Despite the mounting allegations, Salameh refutes all claims, pledging to contest the sanctions. He informed Reuters that some of his assets were already impounded in earlier investigations. March 2022 witnessed the freezing of roughly 120 million euros worth of Lebanese assets across various European nations, with Salameh implicated in the case. Furthermore, assets seized by the French judiciary were transferred to the Lebanese state in July.
Given the vacancy in the central bank’s governance after Salameh, Wassim Mansouri, the first vice governor, now officiates as the acting governor, evidenced by his signature on Monday’s statement.
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The head of the upcoming U.N. global climate summit, Sultan al-Jaber, has called for increased availability of funds to combat climate change in the Caribbean. Al-Jaber, who is also the United Arab Emirates’ minister of industry, spoke during a regional meeting in Barbados, addressing leaders from the 15-member trade bloc known as Caricom.
Highlighting the severe climate impacts faced by island nations, al-Jaber noted that high costs have hindered these nations from swiftly adopting renewable energy solutions. “The peoples of the Caribbean have been on the front lines of climate change for longer than most,” he asserted, describing their experience as an “early warning system for the rest of the world.”
He also stressed the importance of closing the climate finance gap as a priority ahead of the COP28 summit scheduled for December in Dubai. This call for financial support comes on the same day that the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) escalated its prediction for the Atlantic hurricane season from near-normal to above-normal due to record sea surface temperatures. The prediction now includes 14 to 21 named storms, with two to five major hurricanes.
With five tropical storms having already formed this year, marking an unusually active start to the hurricane season, al-Jaber highlighted the Caribbean’s acute awareness of “the human and economic costs of too little finance for climate adaptation and resilience.”
The meeting also acknowledged the efforts of Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who initiated a plan known as the Bridgetown Initiative. This proposal aims to simplify the process for developing nations to combat global warming and defer debt payments in the wake of natural disasters. Supporters of the plan believe it could potentially release $1 trillion in climate financing.
In a related development, Mottley announced on Wednesday that her administration would establish a legacy fund to assist Barbados in its battle against climate change. Her announcement resonated with al-Jaber’s call to action, emphasizing the urgent need for financial resources in the Caribbean region to mitigate the severe consequences of climate change.
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On Saturday, Saudi Arabia appointed its first non-resident ambassador to Palestine. Ambassador Nayef Al Sudairi’s credentials were presented to Majdi Al Khalidi, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s diplomatic adviser, according to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.
This appointment has been heralded as “an important step” by Mr Al Sudairi, reflecting the determination of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “to strengthen relations with the brothers of the State of Palestine and give it a formal boost in all areas.” The ceremony was conducted on Saturday, where the ambassador’s credentials were handed over.
State-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) detailed that the dialogue during the ceremony focused on “reinforcing and advancing bilateral ties across diverse domains.” The event was also attended by the Ambassador of the State of Palestine to Jordan, Atallah Khairi.
Palestinian analyst Talal Okal regards the diplomatic appointment as a half-step towards an official Saudi representation office in the West Bank and a commitment by Saudi Arabia to the rights of Palestinians in a fully sovereign state. This marks a notable shift as Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic file for Palestine has traditionally been managed by the embassy in Amman, AFP reported.
A Palestinian Authority official told AFP that this announcement symbolises “Saudi Arabia’s reaffirmation of its recognition of the state of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital” and expressed the intention to further develop the relationship.
While the development comes amid discussions concerning Saudi conditions for normalisation with Israel, Riyadh continues to assert its position of not establishing ties with Israel until the Palestinian conflict is resolved. In parallel, the diplomatic appointment reiterates Saudi Arabia’s commitment to bolstering ties with Palestine and upholding its rights.
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The United Nations’ top human rights official, Volker Türk, has issued a warning over the potential wider regional impact of Iraq’s water crisis. Speaking at a news conference in Baghdad on Wednesday, following a four-day visit to various parts of the country, Türk detailed the significant decline in water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which constitute more than 90% of Iraq’s freshwater reserves.
The situation has worsened over the years, partially due to the construction of dams and water diversion upstream in Turkey and Iran. Türk expressed his personal observations on the tangible effects of climate change in the southern Iraqi region of Basra, stating, “Standing in searing heat in that scarred landscape, breathing air polluted by the many gas flares dotting the region, it was clear to me that the era of global boiling has indeed begun.”
He went on to describe the situation as a “climate emergency” and emphasised the urgent need for action. Iraq has been identified by the UN as the fifth most vulnerable country to the climate crisis, facing increased loss of arable land owing to salinisation, reduced rainfall, and extended heatwaves.
The crisis stems from a “toxic mix” of factors, including global warming, reduced rainfall, lack of effective water management and regulation, violence, and oil industry excesses. Basra, where the two rivers meet, has been the most severely affected by the water crisis, leading to desertification in previously fertile areas and shutting down water purification systems due to rising salinity.
The impact extends to the destruction of wheat and fruit harvests and the decimation of fish and livestock. Concerns have been raised that millions of people could be deprived of water from the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, affecting neighbouring Syria as well.
While Türk acknowledged the Iraqi government’s commitment to addressing climate change and water scarcity, he criticised ongoing legal actions against journalists and activists covering the matter, highlighting the negative effect on freedom of speech. He also expressed concerns over reports of violence, intimidation, and death threats against environmental activists and stressed the importance of transparency and collaboration.
In his meetings with Iraqi government and judicial officials, including Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Sudani and Speaker Mohammed Al-Halbousi, Türk discussed various human rights issues, such as the death penalty, overcrowded prisons, and the strengthening of human rights institutions in the country.
The UN human rights chief’s alarming observations and call for immediate action underline the escalating crisis and draw attention to the potential broader implications for the region, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive measures to mitigate the unfolding disaster.
Kuwait has announced a ban on the Warner Brothers film “Barbie”, citing the need to protect “public ethics and social traditions.” This decision comes shortly after a Lebanese minister requested a similar ban in Lebanon, alleging that the movie promotes homosexuality.
Late on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Kuwaiti Ministry of Information stated that the film “promulgates ideas and beliefs that are alien to Kuwaiti society and public order,” according to the official KUNA news agency. In addition to “Barbie”, the Kuwaiti ministry has also prohibited the Australian supernatural horror film “Talk to Me” on similar grounds.
In Lebanon, Culture Minister Mohammad Mortada made a parallel announcement on Wednesday, requesting the Lebanese interior ministry to take steps to prevent the film from being shown in the country. He accused the film of promoting homosexuality and transsexuality, undermining parental roles, and questioning the necessity of marriage and family.
The Lebanese Interior Minister, Bassam Mawlawi, subsequently directed the country’s censorship committee to review the film and make a recommendation. This comes amid a growing anti-LGBTQ campaign in Lebanon, spearheaded by the powerful Hezbollah armed group.
“Barbie,” starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, has been widely anticipated by LGBTQ communities worldwide, even though the film does not contain overt references to same-sex relationships or queer themes. It is the first film by a solo female director to surpass the billion-dollar benchmark.
The film’s ban is part of a broader pattern of increasing scrutiny and censorship. It has already faced bans in Vietnam over a contentious scene involving a fictitious world map. The Philippines allowed the screening but requested blurring the map of a disputed sea area. In Pakistan’s Punjab province, the release was delayed over undisclosed “objectionable content”.
Lafy Al-Subei’e, head of Kuwait’s cinema censorship committee, told KUNA that foreign movies are often subject to censoring of scenes that contradict public ethics. However, if a film carries alien concepts or unacceptable behavior, the committee may decide to bar the film altogether.
Gulf Arab states, including Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, have previously censored films containing LGBTQ references. Interestingly, “Barbie” continues to be shown in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain despite the controversy.
Ayman Mhanna, executive director at the nonprofit civic Samir Kassir Foundation, described the move to ban the film as part of “a wave of bigotry” that has brought together various factions against LGBT people.
This decision to ban “Barbie” underscores the complex and often contentious relationship between cinema, social values, and politics in the region, and it may spark further debate and division in the international community.
Image Credit: AP
The minister’s vehicle was reportedly struck by several bullets, primarily damaging the car’s rear windshield. Fortunately, Sleem emerged unscathed from the incident and is now safely located. In a brief statement, he confirmed, “I am fine, but the car’s back glass was shot.”
No further injuries have been reported from the scene, and details are still emerging. Investigations are underway to apprehend those responsible.
Image Credit: Maurice Sleem/Twitter
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has dismissed twelve regional governors in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. This announcement was made on Thursday, and official sources have yet to provide an explanation for the unexpected decision.
The affected governors include those of North Gaza, Gaza City, Khan Younis, and Rafah in the Gaza Strip, as well as Jenin, Qalqilya, Bethlehem, Nablus, Hebron, Tul Karm, Tubas, and Jericho in the occupied West Bank. All have been ordered into retirement, with a presidential committee now established to appoint their successors.
This move is unprecedented in the history of the occupied Palestinian Territories, and it comes on the heels of unsuccessful unity talks between President Abbas and the rival faction Hamas in Cairo last month. Hamas has governed the blockaded Gaza Strip for nearly two decades, and the failure of the talks to achieve any tangible progress has further strained the Palestinian front against mounting Israeli pressure.
Speculation surrounds the motivations behind this drastic reshuffling, but some context might be drawn from President Abbas’s recent controversies. The long-serving leader has faced criticism in the city of Jenin for perceived governmental inaction following a deadly raid that claimed 12 lives last month. Despite a rare visit to the affected camp, Abbas was met with a rebuke from residents who were dissatisfied with the government’s response to almost-daily Israeli incursions.
Moreover, the Palestinian Authority’s standing has been on a downward trajectory in recent years, plagued by allegations of corruption, negligence, and controversial cooperation with Israel. A poll conducted last year revealed that only 27 per cent of the population were content with the administration’s performance.
Observers are now keenly watching the development of this political upheaval, as the dismissal of such a significant number of key figures may signal a significant shift in the Palestinian leadership’s strategy or a response to internal pressures.
While the official Wafa news agency reported the dismissals, it did not delve into the reasoning behind the decision, leaving the political landscape tinged with uncertainty. The formation of a presidential committee to select replacements adds another layer of intrigue to an already complex and tense situation.
Image Credit: European External Action Service
After a week-long halt in services due to violent clashes in Ain el-Helweh, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has recommenced its operations within the refugee camp.
Following the disturbances, Health Centre II has reopened its doors, continuing its pivotal role in providing medical care to Palestine Refugee patients. In recent days, the centre has seen a steady influx of patients, including numerous children and newborns who are in need of treatment and immunisations.
In a bid to restore normalcy, sanitation workers have embarked on a clean-up mission, swiftly removing accumulated rubbish from the streets and carrying out disinfection processes in areas less impacted by the skirmishes.
Collaborating closely with multiple stakeholders, UNRWA is gearing up to undertake assessments and eliminate war remnants in the areas that have been affected. These measures will commence as soon as they are deemed safe for access.
Dorothee Klaus, the Director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, recently paid a visit to the Ain el-Helweh camp on Tuesday to monitor the situation and supervise the gradual restoration of the Agency’s operations. Speaking on her visit, she expressed, “We earnestly hope for sustained peace in the camp.”
Ms. Klaus shared poignant anecdotes from her visit: “I was told of families trapped in their homes due to the conflict, some injured while attempting to flee. I’ve seen children terrified, cries echoing through the camp, and women in such distress that their hair has turned white.”
Highlighting the path forward, Klaus emphasised the agency’s unwavering commitment: “UNRWA is set to support in clearing debris and restoring damaged water and electricity infrastructures. A stable and safe environment is crucial for our operations.”
Concluding her remarks, she added that UNRWA is working hand-in-hand with partner organisations to ensure the timely clearance of affected camp sites. This endeavour aims to safeguard both the community and UNRWA personnel from lingering dangers of the conflict.
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The Moroccan navy has recovered the bodies of five Senegalese migrants and successfully rescued 189 others after their boat tragically capsized off the coast of Western Sahara, as reported by Morocco’s official news agency Map on Monday.
According to an unidentified military official, the incident occurred on Saturday off Guerguerat, a village located in the south of Western Sahara near the border with Mauritania. It is believed that the migrants were attempting a perilous journey to reach Spain’s Canary Islands.
In addition to those rescued, 11 other migrants were found to be in a critical condition and were swiftly taken to Hassan II Hospital in the city of Dakhla in Western Sahara. The rescued individuals were transferred to Dakhla on Sunday and placed under the care of Moroccan authorities.
This tragedy forms part of a broader crisis in the region. In a separate incident, officials announced on Monday that 16 migrants had died in shipwrecks off the coasts of Tunisia and Western Sahara. Local court spokesman Faouzi Masmoudi reported that at least 11 migrants died off the coast of Tunisia’s second city, Sfax, with an additional 44 reported missing. Two survivors were rescued from the boat, which had 57 people on board, all hailing from sub-Saharan African countries.
The first six months of 2023 have seen nearly 1,000 migrants perish while attempting to reach Spain by sea, according to Spanish migrant rights group Caminando Fronteras (Walking Borders). Most of these attempts have been made from Senegal or Morocco.
These tragic incidents highlight the ongoing migration crisis in the region and the immense risks that desperate individuals are willing to take for a chance at a better life. As European countries grapple with the political and humanitarian challenges of migration, the loss of life in the Mediterranean continues to be a stark and urgent reminder of the human cost of this complex issue.
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In a recent statement, Prime Minister Najib Mikati has sought to calm rising concerns over the significant violence in Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, Ain Al Hilweh. He insisted that top security officials believe the situation “does not call for concern or panic,” though acknowledged there had been “significant progress” in halting the clashes that have rocked the camp since late July.
The violence, particularly severe in recent weeks, has resulted in the displacement of approximately a quarter of the camp’s residents. At least 13 people have died, and occasional stray bullets have even reached areas outside the camp. Despite a ceasefire being called, it has repeatedly been broken, fuelling further unrest.
Mikati hinted that the Lebanese army could be deployed if the situation escalates further, expressing in a phone call with Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas that the army would “play the required role” in ending the clashes.
In the midst of this turmoil, two of Lebanon’s most influential political figures have expressed confusion at the travel warnings issued by some embassies. Leading figure in Lebanon’s Druze community, Walid Joumblatt, stated after a meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri that they “do not understand… the fears expressed in the embassies’ press releases.”
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Kuwait have urged their citizens to leave Lebanon. The Kuwaiti Embassy in Lebanon also urged Kuwaiti citizens to avoid conflict areas, and the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reminded citizens of an existing ban on travel to Lebanon.
According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the Ein El Hilweh Camp conflict has seen 12 deaths and 50 injuries. Lebanese Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi declared yesterday that measures have been implemented to maintain security, emphasizing that security violations and endangering lives will not be tolerated.
Despite these travel warnings, the head of the Federation of Tourism Syndicates in Lebanon, Pierre Al-Ashqar, asserted that nothing has changed in the country’s tourism landscape following the embassy advisories.
The situation in Ain Al Hilweh continues to be volatile, reflecting the often-complex relationship between Lebanon and Palestinian factions. The Lebanese Armed Forces usually avoid entering the camps as part of a long-standing agreement with Palestinian security.
The country now finds itself in a precarious situation, where addressing the violence and reassuring both citizens and foreign nationals becomes paramount. With international eyes on Lebanon, the next steps taken by the government could prove crucial in stabilising the situation and preserving both national and regional security.
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Three years. That’s how long it has been since the earth shook and a pall of smoke overshadowed Beirut. On Aug. 4, 2020, an explosion of catastrophic proportions devastated the Lebanese capital, claiming over 200 lives, injuring thousands, and leaving billions of dollars in damage. But perhaps more chilling than the explosion itself is the unyielding stalemate in holding those responsible accountable.
The echoes of that horrific day resonate not just in the shattered lives of the Lebanese people but in a political system designed to shield the perpetrators from justice. A system in which “the powerful are never held to account and no justice is ever served.” A system emboldened and entrenched by Hezbollah, with the support of Lebanon’s political elite.
The domestic judicial process to investigate the blast and deliver justice to victims has been effectively quashed. Politicians and security officials summoned by the judge continue to carry out their public functions as if nothing happened. The local investigation led by Judge Tarek Bitar has been stifled, hindered, and abused. The perpetrators have “used both legal and illegal means to block any substantive investigation into the explosion.”
There’s something profoundly disheartening about a nation’s cry for justice being stifled by the very powers meant to uphold it. The explosion wasn’t merely a domestic tragedy; it was a global one. The Port of Beirut, as the epicenter of this tragedy, became an unregulated arena for international arms smuggling, hinting at a broader nexus that threatens international peace and security.
Families of victims and human rights organizations have tirelessly pressed for an independent international investigation. A U.N. fact-finding mission could be a pathway to determining the truth and delineating responsibility. As seen with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), international mechanisms have the potential to overcome local obstruction.
But why, despite the clear evidence and enormous human cost, does this cry for international intervention seem to fall on deaf ears? Is it mere indifference, or something more calculated?
In a political arena where alliances are as shadowy as they are complex, the issue of Hezbollah cannot be ignored. Some countries may be reluctant to dig deeper, fearing that exposing Hezbollah’s connections could be a Pandora’s box that could unravel sensitive political dynamics. The silence may be strategic, but it’s a strategy that continues to wound the very soul of Lebanon.
Three years have come and gone, and the wounds of that tragic day continue to fester. There’s a painful truth that must be acknowledged: “neglect is a deliberate act” and the failure to hold anyone accountable is a choice—a choice that is devastating a nation and denying its people the justice they so desperately need and deserve.
The international community, and indeed, the conscience of the world, must act now. It is time to escalate the issue and enable a U.N. investigation. It is time to sanction those responsible for obstructing justice and make ending impunity the centerpiece of international mediation on the Lebanese crisis.
The story of Lebanon, its cries for justice, and its struggles for accountability, should be a rallying cry for the world. For in Lebanon’s fight for justice, we see our collective moral responsibility reflected. We must not, we cannot, allow the third anniversary to mark “the beginning of the long forgetting.”
Justice delayed is justice denied. The time to act is now. Lebanon’s shattered heart demands it, and history will remember how we respond.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Hussein Malla
Iraq’s Ministry of Communications announced on Sunday that it had suspended the popular messaging app Telegram, citing national security issues and the mishandling of users’ personal data.
In a statement, the ministry detailed its attempts to engage with the company, requesting the closure of “platforms that leak the data of the official state institutions and the personal data of citizens.” Despite these efforts, the ministry said, “the company did not respond and did not interact with any of these requests.”
The Ministry was keen to emphasise its commitment to “citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and communication, without prejudice to the security of the state and its institutions.”
Telegram, widely used in Iraq—including by Iran-backed militia groups linked to political factions in the parliament—has become a source of concern for the Iraqi government. Some channels contain substantial personal data, such as names, addresses, and family connections of Iraqi citizens.
Experts have highlighted the app’s role in facilitating paramilitary groups in publicising their attacks, including assaults on military bases hosting coalition troops fighting remnants of ISIS.
A study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace identified nearly two dozen Telegram channels created between March 2020 and 2021, of which over 75% were affiliated with militias. The Sabereen news channel, affiliated with Iran-backed groups, has been a notable source of information on militia activities, often posting news of attacks on coalition bases and the US embassy.
In addition to its use by political and paramilitary groups, the encrypted instant messaging app has also been utilised by terrorist organisations. ISIS, for instance, confirmed the death of its leader Abu Hussein Al Husseini Al Quraishi via Telegram this week.
Last year, an ISIS follower was sentenced to over eight years in prison by a London court for distributing terrorist propaganda on the app.
By midday on Sunday, the service was effectively blocked in Iraq, though it remained accessible to users connected through a VPN.
The decision to suspend Telegram has provoked criticism from channels aligned with pro-Iran factions. One channel, with over 330,000 subscribers, accused the Iraqi government, supported by pro-Iran parties, of “confiscating freedoms” and described the suspension as an act of “gagging.”
Iraq’s government asserts that the suspension of Telegram is vital to “protect the personal data of citizens, which is violated by the application” and to address the “data leakage from state institutions and individuals, which poses a threat to national security and social peace.”
The move represents a significant action in Iraq’s ongoing struggle to balance security concerns with freedom of expression and communication, and it will likely continue to be a contentious issue within the country’s complex political landscape.
A massive blaze broke out on Saturday at the historic building of Egypt’s Ministry of Religious Endowments (Awqaf) in central Cairo, engulfing the top floor of the structure, according to local reports.
No casualties were reported, and at least seven fire trucks from the General Administration of Civil Protection were dispatched to combat the fire, the Cairo Governorate confirmed. The fire was largely extinguished after several hours of intense firefighting efforts.
The incident occurred just days after the Awqaf employees had relocated to new premises in a burgeoning capital city under construction in the desert, 45km east of Cairo. The relocation is part of a larger strategy to draw investment and rejuvenate central Cairo.
Governor Khaled Abdel Aal praised the civil protection forces for their swift action in extinguishing the fire and took immediate measures to prevent the blaze from reigniting. He has also ordered the creation of a committee to examine the condition of the building post-fire.
The Public Prosecution and criminal investigation department are expected to conduct an inspection to determine the cause of the blaze, prior to the commencement of a clean-up operation.
The Awqaf building, whose main part was constructed in 1898 with wings added in 1912 and 1927, had been mostly emptied of its employees, who moved to the new capital at the end of July. Flames were reported to have been seen shooting out of a second-floor window, as per a Reuters account.
Mohammed Mokhtar Gomaa, the Egyptian Minister of Religious Endowments, personally inspected the firefighting process and expressed gratitude to the civil protection team for their dedication and control of the fire. He later referred the incident for investigation to the Public Prosecution and the Administrative Prosecution.
As the building was vacated on July 1, the minister has urged the continuation of maintenance contracts for the old structure. Assistant Minister Abdullah Hassan Abdel-Qawi also confirmed that an assessment of the damage was underway.
A source informed Arab News that four ambulances were promptly dispatched to the accident site, though no casualties were found. The building’s vacancy played a critical role in averting injuries.
The incident serves as a stark reminder of the importance of safety measures in institutional buildings, even those that may be unoccupied. The effective and coordinated response by various authorities also underscores the country’s commitment to emergency preparedness and community well-being.
Some of the former ministry buildings are anticipated to be repurposed under Egypt’s Sovereign Fund, an initiative that aligns with the government’s broader plans to attract crucial investment to the heart of Cairo. The ministry is awaiting reports from security services regarding the fire’s cause before deciding on further action.
Image Credit: Reuters
Friday marked the third anniversary of the Beirut port explosion, a tragic event which claimed the lives of more than 200 individuals and left thousands injured, causing significant devastation throughout the capital. Despite the colossal scale of this incident, no senior official has yet been held accountable and internal attempts to seek justice continue to face consistent obstacles.
In a show of solidarity and defiance, a protest march was organised on Friday afternoon in Beirut, with additional demonstrations anticipated globally. The procession commenced at 4pm local time from the Karantina fire station, located in close proximity to the port, culminating near the epicentre of the 2020 blast.
The city fell silent at 6:07pm, the exact time when the explosion occurred three years ago, as a fire engine’s siren signalled the start of a minute’s silence. The sombre silence was followed by applause, and a poignant reading of the victims’ names. Many businesses across Lebanon observed the day as a public holiday in commemoration of the tragedy.
Paul Naggear, a father still mourning the loss of his three-year-old daughter Alexandra, voiced his urgent need for justice, saying, “This is a national cause. If we don’t get justice for this and what happened, we won’t get justice for anything.”
The explosion was caused by a cache of ammonium nitrate that had been improperly stored at the port for several years, a fact known to senior officials. The domestic inquiry led by Judge Tarek Bitar has faced repeated roadblocks, including resistance from former ministers he intended to question.
Nizar Sagieh, a prominent lawyer and founder of the rights group Legal Agenda, criticised Lebanon’s political class for its chronic lack of accountability. The devastating blast has come to symbolise the deep-seated corruption and mismanagement by the ruling elite, which has also presided over a financial collapse that began in 2019.
The search for justice has increasingly turned towards international intervention. Savaro Ltd, a UK-registered company found liable for the blast, was ordered to compensate four victims a total of $1 million, setting a “strong precedent” for other lawsuits, according to Mr. Naggear. On the eve of the anniversary, a multitude of human rights groups, survivors and relatives of the victims appealed to the UN Human Rights Council to establish a fact-finding mission into the explosion.
This plea echoes a joint statement by 38 nations, expressed by Australia at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, emphasising their collective concern over the investigation’s stagnation due to “systemic obstruction, interference and intimidation”. They noted the failure of Lebanese authorities to guarantee an independent judiciary in accordance with international standards.
In a separate statement, the French Foreign Ministry also called for the Lebanese justice system to resume its investigation “in complete transparency, protected from any political interference”, emphasising the global clamour for truth and accountability in the wake of the Beirut port explosion.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Hussein Malla
In a recent official visit, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis travelled to the seaside city of Alamein to meet with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, according to the presidency’s spokesperson. This marks Mr Mitsotakis’s first visit to Egypt since his re-election as Prime Minister in June. The two leaders engaged in thorough discussions on subjects of mutual interest, solidifying the long-standing alliance between the two nations.
In the meeting, President El Sisi expressed gratitude towards Greece for its continual support on a regional level and in Egypt’s negotiations with the EU. In response, Mr Mitsotakis thanked Mr El Sisi for Egypt’s assistance in battling recent wildfires in Greece, as confirmed by the presidency’s spokesperson.
Egyptian and Greek relations, although traditionally amiable, have significantly intensified since President El Sisi assumed power in 2014. The two countries have since secured several crucial military, security, and energy agreements, aligning their interests, especially in the oil and gas-rich Eastern Mediterranean region.
In a landmark agreement last year, Egypt committed to supplying power to the Greek grid, which could then be channelled into the broader European power network. The £4 billion deal was initiated as Europe was exploring alternatives to Russian energy, which was cut off due to the conflict in Ukraine.
Currently, an underwater cable network is being installed in the Mediterranean to interconnect the power grids of Greece and Egypt. Once operational, the project is expected to deliver 3,000 megawatts daily to the European grid, equating to electricity for around three million homes, depending on domestic electricity demand.
Moreover, in 2021, Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus signed a tripartite agreement to bolster military co-ordination to safeguard their interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. This deal, however, sparked criticism from Turkey, Greece’s historic adversary.
In recent territorial disputes over oil and gas rights in the Mediterranean, Cairo has consistently aligned with Athens against Turkey. Both Egypt and Greece have also expressed their disapproval of Ankara’s affiliation with Libya’s Tripoli-based government, led by Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, which the rival Libyan Parliament in the east refuses to recognise as legitimate.
Relations between Cairo and Ankara became further strained following Ankara’s denouncement of the 2013 removal of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, an event which paved the way for President El Sisi’s rise to power. Consequently, this dispute evolved into a broader regional disagreement over Islamism.
From a security perspective, President El Sisi’s governance has been partially defined by a relentless anti-terrorism campaign in North Sinai against ISIS and widespread suppression of radical Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s principal cities. Athens has consistently and openly supported President El Sisi’s campaign, labelling it as vital for regional stability.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File
Amidst Lebanon’s most severe economic turmoil in its brief, tumultuous history, banks from four Arab nations are showing interest in the beleaguered banking sector of the small Mediterranean country. This comes after a three-year economic meltdown that has massively escalated poverty and inflation, hampering the public sector and infrastructure.
Wissam Fattouh, the Secretary General of the Union of Arab Banks, relayed the news to the Associated Press. His statements came during the most significant regional banking conference in Beirut since the catastrophic economic crisis began in October 2019. Caretaker Economy Minister Amin Salam, along with Lebanese and regional banking officials, urged their Arab peers to invest in the crisis-laden country and contribute to its economic resurrection.
Back in July, Fattouh disclosed to the Saudi-owned TV station Al-Hadath that Jordanian and Iraqi banks were considering the purchase of smaller Lebanese banks. He elaborated, “During our numerous visits to Arab countries and meetings with banking leadership, we explored the potential of acquiring some Lebanese banks willing to sell.” However, he refrained from specifying which banks were contemplating an investment in Lebanon.
As of 2022, 61 banks were operating in Lebanon, 46 of which were commercial banks. Due to the crisis, many have had to downsize. The World Bank has labeled Lebanon’s financial crisis as one of the worst globally since the mid-19th century – the result of years of financial mismanagement, corruption, and harmful policy.
Towards the end of 2019, a scarcity of dollars in Lebanon instigated panic, leading to a run on the banks, as strict withdrawal limits were imposed on depositors who kept their savings there. This crisis was exacerbated by what financial experts and the World Bank defined as a Ponzi scheme. Here, the central bank of Lebanon encouraged commercial banks to lend dollars at high interest rates, thereby maintaining liquidity. The banks then enticed customers to deposit their savings in their accounts, offering even higher interest rates.
Subsequently, Lebanon has operated on a cash economy. The Lebanese pound, its local currency, has lost about 90% of its value, primarily influenced by a non-transparent black market rate which has become the norm for most goods and services throughout the country. Desperate for money, depositors have been withdrawing their savings at exchange rates considerably below the market rate.
Regarding the current deposits at the Central Bank, Fattouh commented, “The fate of those deposits is still a mystery. Thus, investors will prefer banks that don’t have high liabilities and only possess some deposits in the Central Bank.”
In April 2022, a preliminary agreement between the International Monetary Fund and the Lebanese government proposed an “externally assisted bank-by-bank evaluation for the 14 largest banks.” However, the audit never materialised as Lebanon’s ruling political parties and officials, many of whom hold shares or own the banks, refused to introduce any reforms.
Lebanon has been without a president since October, and its Central Bank governor resigned earlier this week. Nevertheless, Fattouh believes this presents an opportunity for investors. He suggested, “Once constitutional affairs are in order in Lebanon following a presidential election, a banking license could potentially cost around $200 million. Hence, acquiring a bank now could be less costly and highly profitable in the future.”
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A Turkish woman working as a secretary at the Swedish honorary consulate found herself the victim of a shooting in the western province of Izmir, Turkey on Tuesday. The woman was gravely injured in the incident, according to official reports and media outlets.
The local governor’s office, while not specifically mentioning the consulate, indicated that the violent event occurred in Izmir’s Konak district in the early hours of the day. The suspect in the incident, believed to suffer from mental health issues, has been apprehended by local authorities.
Prominent Turkish broadcaster, NTV, reported that the shooting took place outside the Swedish honorary consulate. As a result of the attack, the secretary is reportedly in a critical state.
The governor’s office has confirmed that Turkish authorities have detained the attacker and launched a thorough investigation into the incident.
Unlike regular consulates, honorary consulates represent foreign countries’ interests but are managed by individuals who are not career diplomats.
In response to the incident, the Swedish Foreign Ministry stated that the consul general would travel to Izmir on Wednesday to gather further details. It also mentioned maintaining open dialogue with the consulate general in Istanbul and Swedish staff stationed in Turkey.
However, the Ministry declined to make any further comment regarding threats to diplomatic services or the security measures being implemented, asserting that such disclosures might undermine the effectiveness of said measures.
Yilmaz Tunc, the Turkish Justice Minister, strongly condemned the attack via a post on the messaging platform X, previously known as Twitter, while confirming that a criminal investigation into the incident had been initiated.
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In an audacious operation, security personnel in Jordan have apprehended an individual labelled as a “dangerous criminal” and said to be connected with global narcotics syndicates. The arrest took place in Irbid, a city in the north of Jordan, according to an announcement made by a police spokesperson on Wednesday.
The operation forms part of a heightened national campaign against drug dealers within the kingdom, with authorities chiefly focusing on curbing the trafficking of the amphetamine-type stimulant, Captagon, believed to be illicitly transported from Syria across the Jordanian border.
The spokesperson detailed that the apprehended male, deemed dangerous and confirmed to have ties with global drug cartels, was seized in a flat in Irbid after an extended period of surveillance and reconnaissance.
Authorities discovered an extensive cache of drugs at the residence: 287 packets of hashish and a substantial haul of 17,000 tablets were uncovered. The individual’s identity and nationality remain undisclosed. Irbid is situated a mere 15 kilometres from the Syrian border, underlining the strategic challenge faced by law enforcement.
Further to this operation, the police spokesperson reported the capture of nine additional drug traffickers across Amman, the town of Ruseifeh located on the eastern fringe of the Jordanian capital, and within the central Balkaa governorate, over the past few days.
In an effort to clamp down on narcotics smuggling from Syria, Jordanian authorities and Syrian Defence Minister, Ali Mahmoud, convened in Amman last month. The Jordanian Foreign Ministry confirmed these discussions which represented the inaugural meeting for a joint security committee, established earlier this month to address the pressing issue.
The Jordanian government has previously accused the Syrian military and southern Syrian militias, thought to be pro-Iran, of supervising the smuggling operations.
Despite these concerns, Jordan remains an integral part of the Arab rapprochement with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. The kingdom endorsed Damascus’s reintegration into the Arab League in May.
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In a period marked by escalating tension with the US in the Gulf, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has revealed the presence of vessels fitted with long-range missiles near the Strait of Hormuz.
The announcement was made on Wednesday during an Iranian military exercise, which simulated an ‘enemy attack’ involving rocket launchers, navy helicopters, and drones. According to the semi-official Tasnim news agency, the display included missiles with a 600-kilometre range, although they provided no additional information regarding the weaponry. It follows Iran’s recent statement that the new Abu Mahdi cruise missile, boasting a range of 1,000 kilometres, has been commissioned.
In response to Iran’s heightened activity in the strait, the US dispatched additional warplanes and a guided missile destroyer last month. “The Department of Defence is enhancing our presence and capacity to monitor the [Strait of Hormuz] and surrounding waters,” Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh stated in a press briefing.
The Strait of Hormuz, located between Iran and Oman, is a crucial artery for global oil transportation. Approximately one-fifth of the world’s crude oil and oil products pass through it, making it the world’s most important oil chokepoint.
Last month, Iran attempted to seize two commercial tankers, which was condemned by the UK Maritime Component Command, a branch of the British military, as “unacceptable harassment.” In May, Iran took control of two tankers within a week and has been alleged to have held a vessel hostage over a payment dispute.
The US Navy claims that Tehran has captured at least five commercial vessels in the last two years and has harassed multiple others. Such operations are seen as a strategic move against the West following the re-establishment of US sanctions and the collapse of the 2015 nuclear agreement in 2018.
The revelation of the Abu Mahdi cruise missile is just the latest in a series of new Iranian weapon system announcements. Last month, Iran claimed to have a new hypersonic missile with a stated range of 1,400km.
Billboards in Tehran advertised the new weapon in Farsi, Hebrew, and Arabic, boasting, “400 seconds to Tel Aviv.” Hypersonic missiles, travelling at over five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5, give enemy forces merely seconds to react to the approaching threat. These missiles are reportedly capable of manoeuvring mid-flight, making it difficult for anti-missile systems, such as the US Patriot, to predict their course.
This technology is highly sought after, with Russia, China, the US, and more recently, Japan, France, and India, investing heavily in it. Russia purports to have deployed the first hypersonic missile in combat in Ukraine, claiming its Kinzhal missiles have struck targets while flying at Mach 10.
US experts, however, contest that the missile was not genuinely hypersonic, and the US announced on May 10 that a Patriot system in Ukraine had intercepted one. Nevertheless, according to the US Department of Defence, the overarching Iranian missile threat stems not from any one system, but from the sheer size and capabilities of “its missile arsenal, which is characterised by increasing numbers, as well as increases in accuracy, range and lethality”. The Pentagon’s report went on to state that “Iran has the largest ballistic missile force in the Middle East.”
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In a deeply troubling series of events over the past week, numerous Egyptian high school students, gripped with concern over their performance in the national secondary school standardised examinations, have reportedly attempted suicide. These exams hold significant weight, as they are the determining factor for admission into the country’s universities.
On Monday, an 18-year-old pupil from the Nasr City district of Cairo was rushed to hospital, following a failed suicide attempt, confirmed by the local authorities. The exam results were still pending at the time of the incident, but investigators have unearthed that the pupil was facing severe psychological stress.
Elsewhere, in the southern province of Sohag, a student tragically ended her own life mere minutes after being informed of her examination results. The inquiry by the local prosecutor’s office revealed that the student had not managed to pass several subjects, contributing to her despair.
Further incidents have taken place in the province of Qalyubia, where four female students attempted suicide. They are now receiving medical treatment in hospital, the police reports suggest.
In another concerning episode, three more students from the province of Sharqia also attempted suicide, including a young girl who was gripped by fear over her family’s potential reaction to her exam results, according to officials.
The results of these national secondary school exams, which ultimately decide the students’ future career pathways, have placed an immense amount of pressure on the students. Experts are urging a comprehensive review of the system, and an increased focus on providing psychological support to students.
The Iraqi dinar has plummeted against the US dollar this week after the United States imposed sanctions on 14 Iraqi private banks, barring them from conducting transactions in dollars.
The sanctions come amidst Iraq’s ongoing struggle to stabilise its currency as it relies heavily on imports priced in dollars. The dinar dipped from 1,470 to 1,580 against the greenback in the past two days, sparking chaos in markets and angry protests outside Iraq’s central bank headquarters in Baghdad.
Representatives of the sanctioned banks denied wrongdoing and appealed to the Iraqi government to intervene on their behalf. “We call on the brothers at the Iraqi government to use all available means to undo the damage which occurred to us specifically, and to the Iraqi banking sector in general,” banker Haider Al Shamma said in a statement on behalf of the 14 banks.
He warned the sanctions could deter foreign investment and have far-reaching impacts beyond the banks themselves. “Forcing sanctions on a third of the Iraqi private banks from conducting dollar transactions will have negative consequences not only on the value of the Iraqi dinar against the US dollar, but it will have a very big impact on foreign investments,” he said.
The US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) determined the banks were complicit in facilitating suspect dollar transfers to Iran last year, hence the punitive measures. But Mr Al Shamma insisted the banks were apolitical entities focused on finance, saying, “Our banks have nothing to do with political tensions but are independent financial institutions.”
Iraq’s central bank said affected banks could still conduct transactions using Iraqi dinars or other non-dollar currencies. But dollars remain crucial for Iraq’s largely import-driven economy.
The volatility is the latest chapter in Iraq’s ongoing currency crisis that has led to price hikes on consumer goods and sparked street protests demanding solutions.
Iraq has struggled to stabilise the dinar since late 2021 when the US Federal Reserve tightened procedures for international dollar transfers, rejecting or delaying many requests from Iraq. The Fed remains concerned dollars are being funnelled through Iraq’s currency auction to Iran, Syria and Lebanon – countries facing US sanctions.
The US has blacklisted Iraqi banks it accused of money laundering or suspicious transactions. But the Iraqi government blames Washington for the currency chaos and the resulting economic impacts.
Despite a series of measures aimed at containing public anger, the central bank has failed to control the exchange rate declines.
The latest sanctions on the 14 private banks represent another hurdle, likely feeding further dinar instability. With more volatility ahead, ordinary Iraqis continue bearing the brunt of external political tensions beyond their control.
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In the run-up to a significant assembly of Palestinian factions in Cairo this Sunday, leaders of Fatah and Hamas are said to have convened in Turkey, according to multiple sources.
This alleged gathering aligns with the visit of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Turkey. Ismail Haniyeh and his deputy Saleh Al Arouri, leading the Hamas delegation, are rumoured to have engaged in discussions with Mr Abbas in Ankara this Tuesday, based on information provided to Al Araby Al Jadeed.
Public acknowledgment of such a meeting remains absent from both Fatah and Hamas. Requests for comment to a Hamas official have remained unanswered at the time of print.
Post meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Abbas acknowledged ongoing endeavours to consolidate unity within the Palestinian population and territory.
Abbas confirmed that Fatah has extended invitations to heads of Palestinian factions for a crucial meeting in Cairo on Sunday, the objective being “to restore national unity and develop a national programme to address the challenges facing the Palestinian people and land”.
However, Ziyad Al Nakhalah, Secretary-General of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, declared their intention to withdraw from the Sunday gathering in the Egyptian capital.
A public encounter between the leaders of Fatah and Hamas last transpired in Algeria in June 2022, marking the first occasion in over five years.
For more than a decade and a half, Palestinian politics have remained in a state of impasse. The militant group Hamas, ruling Gaza, and Fatah, were embroiled in an internal struggle for control of the Palestinian Authority, resulting in Abbas’ party being ejected from the Gaza Strip. Previous reunification attempts have proven unsuccessful, and Palestinians have been denied the opportunity to vote for their leadership since 2006.
President Erdogan and President Abbas conducted in-depth discussions at the presidential complex in Ankara on Tuesday, focussing on relations, the Palestine-Israel conflict, and other international and regional developments.
Erdogan emphasised post-meeting that “we cannot tolerate any acts attempting to change the historical status quo of holy places, particularly the Al Aqsa Mosque. The unity and reconciliation of the Palestinians are key elements in this process.”
A scheduled visit by Benjamin Netanyahu to Turkey this week has been postponed due to the Israeli Prime Minister undergoing an unplanned surgery over the weekend.
Image Credit: European External Action Service
In a significant development, King Mohammed VI of Morocco has extended a formal invitation to the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to visit the North African kingdom. This invitation comes as a gesture of gratitude following Israel’s recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the contentious Western Sahara territory.
The royal summons, issued this Wednesday, warmly invites Mr. Netanyahu to visit Morocco at a mutually agreeable time, to be determined through diplomatic channels.
The Israeli Prime Minister announced his decision regarding the mineral-laden desert region via a letter which was subsequently referenced by the Moroccan royal office on Monday.
Economic, security, and tourism ties between Israel and Morocco have been strengthening progressively. This forthcoming meeting is expected to “open new possibilities in the bilateral relations between Morocco and Israel,” as per King Mohammed.
The Moroccan monarch praised Israel’s decision, affirming that the issue of Western Sahara represents “the national cause of the kingdom and the priority of its foreign policy”.
Around 80 per cent of the vast 266,000-square-kilometre desert region is currently administered by Morocco. The remaining portion of this sparsely populated area is controlled by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, a breakaway state supported by Algeria and not internationally recognised by the United Nations.
Several Arab and African nations, along with the US, back Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. The ongoing territorial dispute has led to the closure of land borders between Algeria and Morocco since the early 1990s due to security apprehensions.
Earlier this year, an attempt to mollify the strained relations was made by King Mohammed when he invited Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune for discussions in Rabat. However, the King chose not to attend the first Arab League summit in three years, hosted by Algeria in November.
A thaw in Israel-Morocco relations was observed as part of the 2020 Abraham Accords, with encouragement from the then-US President Donald Trump, who acknowledged Morocco’s rule over the Western Sahara region.
Image Credit: Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash
In a significant diplomatic development, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to host Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, in Ankara next week. This visit marks the first by an Israeli premier to the Turkish capital in 15 years.
Mr Netanyahu’s journey to Ankara, scheduled for July 28, anticipates high-level discussions with President Erdogan on a broad spectrum of regional and international issues.
Adding to the diplomatic momentum, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will also be in Ankara a few days prior to Mr Netanyahu’s arrival.
The Turkish presidency confirmed, “President Erdogan will extend a warm welcome to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the same week.”
The dialogue will primarily focus on “the evolution of Turkey-Palestine relations, the latest developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as other pertinent international issues,” according to the presidency’s statement.
Mr Netanyahu’s office confirmed this historic visit, the first for an Israeli Prime Minister since Ehud Olmert‘s trip to Turkey in 2008.
This diplomatic initiative by Turkey comes amid an impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, compounded by the worst outbreak of violence in recent years in the occupied West Bank.
In April, the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, a highly sensitive religious site, became the epicentre of clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians. President Erdogan responded by stating that Israel had overstepped a “red line”.
Furthermore, Israeli President Isaac Herzog held talks with Mr Erdogan in Turkey, and a few months later, former prime minister Yair Lapid also met with the Turkish leader in New York. These interactions set the stage for what is hoped to be a further easing of tensions and progress in diplomatic relations.
Image Credit: Orhan Erkılıç / Wikimedia Commons
In the shadow of continued instability in Yemen, a potential breakthrough has been reported by the local authorities, with the identification of a suspect in the murder of Moayad Hameidi, the World Food Programme (WFP) representative based in Taiz. Hameidi, a key figure of the Rome-based UN food agency’s work in Yemen, was tragically gunned down last Friday in the neighbouring city of Turbah.
The suspect has allegedly resided in Taiz since 2017 after leaving Aden in the wake of security operations against Al Qaeda militants. The identity of the official who revealed this information remains confidential, and they were unable to confirm whether the suspect has connections to any Islamist groups.
Aden has served as the base for Yemen’s internationally recognised government since Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, seized control of the capital Sanaa in 2014. The conflict escalated further in 2015 with the intervention of a Saudi-led coalition supporting the embattled government.
Taiz, controlled by the government, faces a blockade from surrounding Houthi-controlled areas. The chaos of the war in Yemen has provided fertile ground for extremist groups such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS loyalists. A considerable security effort has been made by the Saudi-led coalition, backed by US and UAE forces, to suppress these radical elements.
An arrest warrant for the suspect has been issued, as confirmed by an Interior Ministry telegram obtained by AFP. The violence has diminished over the past year, yet sporadic attacks continue to disrupt the fragile peace.
The late Moayad Hameidi, a Jordanian national, had been a stalwart of the WFP for 18 years, serving not only in Yemen, but also in Sudan, Syria, and Iraq. His sudden death triggered profound sadness within the agency, with WFP’s Yemen country director, Richard Ragan, declaring any loss of life in humanitarian service as an “unacceptable tragedy.”
The global community has also responded, with Hans Grundberg, the UN special envoy for Yemen, expressing condolences to Hameidi’s family, friends, and colleagues, while mourning alongside the humanitarian community in Yemen.
The UAE’s Minister of State for International Co-operation, Reem Al Hashimy, condemned the murder emphatically, highlighting the targeting of humanitarian aid staff as a “flagrant violation of all international treaties that ensure their protection.”
US special envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, also denounced Hameidi’s killing and extended his deepest sympathies to Hameidi’s family and the WFP team.
This tragic event echoes the 2018 killing of Lebanese aid worker Hanna Lahoud, a member of the International Committee of the Red Cross, whose murderers are yet to be found. Hameidi’s death serves as a harsh reminder of the significant dangers faced by humanitarian workers in conflict-ridden zones like Yemen.
n a shocking incident that unfurled on live Lebanese television, a fierce debate between two well-known figures escalated into a brawl, necessitating army intervention.
Wiam Wahhab, a politician and former minister affiliated with the Hezbollah-led March 8 movement, and Simon Abou Fadel, a journalist linked with the March 14 anti-Hezbollah movement, clashed on the popular political chat show, Sar el Waqt.
The altercation was sparked during a discussion on the contentious issue of US sanctions on Lebanese individuals alleged to be involved in corruption and connected with Hezbollah.
The exchange grew tense as Mr Wahhab dismissed the sanctions as “worth as much as my shoes”. Mr Abou Fadel retorted sharply, “You can do whatever you want with your shoes later. That’s a problem between you and your shoes”.
Mr Wahhab’s reply was inaudible, and the argument swiftly devolved into a shouting match, with both men demanding the other to “shut up”.
The situation spiralled out of control when Mr Wahhab hurled his water glass at Mr Abou Fadel, who retaliated with a punch that sent Mr Wahhab’s glasses flying.
The studio descended into chaos as the duo exchanged a barrage of slaps and thumps, prompting the crew to intervene to stop the brawl and separate the feuding pair.
A video shared widely on social media later revealed the confrontation had moved outside to the studio car park. Mr Abou Fadel was shown being restrained by onlookers while the army stepped in to quell the scuffle.
Subsequently, Mr Abou Fadel re-emerged on the programme sporting a bruised eye and a bleeding forehead. “My face is a reflection of my conscience,” he declared to the show’s host, Marcel Ghanem.
Interestingly, this is not the first instance of violence erupting on Mr Ghanem’s programme. Last year, live on air, an altercation took place between members of the audience and supporters of the Free Patriotic Movement political party.
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In a bid to invigorate its economy, Oman‘s Sultan Haitham has decreed the establishment of the Khazaen Economic City, complete with two free economic zones, as confirmed by the Oman News Agency on Monday. Located within the South Al Batina Governorate, the new city will be administered by the Public Authority for Special Economic Zones and Free Zones.
These pioneering initiatives will come to life under the management of Oman Logistics Company, tasked with operating both Khazaen Economic City and its two embedded free zones. The responsibility for developing these economic areas falls to the Khazaen Economic City Company.
This ambitious move comes as Oman intensifies its economic diversification strategy, buoyed by favourable oil prices, prudent fiscal reforms, and the containment of inflation, as reported by the International Monetary Fund last month.
Despite anticipating a budget deficit of 1.3 billion rials in 2023, accounting for 3% of its economy, Oman enjoyed a surplus of 1.14 billion rials the previous year, according to the nation’s Ministry of Finance.
To galvanise the country’s economic rebound from the COVID-19-induced slowdown, Oman launched a three-year fiscal stability programme last October. This scheme is designed to spur the Sultanate’s financial sector and facilitate national economic recovery.
Further bolstering its economy, Oman has recently signed several agreements with its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) counterparts. These include a $3 billion railway project linking the Sultanate with the United Arab Emirates and a $320 million infrastructure development endeavour, backed by the Saudi Fund for Development.
Oman’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by international observers. In April, Fitch Ratings revised its outlook for the country from stable to positive, maintaining its “BB” rating. The agency cited a surge in oil revenue and a reduction in public debt as key contributors to this positive trajectory, reflecting the government’s commitment to fiscal consolidation.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has issued a stern warning to any entity involved in offloading oil from its seized tankers. The threat was issued by IRGC navy commander Alireza Tangsiri on Thursday and was reported by state media outlets.
The warning comes as a response to the US confiscation of an Iranian oil shipment off the coast of Malaysia in April. This move was said to be a part of the US efforts to enforce sanctions against Iran.
Commander Tangsiri made it clear that Tehran holds Washington accountable for the unloading of the oil from the impounded tanker. Insiders, preferring to remain anonymous, confirmed to Reuters that Washington had taken charge of the oil aboard the Suez Rajan, subsequent to a court order.
In a seemingly related move, on Monday, the US divulged plans to deploy additional F-35 and F-16 fighter jets and a warship to the Middle East. This decision is said to be an attempt to monitor significant waterways in the region, following Iran’s recent actions including the seizure and alleged harassment of commercial vessels.
The past few years, and especially recent months, have seen rising tensions between Iran and the US, with numerous attacks on ships in the Gulf waters reported since 2019. The Strait of Hormuz, a key point between Iran and Oman, sees approximately one-fifth of the world’s crude oil and oil products passing through.
This year has seen an upsurge in military seizures and attacks on commercial vessels in the Gulf waterways. The situation worsened in May, with two tankers being seized within a week, one of which was headed for Texas.
The US Navy maintains that the recent deployment of the warship is aimed at ensuring regional maritime security and stability.
In April, the IRGC publicised footage of its forces capturing the US-bound, Chinese-owned tanker, Advantage Sweet. The video displayed commandos boarding the vessel’s decks, descending from a helicopter on ropes.
The US Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet expressed concern at the time, stating, “Iran’s continued harassment of vessels and interference with navigational rights in regional waters are a threat to maritime security and the global economy.”
Since these events, Iran has attacked a tanker, inflicting minor damage to the Richmond Voyager off the Oman coast. The US Navy shared drone footage of the incident on July 5, revealing that the USS McFaul missile destroyer prevented the vessel from being captured.
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The Syrian information ministry, in a formal statement, censured the British broadcaster for its purported deviation from professional standards and alleged propagation of biased reports. Consequently, it annulled the permission of the BBC’s correspondent and cameraman to operate in Syria.
The BBC Radio representative in Syria has also been stripped of their accreditation, according to additional information from the ministry.
When contacted for a comment, a spokesperson for the BBC, without directly addressing the Syrian government’s decision, underscored that “BBC News Arabic offers impartial independent journalism”. They stressed the broadcaster’s commitment to engage with a range of political voices to establish factual narratives.
The spokesperson added that the broadcaster would persist in providing impartial news and information to its audiences throughout the Arabic-speaking world.
The Syrian information ministry also criticised the BBC’s coverage of the country’s decade-long conflict, accusing it of propagating “subjective and fake information and reports about the reality” in Syria since the outbreak of the war in 2011.
Syria’s prolonged conflict, which has drawn in foreign powers and global jihadists, has led to the death of over half a million people, displaced countless others, and wrought severe damage to the country’s infrastructure and industry.
Despite being cautioned “more than once”, the BBC persisted in broadcasting “misleading reports based on statements… from terrorist entities and those hostile to Syria,” the ministry continued.
The rescinding of accreditation from international media is a relatively rare event for Damascus, where a handful of foreign media outlets continue to operate with locally based journalists. The escalation of the conflict resulted in a significant exodus of foreign journalists from the nation.
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In the run-up to Egypt‘s 2024 Presidential Elections, an open and vigorous national debate has sparked around the country’s future. With an impending vote in just a few months, this dialogue is unfolding against a backdrop of a daunting economic crisis and heightened calls for political reform, according to political commentators, activists and politicians.
This dialogue, although under scrutiny from authorities, is displaying a level of tolerance for criticisms of government policies that would have been unthinkable a little over a year ago. The topic of civil liberties has become a contentious issue in Egypt, whether directly associated with the forthcoming elections or seen as a ploy by the authorities to pacify the rising public discontent over soaring prices of essential commodities.
Yet, the motive aside, Egyptians are currently experiencing a level of freedom – albeit carefully managed and under close watch by authorities – not seen in the past decade.
Current President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, who has led Egypt for the past ten years, has yet to announce whether he will run for another term. However, the likelihood is high, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, he is projected to secure a comfortable victory.
Despite the predictable result of these elections, the political stir they are creating is dominating television debates, newspaper columns, and social media platforms, which have been the primary vehicles for expression in Egypt over the last decade.
The public is openly criticising perceived governmental shortcomings, demanding an action plan to tackle the economic crisis, advocating for broader freedoms and requesting President El Sisi to ensure a fair and transparent election.
Political pundits and politicians suggest this surge in political discourse offers El Sisi and his government an opportunity to foster a credible electoral process that would overwrite the memories of the 2018 election – a near one-man race, where President El Sisi faced off against a virtually unknown politician who entered the contest at the eleventh hour to prevent it from being a one-man referendum, a type all too familiar in Egypt’s recent past.
In April last year, El Sisi initiated the shift from a zero-tolerance approach to dissent by calling for a national dialogue. The dialogue, which started in May this year, will produce recommendations for Egypt’s future expected later this year.
El Sisi also ordered the release of hundreds of critics held in pretrial detention over the past year, permitted exiled critics to return home, and tolerated – albeit within bounds – criticism of his economic policies.
However, many more journalists and activists remain incarcerated. Not everyone is prepared to trust the current administration. Khaled Dawoud, the chief spokesperson for the opposition 12-party Civil Democratic Movement, expresses scepticism about the government’s sincerity.
El Sisi has responded to criticism over his handling of the economy by extolling the transformation of Egypt into a modern state during his tenure, with reliable infrastructure, renewable energy usage, and an ambitious drive to uplift the quality of life in rural areas.
Nevertheless, several aspiring candidates, including the only female candidate, veteran politician Gameela Ismail, are waiting for assurances of a fair election.
The presidential hopefuls, some of whom are known supporters of President El Sisi, are keen to avoid a repeat of the 2018 election. Despite this cautious optimism, the upcoming election is predicted to be a tightly controlled affair unlikely to produce any surprises.
The widespread national debate indicates a shift in the Egyptian political landscape. However, its long-term implications and whether it signifies a genuine commitment to political reform remain to be seen.
Image Credit: Graham Carlow / Wikimedia
A masterpiece in marble and pink sandstone, Abu Dhabi‘s first traditional Hindu temple will open its doors for prayers on 10th February after four years of tireless effort by artisans from both India and the UAE.
Confirming the temple’s inauguration, The National reports that a series of prayer ceremonies, part of a ‘festival of harmony’, will commence from 10 February 2024, leading up to the temple’s public opening for worship on 18 February.
Drawing individuals of various faiths and nationalities, the impressive white marble and pink sandstone edifice in Abu Dhabi’s Abu Mureikha area has already become a significant landmark. Over 2,000 craftsmen have been working diligently in India’s Rajasthan state, carving exquisite pillars and columns for this first-ever hand-sculpted Hindu temple in the Middle East.
On site in Abu Dhabi, the temple’s main prayer hall and ground level are nearly complete, with plans to erect towering shikhars, or spires, symbolic of each Emirati state, on the second level.
As per the schedule of inaugural prayer services, the 6pm ceremony on 10 February will exclusively welcome contributors to the temple’s construction. The following day, a 10am service will host prayers for couples who have supported the building project. A restricted prayer session for Hindu deities will take place on 14 February, from 8am to noon, catering solely to invited guests.
The temple doors will then open to the public for a two-hour dedication ceremony on 15 February, starting at 6pm. From 18 February onwards, the temple will be open for public worship.
President Sheikh Mohamed gifted the 5.4-hectare site to the Indian community in 2015. Supervised by the Baps Swaminarayan Sanstha, the temple’s construction welcomes all faiths and nationalities. The organisation has overseen the creation of roughly 1,200 temples globally.
In homage to ancient Hindu shrines, the temple has been constructed without the use of steel, iron, or reinforced concrete, instead opting for a layered compression technique involving granite, pink sandstone, and marble.
The completed temple, standing 32-metres high, will be adorned with over 200 intricate pillars and intricate exterior carvings depicting the lives of deities, promoting peace. A total of 20,000 tonnes of stone, including 5,500 tonnes of white marble and 14,500 tonnes of pink sandstone, have been used in the construction.
A temple spokesperson declared that Abu Dhabi would host “the biggest celebration of togetherness – the festival of harmony” on the temple’s website, mandir.ae. The celebration aims to highlight timeless art, borderless culture, and ageless values, marking the inauguration of this spiritual oasis for global harmony.
The temple, situated just off the main E11 Sheikh Zayed motorway connecting Abu Dhabi and Dubai, will feature an array of facilities. These include two parks, a community hall, a visitors’ centre, an amphitheatre, a food court, and welcoming areas, all crafted with a focus on fostering unity and harmony. Additionally, channels replicating three Indian rivers and seating areas overlooking the temple structure are being constructed.
The Swedish embassy in Baghdad was seized and set alight by enraged demonstrators protesting against the burning of the Quran in Sweden. The assault took place in the early hours of Thursday, with protestors scaling the Swedish embassy compound walls and igniting a fire.
Correspondent Mahmoud Abdelwahed reported from Nasiriya in southern Iraq that the crowd brandished flags and placards showing their allegiance to the influential Iraqi Shia leader, Muqtada al-Sadr.
According to a statement from the Swedish foreign ministry, all staff within the embassy are safe. The ministry denounced the attack and called upon the Iraqi government to guarantee the security of diplomatic missions.
The attack was also condemned by Iraq’s foreign ministry, with a promise of an urgent investigation and necessary security measures to identify and bring to justice those responsible.
Despite this, a subsequent statement released later on Thursday by the Iraqi government indicated that it may sever diplomatic ties with Sweden if a second instance of Quran burning occurs on Swedish soil.
According to eyewitnesses, security forces had entered the Swedish embassy compound by dawn, battling to extinguish the lingering flames. Although most of the protestors had dispersed by this time, a contingent remained outside the embassy premises.
The protestors have threatened to maintain their action if further desecrations of the Quran occur, and have indicated their readiness to “take matters into their own hands” should the Iraqi government not immediately dismiss the Swedish diplomatic mission, reported Abdelwahed.
The protest at the Swedish embassy was organised by Sadr supporters in response to a planned second Quran burning at the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm.
At the site of the demonstration, one protestor, Hassan Ahmed, spoke to the French news agency AFP, stating, “We are mobilised today to denounce the burning of the Quran, which is all about love and faith.” He appealed to both the Swedish and Iraqi governments to prevent such incidents in the future.
Swedish news outlets identified the instigator of the Quran burning as Salwan Momika, an Iraqi refugee in Sweden. Momika, who also desecrated a copy of the Quran outside Stockholm’s largest mosque on the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, had triggered a previous storming of Sweden’s embassy in Baghdad.
The incident has incited international protest from several Muslim-majority nations, including Iraq, Turkey, UAE, Jordan, and Morocco, who are all demanding Momika’s extradition to face trial in Iraq. Swedish authorities, who initially granted Momika a permit under free speech protections, have now opened an investigation into potential “agitation against an ethnic group”.
Image Credit: Ahmed Saad/Reuters
Israel has officially recognised Moroccan sovereignty over the contested region of Western Sahara, according to statements from the Moroccan government and the Israeli Prime Minister’s office. It was announced on Monday that Israel is planning to establish a consulate in Dakhla, a prominent city in the disputed territory.
The news followed a letter from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to King Mohammed VI of Morocco, indicating Israel’s stance on the matter. Moroccan control over Western Sahara has been a contentious issue since 1975 when Spanish colonial rule ended. The Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, advocates for an independent state within the region.
The letter from Israel detailing their position will reportedly be sent to the United Nations, regional and international organisations, and to all countries Israel has diplomatic relations with. Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen affirmed that this recognition of Western Sahara as Moroccan territory would bolster ties between the two nations and enhance regional stability.
A senior Moroccan official said Israel’s clear-cut stance on Western Sahara adds to the growing support for Morocco’s autonomy plan for the territory, which has been backed by Washington and several European capitals, including Madrid.
This Israeli recognition, however, will not change Morocco’s stance in advocating for a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is anticipated that the decision may boost Israeli investment in Western Sahara.
In 2020, Morocco agreed to normalise relations with Israel as part of a US-brokered agreement. This agreement saw then-US President Donald Trump recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. This has been criticised by Palestinians, who argue that Arab countries have undermined peace efforts by abandoning the demand for Israel to cede land for a Palestinian state in exchange for recognition.
The appointment of an Israeli colonel as defence attache to Morocco further indicated the warming relations between the two nations. Since the renewal of ties, Israel and Morocco have signed several cooperation agreements, including a defence pact.
Israel’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara echoes the US’s 2020 decision to do the same. The region, formerly a Spanish colony rich in offshore oil deposits and minerals, was annexed by Morocco in 1975. The UN has tried, and failed, to organise a referendum on the region’s future due to disagreements over voter eligibility. The Polisario Front reignited armed conflict in 2020, ending a 29-year truce.
The region’s tensions have also had a significant impact on Morocco’s neighbour, Algeria, which severed diplomatic ties with Rabat in 2021, escalating hostilities between the two countries, both of whom have shared allies in the West and Middle East.
In a significant development, Saudi Arabia has committed to procuring Turkish drones, marking one of several prosperous deals established by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for Turkey’s embattled economy. This comes amidst Turkey’s recent diplomatic efforts to mend relations with Gulf Arab countries.
President Erdogan embarked on a three-stop tour of the region, landing in Saudi Arabia on Monday. He was accompanied by a contingent of nearly 200 businesspeople, according to the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey. During the visit, multiple memorandums of understanding (MoUs) were inked across diverse sectors, such as energy, direct investments and defence industries.
President Erdogan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman presided over the signing ceremony for the drones agreement, which was orchestrated between Baykar, a Turkish defence company, and the Saudi defence ministry, as reported by the Saudi state news agency SPA.
Defence Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman Al Saud expressed that the acquisition of drones was designed to enhance the readiness of Saudi’s armed forces and elevate its defence and manufacturing capabilities.
Although the value of the deal was not disclosed by SPA, the acquisition signifies a promising development for Turkey’s beleaguered economy. The nation has been grappling with economic challenges, including soaring inflation rates, a ballooning current account deficit, and a depreciating currency. Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek stated that tax hikes were essential to restoring fiscal discipline and reducing inflation.
Turkey has also sought to repair its ties with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, following a decade-long dispute subsequent to the 2011 Arab Spring and Ankara’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood. This rapprochement has resulted in significant financial support from Gulf nations.
In fact, shortly after President Erdogan’s re-election last month, the UAE and Turkey agreed upon a trade deal potentially worth $40bn over the next five years. Turkey also received $5bn from Saudi Arabia deposited into its central bank in March, as well as $20bn in currency swap agreements from Qatar and the UAE.
Erdogan is scheduled to meet Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha on Tuesday before visiting the UAE leader in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.
Image Credit: Turkish Presidency via AP
Saudi Arabia, the globe’s top oil exporter, has confirmed ongoing cooperation with Japan in sectors such as crude exports and clean hydrogen, according to statements made by the Saudi energy minister.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman declared that Saudi Arabia, providing 40% of Japan’s oil imports, will ensure the stability of supplies to the energy-hungry Asian nation, as per a report from the official Saudi Press Agency this Sunday.
Prince Abdulaziz further stressed the importance of mutual cooperation in the field of clean hydrogen and its applications, as well as development of infrastructure for “circular carbon economy” applications.
Recently, Japan, the fourth-largest crude importer worldwide, and OPEC agreed to instigate a dialogue among top officials to address Tokyo’s energy security apprehensions.
Seeking to reinforce its energy security, Japan has turned to long-term liquefied natural gas agreements and increased integration of renewable resources into its overall energy mix.
As China’s economy recovers and Europe accumulates more natural gas before next winter, global competition for LNG cargo is set to escalate. Last December, Japan’s largest oil and gas exploration company, Inpex, signed a supply agreement with US-based Venture Global LNG for a million tonnes annually over the next two decades.
In the previous year, Saudi Arabia and Japan endorsed new agreements concentrating on the circular carbon economy and carbon recycling fields, along with other areas such as green hydrogen, fuel ammonia, and derivatives.
The Saudi energy minister confirmed that the kingdom’s energy sector purchases from Japan reached nearly 12 billion Saudi riyals ($3.2 billion) in the past five years.
The minister also suggested abundant opportunities for cooperation between the two countries in the petrochemicals sector.
Last April, a low-carbon ammonia shipment from Saudi Arabia, independently certified, arrived in Japan for use in power generation. The ammonia, produced by Sabic Agri-Nutrients using feedstock from Saudi Aramco, the top crude exporter, represented a “milestone” in clean energy solutions, and was the result of effective cooperation between entities in Saudi Arabia and Japan, Prince Abdulaziz highlighted.
Ammonia, a nitrogen and hydrogen compound, can serve as a low-carbon fuel across industrial applications, including transport, power generation, and industries such as steel, cement, and fertiliser production.
Power plants could potentially utilise 100 million tonnes of low-carbon ammonia as feedstock by 2050, as per Wood Mackenzie. Aramco intends to produce up to 11 million tonnes of blue ammonia per year by 2030, while currently working on developing carbon capture and hydrogen capabilities.
This past Sunday, Saudi Arabia and Japan bolstered their strong trade ties by exchanging 26 pre-signed economic agreements at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Jeddah. The agreements spanned healthcare, clean energy, mining, and digital innovation sectors.
This exchange marked the evolving bilateral relationship, led by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who arrived in Jeddah last Saturday to endorse Japan’s major local companies and discover more opportunities for collaboration with the kingdom.
Saudi Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih hailed the Japanese delegation to the kingdom, calling for a mutually beneficial economic partnership.
Al-Falih highlighted that the kingdom’s GDP had grown remarkably since the launch of the Saudi Vision 2030 seven years prior.
“Our GDP is now 66% higher than when we launched Vision 2030. Our foreign direct investment has also increased significantly by 120%,” he stated.
The Japanese delegation’s visit is part of their tour in the Middle East by the Japanese government’s Economic Partnership Mission to strengthen Japan’s economic ties with the region’s countries.
Image Credit: The official Saudi Press Agency
With obesity rates rising at an alarming rate in Kuwait, especially among 18 to 29-year-olds, early intervention to tackle the Kubwait’s obesity problem is becoming increasingly urgent, according to the country’s Ministry of Health. The chief of the Health Enhancement Administration at the Ministry, Dr Abeer Al-Bahouh, recently revealed to the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) that Kuwait holds the unenviable top spot for obesity in the Arab World. The country reports that 77 percent of its population is overweight and has an obesity rate exceeding 40 percent.
In a world grappling with obesity, current projections estimate that by 2035, around four billion people will be overweight. This figure is significantly higher than the 2.6 billion reported in 2020. Dr Al-Bahouh warns that obesity prevalence among children and teenagers is likely to be particularly high, and could double by 2035, reaching 20 percent among boys and 18 percent among girls globally.
The health risks associated with obesity are well-documented, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and it is currently the fifth leading cause of death worldwide. Obesity’s detrimental impact extends to children’s health as well, leading to issues such as breathing difficulties, fatigue, snoring, joint pain, and delayed puberty.
The causes of obesity are multifactorial, with poor dietary habits, a sedentary lifestyle, genetic factors, gut flora, and Cushing’s syndrome among the contributing factors. Local and World Health Organization (WHO) statistics indicate that one in five adults in the Gulf are severely obese. The adult obesity rate in Kuwait is predicted to reach 52 percent by 2035.
Dr Al-Bahouh advocates for obesity interventions to start in childhood, with education on healthy eating habits, encouraging physical activity, providing psychiatric therapy sessions, and treating health issues that may lead to obesity. While stomach and intestine surgeries are potential weight loss solutions, they are only suitable for teenagers, not children, and are supplementary to a healthy diet and exercise regime.
Dr Al-Bahouh emphasises the pivotal role of parents in monitoring their children’s diet, swapping fast foods and fizzy drinks for healthier alternatives like fruits, vegetables, wholegrain products, water, natural juices, and low-fat milk. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule, spending time together as a family, and reducing time spent on screen-based activities like video games and television are also crucial.
She further highlights the need for the Ministry of Health to develop and implement strategies to combat obesity, including making physical education compulsory in schools. Over the next five years, in collaboration with other bodies, the administration plans to launch campaigns to limit obesity.
A report by Forbes magazine in 2007 listed Kuwait as the eighth fattest country in the world, with 74.2% of its population having an unhealthy weight. This health issue has been compounded by a high prevalence of diabetes. By 2035, it’s feared that 52 percent of adults in Kuwait will be obese, significantly raising the risk of related health issues.
While efforts to raise awareness and implement healthier habits are underway, obesity and its related health implications continue to be a grave concern for Kuwait. The country’s health challenges are further exacerbated by the increase in diabetes rates, poor dietary habits, a lack of physical activity, and high obesity rates.
Global trends in malnutrition, including a rapid rise in overweight and obesity rates, persist, despite increasing numbers facing hunger and undernourishment. Current predictions suggest that the global medical costs related to obesity could exceed US$1 trillion by 2030.
The correlation between obesity and chronic non-communicable diseases (NCD), such as cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes, points to an urgent need for intervention. Dr Al-Bahouh asserts that over 70 percent of deaths in Kuwait are linked to these conditions, emphasizing the dire necessity for effective action to curb obesity.
Turkey has dramatically increased its fuel taxes by nearly 200% in an effort to recover expenses related to pre-election giveaways and the rebuilding costs stemming from a catastrophic earthquake in February. The taxes have been raised to TL7.53 per litre on regular petrol, and there has also been a noticeable increase on diesel and other petroleum products.
The significant tax hike, which has resulted in a 20% increase in fuel prices, is the latest in a series of measures introduced by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan following his re-election on 28th May. The government has also increased Value Added Tax (VAT) on a vast range of goods and services. These fiscal policies have come at a challenging time for Turkish citizens, who have been grappling with rampant inflation and a substantial depreciation of the lira, which has fallen nearly 30% against the US dollar this year alone.
President Erdoğan is set to embark on a diplomatic tour to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates later this week, with the intention of attracting new investments from these Gulf nations.
Economic analysts have expressed concerns that the weakened lira, coupled with the new taxes, might trigger a resurgence in inflation, which fell to 38.2% in June from an alarming peak of 85.5% in October 2022. The new fiscal approach, which is part of a comprehensive plan by finance minister Mehmet Şimşek to rectify Turkey’s economic trajectory, arrives after a tumultuous period of economic instability brought on by the government’s unconventional policies.
Prior to the May elections, Erdoğan embarked on a massive spending spree, offering a month of free natural gas and increases in public sector wages and pensions. Additionally, the aftermath of February’s earthquake has left Turkey with a reconstruction bill of up to $100 billion. These financial challenges have led economists to predict a significant rise in Turkey’s government budget deficit, estimated to reach 4.4% of GDP this year, a stark increase from just 0.9% in 2022.
Şimşek’s plan also includes cooling domestic demand, which many argue has become excessively high following years of lenient fiscal and monetary policy. The overheated economy has led to a surge in imports, far outpacing exports, which has resulted in a record current account deficit of $37.7 billion in just the first five months of this year. The higher prices resulting from increased taxes could potentially dampen demand for fuel, thus reducing imports, since Turkey is a major energy importer.
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A significant agreement has been finalised in Tunis on Sunday between the European Union and Tunisia, as announced by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The purpose of the “new partnership” is to bolster trade and regulate migration from the North African country to Europe.
The comprehensive package of measures, as articulated by von der Leyen, will be swiftly implemented. Details of the preliminary agreement will be disclosed following its presentation to the European Council and Parliament, according to an EU commission representative.
While the press was excluded from the signing event at the Carthage palace, a live stream was facilitated by the EU Commission and the Tunisian presidency. In attendance were Italian and Dutch prime ministers, Giorgia Meloni and Mark Rutte respectively. Their presence forms part of a financial aid commitment previously announced by von der Leyen during her visit to Tunis in June.
The partnership is expected to centre around five key areas, including enhanced economic and trade relations, personal contact, sustainable energy partnership, and a comprehensive approach to migration.
Dutch media reported an agreement for a financial exchange between the EU and Tunisia. Last month, Tunisia was promised a €1 billion support package from the EU, €100 million of which was specifically for border security enhancements. However, the financial assistance addressing Tunisia’s economic crisis is contingent on the fulfilment of certain conditions.
Von der Leyen stressed the EU’s commitment to helping construct a resilient Tunisian economy that is more impervious to shocks and can foster growth. She noted that the EU is ready to mobilise macro-financial assistance as soon as the necessary conditions are met and provide immediate budget support.
The agreement comes at a time when Tunisia is facing difficulties securing third-party funding for its beleaguered public sector, as it has yet to reach an agreement on a pending $1.9 billion bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund.
Migration remains a contentious issue, with around 60,000 migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa in the first half of 2023, as reported by the UN International Organisation for Migration. Approximately 2,000 individuals lost their lives attempting this dangerous voyage.
While the EU maintains that the aid involves a range of economic development assistance, including infrastructure funding, observers and experts in Tunisia assert that migration is at the heart of these discussions.
Prime Ministers Rutte and von der Leyen stressed the importance of gaining control over irregular migration, for the benefit of both parties.
The agreement was signed by Oliver Varhelyi, the European commissioner for neighbourhood and enlargement, and a representative of the Tunisian Foreign Ministry, in the presence of von der Leyen, Rutte and Meloni, and Tunisian President Kais Saied.
In a significant diplomatic manoeuvre, Turkey has expressed crucial support for Ukraine’s bid to join NATO, a development greeted with caution by US President Joe Biden, citing the divisive nature of the move among alliance members amid Russia’s invasion.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced the promising result following his talks with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Istanbul, as the conflict marked its 500th day on Saturday. The Ukrainian leader lauded Turkey’s consistent support for his country’s territorial sovereignty and hoped that their united efforts could further contribute to peace and stability.
On the sidelines of the meeting, the two leaders also signed military production agreements, including the manufacture of drones. Zelenskiy extended an invitation to Turkey to partake in the massive task of rebuilding and transforming war-torn Ukraine.
Although the meeting was under the watchful eye of the Kremlin, which has been making diplomatic strides to nurture relations with Turkey, Erdogan confirmed his unwavering support for Ukraine’s NATO aspiration. “There is no doubt that Ukraine deserves membership of NATO,” he said in a joint press briefing.
Nonetheless, President Biden expressed reservations about the timing, during a CNN interview aired on Friday. He argued that the current ongoing conflict could escalate the situation, putting the entire NATO alliance in a state of war with Russia.
Next month, Erdogan is set to brief Russian President Vladimir Putin on these negotiations during his visit to Turkey – the first since the invasion began. Their discussion will encompass potential prisoner exchanges, an area where Erdogan has proven effective in the past, and the status of the Black Sea grain deal crucial to Ukraine’s exports.
As anticipation builds for the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius, leaders are expected to affirm Ukraine’s potential membership and strategize on strengthening its ties with the alliance, according to NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg. His strong words emphasised NATO’s unity and Russia’s futile aggression.
However, the path to NATO membership remains complex for Ukraine. The US national security adviser Jake Sullivan stated that further steps are required before Kyiv can be officially welcomed into the NATO fold.
As the conflict drags on, President Zelenskiy is vigorously campaigning across Europe for more powerful weapons to bolster a sluggish counteroffensive against entrenched Russian forces. Despite human rights criticism, the Ukrainian president appreciated the controversial US decision to supply banned cluster munitions, describing them as a “timely, broad, and much-needed” measure.
In other news, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials reported significant progress inspecting several areas of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine. Contrary to previous reports of explosives, the IAEA found no such indications, though they were unable to visit the facility’s rooftops, where alleged explosive devices were suspected. Both Ukraine and Russia continue to exchange accusations about potential threats to Europe’s largest nuclear plant.
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A plea for international backing in the pursuit of justice for victims of the devastating 2020 Beirut port explosion has been renewed by Lebanon’s largest parliamentary party, the Lebanese Forces, and the family members of those who perished in the catastrophe.
The appeal surfaces less than a month before the tragic incident’s third anniversary. The massive explosion, triggered by a sizeable stockpile of ammonium nitrate that had been stored at the port for years, claimed the lives of over 220 people, inflicted injuries on thousands, and wreaked extensive damage across the Lebanese capital. It arrives a week ahead of the European Parliament’s session dedicated to discussing the crisis in Lebanon.
The reasons for the storage of the volatile compound remain undisclosed. The inquiry into the incident has experienced several obstructions and legal hindrances, augmenting the heartache felt by those affected. The inability to hold any high-ranking official accountable, with some issuing legal objections against the lead investigator, Judge Tarek Bitar, further exacerbates the sense of injustice.
East Beirut’s Lebanese Forces MP and former deputy prime minister, Ghassan Hasbani, expressed his concerns to The National. “As is widely recognised now, justice is being delayed and derailed. A postponed justice equates to justice unserved,” he remarked.
Hasbani clarified that the intent is not to supplant the Lebanese judiciary with an international tribunal. Instead, the aim is to acquire “resolutions and commitments” from the UN Human Rights Council or the European Parliament to commission a fact-finding mission. The mission would scrutinise human rights violations and instances of justice obstruction, eventually freeing the judicial system from interference and facilitating a path towards accountability.
The poignant plea of Mireille Khoury, who tragically lost her son Elias to the blast and whose daughter Nour suffered serious injuries, resonated at an event rallying for justice. She appealed to the humanity of the members of the UN Human Rights Council, reminding them of the continual agony endured by parents like her. “Can you fathom our living conditions, our constant state of despair? It’s obvious in Lebanon that justice cannot be achieved,” she lamented.
The Lebanese judiciary system, heavily politicised, has been critiqued by 38 countries earlier this year. A joint statement delivered by Australia at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva expressed worries about the unresolved investigation, which they perceived as being hindered by systemic obstruction, interference and intimidation.
Judge Bitar, having reopened the case in January, charged various senior politicians, judiciary and security personnel in connection with the explosion. However, he was soon notified by Lebanon’s top prosecutor that the investigation was still on hold, and was himself charged with rebelling against the judiciary.
The horrific explosion is seen as an indication of the persistent mismanagement and corruption in Lebanon, factors that have contributed to an overwhelming economic breakdown.
The Lebanese Forces, a Christian-led party that originated from a civil war militia, superseded their conventional rival, the Free Patriotic Movement, to become the largest party in the 128-seat parliament following the 2022 legislative elections. However, with no faction holding a majority in the deeply divided parliament, the quest for justice remains arduous.
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The Syrian pound has sunk to an unprecedented low, hovering close to 10,000 against the dollar, fuelling concerns over skyrocketing inflation in the conflict-ridden nation.
The exchange rate plunged to 9,750 liras to the dollar before a slight recovery on Friday morning, as reported by the currency-tracking website “Syria Pound Today”. This drastic devaluation of the pound, triggered by prolonged conflict, Western sanctions and a financial meltdown in Lebanon, presents a significant escalation in Syria’s economic crisis.
Since late 2022, the lira has undergone significant depreciation, leading the Central Bank of Syria to adjust the official exchange rate in February in an attempt to narrow the disparity with the black market rates.
Prior to the outbreak of the civil war in 2011, the lira was trading at approximately 46 against the dollar. In a bid to manage the economic crisis, the central bank devalued the lira against major currencies on Thursday by about 200 liras per dollar and 205.31 liras against the euro.
The bank said the move aimed to facilitate cash exchanges and the purchase of foreign transfers, whether sourced from Syrian expatriates or international transfer networks.
Ali Al Shami, a financial analyst in Damascus, linked the spike in the dollar and euro to a slump in remittance values during the Muslim holiday of Eid Al Adha. He told Al Araby Al Jadeed that money flowing into Syria from expatriate remittances had halved compared to three months prior, during Eid Al Fitr.
The depreciating lira and rising dollar prices have resulted in a sharp decline in average wages in government-held regions, falling to approximately $10 per month. Meanwhile, commodity prices have soared, including significant increases in oil derivatives.
In response to the rising costs, Syria’s Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection has increased the price of octane 95 petrol by 1,000 Syrian pounds, making it 8,600 liras per litre, marking the third price hike in only four months.
As local media speculates about potential salary increases in the public sector, mass resignations have swept across public sector roles due to the government’s inability to raise wages. Poverty and food insecurity continue to afflict Syria at devastating levels, with the World Health Organisation estimating that 60% of the population – over 12 million people – are experiencing food insecurity.
Regions under the Syrian regime are facing a grave economic crisis, characterised by oil derivative shortages, a staggering 90% poverty rate, stalled production and industry, and limited electricity availability.
The latest shock to the Syrian economy follows the introduction of new 5,000-lira banknotes into circulation on 20 June by the central bank.
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In a shocking move, the Iraqi government announced a prohibition on conducting personal and business transactions in US dollars last Sunday, causing a stir amongst those seeking to make substantial purchases. This development symbolises a potential shift in the Middle East’s currency preference, which has, for decades, favoured the US dollar.
Big-ticket purchases such as homes and cars have traditionally been made using dollars in Iraq, owing to the continual depreciation of the dinar. However, stringent regulations from US authorities on the influx of dollars, ostensibly driven by concerns over illicit funds reaching sanctioned Iran, have led to significant volatility in the value of the Iraqi dinar. This dollar drought was the catalyst for Iraq’s recent embargo on dollar transactions.
Iraq isn’t alone in its reconsideration of the dollar’s dominance. Saudi Arabia has expressed openness to trading oil in currencies other than the dollar, including the euro and the yuan, while the United Arab Emirates is considering transactions with India using the Indian rupee.
On a broader scale, several Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Algeria, and Bahrain, have expressed interest in joining the BRICS alliance — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — which plans to discuss the introduction of a new currency for cross-border trade at an upcoming meeting in June.
While these developments have triggered alarmist headlines around the world, many experts believe that the transition away from the US dollar is a slower process than the media portrays, particularly in the Middle East. Although statements hinting at a potential shift have been made by several Middle East nations, experts, including Hasan Alhasan of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, emphasise that a de-pegging of Middle Eastern currencies from the US dollar would be the real indication of a significant shift.
Daniel McDowell, a political science professor at Syracuse University, suggests that while the dollar’s supremacy may eventually wane, much of the current rhetoric is symbolic and the imminent change is likely to be marginal and slow. He further noted that the threats to use other currencies by Middle Eastern countries are likely influenced by the conflict in Ukraine and the use of financial sanctions.
Echoing this sentiment, Maria Demertzis, a senior fellow at Bruegel, an economic think tank, stated that the shift away from the US dollar might continue as long as sanctions persist. However, she underscored the complexity of replacing the settlement infrastructure underpinned by the dollar-driven system, hinting at an intricate and drawn-out process.
With the US and Europe’s recent actions of freezing Russian central bank reserve assets, central banks have been transformed into weapons, potentially causing harm to the international financial system. In response, countries in the Middle East are reportedly preparing for a more multipolar global world, with a keen interest in manoeuvring within and outside dollarised zones.
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In light of an escalating pattern of intense heat waves, the Middle East is bracing for an alarming increase in heat-related deaths. Despite existing gaps in public health planning, experts suggest that the region’s adaptability to extreme heat could offer invaluable insights for other parts of the globe.
On the occasion when Iraq’s temperatures threaten to exceed a searing 50 degrees Celsius, locals are granted a holiday and advised to remain indoors, according to Kholoud al-Amiry, founder of a Baghdad-based network for female journalists focusing on climate change. She noted, however, that local adaptation is largely self-driven due to perceived governmental neglect.
This neglect is especially concerning given the susceptibility of the Middle East’s population to extreme heat. According to recent research in Nature Sustainability, the majority of Middle Eastern inhabitants could face exposure to extreme heat by 2050 if global temperatures exceed a 1.5 degrees Celsius rise over the next 50 years.
Another paper published in The Lancet earlier this year warned that heat-related deaths in the Middle East and North Africa could rise from the current average of about two per 100,000 people annually to approximately 123 per 100,000 in the final two decades of the century. This equates to a likely 138,000 heat-related fatalities every year in Iraq alone by 2100.
These studies also highlighted the increased vulnerability of the ageing population and city dwellers to the deleterious effects of heat. By 2100, older people will outnumber the young in the region, and by the 2050s, nearly 70% of the population is expected to reside in major cities. Cities are particularly prone to high temperatures due to the urban heat island effect, caused by denser buildings, heat-absorbing asphalt streets, and a lack of greenery.
Eleni Myrivili, the global chief heat officer for UN Habitat, highlighted the urgent need for governments to increase awareness, preparedness, and resilience against this threat.
Despite most Middle Eastern countries passing laws on sustainable development and environmental protection, a comprehensive plan to address the long-term health effects of climate change remains elusive. This deficiency is especially evident in the lack of heat action plans, which could include government-run cooling centres, educational campaigns about heat safety, and urban tree planting initiatives.
The wealth divide in the region also influences adaptive capabilities. For instance, air conditioning can shield vulnerable populations in wealthier nations, such as the Gulf states, but it is not a feasible solution in poorer nations or for those unable to afford it.
However, there is also potential to learn from the region’s long history of adapting to high temperatures. Sylvia Bergh, a professor at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, highlighted the Middle East’s centuries-old strategies for dealing with water scarcity and hot climate, including “wind catcher” towers, irrigation tunnels, and screens instead of walls.
Moving forward, Myrivili and Bergh both believe local and urban authorities have a key role to play in raising awareness, increasing preparedness, and redesigning urban environments.
Researchers of The Lancet’s recent study also proposed that limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels could prevent over 80% of the projected heat-related deaths in the Middle East. This simpler, yet daunting proposition underscores the critical need for international cooperation in addressing climate change.
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Underneath the sheen of an unprecedented collaboration between Aston Martin, the preferred automaker of fictional British spy James Bond, and Californian electric vehicle prodigy, Lucid Motors, lies a compelling subplot—the omnipresent hand of Saudi Arabia, a leading exporter of oil and gas on the planet.
Last month’s partnership, far from being merely an alliance of tradition and innovation, also features the Public Investment Fund (PIF)—Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. While the PIF’s role in channelling immense quantities of fossil fuel-generated wealth into projects and enterprises worldwide is well-known, its significant stakes in both Aston Martin and Lucid Motors might raise a few eyebrows.
Estimated to oversee assets exceeding £500 billion, the PIF is chaired by Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler and Prime Minister, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), a scion of the Al Saud dynasty. The PIF holds an 18% stake in Aston Martin, valued at approximately £450 million, exemplifying the ultra-conservative kingdom’s ambition to extend its economic reach in Britain, akin to the approaches of other Gulf countries such as Qatar.
Beyond Aston Martin, the PIF’s portfolio also comprises holdings in Carnival, a renowned cruise ship company, and several controversial forays into the realm of sports. In 2021, it attracted global attention following its purchase of Premier League football team Newcastle United from the former owner, retail tycoon Mike Ashley. Despite the charges of “sportswashing” surrounding this takeover—due to allegations of regimes with dubious human rights records leveraging professional sports to improve their images—supporters compared the backlash to the response to similar acquisitions by other Middle Eastern entities.
Moreover, the kingdom’s growing clout in the sports sector was further underscored last month amidst uproar over a proposed merger between the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour and the US PGA Tour. Simultaneously, Saudi Arabia has committed to a ten-year Formula One hosting deal, with speculation also swirling about its plans to host the 2030 football World Cup.
The dive into professional sports is perceived by many as Saudi Arabia’s attempt to ‘cleanse’ its international reputation, particularly given its notorious human rights record and stringent laws, which include capital punishment for same-sex activity and severely restricted women’s rights.
“The Saudi authorities’ use of their sovereign wealth fund reveals that it is not merely a vehicle for state investment—it’s also a tool for state-level image management,” Peter Frankental, Economic Affairs Director at Amnesty International UK, noted. He added that Saudi’s acquisition of Newcastle United and partnership with Aston Martin could be seen as another step in this ‘sportswashing’ direction.
However, opponents of Saudi Arabia’s growing influence must reckon with one undeniable truth: the PIF’s extensive resources offer the potential to fund the kind of long-term investments that the UK sorely requires. Infrastructure endeavours such as the Sizewell C nuclear power plant are expected to be financed in part by sovereign wealth funds.
The future influx of Saudi investment seems unlikely to slow down, particularly given the boon of recent global oil price surges following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The British Government recognises Saudi Arabia as its largest trading partner in the Middle East. With shared interests and a potential free-trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council on the horizon, the UK aims to stimulate its economy, bolster employment, and increase wages.
Additionally, private Saudi investors, like their peers in countries such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, are increasingly captivated by the UK’s profitable property market. The ninth son of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Turki bin Salman Al Saud, reportedly owns around 20 properties in London via Moncrieff Holdings, a firm headquartered in the British Virgin Islands.
Image Credit: U.S. Department of State
An Israeli-Russian academic, who disappeared in Iraq earlier this year, has reportedly been captured by an Iraqi Shia militia, announced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.
Elizabeth Tsurkov, a doctoral candidate at the distinguished Princeton University, USA, vanished during a research mission in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. The Israeli authorities have indicated that Kataib Hezbollah, an influential Iraqi Shia militia with strong links to Iran, is behind her detainment. The militia’s stipulations for her release remain undisclosed.
Israel firmly places the onus of Ms Tsurkov’s welfare on Iraq, stating it to be accountable for her safety. “We hold Iraq responsible for her safety and well-being,” said a spokesperson for Mr Netanyahu’s office.
The Shia militia in question, Kataib Hezbollah, also known as Brigades of the Party of God, is bolstered by financial and military assistance from Iran. Since 2009, the United States has labelled the group as a terrorist organisation.
The Israeli government has refrained from divulging further details, leaving the matter to be dealt with by the “relevant parties”, citing concerns for Ms Tsurkov’s “security and well-being”.
Iraq and Israel share a turbulent history and lack formal diplomatic ties. Iraq’s parliament outlawed any attempts to normalise relations with Israel just last year, a country it has yet to officially acknowledge.
The Washington Post quoted a statement from Ms Tsurkov’s family, in which they too held “the Iraqi government as directly responsible for her safety”. The scholar entered Iraq on her Russian passport, as confirmed by Mr Netanyahu’s office.
According to the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy, a Washington-based think tank where Ms Tsurkov holds a fellowship, she last reached out to them in March. It was later that they discovered her abduction by a “pro-Iranian militia” from independent sources.
The Institute noted it resisted the urge to publicise her disappearance due to the family’s preferences and in the hopes of a prompt resolution.
Ms Tsurkov’s research primarily centres around the Levant, a geographical term encompassing present-day Israel, Syria, among other regions, and focuses on “the Syrian uprising and civil war”.
New Lines also highlighted that Ms Tsurkov’s outspoken criticism of Israel, Iran, and Russia – the trio likely to be instrumental in negotiating her release – further complicates the situation. The think tank stressed the need for the United States’ involvement, given Ms Tsurkov’s affiliation with New Lines and Princeton.
Princeton expressed grave concern via a statement posted on Twitter. The university declared, “We are deeply concerned for her safety and well-being, and we are eager for her to be able to rejoin her family and resume her studies.”
As of now, no official comments have been made by the United States, Russia, Iran, or Iraq.
Image Credit: Elizabeth Tsurkov / Twitter
A Libyan court, in an unprecedented move, has issued severe prison sentences to three individuals charged with human trafficking. This represents a milestone judgement in a North African state notorious for the systemic maltreatment of migrants.
The defendants were found guilty of human trafficking, the unlawful detention and torture of migrants, and the extortion of relatives for their release by the Criminal Court of Tripoli. This was according to an announcement released on Friday by the office of the country’s chief prosecutor.
The court handed down a life sentence to one of the convicted individuals, while the remaining two have each been sentenced to twenty years in prison, as per the statement.
Further specifics regarding the identities or nationalities of the convicted were not included in the statement. On Saturday, no comments were available from the General Prosecutor al-Sediq al-Sourr.
Libya has been in a state of turmoil since the NATO-supported uprising in 2011 that led to the overthrow and subsequent death of longstanding dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Since then, Libya has become a prominent transit hub for migrants hoping to find a better life in Europe.
Human traffickers have exploited Libya’s instability and used the country’s extensive border with six nations to smuggle migrants. In desperation, these individuals are often crammed into inadequately equipped rubber boats and other vessels for hazardous journeys via the Central Mediterranean Sea route.
For many years, the United Nations and various human rights organisations have condemned the dreadful conditions faced by migrants trafficked and smuggled across the Mediterranean.
In March, human rights experts backed by the United Nations suggested there was evidence that crimes against humanity had been perpetrated against Libyans and migrants within the country, including women being coerced into sexual slavery.
Image Credit: AP / Joan Mateu Parra
China is heightening its presence in the Middle East, demonstrating a renewed interest in assisting the resolution as a mediator in Yemen’s ongoing crisis. An increased focus on diplomatic engagement underpins China’s strategy, highlighting its emergent importance in regional affairs.
On Friday, 7 July, the United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, met with Zhai Jun, China’s Special Envoy for the Middle East. The officials engaged in discussions regarding “ways to strengthen international support for mediation,” a measure currently led by the UN in a bid to end the war that has ravaged Yemen. While this diplomatic dialogue didn’t produce any immediate, substantial announcements, it underscored China’s rising role in the Middle East, extending to the complex Yemen issue.
China’s approach has so far remained relatively subdued, limiting itself to diplomatic meetings such as this, and the welcoming of Yemen’s President in Beijing last December. Despite the absence of explicit declarations or the orchestration of highly publicised summits, it is apparent that Chinese diplomacy is quietly, but increasingly, becoming a force in the Middle East.
China has considerable potential to influence the situation in Yemen. Prior to the war, it was the country’s second-largest trading partner. In 2021, its imports from Yemen still reached $411 million, primarily in oil and copper. Though Beijing officially maintains no relations with the non-state armed groups in the country, it is unlikely that such a high level of trade could be sustained solely with the exiled government. This suggests that China may be engaging commercially with various Yemeni factions.
Beijing is also playing a strategic geopolitical card. Anticipating a US disengagement from the region, China has increased its investment and involvement. It has notably sponsored the Saudi-Iran reconciliation and strengthened its ties with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Iran are the main sponsors of the conflicting groups in Yemen. These connections place China in a strong position to act as a mediator in Yemen, underscoring its ever-growing influence in the Middle East.
Image Credit: AFP – JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD
In an official statement on Sunday, the United States Central Command confirmed the elimination of a high-profile ISIS leader, Usamah al-Muhajir, in Eastern Syria. The targeted strike, which occurred on July 7, reflects America’s relentless commitment to disrupting ISIS operations throughout the region.
The Central Command report detailed that the MQ-9 drones, used in the fatal airstrike on the terrorist leader, had earlier experienced almost two hours of harassment by Russian aircraft. This provocation didn’t deter the U.S. from successfully executing its mission, demonstrating a steadfast resolve despite any foreign interference.
“The operation demonstrates our unwavering commitment to the defeat of ISIS across the region,” said Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, Commander of U.S. Central Command, after the successful operation. He also emphasized, “ISIS remains a serious threat, not only to the region but beyond. Our efforts to destabilize their operations are crucial for global security.”
The airstrike was conducted without civilian casualties, as confirmed by the U.S. government. However, they are currently investigating reports of a single civilian injury associated with the strike.
This operation forms part of the U.S. strategic approach to “disrupt and degrade” the capabilities of ISIS to plan and carry out terror attacks. It further underpins a broader international effort to curb the rise of the terror group, known for its brutalities across Syria and Iraq.
This operation comes in the wake of the successful elimination of two prominent ISIS leaders last year. Abu al Hassan al Hashimi al Qurayshi, one of these leaders, met his end as the terror group was mounting a resurgence. According to Abu Omar al Muhajer, an ISIS spokesman, Qurayshi “died fighting the enemies of God, killing some of them before being killed like a man on the battlefield.” In July 2021, the U.S. Central Command said Maher al-Agal, one of the top five leaders of the militant group had been killed in a drone strike in northwesten Syria and a close associate of his was seriously injured.
The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) is one of eleven unified commands in the United States Department of Defense. Established in 1983, it is responsible for directing operations in the Middle East and parts of Central Asia.
The command has a broad mandate that includes military and peacekeeping operations, security cooperation, and humanitarian assistance efforts. This includes operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and against the ISIS terror group.
Led by General Michael “Erik” Kurilla, CENTCOM plays a vital role in America’s efforts to maintain global security and stability, particularly in regions that have been central to U.S. strategic interests for many years.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File
In a move highlighting the country’s ongoing restriction of press freedoms, Jordan has shut down access to the satirical website Al-Hudood, which recently poked fun at the kingdom’s latest royal wedding. Since the 5th of July, the site, which translates to “The Boundaries” or “The Limits” in Arabic, has been unreachable within Jordan’s borders.
While no official reason has been given by Amman, the pan-Arab site Raseef22 has noted that Al-Hudood’s most recent content on Jordan involved humorous takes on the nuptials of Crown Prince Hussein, son of King Abdullah, and Saudi Rajwa Al-Saif, held on the 1st of June.
In a recent satirical post, the site suggested that Jordanian authorities were planning to launch a campaign encouraging all citizens, including children, to visibly express their joy over the royal wedding or face potential fines.
Another post that possibly provoked the monarchy was a cartoon by a Bahraini artist, which depicted locals throwing pieces of their clothing at the newlyweds – a visual metaphor emphasising the stark contrast between the royal grandeur and the economic hardship of the populace.
Al-Hudood, founded in 2013 by Jordanian-Palestinian journalist Issam Ouraiqat and colleagues, originally focused on satirising Jordan’s domestic affairs but swiftly expanded its scope to cover the wider Arab world. It remains accessible outside of Jordan and frequently features work from regional cartoonists and caricaturists.
Described by Raseef22 as “a platform for Arab creativity offering satirical content and using comedy to shed light on sensitive issues in the Middle East,” Al-Hudood tackles topics ranging from politics and economics to societal norms and freedoms.
In a statement, Al-Hudood voiced concern over this action by the Jordanian government, reminiscing about the times when the kingdom allowed “a certain degree of freedom and satire.” In a pointed reminder, they referenced King Abdullah and his wife, Queen Rania’s participation in a march in Paris for the victims of the 2015 attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Over the past decade, Jordanian authorities have intensified their control over the press and the internet, echoing tactics employed by other authoritarian regimes in the region. This includes blocking websites and persecuting journalists. According to the Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, Jordan ranks at 146th place out of 180 countries.
Image Credit: Al-Hudood
The much-loved Mohammed V Stadium in Casablanca , Morocco, finds itself in the limelight as concerns about its future rise amidst plans to construct a new stadium 40km away from the city. Fans of the two local clubs are apprehensive that the historic venue might close down due to safety reasons.
Officially known as the Mohammed V Stadium, fans endearingly call it the “Donor,” referencing the “Stade d’honneur” (stadium of honour, in French), a name given to it at Morocco’s independence. Launched in 1955 in what was then the outskirts of Casablanca, today the bustling Maarif district, this 45,000-seat structure is an architectural marvel amidst its modern neighbouring buildings.
Its imposing reinforced concrete structure, the work of French architect Achille Dangleterre, is a quintessential example of the Brutalist movement. With strong ties to the city’s two clubs, Raja and Wydad, the stadium is home to at least two heated derbies per season, hailed by specialist press as among the world’s most intense football rivalries. Fans see the stadium as an integral part of Casablanca’s identity and its football culture.
However, the recently confirmed location for the new ‘great stadium of Casablanca’ in Benslimane, approximately 40km from the economic capital, has sparked confusion among fans. Social media quickly buzzed with criticism, questioning the logic of building a new stadium so far from the city.
The planned 93,000-seat project has reopened ongoing debates about the future of Mohammed V Stadium. Abdullah Abaakil, adviser for the Maarif district and city council member for the Unified Socialist Party (PSU), states, “The idea of moving the stadium is not new. But if it ends up closed and handed over to property developers, especially once the new stadium is built, it would be baffling. For the residents of popular neighbourhoods, it’s a source of integration, of which we have few in Casablanca.”
The proposal for a new stadium has been in discussion intermittently since 2008. The recent announcement came as Mohammed V underwent another round of renovations, and following the death of a female fan near the stadium on 29th April while attending a match. Official reports attribute her death to a crush caused by ticketless fans, but videos and testimonies implicate the police’s use of water cannons that day.
Casablanca Events & Animation, the company charged with managing the stadium, has been repeatedly accused of poor handling. After the events of 29th April, the company defended itself by citing the excessive number of spectators and the responsibility of clubs in deciding the number of tickets for sale.
“Matchday is a different day,” confesses Othman, 37, who spent part of his childhood living near the stadium. For residents, the hours before a game follow a set script: the area is cordoned off by the police, car movements are restricted, shops close early. Othman, who has lived in England, states emphatically, “Casablanca fans are no worse than West Ham or Millwall fans who attend their team’s matches in downtown London. The issue isn’t the location, but if a move must happen, a place within Casablanca, such as Central Quarries, should have been chosen. There is ample land available and it would have revitalised the neighbourhood.”
So far, no official announcement has been made regarding the future of the Mohammed V Stadium. Its fate hangs in the balance, held hostage by urban planning ambitions and the aspirations of Moroccan football for a modern stadium fitting of a future World Cup host.
In 2016, clashes within the stadium led to the death of two fans. For the next two years, ultra-supporters were banned from the stadium. In 2018, the press was intrigued by the chants echoed in its stands, notably the most famous, F’bladi Dalmouni (“I suffered from injustice in my country”), protesting a lack of freedom.
The Mohammed V Stadium holds a significant place in Casablanca’s urban and football heritage. For many, its location, history, and architecture make it a monument to be preserved at all costs. As the debate about its future continues, what is certain is that whatever decision is made will profoundly affect the lives of local football fans and the city’s identity.
As the country prepares to host the 2030 World Cup, Moroccan authorities face a challenging task in balancing the need for modern football infrastructure with preserving the deep-rooted cultural identity embedded in the nation’s football history.
Image Caption: Mustapha Ennaimi / Flickr
Secretary Clinton and First Lady Obama With 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman. Image credit: United States government work
Despite being the bearers of social progress and nurturers of the family, women have been largely overshadowed in Middle Eastern politics, sidelined by patriarchal norms and cultural mores. However, recent years have seen a change, however gradual.
For most of the 20th century, women in the Middle East faced overwhelming barriers to their political participation. The political scene was exclusively male, with women rarely stepping into the limelight. But there were notable exceptions, such as Yemen’s Tawakkol Karman, the first Arab woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her instrumental role in the Arab Spring.
In the 21st century, we’ve seen significant changes. Take the example of the United Arab Emirates, where, as of 2022, women constituted 50% of the Federal National Council. Another beacon of progress is Tunisia, where women hold around 31% of the parliamentary seats, an achievement unparalleled in the Arab world. These women are breaking barriers and reinforcing that a woman’s place can, and should, be in the corridors of power, alongside men.
However, the situation is far from perfect. Despite these commendable advances, several hurdles remain. Deep-rooted social norms, persistent gender bias and restrictive laws still create a daunting landscape for women. Saudi Arabia, for example, only allowed women to drive in 2018 and still requires male guardianship for women to make critical life decisions. In Iran, women can be elected to parliament but cannot run for president.
External factors have added another layer of complexity to the issue. The civil war in Syria, the conflict in Yemen and the Afghan refugee crisis, to name but a few, have pushed the agenda of women’s political rights to the sidelines, seen as a luxury in the face of survival.
The road to gender equality in Middle Eastern politics remains winding and steep, but it’s a journey worth taking. Policies that promote gender equality, such as Jordan’s gender quota system, which reserves a certain number of parliamentary seats for women, need to be introduced and promoted. International agencies and NGOs can provide support, such as UN Women’s political empowerment programmes in Palestine and Iraq. Education, especially for young girls, must be a priority. The example of Malala Yousafzai and her advocacy for girls’ education in Pakistan is a shining beacon of what can be achieved.
Several practical measures could help increase the representation of women in Middle Eastern politics. The public and private sectors could create programmes to mentor and develop future female leaders. These initiatives would provide the necessary skills, resources and networks to break into the political sphere. Governments should also actively promote and enforce gender equality in education, thereby removing one of the main barriers to women’s political participation. At the same time, the media could play a key role by highlighting successful women in politics, thereby challenging stereotypes and providing positive role models. There is also a need to promote local, regional and international partnerships that focus on increasing women’s political representation. This could include collaboration between governments, NGOs, academic institutions and community organisations to share best practices and promote policy change. Finally, the role of men as allies cannot be overemphasised; they should be encouraged to support gender equality initiatives, including in politics, for the benefit of society as a whole.
Increasing women’s participation in politics will have far-reaching effects. It promises a future where women can contribute to decision-making, propose innovative solutions and better represent half the population. We need look no further than the leadership of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during the COVID-19 pandemic to see the effectiveness of female leadership.
The full participation of women in politics in the Middle East is not something that can be achieved overnight. Although progress has been made, there are still mountains to climb. But with determination, supportive policies and international cooperation, the day will undoubtedly come when women play an equal role in shaping the political destiny of the Middle East. The seeds of change have been sown; now it’s time to nurture them to fruition.
A significant step toward a potential trial unfolded on Tuesday as Paris’ Court of Appeal endorsed the seizure of assets attributed to the influential Governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon, Riad Salameh, amid suspicions of fraudulent acquisition.
The legal difficulties are intensifying for the Lebanese banking figurehead, as the Parisian court has validated a dozen seizures on Salameh’s wealth, believed to have been obtained illegally. Sources close to the case disclosed that the court upheld the validity of the seizures targeting Salameh’s real estate and bank holdings across Europe; Salameh has led the Lebanese Central Bank since 1993.
Governor Salameh’s team had contested a series of seizures by France, valuing tens of millions of Euros: apartments in Paris’ 16th district, on the Champs-Élysées, in the UK, Belgium, and numerous bank accounts.
The wealth is believed to have been secured through a sophisticated financial scheme and extensive embezzlement of public funds, a subject under investigation by various European authorities, alongside an enquiry in Lebanon.
“The confirmation of these seizures erodes Salameh’s defence while reinforcing an already substantial legal process. This is a certain advancement,” rejoiced William Bourdon and Vincent Brengarth, lawyers representing the Sherpa Association and the Collective of Victims of Fraudulent and Criminal Practices in Lebanon (CPVCL), the plaintiffs.
Reacting to the court’s decision, Pierre-Olivier Sur, Salameh’s lawyer, stated, “This is a stage in the process. Following these charges, there will be acts of discharge and favourable decisions. We are filing an appeal.”
The stakes were significant: the Attorney General of the Court of Appeal had called for confirmation of the seizures, fearing that if these were annulled, France would lose all prospects of confiscation of these assets in the event of a conviction.
International Arrest Warrant Following Salameh’s no-show at a summons from French justice on 16th May, an international arrest warrant was issued for him by the financial examining magistrate handling this case.
Yet, as Lebanon refuses to extradite its nationals and adjudicates them on its soil if they are convicted abroad, it is unlikely that Salameh will be present at a potential trial in France.
Upon receiving Interpol’s red notice based on this arrest warrant, Lebanese justice has barred Salameh from leaving the ‘Land of the Cedars’ and confiscated his two Lebanese and French passports.
Since the start of the year, European judges, including a French magistrate, have thrice visited Lebanon to question Salameh, and his close acquaintances, including his brother, Raja Salameh.
Salameh, who is closely tied to his country’s political class battling a severe monetary crisis since 2019, continues to serve as the head of the Central Bank and denounced “baseless” allegations in May. His term is due to end in July.
Investigations began in France following complaints by the Sherpa Association and the Collective of Victims of Fraudulent and Criminal Practices in Lebanon, established by savers swindled during the country’s crisis since 2019.
Following a preliminary investigation, the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) opened a judicial inquiry for organised money laundering and conspiracy to commit a crime on 2 July 2021.
Besides Salameh, at least three other people are implicated in the French judicial information: Anna K., a confidante of Salameh suspected of being one of his proxies in France;
Image Credit: Tachfine Oumlil on Wikimedia
Iran is anticipated to secure membership of Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO), an influential regional entity, next week. This assertion comes from Sergey Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of Russia, and is expected to bring Iran into closer cooperation with countries such as China, Russia, and a host of Central Asian nations.
Mr Lavrov made the announcement on Friday, during the inauguration of an SCO centre in Moscow. “The full membership of Iran will be approved at the meeting of heads of state on July 4,” he stated.
Known as the globe’s largest defence and security organisation, the SCO consists of eight countries including China, Russia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia currently hold observer status.
The Russian Foreign Minister also shared insights into various geopolitical issues in a news conference. He addressed the operations of the Wagner Group in Africa, the 2018 alleged poisoning of a defector, and recent developments in Ukraine.
Mr Lavrov criticised Western countries for what he termed as “brazen pressure” applied on African and Latin American nations, coercing them into siding with sanctions against Russia due to its involvement in the Ukrainian conflict.
Discussing the role of the Wagner Group, a private military company reportedly linked to Russia, he stated that it would be the prerogative of African countries to continue their engagement with the group.
Recent tensions involving the Wagner Group escalated into a brief rebellion, which was suppressed last weekend. The outfit, commanded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, operates in several African nations including Mali and the Central African Republic.
Mr Lavrov refuted allegations of deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine by Russia’s armed forces. He pointed the finger at Ukraine, accusing them of positioning military resources near civilian areas like schools and residential buildings.
The Foreign Minister further rebutted claims by Ukraine and its Western allies that Russia was endangering the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, accusing Kyiv of spreading “pure lies.”
In addition, he mentioned recent enquiries from Russia to the UK about the location of Sergei and Yuliya Skripal, a former double agent for Britain and his daughter, who the UK alleges were poisoned by Russian agents in Salisbury in 2018 – a claim Moscow consistently denies.
Image Credit: India Prime Minister Office
Kuwait has appealed to Iran to embark on negotiations surrounding the delimitation of their maritime borders, whilst reaffirming its exclusive rights alongside Saudi Arabia over the contested Al Durra offshore gas field.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kuwait underscored, through the state news agency Kuna, that the marine zone encompassing the Al Durra field is indisputably part of Kuwait’s maritime territory. The natural resources found therein are exclusively a shared entitlement between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
“Only Kuwait and Saudi Arabia possess exclusive rights over the natural resources of the Al Durra field,” reaffirmed an anonymous ministry source.
Negotiations held in Tehran in March saw Kuwaiti and Iranian officials jointly discussing the demarcation of their maritime borders. Both parties emphasised the imperative of resolving the issue in alignment with international law.
However, Iran voiced opposition a year earlier, branding the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to cultivate the gas field as “illegal”. Iran insisted on its stake in the field, asserting that it should be included in any developmental discussions.
Situated in the neutral zone shared between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the field is forecasted to yield one billion cubic feet of gas and 84,000 barrels of condensate per day. Iran has laid claims to a portion of the field, referred to as Arash in Iran, and pledged to advance with the development of what it perceives as its own sector.
Back in 2016, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait reported instances of the Iranian navy launching attacks in the waters adjacent to the neutral zone.
Image Credit: Martin Adams on Unplash
Millions of fish have been found dead along the banks of the river in Iraq’s southern province of Maysan, prompting concerns of a serious ecological disaster. The resulting scene is a direct consequence of a significant surge in salinity and pollution, which can be traced back to the region’s chronic shortage of freshwater resources.
According to Ahmed Salih Nima, an environmental activist, the primary reason for the mass death of fish is the dwindling water supply from the Tigris River. The Tigris River has historically fed smaller rivers and canals in various parts of the province, helping to maintain a balanced aquatic ecosystem.
“As water supplies decline, the oxygen levels drop while the salinity rate increases. This shift in balance leads to a rise in pH levels, resulting in the death of millions of fish,” Nima explained. “Regular replenishment of freshwater in these rivers and canals is crucial to prevent temperature increases, oxygen depletion and salinity spikes.”
The Al Mijar Al Kabeer district and surrounding areas, previously brimming with aquatic life and a crucial source of income for locals, now starkly resemble a graveyard. Dead fish now carpet the riverbanks as far as the eye can see. This calamity has had a catastrophic impact on the local fishing community and businesses it supports, with boats now unable to ply the once-bustling waterways.
“Ninety per cent of the local population depend on fishing. With the fish now gone, this has affected everyone from fishermen to associated businesses like ice sellers, boat repairers, truck drivers, and wholesale and retail traders,” Nima noted. Not to forget the cattle breeders who have relied on these rivers for generations, and who now find themselves in dire straits.
Dr Bassim Oraibi, the General Director of Maysan Veterinary Hospital, revealed that the oxygen content in the water has fallen to a mere 25 per cent of the minimum requirement. Pollution levels have soared, with industrial waste, untreated sewage, and agricultural run-off making the water toxic, decimating aquatic life.
While the immediate disaster is severe, it’s the long-term environmental consequences that have scientists and environmentalists worried. The river’s rising salinity levels, exacerbated by drought and overuse of water resources, coupled with uncontrolled pollution, suggest the perfect storm of environmental neglect and climate change.
These findings have led to an urgent call for immediate action. Environmentalists and concerned citizens are urging the government to restore freshwater supplies and implement stringent pollution control measures. More than ever, there’s a pressing need for robust waste management systems and sustainable agricultural practices.
Once known as Mesopotamia or the Land Between the Two Rivers, Iraq finds itself in the grips of an escalating water crisis, worsened by climate change, mismanagement, and pollution. Today, the United Nations classifies it as the fifth most vulnerable country globally to climate change.
With an ongoing water crisis that has been worsening for decades, 39 per cent of the country is affected by desertification, and 54 per cent of its agricultural land has been degraded, primarily due to soil salinity.
The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Iraq’s main water sources accounting for over 90 per cent of the country’s freshwater reserves, have been on a significant decline. Construction of dams and water diversion upstream in Turkey and Iran has only added to the crisis, leaving downstream nations like Iraq in a tight spot.
Nima warns that the issue could escalate across Maysan province unless immediate and effective measures are implemented. “The environment in Maysan will drastically worsen over the next fortnight, and we’re likely to lose more fish in other areas,” he cautions.
Image Credit: NASA on Unplash
As part of an ambitious drive to transform its economy under the Vision 2030 economic plan, Saudi Arabia is set to intensify its relations with Hong Kong, viewing the city as a bridge to the ‘world-class’ digital prowess of mainland China. The minister responsible for the Kingdom’s digital infrastructure, Abdullah Al-Swaha, unveiled these plans.
The Minister of Communications and Information Technology in Saudi Arabia pointed out areas of mutual interest with Hong Kong that include fintech, technological entrepreneurship and strategies to draw venture capitalist investment. Al-Swaha expressed interest in partnering on aspects such as health sciences, biotechnology, environmental issues, cloud computing, generative artificial intelligence (AI), and the development of smart cities.
Commenting on the future prospects, Al-Swaha noted, “Both Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong are going through very promising transformations, being financial hubs in their respective regions. We have a unique chance to build an innovation bridge, enabling us to leapfrog into the future with an innovation-based economy.”
Al-Swaha, who has been the Minister since 2017, chose Hong Kong as the first stop on his extensive tour through China, where the exponential growth and dissemination of information and communication technology (ICT) have left a remarkable impression on him. ICT progression necessitates robust digital infrastructure, such as 5G networks, which Saudi Arabia is eager to acquire from Chinese companies despite the current US sanctions on firms like Huawei Technologies and ZTE.
“Saudi Arabia is pro-partnership and pro-openness,” said the Minister, stressing the Kingdom’s willingness to collaborate with any entity that can meet its security and regulatory prerequisites. He is set to visit the Shenzhen-based tech giant, Huawei, after Hong Kong.
Saudi Arabia is eager to learn from and build partnerships with the “world-class” transformation of ICT in mainland China and Hong Kong. Chief Executive of Hong Kong, John Lee Ka-chiu, highlighted the city’s plan to bolster relations with Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. A Belt and Road Summit, including a dedicated Middle East session, is planned in Hong Kong in September.
Encouraged by the warming of China-Middle East relations, private-sector entrepreneurs are capitalising on these opportunities. Following a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Riyadh in December 2022, the Saudi Arabia-China Entrepreneurs Association plans to set up its headquarters in Hong Kong.
Al-Swaha, an electrical engineer by training, is also tasked with cultivating Saudi Arabia’s digital workforce and talent infrastructure. He recognised China as a key partner in skilling and upskilling the Kingdom’s burgeoning technology workforce of 340,000, aiming to double this number in the next five years.
Saudi Arabia aims to harmonise its Vision 2030 with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, aligning development strategies and digital talent cooperation. In turn, Saudi Arabia continues to invest in Chinese stocks listed on the Nasdaq and in Hong Kong, bolstering the symbiotic relationship between these two economic powerhouses.
Image Credit: ITU/P.Barrera
In the Tunisian city of Sfax, the stabbing death of a local has sparked a surge of anti-immigrant violence. Hundreds of residents have taken to the streets in protest, demanding the immediate expulsion of all undocumented migrants from the city.
According to eyewitness reports, scores of African migrants have been driven out of Sfax following a night of upheaval triggered by the murder. Throughout the central-eastern city, large groups of residents gathered in the streets from Tuesday into Wednesday, 6 July, calling for the prompt removal of all undocumented migrants, according to a local AFP correspondent.
The atmosphere in the city has been described as “inhumane”, with some individuals resorting to blocking roads and setting tyres ablaze to vent their frustration. The stabbing victim, a 41-year-old local, was allegedly killed during a late-night conflict with migrants of Cameroonian origin, authorities have reported. Social media footage shows police officers evicting dozens of migrants from their homes to the cheers of local residents before loading them into police vehicles. Other videos show migrants sitting on the ground, hands on heads, encircled by baton-wielding locals awaiting the arrival of the police.
Local group Sayeb Trottoir, focused on illegal immigration issues, shared a Facebook post from Lazhar Neji, an emergency worker at a Sfax hospital, lamenting the “inhumane, bloody night”. According to Neji, between 30 and 40 migrants, including women and children, were admitted to the hospital. He claimed that some had been thrown from terraces, others attacked with sabres.
In a joint statement, the Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), along with over 20 other Tunisian and international NGOs, expressed deep concern over the situation. They asserted that on Tuesday, security forces had escorted a “group of 100 migrant and refugee individuals” from the Sfax region towards the Libyan border. The group, which included Ivorian, Cameroonian, and Guinean nationals, along with at least 12 children aged between six months and five years, had been relocated.
In addition, around 50 other migrants had been directed towards the same region on 2 July. The NGOs claimed that some of these individuals had been “beaten and mistreated” and called on the authorities to “provide clarification on these incidents and intervene urgently to ensure these people are cared for”.
Several migrants rushed to Sfax’s railway station to catch trains to other Tunisian cities, according to an AFP photographer. Jonathan Tchamou, a young Congolese man, described the severity of the problem: “There’s a serious problem in Sfax. A Sub-Saharan killed a Tunisian, and now the Tunisian population is angry with all Sub-Saharans and is attacking them. Even the Tunisian police are trying to arrest all Sub-Saharans illegally to push them back into the Libyan desert.”
“We are really scared of being here, that’s why we want to leave Sfax at all costs,” added Tchamou, stating that he had come to Tunisia legally with a student visa. “Tunisia used to be a welcoming country for us, we lived comfortably here, but now we’re not welcome, so the solution would be to cross the Mediterranean to go to Europe.”
The Monday death in Sfax triggered a wave of predominantly racist reactions, calling for the expulsion of African migrants from the city, a frequent starting point for many illegal sea crossings to Italy. The tension between the residents and the migrants has heightened following a speech in February by President Kais Saied, in which he condemned illegal immigration and portrayed it as a demographic threat to his nation.
Many of these migrants come to Tunisia with the intention of eventually reaching Europe by sea, by landing clandestinely on the Italian coast. On Tuesday, Saied insisted that Tunisia “does not accept on its territory anyone who does not respect its laws, nor to be a transit country (to Europe) or a land of resettlement for the nationals of certain African countries.”
Image Credit: HOUSSEM ZOUARI / AFP
In the Jordanian desert south of the capital Amman, the Attarat power plant stands as a controversial testament to China‘s economic engagement in the Middle East. Initially viewed as a beacon of energy autonomy, the project has now become a source of tension due to deals landing Jordan with a significant debt to China.
The plant, situated in a remote region of crumbled black rock, has come under scrutiny weeks after its inauguration. Jordan’s obligations under the deal amount to billions of dollars. Ironically, the plant is no longer deemed necessary for the country’s energy needs following newer agreements.
The $2.1 billion shale oil station has now become a symbolic representation of China’s economic model, often criticised for saddling developing nations with unmanageable debts. “Attarat is a depiction of what the Belt and Road Initiative was and has morphed into,” stated Jesse Marks, a fellow at the Washington-based Stimson Center.
The project was conceived about a decade and a half ago as a national endeavour for energy independence. However, it has drawn ire due to its exorbitant cost. Should the original agreement persist, Jordan would be compelled to pay China a staggering $8.4 billion over three decades for the electricity generated by the plant.
Workers imported from China’s rural regions labour in the plant’s shadow. Amid fears that the project could stall, Shi Changqing, a 36-year-old welder from China’s northeast Jilin province, expressed a sense of discomfort. “It’s very peculiar to feel unwanted here, being from China,” he stated.
Jordan’s tale of financial woes began when the Jordanian Attarat Power Company proposed to extract shale oil from the desert and build the power plant in 2012. The plan was a response to the government’s intensified desire for energy self-reliance in the wake of the 2011 Arab uprisings. However, technical challenges and an expensive extraction process slowed the project’s progression. Interest in Attarat receded after a $15 billion deal to import large volumes of natural gas at competitive rates from Israel in 2014.
Guangdong Energy Group, a Chinese state-owned firm, transformed the failing project by acquiring a 45% stake in the Attarat Power Co. in 2017. The purchase signified one of the largest private ventures under President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative outside China.
China’s investment in the plant is part of its broader push into the Arab world, which is eager for foreign capital. The financial backing for extensive infrastructure schemes came with minimal political conditions attached.
The Jordanian government now faces potential annual losses of $280 million under the 30-year power purchase agreement, as per the treasury’s estimations. To meet these costs, the government might have to increase electricity prices for consumers by 17%, striking a blow to an economy already grappling with debt and inflation.
The unfavourable deal with China led to Jordan’s Ministry of Energy initiating international arbitration against the Attarat Power Co. in 2020. Despite the ongoing dispute, company officials deny claims of excessive pricing, instead accusing Jordan of reneging on the agreement due to anti-China sentiment.
China’s extensive investments in the region appear to be slowing in recent years amid growing opposition and domestic apprehensions. For the moment, Jordan seems wary of further Chinese commitments, as evidenced by its recent decision to opt for Finnish company Nokia over Chinese telecoms giant Huawei for a new 5G equipment agreement.
The Attarat saga serves as a stern warning for other nations in the region, urging them to carefully evaluate the implications of major foreign investments. As the case continues at the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce, the outcome may significantly influence future Chinese ventures in the Middle East.
Image Credit: Raad Adayleh/AP
Yemen’s Houthi rebels, bolstered by Iran, have sent a potent warning to Riyadh and its allies, making clear that failure to meet their demands could result in continued hostilities. This comes as both parties are seeking a resolution to the long-standing conflict.
Brigadier General Yahya Saree, the spokesperson for the Houthi rebels, communicated their preparedness to engage in further clashes should their conditions remain unfulfilled, and should the attacks perpetuated by the Saudi-led coalition persist. During a recent visit to the Jizan region, Saree ominously stated, “If the enemy…does not respond to the rightful demands of the people, represented in ending its aggression and siege, and withdrawing its forces, then we are ready for confrontation.”
Saree affirmed the readiness of their forces to execute any command, including land or naval operations, further intensifying the tense atmosphere surrounding the Yemen conflict.
The Yemeni crisis, which began in earnest in 2015, pits the Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, against the Saudi-led coalition supporting the internationally recognised Yemeni government now stationed in Aden. The conflict sparked following the Shia rebels’ seizure of the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.
The prolonged strife has led to an alarming loss of civilian life, totalling hundreds of thousands, and instigating one of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises. Both factions have been censured by human rights organisations for alleged severe abuses.
However, hopes for peace emerged with a China-brokered agreement in March that saw Riyadh and Tehran re-establish ties, leading to negotiations between the Saudis and Houthis to end the Yemen war. A Saudi delegation even visited Sanaa in April to initiate peace talks.
Despite these positive steps, the Houthis warned that they will maintain their attacks on Saudi Arabia should the peace talks fail. In June, the Houthis, controlling a large part of northern Yemen, accused Saudi Arabia of disposing nuclear waste in the southern and eastern waters of Yemen.
Image Credit: REUTERS/Yemen’s Defence Ministry
A Saudi Arabian woman has been condemned to 30 years imprisonment for publicly critiquing Neom megacity initiative on Twitter, as per a UK-based human rights group.
Fatima al-Shawarbi, in her twenties from the province of Al-Ahsa, has been indicted for her anonymous social media posts, questioning Saudi Arabia’s displacement of residents to accommodate the Neom project. The revelations came from ALQST, an organisation dedicated to promoting human rights, and a key source of insights into the Saudi justice system, notorious for its opacity.
While Saudi Embassy officials in London have refrained from commenting, ALQST relayed their dependence on undisclosed contacts for gathering information, for fear of potential retribution. According to the group, al-Shawarbi was arrested in 2020 for her critiques of the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia and for advocating a constitutional monarchy over the current absolute rule.
Human Rights Watch, in a 2020 report, indicated that incarcerated female dissenters are frequently denied any contact with their families or the outside world.
Lina Alhathloul, a researcher at ALQST, revealed to the BBC that al-Shawarbi had recently participated in a hunger strike alongside other women detainees, including Salma al-Shehab, a Leeds University PhD student. The condition of al-Shawarbi is presently unknown, Alhathloul stated.
The intricacies of how Saudi authorities were able to identify al-Shawarbi as the author of the contentious tweets are unclear, as per Alhathloul. Al-Shawarbi had previously informed friends to publicise her case should her social media activity suddenly cease.
Neom, a brainchild of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s autocratic leader, envisions a city sprawling over a 10,200 square mile stretch in the Tabuk Province in northwestern Saudi Arabia.
In an April report, the UN condemned Saudi Arabia for undermining human rights, especially the forced eviction of the local Huweitat tribe for the Neom project. The report documented the fatal shooting of tribe member Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti, who resisted eviction, and the subsequent sentencing to death of three other tribe members. Moreover, it was reported that the Saudi authorities have relentlessly persecuted those criticising the treatment of the Huweitat and the killing of al-Huwaiti.
The human rights record of Saudi Arabia has drawn widespread condemnation, with allegations of torture, arbitrary arrests, detentions, and restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly from Amnesty International. Yet, despite these criticisms, Saudi Arabia continues to attract substantial investment from affluent Western companies for the Neom project.
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As the world grapples with a host of geopolitical hotspots, a quiet catastrophe is unfolding in the Middle East that isn’t getting the attention it so desperately needs. Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, a complex and bloody conflict that began in 2014, has since spiralled into what the United Nations describes as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. This is not a new crisis, nor is it one without clear and damning evidence of human suffering. Yet, it remains largely ignored by the international community.
At the heart of the crisis in Yemen is a war between Houthi rebels and government forces, backed by Iran and a Saudi-led coalition respectively. It’s a conflict caught up in geopolitical interests and regional power struggles, but the most alarming fallout is the humanitarian tragedy. More than 24 million people, some 80% of the country’s population, are in need of humanitarian aid and protection. Famine, disease, and war have claimed countless lives, while basic services, including healthcare and education, have been decimated.
Why then, in the face of such startling figures and heartbreaking tales of human suffering, has the world been so slow to respond? To begin with, the complex and multifaceted nature of the crisis makes it difficult to digest and understand, leading to a sense of paralysis in the international community. Moreover, key players in the crisis, including those with geopolitical stakes in Yemen, have shown a disturbing lack of accountability and a reluctance to prioritise human life over political and military objectives.
The world’s indifference cannot be justified. The media play a crucial role in shaping public opinion and political action, and they have largely failed Yemen. Coverage of the Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, especially in the West, has been sporadic at best and often eclipsed by other ‘more pressing’ global events. This has perpetuated a vicious cycle of ignorance and apathy, erasing Yemen’s suffering from our collective consciousness.
In a world that is more interconnected than ever, we can no longer plead ignorance to the plight of Yemen. It’s high time to shift the narrative and put the crisis in Yemen on the global agenda. The international community must rally behind a diplomatic solution and pressure the parties involved to prioritise humanitarian interests over geopolitical gains.
The first step towards this shift is to acknowledge the scale and severity of the crisis. Financial contributions from wealthier nations and international organisations are crucial, but it is equally important to push for unfettered humanitarian access in Yemen, to ensure that aid reaches those who need it most. Only then can we begin to address the root causes of this conflict, from political corruption to economic decline and sectarian divisions.
In addition, world powers, particularly those with influence over the warring parties, must leverage their positions to stop arms sales to those involved in the conflict. This will send a clear message: the lives of Yemeni civilians are more valuable than any strategic or commercial interest.
As the world stands on the precipice of a new era, shaped by the forces of globalisation and digital technology, we must recognise that our collective future depends on how we address the most serious challenges of our time. The Yemen’s humanitarian crisis should be a rallying call for the international community, a testament to our common humanity, and a test of our collective will to act. Ignoring it is no longer an option.
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The Libyan government has fervently denied allegations suggesting that it was behind the airbase drone assault on the Al-Kharruba airbase, a known operational base for the Russian paramilitary group, Wagner, which occurred in the early hours of Friday. Notably, the aerial attack resulted in no casualties, with the origin of the assault remaining uncertain.
The Al-Kharruba base, situated 150km southwest of Benghazi, serves as an essential stronghold for the Wagner mercenaries, with the group’s footprints scattered across oil-rich eastern Libya and the southern parts of the country. The latter areas have seen an influx of fighters from Chad, Sudan, Niger, and Syria, all lending their strength to General Khalifa Haftar in the pursuit of capturing Tripoli.
General Mohamad al-Haddad, Army Chief of Staff, strongly denied the Tripoli-based authorities’ involvement in the drone strike. “None of our aircraft targeted any site in the east,” al-Haddad stated, as reported by Libyan news outlet, Addresslibya. He added that the reports were a ploy to inflame a new war amongst Libyan brothers and to implicate Libya in an uninvited regional conflict.
Various Libyan and Arab news platforms have suggested that the aircraft deployed for the airbase drone assault belonged to the UN-recognised government in the politically fractured Libya. The Libyan Defence Ministry expressed surprise over these assertions. “We respect the ceasefire signed in October 2020,” the Ministry emphasised, referring to the truce with Haftar that ended his unsuccessful 2019-2020 assault on the capital.
Since the 2011 revolt that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has been mired in intermittent conflict, drawing in multiple foreign powers. The country remains divided between an interim government stationed in the west, in Tripoli, and another in the east, backed by Haftar.
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The Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources in Egypt has unveiled a series of fresh petrochemical and refining initiatives valued at a significant $9 billion, according to Arabian Business.
The Ministry is keen to set the wheels in motion for a cluster of new refining projects, collectively worth an estimated $7.5 billion. This series of initiatives includes the planned expansion of the Midor refinery in Alexandria. The refinery has successfully accomplished its preliminary and secondary phases and has commenced trial operations. Furthermore, the development agenda includes the diesel production complex project at ANOPC, located in Assiut.
In addition to these ventures, the Ministry’s plans extend to a variety of projects. These involve the coking complex and diesel production endeavours at Suez Petroleum Processing Company, the condensate distillation scheme at the Nasr Petroleum Company in Suez, and the air distillation initiative at Asyut’s oil refining hub.
The Egyptian Ministry has a commendable record, having triumphantly put into operation eight new projects within the oil refining sector, entailing investments totalling $5 billion. This forms part of an overarching strategy, introduced in 2016, which seeks to rejuvenate the petroleum refining industry and bolster its production capacity with a view to diminish imports.
The success of this strategy has proven instrumental in doubling Egypt’s domestic production of petrochemical materials. Production volumes have skyrocketed to exceed 4.3 million tonnes on an annual basis by the end of the 2021/2022 fiscal year. This contrasts sharply with the 2.1 million tonnes produced in 2015/2016, representing a successful outcome of the expansions implemented in 2016 and 2017, which saw investments amounting to approximately $4 billion.
Photo credit: Bayan Centre
Two men have been fatally shot in a contested region in northern Lebanon, as confirmed by the Lebanese Army in a statement. The victims, identified as Haitham Tawk and Malek Tok, were discovered dead in Qurnat as Sawda’, an area mired in dispute between Bcharre and Bkaasafrine in northern Lebanon. Reports from the state-run National News Agency on Saturday evening relayed the incident, while locals in Bcharre informed L’Orient Today news website that seven other individuals had sustained injuries during the conflict.
Conflicts over land and water disputes frequently generate security tensions in this region, as indicated by local media. The situation in Qurnat as Sawda’ is being closely monitored by Lebanese Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, according to Xinhua news agency. Mikati’s press office released a statement in which he condemned the incident and assured that the perpetrators would be apprehended to ensure justice is served.
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Over two thousand pilgrims braved the crippling heatwave stress during this year’s hajj, as per Thursday’s reports from Saudi officials. The temperatures had surged to an excruciating 48°C in the apex of the Saudi desert summer, as around 1.8 million Muslim worshippers participated in the days-long outdoor event.
This year, a significant number of elderly participants were observed, since the age ceiling, which was previously introduced during the Covid era, was removed. Approximately 1,700 instances of heat stress were logged on Thursday, according to the Saudi officials. This is in addition to the 287 cases that were reported prior.
The health ministry of Saudi Arabia has advised people to avoid direct sun exposure and ensure sufficient hydration. “As of today, we’ve recorded 1,721 cases of heat stress,” the ministry commented.
While no specific death toll was disclosed by the officials, independent data from various countries suggests that at least 230 pilgrims died during the hajj. A notable portion of the deceased were Indonesian citizens, with the country’s consul general reporting 209 Indonesian casualties.
Eko Hartono, the consul general of Indonesia, refuted the idea that these fatalities were predominantly due to heat stroke. “Most causes of death were related to cardiac and respiratory conditions,” Hartono stated. However, he conceded that some pilgrims had indeed fainted due to the intense heat.
Among the victims, Iran’s oldest pilgrim, who was 114 years old, died of a heart attack, according to Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency. Other countries, including Algeria, Morocco, and Egypt, have also reported casualties.
Heart-related health emergencies were rampant, with several individuals, including a 78-year-old Filipino man, undergoing successful open-heart surgery in Mecca, as reported by the health ministry.
However, it is believed that the actual number of heat stress cases, which encompass heatstroke, exhaustion, cramps, and rashes, may be significantly higher. Many sufferers may have opted not to seek hospital or clinic assistance.
Heat-related struggles were conspicuously common, especially post the day-long outdoor prayers at Mount Arafat. Instances of overheating phones shutting down and scarcity of shade were reported.
Historically, the hajj has been marred by calamities like crowd crushes and militant attacks, but this year, the scorching temperatures posed the most significant challenge. In response, the kingdom deployed thousands of paramedics and established field hospitals to manage the risk.
In the face of an escalating climate crisis, the United Nations’ intergovernmental panel on climate change warned in 2021 that parts of the Gulf could become uninhabitable by the century’s end due to global warming. Experts predict that gruelling summer temperatures reaching 50°C could become an annual phenomenon in the region by the close of the century.
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The Israeli military has initiated a sweeping operation in Jenin, a city in the occupied West Bank, resulting in drone strikes and fierce exchanges of gunfire between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants. The operation is reported to be one of the most far-reaching of its kind in recent years.
The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have confirmed that a minimum of seven militants have been neutralised in the course of the operation. In contrast, Palestinian health authorities report a casualty toll of five, with thirty individuals sustaining injuries.
Jenin, which has been the theatre of numerous Israeli military incursions over the past year, is linked with a series of attacks on Israelis conducted by local Palestinians.
The military operation began before dawn on Monday and quickly escalated. Central to this operation was an Israeli drone attack on an apartment within Jenin’s sprawling refugee camp, which is home to approximately 14,000 individuals within a mere 0.42 square kilometres. The IDF posits that the targeted apartment served as a combined operational command centre for the camp and the Jenin Brigades, an amalgamation of various Palestinian militant factions including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Drone warfare has been escalated since the initial strike, with thousands of Israeli troops reportedly involved in what a military spokesperson has termed a “counterterrorism operation”. The aim is ostensibly to seize weapons and obstruct Jenin from functioning as a sanctuary for Palestinian militants.
The Jenin Brigades have pledged to resist the Israeli forces “until the last breath and bullet”, affirming unity across factions and military formations.
Ahmed Zaki, a camp resident, informed about the entry of “columns of Israeli army vehicles” into the camp from numerous directions. Khaled Alahmad, a Palestinian ambulance driver, described the escalating situation as a “real war”.
Israeli military representatives claim to have “neutralised” three Palestinian “terrorists”, followed by four more in Jenin overnight. The Palestinian Health Ministry has reported five Palestinian deaths attributed to Israeli forces, with a minimum of seven in critical condition. Additionally, a Palestinian protestor was killed near the city of Ramallah, according to reports.
The operation has been sharply criticised by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesperson, who labelled it as “a new war crime against our defenceless people” and stated it would not contribute to regional security and stability.
This event follows a surge in violence within the West Bank over recent months. Last month saw the first Israeli use of attack helicopters in years during a raid in Jenin, resulting in seven Palestinian deaths. A subsequent attack by two Hamas gunmen near the settlement of Eli led to the death of four Israelis. A Palestinian man was later killed amid violent settler demonstrations in the town of Turmusaya.
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In an event that has stirred indignation across the Muslim world, Sweden is facing widespread condemnation for allowing the public burning of the Quran, the Islamic holy text, outside a mosque during the significant Islamic holiday, Eid al-Adha.
The incident, which took place in Stockholm on the significant Islamic festival, has provoked an international outcry, especially among Muslim-majority nations. The act of desecrating the Quran on one of the most sacred days in Islam has resulted in strong reproach towards the Swedish authorities.
A surge of public discontentment in Iraq led to several hundred individuals protesting outside the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad, encouraged by Muqtada al-Sadr, a popular cleric. Al-Sadr, describing Sweden as “hostile” to Islam, called on the Iraqi government to sever diplomatic ties with the Scandinavian nation. The protest, although heated, did not culminate in the embassy’s invasion and eventually dispersed, with al-Sadr demanding more significant demonstrations following Friday prayers.
Iraq’s foreign ministry joined the chorus of outrage, denouncing Sweden for enabling an extremist to desecrate the Quran. Meanwhile, the incident involving two men – one of whom was identified as Salwan Momika, an Iraqi immigrant residing in Sweden – publicly tearing and burning the Quran, was viewed by a crowd of spectators.
The men had received a permit from Swedish police to stage their demonstration following a court ruling that a ban would infringe on freedom of speech. Nevertheless, the permit clearly stated that no objects should be burned in Stockholm.
The act, carried out during the pivotal Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, further heightened tensions and caused distress amongst Muslims globally, many of whom were observing the end of the Hajj pilgrimage.
Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia have officially expressed their displeasure at Sweden’s actions, with some recalling their ambassadors. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, referring to the incident, stated that the country would never succumb to “the politics of provocation,” considering the desecration of Muslim sacred entities not as “freedom of thought”.
This controversy follows a similar episode earlier this year when a far-right Danish-Swedish figure burned a Quran copy outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm. Swedish police have since denied two additional requests for similar protests, fearing such acts could increase security threats and pose risks to overseas embassies.
Yet, a Swedish court overturned the police’s decision in April, asserting insufficient evidence to ban such protests. Swedish authorities find themselves grappling with the tension between upholding freedom of speech and respecting religious tolerance.
Stockholm police are now investigating Mr. Momika for violating the burning ban and incitement against a group. Calls to Mr. Momika have so far gone unanswered.
The Quran burning, particularly as it is believed to have been carried out by an Iraqi immigrant, has significantly troubled the Iraqi population. Al-Sadr has demanded the Iraqi government revoke Mr. Momika’s citizenship and called for his repatriation for prosecution in Iraq.
Sweden, home to over 140,000 Iraqi-born immigrants – the country’s second-largest immigrant group after the Swedish Finns – now faces increased scrutiny amidst this escalating controversy.
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On Friday, the Sudanese Civil Aviation Authority declared that the nation’s airspace will continue to be closed to most air traffic until 10 July. This decision comes in the aftermath of the breakdown of an Eid al-Adha truce due to an unexpected explosion on Thursday.
The airspace was initially shut down for regular traffic after violent military clashes commenced in mid-April between the national army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.
Residents of Khartoum, the capital, reported that the second day of Eid al-Adha was marred by the revival of fighting amongst the rival forces. The discord was signalled by a dramatic explosion close to the army headquarters, sending clouds of smoke soaring into the city skyline.
The ceasefire agreements, which were separately announced by the opposing military leaders for the duration of the holiday, failed to prevent intermittent fighting.
The confrontation, which flared up on April 15, has resulted in a humanitarian crisis with millions of residents in the capital city Khartoum confined to their homes. They are having to ration basic resources such as electricity and water amidst the soaring summer temperatures.
The ongoing dispute between army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan and his former deputy, Rapid Support Forces commander Mohamed Dagalo, has led to an estimated death toll of 2,800, as per the data provided by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project. However, this figure is believed to be an underestimate, as many wounded people have not been able to reach medical facilities and a number of corpses remain unattended in the streets.
Moreover, the majority of the violence has been centred in both Khartoum and the western region of Darfur. The escalating conflict has led to over two million people being displaced within Sudan and across its borders.
Analysts have suggested that the fighting shows no signs of easing, as neither side appears willing to engage in negotiation until they have secured a clear military advantage.
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The United Nations General Assembly has sanctioned a resolution to launch an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding over 130,000 individuals reported missing due to the ongoing Syrian conflict.
This resolution, a significant step in addressing calls from the families and associates of the missing, saw 83 affirmations from the 193-member world assembly, along with 11 negations and 62 abstentions. Syria, among several other nations including Russia, China, Belarus, North Korea, Cuba, and Iran, contested the resolution, vowing non-cooperation with the proposed body.
Luxembourg took the lead in proposing the resolution, acknowledging that after a dozen years of war in Syria, scant progress has been made in placating families by revealing the status and locations of the missing individuals.
The UN has consequently been granted the authority to set up the Independent Institution of Missing Persons in the Syrian Arab Republic. This body aims to uncover the reality of the missing persons’ situation while offering substantial support to victims, survivors, and the bereaved families.
The new body pledges to follow principles of non-maleficence, impartiality, transparency, and confidentiality in relation to its sources and information. The UN Secretary General António Guterres is now mandated to lay down the terms of reference for the nascent institution within 80 working days and facilitate its swift establishment and operation.
The New York-headquartered Human Rights Watch emphasised the crucial need for the new institution to be equipped with appropriate resources for its task. Louis Charbonneau, the group’s UN director, expressed, “The people of Syria deserve no less”.
Syrian Ambassador Bassam Sabbagh criticised the resolution as a “politicised” move and an example of “flagrant interference” in Syria’s internal affairs. He implied the resolution bore testament to the “hostile approach” of the United States and other Western nations towards Syria.
Despite Ambassador Sabbagh’s argument that Syria has addressed the issue of the reported missing, with claims of disappearances processed by law enforcement and independent investigations conducted, the Syrian government’s cooperation remains a significant concern for the UN. The Syrian government has traditionally declined to collaborate with international bodies investigating missing persons.
The Syrian civil war, now in its 13th year, has inflicted death on nearly half a million individuals and forced approximately half of its pre-war population of 23 million into displacement. As per the International Commission on Missing Persons and the UN, more than 130,000 Syrians were reported missing in 2021 alone.
The lack of Arab countries’ participation in the vote is to be noted. Among the nations that abstained were many Arab countries, including past supporters of the Syrian opposition. Kuwait and Qatar were the only Arab nations to support the resolution.
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France has indicted Marianne Hoayek, a former assistant to Riad Salameh, the embattled governor of Lebanon’s central bank, on charges of money laundering. Hoayek, 43, refutes these charges, asserting that her funds primarily originated from her late father, a wealthy businessman. Her lawyer, Mario Stasi, relayed this stance to AFP.
Riad Salameh, in office for nearly three decades, is under investigation both domestically and internationally, accused of amassing a substantial fortune during his tenure. Salameh, whose term concludes this July, was once lauded as the protector of Lebanon’s financial stability. However, in the aftermath of the country’s fiscal collapse, he’s facing increasing blame, with many critics suggesting he played a significant role in precipitating the crisis.
French, German, and Luxembourg authorities seized assets worth 120 million euros ($130 million) tied to Salameh in March 2022. The 72-year-old governor rejects all accusations of misconduct and maintains that he accumulated his wealth during his tenure at the U.S. investment bank Merrill Lynch before assuming his position at Lebanon’s central bank in 1993.
Salameh has become a person of interest in the French and German judicial systems, leading to the issuance of international arrest warrants for accusations including money laundering and fraud. As a result, Interpol followed suit by issuing Red Notices, although these do not equate to international arrest warrants. Rather, they request global authorities to provisionally detain individuals, potentially leading to extradition or other legal actions.
Post the Red Notices, a local judge in Lebanon interrogated Salameh, confiscated his French and Lebanese passports, and implemented a travel ban while leaving him free pending further investigation. As Lebanon does not extradite its nationals, it’s feasible that Salameh could face trial domestically, depending on the local judicial authorities’ verdict on the accusations levelled against him.
Authorities have also interrogated other figures, including Marianne Hoayek, Salameh’s brother Raja, and central bank audit firms, in Beirut as part of the European investigations.
This ongoing investigation highlights the serious allegations surrounding Salameh and his former assistant, Marianne Hoayek, painting a distressing picture of Lebanon’s financial instability. The implications of this investigation may have far-reaching effects on Lebanon’s future economic stability, putting Marianne Hoayek in the spotlight.
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The International Monetary Fund (IMF) issued a stark warning to Lebanon in a recent report, stating that the small, crisis-ridden country may face persistent triple-digit inflation and could witness its public debt escalate to nearly 550% of GDP by 2027 if crucial reforms are not implemented.
This report is a continuation of the IMF’s oversight following a nine-day visit by its officials in March, which aimed to assess the dire economic situation in Lebanon. Unfortunately, efforts to finalise a desperately needed IMF bailout package have largely been on hold, with scant progress observed in the necessary reforms.
Lebanese officials made a preliminary agreement with the IMF over a year ago, outlining a series of reforms crucial to securing the financial rescue package. These measures include debt restructuring, overhauling its ailing banking system, improving public electricity infrastructure, and enhancing governance. However, since the onset of the economic crisis in 2019, the officials have achieved limited headway.
Lebanon’s economy has severely contracted with the GDP falling about 40%, and the local currency losing 98% of its value. Inflation has skyrocketed into triple digits, and the central bank’s foreign currency reserves have dwindled by two-thirds, the IMF report highlighted.
There was a glimmer of stability towards the end of 2022 due to the cessation of COVID restrictions, an influx of remittances, a rebound in tourism, and a decline in international energy and food prices during the second half of the year. However, the economy’s state remains precariously fragile.
The IMF report also noted the detrimental impact of the delay in Lebanon’s financial system restructuring and currency stabilisation. It has benefited borrowers, particularly in the private sector, who are repaying pre-crisis loans at “below-market exchange rates”. This, however, has resulted in fewer dollar reserves for the banks to repay depositors whose savings are locked within the banks.
Ernesto Ramirez Rigo, the IMF mission chief to Lebanon, cautioned Lebanese leaders that failure to enact these reforms would result in a “disorderly adjustment” of the economy, making Lebanon increasingly dependent on international aid. Rigo added that while there was no specific deadline for Lebanon to implement the necessary reforms to secure the bailout, delays could have grave consequences for the nation.
Despite these hurdles, Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Saade Chami, who is leading the IMF negotiations, remains hopeful. Although adjustments to the economic figures and plan components will need to be made due to delays in finalising the IMF deal, he asserts that “the main pillars of the program remain the same”. He believes that with political will, Lebanon can steer itself out of the deep economic crisis and onto the path of recovery.
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The unforeseen mutiny in Russia, which swiftly dissipated, is anticipated to exert minor disruption to oil prices throughout this week, analysts suggest.
Over the weekend, the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company, abruptly terminated their march on Moscow from the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, halting what could have been the first coup attempt in the nation for nearly thirty years.
This abrupt cessation of insurgency came as Wagner Group leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, ordered his troops to retreat after advancing within 200 kilometres of Moscow.
Rystad Energy, a Norwegian consultancy firm, issued a research note stating, “In light of the brief episode in Russia this weekend reaching its conclusion, we anticipate no significant spike in oil prices.” However, they did note an amplified geopolitical risk amid Russia’s internal instability.
As of Monday morning, Brent crude, which serves as the benchmark for two-thirds of the world’s oil, was trading 0.43 per cent higher at $74.17 per barrel, whilst West Texas Intermediate, the standard for US crude, was up by 0.39 per cent at $69.43 per barrel.
Both benchmarks experienced more than a 3.5 per cent decline last week due to worries about increased monetary tightening from global central banks.
“Despite recent events in Russia, oil markets seem unphased, with Brent and WTI trading up slightly,” said Daniel Richards, a Mena economist at Emirates NBD. Richards notes that no tangible threat to Russia’s oil production exists due to the political unrest, allowing markets to maintain focus on tightening central bank policies and a general deceleration in economic activity.
The International Energy Agency and Opec expect the oil market to tighten during the second half of the year due to Opec+ cuts and rebounding Chinese crude demand. However, analysts suggest that sturdy Russian crude supply, coupled with escalating output in countries under sanctions such as Iran and Venezuela, could potentially cause a lesser deficit in 2023.
Major investment banks like Goldman Sachs, MUFG, and UBS, have recently reduced their short-term oil price projections, due to an unexpected surge in the crude supply in the market.
Since the outset of 2023, Brent has dropped nearly 14 per cent of its value, amid escalating fears of a global economic slowdown.
Goldman Sachs, in a Friday research note, highlighted that much of the oil market’s instability over the past year reflects the policy and market response to the surge in prices during the first half of 2022.
According to the US investment bank, Brent reached nearly $140 a barrel after Russia invaded Ukraine last year, resulting in record releases from America’s emergency crude reserves and aggressive interest rate hikes from central banks.
The bank projects that oil prices will unlikely match the 2022 peak within the next year, given unexpected increases in crude production in the US and sanctioned countries.
Goldman Sachs also noted that despite a rise of 8 per cent in global investment in oil and gas projects last year, the figures still lingered 40 per cent below 2014 levels. This trend remained, despite significant price increases.
In the long term, the price cap on Russian crude exports – a move meant to maintain market stability while reducing Moscow’s revenues – could potentially shift power from producers to consumers if it sets a precedent for future sanctions, Goldman Sachs warned.
While the bank acknowledged that the energy crisis had not caused any substantial harm to crude demand, it predicted a long-term decline in oil consumption due to the rise in investment in clean energy and electric vehicles.
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In what is anticipated to be the largest Hajj pilgrimage in recorded history, over 2.5 million Muslims are expected to participate this year, as Saudi Arabia relaxes the stringent Covid-19 restrictions that have been in place since 2020.
The annual pilgrimage, one of the Five Pillars of Islam obligatory for all able-bodied and financially capable adult Muslims, commenced on Sunday in Mecca with the tawaf – the ritual of circumambulating the Kaaba, the cube-shaped structure at the heart of Islam’s most sacred site.
A representative from the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced, “This year, we will witness the largest Hajj pilgrimage in history”. The increase in attendees marks a significant rise from the severely reduced numbers of the past few years due to the pandemic: a mere 10,000 in 2020, 59,000 in 2021, and a capped one million in 2022.
For some, such as 65-year-old Abdelazim from Egypt who managed to amass the $6,000 required for the pilgrimage over two decades, these are “the most beautiful days” of their lives.
Following the initial rites at the Kaaba, the faithful will journey to Mina, approximately 8km from Mecca’s Grand Mosque, al-Masjid al-Haram, and subsequently to Mount Arafat, revered as the location of Prophet Muhammad’s final sermon.
Preparations have been made in Mina to accommodate the crowds, with necessary provisions in place and security forces on the ground. However, this year’s Hajj presents an additional challenge, as pilgrims are set to endure the sweltering heat of nearly 45 degrees Celsius, the dates for the pilgrimage being dictated by the lunar calendar.
Saudi authorities have mobilised more than 32,000 health professionals and an extensive fleet of ambulances, poised to respond to instances of heatstroke, dehydration, and exhaustion.
The Hajj pilgrimage, a journey both physically and emotionally strenuous, serves to purify believers of their sins and cultivate a closer connection with God. This year, the pilgrimage takes place between 26th June and 1st July, with the celebration of Eid al-Adha scheduled for 28th June.
Despite the costliness of the journey, it fosters hope amongst many who, despite living in areas ravaged by conflict, poverty, or occupation, diligently save whatever funds they can to afford the pilgrimage. Among the participants this year, groups have journeyed from Gaza, whilst pilgrims from northwest Syria have travelled through Turkish border crossings, and Yemenis have boarded the first direct flight to Saudi Arabia since 2016.
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The most interesting idea about posthumanism is not just its connection to artificial intelligence and genetics or its philosophical and sociocultural ongoing debates, but its determined attempt to deconstruct the human; how the human is being constructed separately from the Other. If we do not address the current rooted dualistic mindset that constitutes hierarchical socio-political construction, therefore new forms of dualism will appear: posthumans, transhumans, and robots probably will be perceived as the new Other. If there is an overall interpretation of posthuman thinking, it is that the human is not fixed, yet always enmeshed with the nonhuman world in a web of complex, mobile, and reciprocal spaces of matter and changeable meanings. In the light of this proto-ecological mindset, the boundaries between humans and nonhumans are not merely changing, but also becoming accessible.
In the age of techno-humanism, posthumanism would mean nothing but the incompleteness of human beings and questions their exceptionalism. Since agency and subjectivity are not the attributes of only human beings, the most transparent manifestation of posthumanism locates it against the exploitation of women, animals, and the natural world. It demonstrates the fragility of the human, and considers the distinction between humans and nonhumans as boundless, and the perception of the posthuman subject as product of multiplicity and collectivity.
No matter how promising or pernicious it might appear, our future in its association with technology seems quite controversial and partly filled with concerns. Humans have always sought progress and attempted to use technology for their own sake. With that in mind, posthumans will most probably perceive the old and mediocre humans as the new Other. Lowly, secondary, and even savage, they fit only for subjugation and persecution. Perhaps part of the answer could be located in the different perspectives that transhumanists and bioconservatives have in regard to posthuman dignity.
This suggests that if posthumanism prevails, environmental humanism will be forced to consider self-representation as solely transitional and also relinquish its dependency on narratives of collapse and their sense of impending ending. The possibility of having posthumans in the future has procured considerable ethical and philosophical attention. With the emergence of transhumanism, the posthuman future is seen as a positive progress or as the mere way to evade the annihilation of intelligent life.
In this sense, it seems to be that there are many ways to distinguish between the two terms ‘posthuman’ and ‘transhuman’. The term ‘posthuman’ implicates individuals that are descendants of human beings but are no longer human, while ‘transhuman’ indicates individuals who possess abilities beyond human nature, yet a transhuman might still be regarded as human. To be true, the argument here demonstrates that we all should be in favor of a posthuman future, because it is good for human beings and for their well-beings, yet it turned out to be problematic. This vision reflects an utterly dynamic world, a world whose ontological understanding is performed rather than given, a world in which interlacing with the Other is the sole dynamic purpose of being. In this hybrid space, different forms of agency and materiality interact with each other, and humans are part of this intricate web of ontology, signification, and phenomena.
This dichotomy exacerbates and elaborates the need of posthuman dignity. Bioconservatives deny posthuman dignity, while transhumanists believe that human and posthuman dignity are interrelated. By guarding the transhumanist view, our future seems to be heading towards a more inclusive and dignified human ethics, one that will embrace future technologically modified people as well as humans of the contemporary kind.
An opposite aspect of importance is that posthumans would most likely have brains that cannot stand alone, but rather connected directly to a network. Also, it has become problematic to argue that we should encourage development towards a post-human condition, just because it is positive for individuals and beneficial in general. The more posthumans are, the more difficult it becomes to assess and to compare their individual well-being to our current status.
George Orwell says that if you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever. While the posthuman world promises us more human progress, serious aspects of human liberty unearth themselves as to question the moral edge and the untamed extent of technology. It must be said with vividity and intrepidity: Technology will either free us or enslave us.
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In a ground-breaking venture of clean transportation, German air taxi manufacturer, Volocoper, has successfully carried out an array of flight trials in Saudi Arabia’s anticipated city of the future, Neom. This progress is a leap forward in Saudi Arabia’s vision for sustainable and technologically advanced transport solutions.
The milestone sees the premier flight tests in Saudi Arabia of an eVTOL – electric vertical take-off and landing – aircraft, as acknowledged in a statement by Neom on Wednesday.
“The accomplished and secure trial flight marks a significant juncture for the aviation sphere in Saudi Arabia,” commented Abdulaziz Al Duailej, President of the General Authority of Civil Aviation.
This advancement follows on the heels of Neom’s 2022 disclosure of a $175 million Series E investment in Volocopter, the German air mobility firm. A collaborative venture between the two entities aims to roll out electric air taxi services throughout the city, offering connections to diverse locales such as The Line, Oxagon and Trojena.
According to Neom, Volocopter’s eVTOLs will form a pivotal component of Neom’s innovative and sustainable multi-modal transport system, anticipated to run solely on renewable energy.
Neom affirmed in 2021 that it had commissioned an order for 15 Volocopter aircraft, with plans to initiate flight operations within the ensuing two to three years. The order includes 10 VoloCity passenger and five VoloDrone logistics aircraft, a move aimed at supporting the early stages of flight operations.
An analysis from global consultancy Deloitte, suggested that 2021 marked a significant year for the Advanced Air Mobility market, with eVTOL aircraft firms witnessing investments totalling $5.8 billion.
Lasting over a week, the Volocopter flight test campaign is the outcome of 18 months of cooperation between Neom, Gaca and the German firm. The collective endeavour aims to establish and expand an electric urban air mobility system and test bed within Neom.
The flight trials prioritised the Volocopter’s aircraft performance under local climatic and environmental conditions, as well as its assimilation into the local traffic management system.
With expectations to receive type certification of its VoloCity air taxi by 2024, Volocopter is gearing up for future commercial operations. The company recently initiated serial production of the VoloCity at its facility in Bruchsal, Germany, capable of producing over 50 aircraft a year under single-shift conditions.
The 18-rotor aircraft, boasting a top airspeed of 110 kilometres per hour, comfortably accommodates a pilot and a passenger.
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Hannibal Gaddafi, offspring of the deceased Libyan autocrat Muammar Gaddafi, has been admitted to a Lebanese medical facility following a fortnight of self-imposed starvation in protest against his continued confinement without trial since 2015, stated Lebanon’s Interior Minister this Thursday.
Accused of withholding knowledge about the whereabouts of Imam Musa Al Sadr, a revered Lebanese Shiite Muslim scholar, Hannibal has been under incarceration in Lebanon since charges were pressed against him. Sadr, also the founder of the influential Lebanese Amal Movement, mysteriously vanished in 1978 during a sojourn in Libya.
Hannibal, a mere toddler at the time of Mr Al Sadr’s unaccounted departure, declared his fast earlier this month, decrying the allegations and claiming to be an innocent party to the events surrounding the disappearance.
Critics among the Lebanese Shiites have long pointed fingers at the Gaddafi administration for the supposed abduction of Mr Al Sadr during his 1978 Libya visit. Muammar Gaddafi was slain by rebels amid the 2011 revolt against his four-decade-long reign.
Due to the fast causing a deterioration in his health, Hannibal was moved from the security forces’ edifice, where he was detained, to a hospital this past Wednesday, according to Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi.
In a conversation with Reuters, Reem Al Dabri, a representative for Gaddafi, drew attention to Hannibal’s tender age during Mr Al Sadr’s disappearance and stressed his non-involvement in the incident. She further labelled him a “political captive for undisclosed motives”.
In the face of a rebellion against his father’s rule in 2011, Hannibal fled Libya, finding sanctuary in Syria. He was reportedly seized and transported to Lebanon in 2015, asserted Mr Al Dabri.
Despite Libyan authorities insisting that Sadr had left their nation unharmed, prevailing belief suggests he was terminated shortly after his apprehension.
Sadr is the initiator of the Amal Movement, a powerful force in Lebanese Shiite politics, alongside Hezbollah. The movement has been under the leadership of Nabih Berri, the Parliamentary Speaker, since 1980.
Dual air strikes in Syria’s Idlib, the disputed northwestern province, reportedly claimed at least 13 lives on Sunday, according to eyewitness accounts. The strikes targeted a marketplace and a nearby building in the city of Idlib.
According to the Syrian government, the strikes aimed at an extremist outpost, conducted in conjunction with Russian air force units.
Local reports given to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights – a British-based war monitor with extensive contacts across Syria – confirmed the death of two children in the onslaught.
The observatory also reported additional fatalities from a separate air raid near the city of Idlib, which included a rebel combatant and several civilians. Three more militants were reportedly killed near the marketplace, which also claimed the lives of six civilians.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the organisation, stated, “These Russian strikes are the deadliest in Syria this year and equate to a massacre.” He alleged that the attacks by Russian and Syrian forces were in retaliation to dual drone attacks by militants, which resulted in four civilian deaths. One such attack in Salhab, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s hometown, tragically claimed the life of a mother and child.
Intriguingly, mid-June also saw the death of a Russian soldier in the neighbouring Aleppo province due to an unexplained explosion.
Eyewitness accounts of the incident on June 13 have varied, with some attributing the explosion to a mortar attack and others suggesting a roadside bomb. To date, no faction has claimed responsibility.
Labourer Saad Fato, a survivor of the marketplace strike, told AFP that he assisted with rescue efforts. He recounted the horror, stating, “Russians shells rained on us,” while he unloaded fresh produce at the time of the attack.
Abdel Rahman reported that the deceased combatant near Idlib was part of the Turkistan Islamic Party, an Uyghur-led extremist group. He further added that the deceased children’s parents were also members of this group.
Casualties continue to mount, with Abdel Rahman stating that Sunday’s strikes wounded at least 30 civilians, with a potential rise in the death toll expected.
Earlier, Ahmed Yazigi of the Jisr Al Shughur civil defence reported nine fatalities from the strikes, without specifying whether this included combatants.
Jisr Al Shughur has been a bastion of anti-government sentiment, bearing witness to some of the most violent confrontations between the regime and anti-government groups and protesters in 2011.
At present, the Idlib region is heavily influenced by extremist Islamist factions, with nearby areas bordering Turkey under the control of Turkish-backed Islamist militias. The conflict in Syria’s north continues to smoulder, with neither side achieving clear victory.
The Syrian conflict, which began in 2011 following brutal suppression of pro-democracy protests, has resulted in over half a million deaths and displacement of approximately half of the country’s pre-war population. The Assad regime, backed by Russia and Iran, has gradually regained much of the territory initially lost in the early stages of the conflict.
On the preceding Saturday, two more civilian deaths in the Idlib region were attributed to a Russian air strike.
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As the significant festival of Eid Al Adha approaches, communities in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region face a steep obstacle. Escalating livestock prices, propelled by rampant inflation, are placing the central tradition of animal sacrifice under strain.
Eid Al Adha, often referred to as the Festival of Sacrifice, is a key commemoration for Muslims worldwide. It recalls the Quranic tale of the Prophet Ibrahim being commanded by God to sacrifice his son, Ismail – a supreme test of faith, which culminated in the angel Gabriel replacing Ismail with a ram at the final moment.
This ritual sacrifice of livestock, typically sheep, goats, and cows, traditionally takes place before the Eid Al Adha prayer. However, amid skyrocketing prices and inflation, this custom is becoming increasingly taxing.
For Baghdad resident Akeel Hameed, a previous business owner who succumbed to bankruptcy following widespread pro-reform protests and the Covid-19 pandemic, the price surge is palpable. “I, along with everyone else, enjoy making a sacrifice on this occasion, but year on year, it becomes increasingly challenging due to spiralling prices,” he said.
Inflation has seen the cost of most goods surge by at least 50% since the close of 2020 in a nation where the poverty rate stands at 31.7% among its population of 40 million. The meat prices, having risen by no less than 20% on last year’s, are adding further strain to the budgets of those wanting to participate in the age-old tradition.
Community initiatives, such as a local mosque in Mr Hameed’s neighbourhood, are offering more affordable alternatives. These community-led projects collect around 25,000 Iraqi dinars, equivalent to approximately $17, from each resident, allowing the tradition to continue collectively. “This joint approach lessens individual financial stress and promotes a sense of unity and community spirit,” Mr Hameed said.
The ripple effects of inflation are also impacting Eid remittances, with many Muslim individuals, particularly those in Western nations, opting to send money home for the sacrifice to be made on their behalf. The type and size of the sacrificial animal is dictated by each household’s financial status, and many find it cheaper to have the act performed in their home countries.
Naeem Ali, a Pakistani expatriate living in Jeddah, notes the variability in the market: “Depending on their financial circumstances, people buy smaller or larger sacrificial animals. Everyone will distribute and consume according to their abilities and means. It’s costly for us to purchase here, so we send money back home for it.”
Despite the difficulties, many continue to uphold the tradition, with some choosing to utilise official government resources such as the Saudi Adahi portal. Salma Hashem, a Saudi citizen, shared: “I trust the government’s portal, and honestly, it is the most straightforward and quickest transaction. This ensures our funds go to the right place, and meals are distributed by the government too.”
As Muslims worldwide navigate the challenges of maintaining cherished traditions amidst economic pressure, the spirit of unity and sacrifice that characterises Eid Al Adha continues to resonate, even in difficult times.
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Reports have emerged that Iraq is prepared to take measures against security officials accused of conducting torture and extortion whilst they were members of an anti-corruption panel established by the former Prime Minister, Mustafa Al Kadhimi.
The government declared that the practices of torture and extortion had besmirched the operations of a special committee responsible for probing corruption in Iraq during Mr Al Kadhimi’s tenure, an allegation that surfaced on Wednesday.
In the course of its investigation, the government has proceeded with the dismissal of nine senior officials from the Interior Ministry.
Not long after his installation as interim Prime Minister in May 2020, Mr Al Kadhimi, the erstwhile intelligence director, founded what came to be referred to as Committee 29. This body was granted extraordinary powers to scrutinise significant cases of corruption.
The committee, now dissolved, was spearheaded by Lt Gen Ahmed Abu Ragheef, a high-ranking Interior Ministry official who held the position of deputy minister for intelligence and federal investigations.
The committee made numerous high-profile arrests, apprehending senior government officials and businesspersons suspected of corruption, including the former director of the pension fund, the former president of the Baghdad Investment Commission, the ex-deputy electricity minister and the erstwhile director of the privately-owned electronic payment company, Qi Card.
Critics of Mr Al Kadhimi, principally Iran-aligned Shiite political parties and militias, charged him with utilising Lt Gen Abu Ragheef’s committee as a weapon against opponents. His relations with these pro-Tehran factions were fraught as he attempted to curb their influence.
In the previous December, the incumbent Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani ordered an inquiry into supposed human rights transgressions committed by the committee following a report in The Washington Post, which claimed that it was resorting to forms of torture to extract confessions.
The government spokesperson, Basim Al Awadi, announced on Wednesday that the investigation discovered “shortcomings and human rights infringements”.
Mr Al Awadi stated that the investigation’s recommendations have been sent to the judiciary due to the “confirmed shortcomings”.
Lt Gen Abu Ragheef and eight other security officials were the only individuals mentioned by the spokesperson, along with a police officer.
An Interior Ministry official revealed to The National that three officers from the Iraqi National Intelligence Service and a civil servant from the Commission of Integrity were implicated. One suspect remains at large, according to the ministry official.
An internal report from the INIS alleges that Lt Gen Abu Ragheef “was aware of the torture and extortion during his tenure as the head of the committee and did not take any legal action”, whilst others were also complicit.
Since his appointment in late October, Mr Al Sudani has been replacing government officials with others who are closely aligned with the Co-Ordination Framework, which is the largest parliamentary group supporting him. It is the Iran-backed Shiite militias and political parties that constitute the core of the CF.
Mr Al Awadi defended the investigation, asserting that it was carried out “without any revenge or inhumane practices”.
Corruption has become a significant issue in Iraq’s political landscape following the 2003 US-led invasion that resulted in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The country was ranked 157 out of 180 in the 2022 Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
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Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez met in Madrid on Monday to address the issue of Syrian refugees and emphasised the importance of “favourable conditions” for their safe return to their homeland. The meeting between the two leaders was held at the invitation of Spain, with King Abdullah accompanied by Queen Rania during their official visit.
The royal couple attended a lunch hosted by King Filipe and Queen Letizia as part of their visit to Spain. The discussions centred around the significant number of Syrian refugees currently residing in Jordan, most of whom fled the central and southern regions of Syria, the birthplace of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar Al Assad. In 2014, Jordan closed its border to Syrian refugees due to the rise of militant groups, transforming the conflict into a brutal civil war.
While Spain has received a smaller number of Syrian refugees compared to Turkey and other parts of Europe, both countries agreed on the need for favourable circumstances that would ensure the safe and voluntary return of refugees while preserving their dignity. The joint communique issued by Jordan and Spain also highlighted their commitment to supporting Syrians who were forced to flee their homes and helping them find long-term solutions while upholding their basic rights.
Furthermore, the leaders stressed the urgency of intensifying efforts towards a political solution in accordance with UN Resolution 2254, adopted in 2015. This resolution advocates for a political transition in the Syrian civil war, the release of prisoners, and other measures aimed at curbing authoritarian rule and designated terrorist groups in the country.
During the visit, Spanish and Jordanian officials signed agreements to enhance cooperation in the judicial sector and recognise maritime certificates issued by both countries. This meeting between the monarchs follows the recent attendance of King Filipe’s parents, former king Juan Carlos and former queen Sophia, at the wedding of King Abdullah’s son, Crown Prince Hussein, in Amman earlier this month.
Jordan, with an income per capita of $4,100 in 2021, relies heavily on international aid, primarily provided by the US. However, European countries also play a significant role in supporting the kingdom, including funding for local communities accommodating Syrian refugees.
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