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Top US Democrat warns of another Pompeo-Saudi arms deal

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 22:09
Top US Democrat warns of another Pompeo-Saudi arms deal
Menendez saysTrump administration is currently trying to sell thousands of precision-guided bombs to Riyadh
MEE staff Wed, 05/27/2020 - 23:09
Senator Bob Menendez calls into question motives behind another Saudi arms sale (AFP/File photo)

A top Senate Democrat warned that US Secretary Mike Pompeo has been pursuing another arms deal with Saudi Arabia, just after allegations surfaced that the secretary had fired an internal investigator looking into the most recent Saudi weapons deal.

Bob Menendez, a senator from New Jersey, wrote in an opinion piece for CNN that the Trump administration was currently "trying to sell thousands more precision-guided bombs" to Riyadh.

Fired US investigator was looking into arms deal with Riyadh: Top Democrat
Read More »

"Before we went into pandemic lockdown, I received draft State Department documentation that it is now pursuing this previously undisclosed sale," Menendez wrote.

"The administration has refused to answer our fundamental questions to justify this new sale and articulate how it would be consistent with US values and national security objectives," he said.

Without going into further details about the sale, the senator called into question the motives behind it, asking the administration why it needs to sell the additional missiles after the previous $8bn deal made through an emergency declaration by the president.

"Congress must reject this new multi-million dollar sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia," Menendez wrote.

'Reward an unsavory customer of US arms'

Earlier this month, Pompeo came under heavy scrutiny after firing Inspector General Steve Linick, who at the time was investigating the controversial arms sale made by the US last year.

The deal came on the heels of an emergency declaration issued by the Trump administration in May 2019, which allowed the sale to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

'There was no emergency. It was a fabricated tale to reward an eager and unsavory customer of US arms'

- Bob Menendez, US senator

The sale had been initially blocked by Congress, but with an executive order by the president, the administration was able to bypass the legislative branch to approve it.

The Arms Export Control Act says the president can determine if "an emergency exists" that requires a sale to be made immediately "in the national security interests of the United States".

An official who spoke to CNN said the inspector general's office had been informed that State Department employees were asked to reverse-engineer a justification for the emergency order during one of the office's probes into Pompeo's actions late last year. 

"There was no emergency. It was a fabricated tale to reward an eager and unsavory customer of US arms," Menendez wrote.

The Trump administration, including Pompeo, has denied that Linick's firing had anything to do with the investigation, insisting that he had been terminated for "undermining" the State Department's mission. 

"Linick's firing casts the first anniversary of that multi-billion dollar mistake into stark contrast," Menendez wrote.

"Not only has the President admitted to removing the IG at Pompeo's behest, but the administration is also trying to get Congress to rubber stamp another massive sale of munitions to the Saudis."

US to end sanction waivers that allowed some countries to work at Iran nuclear sites

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 21:10
US to end sanction waivers that allowed some countries to work at Iran nuclear sites
Russian, Chinese and European companies must end work at Iranian sites or face US economic sanctions
MEE staff Wed, 05/27/2020 - 22:10
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Washington is ending the last remaining sanctions waivers (AFP)

The US has decided to end sanctions waivers that allowed Russian, Chinese and European firms to work at certain Iranian nuclear sites under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that Washington was ending the last remaining sanctions waivers enshrined in the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal, eliminating key provisions meant to discourage Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

"The Iranian regime has continued its nuclear brinkmanship by expanding proliferation sensitive activities," Pompeo said in a statement.

The US's top diplomat also accused Iran of "nuclear extortion" and said the move "will lead to increased pressure on Iran and further isolate the regime from the international community".

The waivers had allowed international companies to work on Iran's civil nuclear facilities without being punished by US sanctions.

Two years of escalations: Looking back at US-Iran tensions after nuclear deal pullout
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Wednesday's decision, first reported by the Washington Post, is said to apply to work at Iran's Arak heavy water research reactor and the Tehran Research Reactor, a five-megawatt apparatus that was supplied to Iran in 1967.

The Arak reactor, located 240km (150 miles) southwest of Tehran, had it's core removed in 2016 and was filled with cement as part of Tehran's obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Since then, Iran has repeatedly insisted that the facility is for peaceful medical research activity only.

Pompeo also said that the US was extending a separate waiver covering international support to the Bushehr nuclear power plant for 90 days to "help ensure the safety of operations at the plant", which is located along the Gulf.

The waivers had been renewed every 60 days since Trump pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, in 2018.

Since leaving the deal, the US has imposed punishing sanctions on Iran as part of its "maximum pressure campaign" to prevent Tehran from investing in its nuclear programme as well as from financing armed groups in the Middle East.

US sanctions Iranian scientists

Pompeo also announced that the US was imposing sanctions on two Iranian scientists, Majid Agha'i and Amjad Sazgar, who he claimed are leaders of Iran's nuclear enrichment program.  

"Iran's scientists need to make a choice: pursue peaceful work outside of the proliferation realm, or risk being sanctioned," he wrote on Twitter.

I am also sanctioning two leaders of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program - Majid Agha’i and Amjad Sazgar. Iran’s scientists need to make a choice: pursue peaceful work outside of the proliferation realm, or risk being sanctioned.

— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) May 27, 2020

Despite rising tensions between Washington and Tehran that have led to an escalation in military confrontations, the US says sanctions against Iran have been a success. Recently, the US alleged that Iranian sanctions were forcing the country to scale back its military presence in Syria, which Iran denies. 

Coronavirus: Are US sanctions hurting Iran's response to the pandemic?
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Still, several US politicians, rights groups, and activists have called on the administration to temporarily lift its sanctions amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Iran has also made repeated calls on the international community to reject US sanctions, which it says are impeding Tehran's fight against the virus. 

While the Trump administration has said there are no sanctions on medicines or humanitarian assistance going to Iran, many banks and companies have refrained from taking part in any such ventures out of fear of getting caught up in US secondary sanctions.

According to Human Rights Watch, the unilateral US sanctions have devastated Iran's flagging health-care system, hindering the ability of ordinary Iranians to access health services.


Rights groups call on USAID to fire new religious adviser over anti-Muslim views

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 19:55
Rights groups call on USAID to fire new religious adviser over anti-Muslim views
Mark Kevin Lloyd referred to Islam as 'barbaric cult' and 'violent in its doctrine and practice,' while serving on Trump campaign
MEE staff Wed, 05/27/2020 - 20:55
USAID is charged with providing economic, security and health assistance to some of world's poorest countries (AFP/File photo)

Two leading Muslim rights group have called for the dismissal of USAID's new "religious freedom adviser," who reportedly has a history of making and promoting anti-Muslim comments on social media. 

Muslim Advocates and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called for Mark Kevin Lloyd's dismissal on Wednesday following a string of now-deleted comments on Facebook and Twitter, which were posted when he served as the Trump campaign's Virginia field director. 

In two different tweets made weeks apart in 2016, Lloyd called Islam "a barbaric cult", and said that the religion was "violent in its doctrine and practice". 

'Someone who has broadcast this kind of hateful and dangerous rhetoric should have no place in our government and certainly should not be advising a federal agency on religious freedom'

-Madihha Ahussain, Muslim Advocates 

He also shared a meme on Facebook suggesting that people should be forced to eat bacon before being allowed to buy guns, and said "those who understand Islam for what it is are gearing up for the fight."

Lloyd started his new position at USAID on Tuesday. The $31bn agency is charged with providing economic, security and health assistance to some of the world's poorest countries. 

Madihha Ahussain, the special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry at Muslim Advocates, said it was a cruel joke for USAID, an agency tasked with overseeing foreign aid and development efforts, to appoint an anti-Muslim bigot as a religious freedom adviser."

"Mark Kevin Lloyd should be removed from his post immediately. Someone who has broadcast this kind of hateful and dangerous rhetoric should have no place in our government and certainly should not be advising a federal agency on religious freedom," Ahussain said. 

USAID officials told the Washington Post that Lloyd was chosen for the position by John Barsa, who the White House - without consulting the State Department - controversially named acting administrator of the aid agency last month. 

Unfit to serve

On Wednesday, Robert McCaw, CAIR's government affairs director, called on Barsa to "immediately fire" Lloyd "because of his publicly-professed anti-Muslim views". 

"There is no room in any government position - let alone a position meant to protect religious freedoms - for those who promote bigotry. Lloyd is clearly unfit to serve a diverse, multi-faith society," McCaw said. 

USAID did not respond to Middle East Eye's request for comment, but the Post reported that a spokesperson from the agency defended one of his social media posts in question. 

Trump's new press secretary has a history of defending Islamophobia
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"The comments he made four years ago were in reference to radical Islam, not Islam," the spokesperson said. 

The spokesperson declined to comment on any of his other anti-Muslim statements. 

McCaw called Lloyd's presence in USAID a "blatant attempt to politicise the agency's efforts that raises concerns about its management."

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel also condemned Lloyd's hiring, telling the Post that it was "outrageous". 

"No one with a history of spewing hatred and bigotry has any place helping to lead one of our government agencies," Engel said.

"It's especially outrageous that someone with a track record of Islamophobia would be put in a role dealing with religious freedom."


Saudi Arabia arrests woman who 'insulted' Mohammed bin Salman: Reports

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 19:43
Saudi Arabia arrests woman who 'insulted' Mohammed bin Salman: Reports
Amani Alzain was target of Twitter campaign after she apparently referred to crown prince as 'father of the saw'
MEE staff Wed, 05/27/2020 - 20:43
In video chat recorded last year, Alzain said words 'Abu Munshar' (father of the saw) in apparent reference to Mohammed bin Salman (AFP/File photo)

Rights groups have voiced concerns for the safety of a Saudi woman who was reportedly arrested after she "insulted" Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) on social media.

Amani Alzain, a 40-year-old Jeddah resident, was targeted by government loyalists in a social media campaign after she apparently referred to MBS as "Abu Munshar", meaning "father of the saw", while on a live video chat with Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim late last year.

The crown prince became known as "Abu Munshar" after the killing and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by government agents at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.

On Wednesday, Prisoners of Conscience, a Twitter account that tracks political arrests in Saudi Arabia, reported that Alzain had been detained. The news was also confirmed by the Beirut-based advocacy group the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR).

"GCHR calls for the immediate release of Amani Alzain and for all those arrested in violation of their right to freedom of expression, including women’s rights defenders," the group said in a statement.

Later on Wednesday, the Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties called on Saudi authorities to reveal the fate of Alzain.

"Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties renews its call for Saudi authorities to end the campaigns of arrests against the right of free expression and to immediately release all the prisoners of conscience and compensate them for the damage and abuse that they faced," the group said in a statement in Arabic.

Scared for her

Alzain's social media activity stopped on 16 May. She was detained on 17 May, according to GCHR.

She had been active on both Facebook and Twitter, publishing several posts daily mostly about lifestyle and literature. Whenever she addressed politics, she largely expressed opinions supportive of Saudi Arabia. 

In fact, days before she ceased posting, she shared several tweets against the leaders of Qatar and Turkey, echoing Riyadh's perspective on regional feuds. 

In the video chat with Ghonim, Alzain appeared to laugh when the Egyptian activist said he loved MBS, joking that the crown prince would drown him in oil. 

"Abu Munshar," Alzain responded.

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Ghonim quickly steered the conversation away from politics, saying half-jokingly that he was scared for her.

The video was recorded last October, but it resurfaced this month, sparking the Arabic hashtag "Amani Alzain insults crown prince". Pro-government Twitter users also denounced Alzain over appearing in a tank-top, stressing that her outfit was too revealing for a Saudi woman.

Ghonim and the Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to MEE's request for comment.

MBS has been at the helm of a brutal crackdown on dissent that has seen thousands of Saudis abritrarily detained, tortured and stripped of their assets.

Earlier this month, 17 organisations including Amnesty International, the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) and Code Pink called on Riyadh to release jailed women's rights activists, including Loujain al-Hathloul.

"We, the undersigned, call on Saudi authorities to end their campaign to silence dissent and repress freedom of expression, release all prisoners of conscience, and immediately and unconditionally drop legal charges against them," the groups said in a statement on 15 May, marking the anniversary of Hathloul's detention.

Coronavirus triggers history's largest drop in global energy investment: IEA

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 17:27
Coronavirus triggers history's largest drop in global energy investment: IEA
Total oil investments are expected to decline by one-third this year, with shale industry expected to see 50 percent drop, International Energy Agency says
MEE and agencies Wed, 05/27/2020 - 18:27
Monterey shale formation near Lost Hills, California, where gas and oil is extracted using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in 2014 (AFP/File photo)

The global energy industry is set for a record drop in investment because of the coronavirus pandemic, with spending set to plummet in every major sector, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned. 

The Paris-based agency said its latest annual report on Wednesday that while renewable energy sources are likely to fare better than oil, any swift economic recovery may create a global fuel crunch.

The report warned that 2020 may see the "largest decline in energy investment on record", with energy investment set to fall by one-fifth, or almost $400bn, as firms slash spending amid slumping demand.

'All the energy sectors - oil, gas, renewables - everything is affected but the biggest impact is on shale oil'

-Fatih Birol, International Energy Agency Director

Conventional oil producers, including those in the Middle East, are likely to fare better than the United States' shale producers, "for whom the outlook is now bleak", the report said. 

"All the energy sectors - oil, gas, renewables - everything is affected, but the biggest impact is on shale oil," the agency's director Fatih Birol told AFP.

"Total oil investments we expect to decline one-third this year, whereas the shale industry will see a decline of about 50 percent."

Spending in renewable power projects is expected to fall by only about 10 percent for the year, the report said.

"Even though this 'clean' spending is set to dip in 2020, its share in total energy investment is set to rise," the report said.

Still, "these investment levels remain far short of what would be required to put the world on a more sustainable pathway", according to the report, which estimated that would require spending on renewable power to double by the late 2020s.

Crisis to come? 

The IEA has long warned that insufficient investment may leave the industry unable to meet rising demand.

"There is a risk that today's cutbacks lead to future market imbalances, prompting new energy price cycles or volatility," it said.

Saudi Aramco profits slump 25 percent amid oil price and coronavirus shocks
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If oil investment stays at 2020 levels, then supply in 2025 would be 9 million barrels per day less than had been expected, the IEA estimated, which may lead to tight markets and higher prices if demand resumes its pre-crisis rising trajectory.

While some may see a drop in spending on oil as a positive development, Birol warned of negative consequences.

"We hope to see a clean energy transition, this should be an orderly energy transition, well designed so it doesn't cause any crisis, any shock," he said.

"It shouldn't be as a result of Covid, it should be as a result of the right energy policies."

The US and Saudi Arabia 

Last month, Saudi Arabia's oil production soared to a record 12.3 million barrels per day, pushing stockpiles to unsustainably high levels and causing chaos on global oil markets.

Feeling the energy market's fallout, US President Donald Trump threatened to pull US troops from the kingdom if Riyadh failed to slash its oil production to help steady the market.

Trump says US has 'plenty' as he considers halting Saudi oil imports
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US pressure led to a landmark global deal with Opec, Russia and other oil producers cutting supplies by about 10 percent, or 15 million barrels per day. 

Despite the deal, US crude oil futures collapsed to trade in the negative for the first time in history, leading Trump to tell reporters that that his administration was considering the possibility of halting US crude oil imports from Saudi Arabia as a measure to support the battered domestic drilling industry.

At the time, experts warned that the collapse in prices was already threatening to tilt the once-booming US oil industry into bankruptcy.

By mid-May, oil prices saw some recovery, but remained 40 percent below the pre-pandemic levels of early March. 

Coronavirus: Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque to reopen on Sunday

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 15:14
Coronavirus: Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque to reopen on Sunday
The holy site will reopen to worshippers after a two-month closure, as Palestine and Israel ease restrictions
MEE and agencies Wed, 05/27/2020 - 16:14
Al-Aqsa Mosque Jerusalem AFP
Palestinian men perform the last Friday prayer of Ramadan at the Mount of Olives on 22 May, against a backdrop of the Old City of Jerusalem and the closed al-Aqsa Mosque compound (AFP)

Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque will reopen to worshippers on Sunday, two months after it was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"All the doors of the Al-Aqsa Mosque [compound] will be opened at dawn on Sunday," Omar al-Kiswani, the mosque's director, told AFP on Wednesday.

Last week, the Waqf, the body that looks after the site in occupied East Jerusalem, said the holy mosque would reopen to the public after the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which ran from 24-26 May.

Details of the reopening have not yet been finalised, including whether the mosques on the site will be opened to worshippers or if the public will only be allowed into the courtyard where the faithful also pray.

In pictures: Palestinian heritage celebrated in online exhibition
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Islam's third holiest site was closed in late March for the first time in more than half a century as part of measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 350,000 people worldwide and infected more than 5.5 million.

In recent days, both Israel and Palestine have begun to ease restrictions as coronavirus infections continue to decline in the region.

Israel - with a population of nine million - has reported nearly 17,000 coronavirus cases and 279 deaths as of this week. 

Schools, businesses and beaches in Israel have already been reopening, with restaurants and bars to follow from 27 May.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which lies in Jerusalem's Old City, has long been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The mosque compound is under the custodianship of neighbouring Jordan, which controlled the West Bank and East Jerusalem until their occupation by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

Roadside bomb kills Turkish soldier in Syria's Idlib, Defence Ministry says

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 14:33
Roadside bomb kills Turkish soldier in Syria's Idlib, Defence Ministry says
Blast occurs along strategic M4 highway, which is jointly patrolled by Turkish and Russian forces
MEE and agencies Wed, 05/27/2020 - 15:33
Turkish soldiers patrol near destroyed buildings atop Arbaeen Hill overlooking Ariha in southern Syria's Idlib (AFP)

One Turkish soldier was killed and several others wounded by a roadside bomb in Syria's Idlib Province, Turkey's Defence Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

Earlier, Turkey's Demiroren news agency reported that an explosion on the strategic M4 highway was caused by a roadside bomb. 

Video footage posted online showed smoke billowing from a building along the highway before a large explosion occured on the road near the patrol.

"During a road control patrol in the Idlib region, due to an explosion 250 meters south of the search area, and whose cause has not yet been determined, one soldier was wounded and taken to hospital immediately, but was martyred despite all efforts," the ministry said.

Wednesday's attack took place in an area where joint Turkish and Russian patrols are carried out, and it was not immediately clear if Russian troops were present at the time of the blast.

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According to an Associated Press tally, at least 66 Turkish soldiers have been killed in Idlib this year.

In March, Russia and Turkey launched their first joint military patrols along the M4 highway, which connects Latakia with northern Syria, following a ceasefire agreement.

The deal raised hopes of an end to one of the bloodiest phases in Syria's nine-year conflict. 

In December, the Syrian government and it's allies had launched an offensive on the enclave, prompting nearly one million people to flee for safety.

The March truce has largely held and halted indiscriminate aerial assaults by government and Russian warplanes, allowing tens of thousands of Syrians to return to their homes.

The Syrian war erupted in 2011 when government forces cracked down on protesters who, inspired by the Arab Spring, demanded freedom and greater economic opportunities. 

Since then, the protracted conflict has claimed the lives of more than 465,000 Syrians and left over a million wounded. 

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have also taken shelter in crowded displacement camps along the Turkish border, which aid groups fear could be devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Israeli annexation: How will Jordan respond?

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 13:04
Israeli annexation: How will Jordan respond?
The planned annexation of the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank presents a dilemma for the neighbouring kingdom
Mohammad Ersan Wed, 05/27/2020 - 14:04
A handout picture released by the Jordanian Royal Palace on 25 May 2020 shows King Abdullah II giving a speech from Amman, on the occasion of Jordan's 74th Independence Day (AFP)

“If Israel really annexed the West Bank valley in July, it would lead to a massive conflict with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.”

This was the unprecedented threat by Jordan’s King Abdullah II during an interview earlier this month with German newspaper Der Spiegel.

Jordan's King Abdullah warns of 'massive conflict' if Israel annexes West Bank
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As the unity government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is gearing up to begin formally annexing parts of the occupied West Bank along the border with Jordan, the neighbouring kingdom is faced with the heavy question of how to respond to the move.

There is no clear script for the Jordanian monarch, as the kingdom finds itself having to balance its political and diplomatic positions with more pragmatic concerns.

Options on the table

In his interview with Der Spiegel, King Abdullah stated that his country was considering “all options” in response to Israeli annexation - a move deemed illegal under international law.

"I do not want to make any threats and create an atmosphere of controversy, but we are considering all options... We agree with many countries in Europe and with the international community that the law of the fittest should not apply in the Middle East,” he said.

Following the 1948 war, Jordan ruled over the West Bank until Israel occupied the Palestinian territory in 1967. Jordan remains the custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem until this day.

The announcement by the unity government of Netanyahu and former rival Benny Gantz - who will serve as premier following Netanyahu’s 18-month tenure in the role - that it was planning to annex the Jordan Valley has become a serious dilemma for Jordan.

Encompassing roughly a third of the West Bank, the Jordan Valley runs all along the border with Jordan. Should the territory be annexed into Israel, this would mark a possible new threat to Jordan’s national security.

'We will not deviate from this issue and we will not forget the Palestinian cause'

- Amjad Adaileh, Jordan minister of media affairs

“The king’s statements are clear: the annexation of the Jordan Valley will cause a clash between Israel and Jordan,” Jordanian Minister of Media Affairs Amjad Adaileh told Middle East Eye.

“We will not deviate from this issue and we will not forget the Palestinian cause. Our position is clear and has been well articulated by King Abdullah II.”

But what kind of action did the king have in mind? As Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to fully suspend its adherence to the 1993 Oslo Accords, some politicians and military analysts are suggesting that Jordan suspend its 1994 Wadi Araba peace treaty with Israel.

For Major General Mamoun Abu Nawwar, a retired Jordanian air force pilot, “Jordan has no option except to abrogate the peace treaty with Israel if it annexes the Jordan Valley and settlements.”

“Jordan is in a difficult position and annexation would be an undeclared declaration of war on Jordan,” he told MEE. “I expect that it might be best if Jordan ends the Wadi Araba treaty, and this will mean the cancellation of security, military and economic agreements as well.

"This would be a big geopolitical shift for Jordan within the balance of power in the region.”

Abu Nawwar rejected Israeli claims that annexing the Jordan Valley was necessary to defend itself from outside aggression. 

“Israel’s justification that it needs the Jordan Valley to host early warning equipment is not accurate,” he said. “Iran and even the Houthi (rebels) in Yemen are able to attack the heart of Israel with cruise missiles without such warning sites stopping them.”

Meanwhile, Jordanian expert in Israeli affairs Ayman Hunaiti told MEE that Jordan could take the legal route and go to the Israeli High Court. “This could be part of a move by Jordan,” he said.

Delicate diplomatic context

While some are hoping and advocating for a strong Jordanian response, others believe Jordan will not escalate the situation beyond its usual criticism and possible downgrading of diplomatic relations.

The constitutional court of Jordan ruled on 12 May that international agreements are above national law, and therefore treaties such as the one from 1994 cannot be abrogated by the Jordanian parliament.

Israel's planned annexation of the Jordan Valley: Why it matters
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Former deputy prime minister of Jordan, Mamdouh al-Abadi, told MEE that he expected Amman to “summon the Jordanian ambassador from Tel Aviv indefinitely and reduce diplomatic representation”.

Recalling a diplomatic incident in 2017 following the killing of a Jordanian citizen by a guard in the Israeli embassy compound in Amman, Abadi said: “The embassies in Amman and Tel Aviv left two ambassadorships empty for months before Israel apologised and compensated the families of the victims financially."

The former deputy premier added that Jordanian officials needed to consider Jordan's interests - such as the country’s access to water, energy sources, and financial aid - before making any moves.

Jordanian figures speaking to MEE broadly expressed their concern that the annexation of the Jordan Valley would constitute a serious threat to Jordan’s national security because it would spell an end to all attempts at creating a viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital as part of a two-state solution long touted by the international community.

Abadi said there were some fears that Jordan, which hosts over two million Palestinian refugees, would face a new influx of refugees - this time with no hope of return.

Contacts on annexation

Meanwhile, MEE has learned that Jordanian and Palestinian authorities are in contact to coordinate their response to the annexation process.

Should Jordan and the PA agree to stand shoulder to shoulder, this could spell the simultaneous voiding of the Wadi Araba treaty and the Oslo Accords, Abu Nawwar said, stating he expected that “any annexation will result in dissolving the Palestinian Authority and the cancellation of the Oslo peace deal”.

But Abadi told MEE he wasn’t certain Jordan would go this far.

“A realistic look at the Arab world doesn’t bode well for making Israel an enemy, nor is now the right time to clash with the United States,” he said.

“The region is on fire, there is no Arab support and the economy is in tatters. This means that Jordan can’t do more than protest Israel’s moves and lead an international campaign against them.”

International response

King Abdullah’s words have certainly caught the attention of the US administration of President Donald Trump, a staunch supporter of Israel.

“We understand that the king expressed his concern and it is for this reason that we consider it important to return to the vision of President Trump for peace,” US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said during a press conference on Friday. “All parties should agree to sit at the negotiating table and work out the execution of this peace plan.”

Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian plan - colloquially known as the “deal of the century” - has been categorically rejected by the Palestinian leadership and widely panned for adopting most demands of Israel’s right-wing government while offering disjointed islands of territory for a prospective Palestinian state with no sovereignty over its borders and airspace.

Hunaiti, the Israeli affairs expert, pointed out that the Israeli government’s latest move was met with US support.

“The US has given the green light for the annexation of the Jordan Valley in exchange for a deal that Netanyahu and Pompeo agreed to - namely that Israel stops its cooperation with China on technological issues so that US military secrets are not leaked to China by Israel,” he said.

'The official Jordanian position can’t be to act as a bystander and take cosmetic actions. There has to be a strong movement led by Jordan'

- Marwan Muasher, former Jordanian ambassador to Israel

Meanwhile, former foreign minister and Jordan’s first ambassador to Israel, Marwan Muasher, said the Hashemite kingdom could not readily count on the support of other Arab states should it take action in response to annexation.

“There is a gap between the positions of different Gulf states when it comes to annexation, which will kill the two-state solution,” said Muasher. “The Arab reaction is disappointing, as there is cooperation between Israel and some Arab states on the Iranian issue. But despite the official opposition we hear from Arab countries, there is no evidence of any serious movement by states or even by the Arab League to confront the Israeli plans to annex the [Jordan] Valley.”

Muasher argued for Jordan to take the battle onto the diplomatic stage.

“Jordan can lead diplomatic efforts on different Arab and European fronts and within America’s decision-making corridors. In Congress and even within the Trump administration, Jordan has friends who can be approached and made to understand how devastating annexation will be to the peace process.”

Whatever the outcome, the former ambassador said, Jordan cannot stand idly by.

“The official Jordanian position can’t be to act as a bystander and take cosmetic actions. There has to be a strong movement led by Jordan.”


'It’s a cliche of a cliche': Algerians react to French documentary on Hirak movement

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 13:00
'It’s a cliche of a cliche': Algerians react to French documentary on Hirak movement
The documentary, which aired on French public TV, has been criticised for pandering to perceived cliches of youth
Yasmina Allouche Wed, 05/27/2020 - 14:00
Seventy-five percent of the Algerian population who have made up a large component of the popular movement is under the age of 30 (Ryad Kramdi/AFP)

A French channel has received a torrent of criticism after broadcasting a documentary on the Algerian popular protest movement, known as the Hirak, and has been accused of failing to adequately represent the diverse social nature and ideologies of its members.

Aired yesterday on one of France’s main public channels, France5, and directed by Franco-Algerian journalist Mustapha Kessous, the Algeria, My Love documentary was received poorly by Algerians in Algeria, France, and the wider diaspora. Many took to social media using the hashtag “this is not my Hirak” to express their discontent with the documentary’s portrayal.

“We the Algerian people denounce France [sic] attempt to discredit the Hirak with a reportage that reduces our cause to some silly demands while we fight for justice and freedom and change of the regime,” one user tweeted.

“It’s a cliché of a cliché. It’s like they hung out with a couple of guys in Algiers & called it a day. Algeria is...not just certain neighborhoods in Algiers,” another wrote

The Hirak movement was ignited on 22 February 2019 after nationwide protests erupted against the decision by then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to seek a fifth term in office despite his debilitating state.

Up until the coronavirus pandemic, Algerians were taking to the streets weekly, demanding an end to corruption and the actualisation of major political reforms.

Some have expressed fears that the documentary may work in the state’s favour, which has often accused the movement of being driven by “foreign hands”.

As a result of the backlash to the documentary, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which blasted the documentary as an "attack" on "the Algerian people and its institutions" recalled its ambassador to France today.  

Similarly in March, Algerian authorities summoned the French ambassador to Algeria after a researcher appeared on the France 24 TV channel and accused the military of diverting medical aid, sent from China to help during the coronavirus pandemic, for the use of its own benefit.  

Kessous began making Algeria, My Love after being “dazzled by the beauty of the Hirak” and “its strength, joy, [and] courage”, he has said.

It is one of the first documentaries on the movement to be broadcast on a mainstream French channel. The documentary features five young Algerians under the age of 30 who grew up under the rule of Bouteflika, ousted last year after 20 years in power.

The five Algerians joined the Hirak movement to demand change, including challenging some of the country’s existing socio-cultural taboos involving sex and alcohol. 

instead of shedding the light on our real problems here like the illegal arrests of activists and journalists, the regime that has no legitimacy in power, the corruption that burn this country and etc ...
france 5 is focusing on stupid things like masturbation and sexuality ... https://t.co/wqoFvOK7EQ

— Zuhir Benslama (@ZuhirBenslama) May 27, 2020

One of the students featured, 20-year-old Anis from the capital Algiers, describes his “suffocation” and “unhappiness” living in Algeria after explaining how a couple kissing in the streets is viewed by some as an “offence to decency”.

Whilst viewed as a legitimate concern shared by some Algerian youth in the conservative country, where drinking and clubbing are not unheard of, many pointed out how ill-placed Kessous was to reduce the uprising to its socio-cultural dimension instead of focusing on the underlying motivations of the youth at the heart of the popular revolt.

Voyez-vous cette femme ?
Son fils a été kidnappé pendant la décennie noire alors qu'il n'avait que 16 ans, depuis elle n'a aucune nouvelles sur lui.
Je ne pense pas qu'elle soit sorti pour avoir plus de liberté sexuelle, ou bien boire de la bière en public ...#AlgerieMonAmour pic.twitter.com/JvA1eFH5wO

— Kawther ❣ (@hesalert) May 26, 2020

Translation: Do you see this woman? Her son was kidnapped during the dark decade when he was only 16 years old. She has had no news about him since. I don't think she went out to have more sexual freedom, or to drink beer in public.

“Fifty-four weeks of protest, of sacrifice, of pacifism, solidarity and struggle. None of the basic claims of the Hirak have unfortunately interested the director," journalist Kouceila Rekik commented

“This is a documentary intended for Westerners, especially the French," one Twitter user said.

.@France5tv Algeria, the 10th biggest country in the world, 48 states, some larger than most countries, over 40m people. Yet you thought a couple of disgruntled people represent the aspirations of the Hirak! This is lazy journalism with a circumscribed, orientalist view. https://t.co/MviR3kQSw7

— Omar Dabouz (@omardabouz) May 27, 2020

According to Hamou Boumediene, one of the few activists interviewed in the documentary, the feature serves as a reminder of “our inability to produce our own image”.

“If we are unable to write by ourselves, we remain obliged to undergo what others write about us. So it’s urgent [for us] to engage our filmmakers and producers to make documentary films about us and for us."

Similar sentiments were shared online questioning the lack of funding afforded to Algeria’s creative scene or the repressive climate that has prevented Algerian artists from creating work that would benefit the country. 

By the way, if the #Algeria-n system provided some freedom for artists and activists, we would have seen terrific local documentaries on the Hirak. But, since repression is the norm, of course we will have to bear with foreign production that knows little, if any, about Algeria.

— G.Zine (@GheZinou) May 26, 2020

Kessous has defended the film from its critics, explaining in an interview with El Watan: “I am an Algerian living in France. I wanted to know what happens in my country without taking sides.

“I have never claimed that the five witnesses represent Algeria as a whole, but part of the Algerian youth. The five witnesses are from the people, that's the point...They do not go against the dream of the people.”

Besides the barrage of criticism the documentary has received, some viewers praised it as an opportunity to highlight the different voices associated with the Hirak. 

Un documentaire ne peut tout raconter, tout expliquer. C'est un pt de vue. Une contribution à l'histoire immédiate. Calmez-vous les gars, demandez vous pourquoi ce qui est diffusé en France vous semble si vital. Avec ce doc, nous avons des voix réelles. Merci à @MustaphaKessous

— akram belkaïd (@akrambelkaid) May 26, 2020

Translation: It's a point of view. A contribution to the immediate history. Calm down guys, ask yourselves why what is broadcast in France seems so vital to you. With this doc, we have real voices.

“The France5 report is one point of view among others. It has the merit of exposing real problems by young people who have had the courage [to express] their feelings,” another tweeted

Some also highlighted the potential threats faced by those featured in the documentary from those taking offence to what was expressed and how acceptance of different opinions should go hand in hand with democratic aspirations. 

“You should have hidden the faces of the young people in your documentary,” one Twitter user suggested. “That these young people did not measure the scope of their words is understandable, but you as professionals know it.” 

The documentary was also criticised for failing to include Hirak voices who remain behind bars for their opposition or those who have spent a number of weeks in prison for their activism - including 26-year-old poet Mohamed Tadjadit and 22-year-old law student Nour El Houda Dahmani, activists who have become the faces of youth in the protest movement.

الصراع الطبقي في الجزائر، قصد نسب المجد لغير أهله، قصة بعمر الوطن. تتغير التفاصيل التاريخية لكن الفكرة الرئيسية ثابتة. المعذبون في الأرض يدفنون في الظلال بلا شواهد، أما النصوص المتداولة فيسكنها من لم يخطّ منها سطرا.
لمن يقبعون في الظلال خلف القضبان: عيدكم مبارك أنتم الثوّار. https://t.co/unTmEFTdre

— Abdelbaqi Ghorab (@Abdelbaqi_) May 26, 2020

Translation: The class struggle in Algeria, in order to attribute glory to its people, is a story as old as the homeland. Historical details may change, but the main idea remains. Tormented people on the ground will be buried in the shadows without witnesses. As for the circulating texts, they will be inhabited by those who have not written one line in them. For those in the shadows behind bars: happy Eid, you are the revolutionaries.

Authorities have continued their crackdown on dissent, opposition figures, and influential voices within the Hirak movement over the last year. Dozens have been imprisoned over trumped-up charges involving the state and the military. 

According to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees, some 50 people are currently being detained over links to the protest movement. One of the most recent incarcerations was that of 25-year-old Walid Kechida, who was accused of “insulting the president of the republic” for owning a satirical Facebook page called “Hirak Memes”.  

Activists and analysts have accused Algerian authorities of using the current coronavirus pandemic as a pretext for crushing the movement.

Papicha, a film released last year and set during the Algerian civil war of the 1990s, was also the target of similar criticism after its director, Mounia Meddour, was accused of inadequately depicting the lived experiences of those who witnessed the violence of the "Black Decade". 

Turkey's launching a Russian news site, but its manager insists it comes in peace

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 11:31
Turkey's launching a Russian news site, but its manager insists it comes in peace
Media has created much acrimony between the occasionally competitive powers, though a TRT official claims they are not there to fan the flames
Ragip Soylu Wed, 05/27/2020 - 12:31
TRT's Russian service publishes news, columns and broadcasts (screenshot)

Turkey’s decision to launch a Russian news website amid deteriorating bilateral relations has raised eyebrows, but the man behind the project insists it doesn’t intend to damage Russia's government.

Turkish public broadcaster TRT announced earlier this week that it has transformed its Russian-language news site, which occasionally translated Turkish content, into an ambitious platform that would host TV programmes and provide exclusive reporting and commentary on Russia and the region around it.

The timing of TRT Russian's launch has drawn special interest among foreign policy observers who were quick to point out that Moscow and Ankara have been striving to preserve their contradictory interests in Syria and Libya in recent months, often inching closer to an actual armed fight.

In an interview with the Middle East Eye, Serdar Karagoz, the deputy director-general at TRT who is responsible for the broadcaster's international channels, downplayed the timing of the project and said the company has recently been expanding its operations. For example, he said, TRT Deutsch began to operate in Germany in January.

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“We will also develop a strategy regarding the Balkans, Africa and China in the upcoming days,” he said. “Our objective is to reach 300 million Russian speakers who also live in Central Asia, the Caucasus, Western Europe, and even in Israel.”

Turkish-Russian relations for the past four years have been on a roller-coaster ride. Once Russian news channels accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of backing the Islamic State (IS)  group. Now they celebrate the bilateral partnership, such as heralding images of him and Vladimir Putin eating an ice cream in Moscow in August.

However, since late February, when clashes in Syria’s Idlib province between Turkey and the Russian-backed Syrian government killed dozens of Turkish soldiers, tensions have once again increased.

Acrimony is often played out through the media. An article published by the Russian state news agency Sputnik International at the time declared Turkey’s Hatay as a province “stolen” from Syria, creating an uproar on Turkish social media.

Next, police raided the Sputnik Turkey offices in Istanbul and Ankara and detained several reporters including the editor-in-chief. The matter was resolved following a phone call from Moscow.

Turkish officials were always bothered by Sputnik Turkey’s editorial stance, which at one point directly accused Erdogan’s family of buying oil from IS - before a reconciliation agreement between the two states in 2016 put an end to the accusations.

The website, with nearly 1 million followers on Twitter, nevertheless continued to criticise Erdogan through its prominent hosts on radio, YouTube shows, and sarcastic reporting.

Sputnik's criticism has, however, cooled as Russian relations with Erdogan warmed; and last summer the agency fired several prominent journalists who are known for their opposition views.

Putin and Erdogan enjoying ice cream in August (AFP)
Putin and Erdogan enjoying ice cream in August (AFP)

Karagoz says TRT's aim is not to establish what he calls a “propaganda centre”, like Sputnik Turkey.

“We don’t endorse Sputnik’s editorial stance. [TRT Russian] will never be a propaganda machine like that,” he said. “But we will respond to Sputnik’s disinformation and manipulation [campaigns].”

TRT Russian plans to open a bureau in Moscow and hire local journalists in Central Asia and Ukraine, with staff concentrated on the region led by an editor-in-chief.

The broadcaster's officials say their main motivation is to provide coverage on economic and social life in Russia and the region around it, as well as closely tracking issues on rights and freedoms - both positive and negative developments.

“You won’t see an editorial policy that harms Turkish-Russian bilateral relations,” Karagoz said. “Our objective is not to damage the Russian government. But it will be possible to run critical reports that are opposing the Russian policies on this platform."

A gateway

Several articles published on TRT Russian read like non-political news.

In the popular news section, one story reports that Putin decided to hold Russia's famous victory parade on 24 June and another looks at a new trend in post-Soviet countries where people increasingly change their last names.

Yet on Wednesday, the main headline on the homepage was a column by Moscow-based political analyst Кirill Semenov on Putin’s relationship with his ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which is said to be currently strained.

At times, the article criticises the Russian position on Syria. It notes Russian state television RT Arabic was forced to remove an interview with a Syrian opposition figure after direct pressure from Damascus. “It turns out that freedom of speech does not extend to the Russian media and their interviews criticising the Syrian regime,” Semenov writes.

The article then says Moscow is often “forced to act as a slave and support Damascus” in adventures where Putin has nothing to gain. And finally, it declares: “In turn, Syria and partnership with Turkey remain the only achievement of Russian Middle East policy.”

'It will make more Russian speakers aware of Russia’s reckless behaviour in places like Syria or Ukraine'

- Luke Coffey, the Heritage Foundation

A note at the end of the article says that it does not represent TRT Russia's editorial policy.

Experts say TRT Russian may function as a gateway to some stories that Russian citizens often don’t see in their local languages.

“It will make more Russian speakers aware of Russia’s reckless behaviour in places like Syria or Ukraine,” says Luke Coffey, director of the Foreign Policy Center at The Heritage Foundation, a Washington DC-based think tank.

“Turkey wants to inform a Russian-speaking audience of what Moscow is doing.”

Others believe TRT Russian is another Turkish government initiative to increase trade and tourism between the two countries. Over seven million Russian citizens visited Turkey last year, a 17 percent increase.

“We shouldn’t just declare this as something related to bilateral problems,” says Onur Isci, director of the Center for Russian Studies at Bilkent University.

“It is another way to diversify the relations. There are many positive stories on the website. This relationship is mainly about economic cooperation.”

For example, one article advertises that Turkey guarantees the safety of charter flights of Russian tourists amid the coronavirus crisis.

Isci notes that both countries have been insistent on maintaining their relationship one way or another since the 1920s and avoid direct clashes.

“This won’t be a place to amplify the political differences.”


Israeli army chief 'preparing for violence' as Netanyahu reaffirms annexation

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 10:41
Israeli army chief 'preparing for violence' as Netanyahu reaffirms annexation
Plans include a significant reinforcement of forces in the West Bank, according to local media
MEE and agencies Wed, 05/27/2020 - 11:41
Israeli Army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi is pictured right of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, centre (AFP)

Israeli Army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi issued an alert to army commanders over possible violence in the occupied territories earlier this week after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again confirmed his plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, according to the Israeli media.

At a meeting of legislators of his Likud party on Monday, Netanyahu reaffirmed his intention to annex some illegal settlements and the Jordan Valley as early as 1 July, describing it as an "historic opportunity".

“We have a target date and we won’t change it,” declared the prime minister.

'We have a target date and we won’t change it'

- Benjamin Netanyahu

Haaretz newspaper reported that the army had explained that it was usual for the chief of staff to instruct the military to be prepared, given that escalation was a likely scenario. 

Kochavi’s words related more to the West Bank than the besieged Gaza Strip, the daily said.

Haaretz said the plan includes a significant reinforcement of forces in the West Bank and that Kochavi held another meeting on Monday, in which various possible scenarios were discussed.

Significant break

On Friday, the Palestinian Authority (PA) began implementing its announcement to end all agreements and understandings with Israel and the United States, including those on security, as a result of Israel's annexation plans.

The Arab48 news website quoted Israeli sources as saying that Palestinian security forces withdrew from the town of Abu Dis, near Jerusalem, on Friday morning.

On Thursday, Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said the Palestinians had suspended contacts with the CIA following Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's announcement on Tuesday to end the agreements.

Israel's planned annexation of the Jordan Valley: Why it matters

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The annexation of the Jordan Valley could effectively kill whatever hopes remain for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict as it would render completely impossible the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.

In April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached an agreement with his rival Benny Gantz to form a unity government that seek to impose Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley. Legislature could be discussed from 1 July.

The Jordan Valley accounts for around one-third of the occupied West Bank (almost 2,400 square kilometres), where 30 Israeli agricultural settlements house around 11,000 settlers.

Some 56,000 Palestinians also reside in the Jordan Valley, including in the city of Jericho, where their daily lives are deeply impacted by Israeli occupation policies. 

The area is rich in minerals and agricultural soil and is a highly strategic area, as it lies along the Jordanian border.

Should annexation be fully implemented, Israeli laws would be applied to these areas, instead of orders and regulations issued by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a unit of the Israeli army responsible for overseeing building permits, water, agriculture, road construction and other civil matters in the West Bank.

Jordan shares 335km of borders with Israel and the West Bank, and Amman's security coordination is highly treasured by Israel's military and intelligence.

The areas slated for annexation include a 97km stretch along the border with Jordan, including two crossings: the Sheikh Hussein Bridge and the al-Karameh Bridge, also known as the Allenby crossing. 

Jordan, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and senior officials in the European Union openly oppose the annexation plan, while the administration of US President Donald Trump has encouraged such moves.

On cooperation with the CIA, Erekat told reporters in a video call: “It stopped as of the end of the [Palestinian] president’s speech.”

Defence sources in Israel told Haaretz that in contrast to previous periods of tension, the break between the PA security apparatus and its Israeli counterparts is more significant this time. 

The sources said Palestinian security officers would still deal with information concerning imminent attacks, but that cooperation in other areas, such as sharing intelligence gained in interrogating suspects, had been halted.

In an article on Monday for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy thinktank, Yoav Mordechai and Michael Milstein, two former high-ranking members of the Israeli army, wrote: “What is sure is that this new threat by Abu Mazen [Abbas] is more concrete than ever, reflecting his dire strategic straits.”

Citing, among several factors, the US administration’s scheme to address the Israel-Palestine conflict, Netanyahu’s annexation plans, economic problems and the effects of the coronavirus, the men wrote: "In this context, there could emerge an explosive combination of the widespread Palestinian popular frustration with the deterioration of the quality of daily life."

War of words

Speaking at Monday's meeting of Likud legislators, Netanyahu said: "We have a historic opportunity, which hasn't existed since 1948, to apply sovereignty judiciously as a diplomatic... step in Judea and Samaria," referring to the year of Israel's birth and using the biblical names for the West Bank.

According to a report on Yisrael Hayom's website on Wednesday, Netanyahu's choice of words appear to be out of step with instructions recently issued by Israel's foreign ministry.

The report says that following research it was found that "applying sovereignty" was a term many in the international community find hard to accept.

As a result the foreign ministry has instructed its diplomats to opt for the term "applying Israeli law" when referring to the plan.

The ministry's research on the matter showed that "applying Israeli law" was a terminology that was less politically charged, Yisrael Hayom said.

'Undercutting of peace'

Netanyahu has cited US President Donald Trump's Middle East plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as underpinning his de facto annexation. 

The Palestinians have denounced the proposal, announced in January, under which most settlements would be incorporated into "contiguous Israeli territory".

Israel's annexation of West Bank would 'choke off any hope of peace', Joe Biden says
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Earlier this month, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden said Israel's annexation would "choke off any hope of peace".

Speaking to Jewish-American supporters at a virtual fundraiser, Biden vowed to reverse Trump's "undercutting of peace" and resume aid to Palestinians.

"Israel needs to stop the threats of annexation and stop settlement activity because it will choke off any hope of peace," he said.

Last week, Jordan threatened to review its relationship with Israel if the annexation plans went ahead.

Other countries have also condemned the annexation plans, including much of the European Union, which has warned it could affect Israel’s ties with the bloc.

Delays in Sudan's massacre investigation prompt protests from victims' families

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 10:00
Delays in Sudan's massacre investigation prompt protests from victims' families
A year on from the 3 June killings, protesters have criticised delays in justice reforms and the investigation’s lack of transparency
Mohammed Amin Wed, 05/27/2020 - 11:00
A Sudanese protester lifts a flag bearing the slogan 'glory to the martyrs' during a demonstration in Khartoum, on 23 May 2020, to commemorate the first anniversary of 3 June massacre (AFP)

Almost a year after the infamous massacre in front of the army headquarters in Khartoum, activists and victims' families are still looking for justice for the 120 protesters killed, with families threatening to take the case to the African court.

Protesters and families of the victims gathered in the capital to mark the dark day of 3 June, which fell on the 29th day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, chanting anti-military slogans and demanding that the perpetrators be brought to justice.  

The protesters criticised the transitional government for the delay in imposing justice and called for the removal of the investigation committee appointed by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in September.

Meanwhile, families of the victims hinted they might seek justice at the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights if they are not satisfied with the results of the investigation.

Facing growing popular frustration, the head of the independent committee Nabil Adeeb has defended its work, stressing that it is doing its job properly, a claim rejected by the protesters.

Painful memory

Kisha Abdul Salam, the father of one of the protesters killed in the massacre, said the family would never forgive until they see the killers of their son held accountable.   

“This memory is very painful, we feel a deep injustice,” Abdul Salam told Middle East Eye.

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Like many Sudanese, Abdul Salam has criticised the immunity law in Sudan’s new constitutional charter that protects members of the state from criminal proceedings, including Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, or “Hemeti”, the head of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which is widely accused of being behind the massacre.

The law however also states that the immunity may be lifted after an order from the Legislative Council.

 “We believe that the investigation committee will not bring justice to our martyrs because the constitutional declaration has already put the Transitional Military Council (TMC) generals responsible for the massacre in top government positions with full impunity,” Abdul Salam stressed.

Abdul Salam, who is also a leading member in the Committee of the Families of the Martyrs, has accused the RSF along with the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood of dispersing the sit-in and mass killing the protesters.

However, a member of the RSF, who asked for anonymity, has joined his voice to the protesters, urging the investigation committee to accelerate the work and declare the results.

“We are also waiting for the results of the investigation because we are confident of our position and we want to see justice and for the continuous conspiracies against us to stop,” he said.

International justice

The Sudanese Professional Association (SPA), a member of the ruling political coalition of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), which led the protests until the ousting of longtime dictator Omar Bashir, has also held the TMC responsible for the June attack.

The SPA called for using the investigation into the massacre to highlight the importance of justice in the country.

Sudan’s grassroots resistance committees said they are waiting for the lifting of the curfew imposed to stop the spread of coronavirus to organise million-man marches to press for the acceleration of the investigation’s outcomes.  

In a tweet on Saturday, Prime Minister Hamdok stressed that the achievement of justice for the “martyrs of the December revolution” is a top priority for the government and the transitional period.

'We believe that the investigation committee will not bring justice to our martyrs'

-Kisha Abdul Salam, father of victim

But Abdul Salam has warned that if the families of the victims are not satisfied with local justice, they may seek international justice. He added that among the many discouraging signs has been the delay in implementing reforms to the justice system, as dictated by the constitution.  

Abdul Salam also revealed that they have requested to be represented in the investigation committee through they lawyers, but their request was not granted, which they believe has thrown doubts over the impartiality of the results.

“We are in contact with many international and regional organisations of justice and human rights in defence of our rights,” he said.

 “So, we are waiting for the results of the investigations and, accordingly, we might file our case to the African court in Gambia.”

Meanwhile, the director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) for East Africa region, Jehanne Henry, has called for international participation in the investigation committee.

Talking to MEE, Henry highlighted the importance of probing the different cases of violence against protesters in Sudan.  

“We did urge the transitional government to allow international experts to participate in this investigation and to extend the mandate to all crackdowns on protesters, not only for June 3,” she said. “Such a mandate and resources would have helped ensure independence of the committee.”

Political will

A group of more than  700 Sudanese lawyers, human rights defenders and activists have widely circulated a petition calling for the removal of the head of the investigation committee.

The memorandum, which was submitted to Hamdok, claimed that Adeeb, who is also a lawyer, has practised law during his role as head of the committee, which is prohibited during the period of his assignment as a way to prevent corruption and delays in the investigation.

In an interview with Al-Quds al-Arabi, Adeeb said that criminal charges in the 3 June case will be directed against individuals and not the institution they belong to.

Independent lawyers have also filed another petition to the investigation committee requesting that it deals with the 3 June case as a crime against humanity, adding that the massacre was the result of a collective order made by the TMC, which currently rules the country, and should therefore be tried accordingly.

'The martyr at the barricades': The life and death of one Sudanese protester
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However, Adeeb has defended his position and rejected the calls for his removal.

He also rejected accusations of being involved in defending figures of the former regime, telling MEE that the allegations are “incorrect information by propagandists in the social media”.

Sudanese legal expert Ali Agab also raised the issue of gaps in Sudanese criminal law and stressed the need for reforms.

“The issue of individual responsibility has unfortunately revealed that the committee is not dealing with the case as a crime against humanity," Agab told MEE

“It’s taking rather a narrow definition of criminal responsibility. Such an approach is a waste of time and would definitely obstruct justice.”

Additionally, HRW’s Henry noted that the immunities granted under the Sudanese criminal law are worrying, but they can be waived. 

“So there are really no technical reasons why those responsible at the highest levels could not be brought to justice,” she said.

“It is just a question of political will at the end of the day.”

But Adeeb has insisted that the committee’s relationship with the both the TMC’s civilian and military components is going well, but declined to divulge how many TMC generals or other military or security personnel have had their immunity rescinded.

“I can say that the civilian and military components are being cooperative with us and they respond positively to our demands, but I prefer not to talk about the lifting of immunity in public because that may impact the course of the investigation,” he said.

Transparency or secrecy

The committee has been accused of lack of transparency, which Agap said was affecting public opinion on the case and causing doubts.

The lawyer has demanded that the committee declare the procedures it has done so far.

“The committee has enough powers. However, we don't know what it's doing. The committee should inform the public about its work,” he said.

'Lack of transparency has only one meaning, that it failed to achieve the minimum of its objectives and it fears facing the public with its failure'

- Ali Agab, Sudanese legal expert

“Lack of transparency has only one meaning, that it failed to achieve the minimum of its objectives and it fears facing the public with its failure.”

Henry believes that the committee has attracted wide criticism for its slow pace and inaccessibility, especially for the victims of gender-based violence.

“We hope that the report will be made public and that it will consider the role of commanders in charge of the forces that perpetrated the June 3 attacks,” she said. 

When asked about it, however, Adeeb disagreed and said that secrecy is important for the progression of the investigation.

“Because we have to be professional … It’s also important not to declare all the information before the end of the investigation because that may affect the case itself,” he said, adding that it also might compromise the evidence.

Adeeb also said that he may need more time to conclude the investigation, but added that the process is in its final stages.

“The circumstances of the lockdown due to the corona has obstructed our work for around three weeks, so we may need to extend the time again in order to make perfect results of our work,” he said.


Danish government accused of discrimination over 'ghetto' evictions

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 09:56
Danish government accused of discrimination over 'ghetto' evictions
Residents of Copenhagen neighbourhood launch legal fight to hold onto homes in challenge to government's 'ghetto laws'
Simon Hooper Wed, 05/27/2020 - 10:56
A woman rides a bicycle past a hijab store near Mjolnerparken in Copenhagen in May 2018 (Reuters)

Residents of a Copenhagen neighbourhood labelled a “ghetto” by the Danish government have launched a legal campaign to fight eviction from their homes.

The group of residents from Mjolnerparken argue that the designation is discriminatory under EU and human rights law because the criteria that the government uses includes assessing whether more than half of the population of an area is from a “non-western” background.

In a statement in support of the residents, Almen Modstand, a nationwide tenants' network, said: “We cannot accept the threat of being forced from our homes and witness our loved communities being ripped apart on the basis of discrimination; simply because of who we are and because our neighbourhoods are also home to low-income, ethnic minorities.

“We have a vision of a Denmark that is inclusive to all, no matter skin colour, income, or neighbourhood."

More than 200 out of 510 public housing apartments in the area, which is home to about 1,600 people, are due to be sold off as part of controversial government plans to change the character of urban neighbourhoods with high levels of deprivation, social problems and crime which are officially listed as “ghettos”.

Such communities are also home to the majority of Denmark's ethnic minority population, many of whom are from Muslim backgrounds and the government has faced accusations of discrimination and racism since introducing a package of measures targeting ghetto neighbourhoods in 2018.

About 82 percent of Mjolnerparken residents are immigrants or the children of immigrants, according to the latest figures, with many from Lebanese, Iraqi and Somali backgrounds.

'Danish values'

The measures, which the government says are necessary to encourage integration, include compelling infants from ethnic minority backgrounds to spend at least 25 hours a week in state childcare in order to be taught “Danish values” and tougher punishments for crimes committed in ghetto areas.

Isolation, not integration for minorities targeted by Danish 'ghetto' policy
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“Denmark enjoys a reputation around the world as an egalitarian country with strong social and economic systems. These concepts are eroded by the ‘Ghetto Package’ and this eviction plan,” said Susheela Math of Open Society Justice Initiative, which is supporting the residents' legal challenge.

“Not only are these residents stigmatised as inhabitants of a ‘ghetto’ - with all its connotations - they are also facing losing their homes. The centrepiece of the law is a state-made label of ‘non-western background,’ which can apply even to individuals born and raised in Denmark.”

The specific focus of the legal challenge is a measure within the package which requires the government to reduce public housing in areas deemed to be “tough ghettoes” by 40 percent by 2030.

“Tough ghettoes” are areas that have been defined as ghettoes for four years or more according to a list of neighbourhoods published by the Ministry of Transport, Building and Housing since 2010.

The most recent list, published in December 2019, lists 28 areas including six in Copenhagen, the Danish capital, and others in cities including Odense and Aarhus.  

'A home is a human right'

According to campaigners, thousands of people across Denmark are threatened with eviction as a consequence of the law.

"We all value our home. We value our community and respect each other. But as a result of the so-called 'Ghetto Laws', we and other groups in Denmark might be evicted in the near future,” said Susanne Poulsen, a Mj0lnerparken resident.

“A home is a human right. This isn't only a threat to us, but also to our children."

The legal challenge hinges on the government's use of the percentage of the population from a “non-western background” as a measure in determining if an area is a ghetto. The measure covers first-generation immigrants and their Danish-born children and lawyers say it is based on race, religion and ethnic origin.

“The use of ‘non-western background’ as a criterion in the law on common housing is closely connected to residents’ racial, ethnic and national origin,” said Eddie Omar Rosenberg Khawaja, a lawyer at Jacobsen & Khawaja which is representing the residents.

“The plaintiffs, many of whom have lived in Mjolnerparken for decades, are going to lose their homes based on this criterion. This is discriminatory and violates their human rights.”

Announcing plans to sell off the Mjolnerparken homes in February, Bo-Vita, the company responsible for subsidised housing in the neighbourhood, said proceeds from the sale of the homes would be used to relocate displaced residents and build subsidised housing elsewhere in the city.

Middle East Eye has contacted the Danish Ministry of Transport, Building and Housing for comment.

Hezbollah chief rejects US pressure 'to empower' UN peacekeepers in Lebanon

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 07:28
Hezbollah chief rejects US pressure 'to empower' UN peacekeepers in Lebanon
Hassan Nasrallah says Washington requesting more powers for UN border patrol force as a result of Israeli demands
MEE and agencies Wed, 05/27/2020 - 08:28
Nasrallah spoke after a dispute broke out late on Monday in the southern village of Blida between Finnish peacekeepers and residents (AFP)

The head of the Lebanese movement Hezbollah has rejected a US request to empower a UN peacekeeping force patrolling the border with Israel.

Hassan Nasrallah was speaking on Tuesday ahead of a UN Security Council vote this summer to renew the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil).

"The Americans, as the result of Israeli demands, are raising the issue of changing the nature of Unifil's mission," Nasrallah said in a radio interview to mark 20 years since Israel withdrew from Lebanon.

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"Lebanon has refused to change Unifil's mission, but Israel wants... it to have the right to raid and search private properties, and the Americans are pressuring Lebanon on this matter," Nasrallah said.

In August last year, the UN Security Council voted to renew Unifil's mandate for a year.

However the resolution included a requirement, on the insistence of the United States, diplomats said, for the UN secretary general to perform an evaluation on the Unifil mission and its staff before 1 June, 2020.

"We are not against Unifil staying," Nasrallah said.

But "the time of deeming Lebanon to be weak is over, and Israel cannot impose conditions on Lebanon, even behind an American mask".

Nasrallah spoke after a dispute broke out late on Monday in the southern village of Blida between Finnish peacekeepers and residents, after a Unifil military vehicle hit two cars and a motorbike, the National News Agency reported.

Young men cut off the road in protest, and the Finnish peacekeepers had to be escorted out by the Lebanese army, it said.

On Tuesday, surrounding villages in a joint statement accused the patrol of "entering and searching people's vineyards and private properties," describing such actions as unacceptable.

'Lebanese people at risk'

In early May, Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to the UN, claimed Unifil was being "prevented from fulfilling its mandate" and Hezbollah had "been able to arm itself and expand operations, putting the Lebanese people at risk".

The Security Council "must either pursue serious change to empower Unifil or realign its staffing and resources with tasks it can actually accomplish," she wrote on Twitter.

Lebanon and Israel are still technically at war. 

Set up in 1978, Unifil was beefed up after a months-long war in 2006 and tasked with guaranteeing a ceasefire and Israeli withdrawal from a demilitarised zone on the border. 

Unifil can have up to 10,000 troops on the ground, monitoring the truce and helping Lebanese troops secure the borders, AFP reported.

Joe Biden's campaign removes 'racist' anti-Palestinian language from platform

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 22:43
Joe Biden's campaign removes 'racist' anti-Palestinian language from platform
Passage saying BDS lets Palestinians 'off the hook for their choices' has disappeared from Biden's plan for Jewish-American communities
Ali Harb Tue, 05/26/2020 - 23:43
Biden's campaign made a string of pro-Israel statements this month, angering Palestine solidarity activists (AFP)

Joe Biden's campaign has watered down an anti-BDS line from his platform for Jewish-American communities, removing "racist" language that angered Palestine solidarity activists.

The Biden campaign said in a statement earlier this month that his administration will "firmly reject the BDS movement, which singles out Israel - home to millions of Jews - and too often veers into antisemitism, while letting Palestinians off the hook for their choices." 

But on Tuesday, that line disappeared from the platform. It was replaced with a pledge to "firmly reject the BDS movement - which singles out Israel and too often veers into anti-Semitism - and fight other efforts to delegitimise Israel on the global stage."

Over the past few weeks, the former vice president's campaign has made a string of pro-Israel statements, but the line about letting "Palestinians off the hook for their choices" particularly incensed Palestinian human rights advocates.

It is not clear why the line was removed, but it followed a wave of anger and ridicule by activists on social media.

'The fact that they came back and deleted a few words that were particularly offensive and racist is nothing to be very excited about'

- Amer Zahr, activist and comedian

"Blaming Palestinians for their own oppression is an anti-Palestinian talking point and there is never an excuse for such explicit racism, let alone as the Israeli government makes blatant and illegal land grabs,"  JVP Action, a political advocacy group affiliated with Jewish Voice for Peace, said in a statement last week.

Biden's campaign did not return MEE's request for comment by time of publication.

'Huge disconnect'

Iman Awad, national legislative director at Emgage, a Muslim-American political advocacy group that endorsed Biden, said the group had flagged the anti-Palestinian language to the campaign.

"It shocked us because that wasn't the conversation we were having with the campaign," Awad told MEE. "There was a huge disconnect. And in our opinion, the language was absolutely, unequivocally terrible on Palestine."

She added that the anti-BDS statement was shocking and "extremely problematic", stressing that the Palestinian campaign to pressure Israel economically is modelled after the anti-apartheid boycott movement in South Africa that was founded in the late 1950s.

"We told them why it was problematic and to the best of my knowledge, that language was removed from the campaign website," Awad said.

Emgage initially endorsed Bernie Sanders, who attracted overwhelming support from Arab and Muslim voters as well as Palestine solidarity activists.

Awad acknowledged the disappointment of many Muslim Americans in Biden's pro-Israel rhetoric, but stressed the need to defeat Trump and engage with candidates and elected officials.

She said while some of Biden's campaign statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been "unequivocally wrong", activists and organisations should work with people on the campaign to point out anti-Palestinian tropes and change policy directions.

'Complete denial'

Biden, who became the presumptive Democratic nominee after Sanders dropped out of the presidential race last month, is set to take on President Donald Trump in the general elections in November. 

"Thank you VP Joe Biden for listening to the American Arab and Muslim voice, and correcting some of the disturbing wordage your campaign wrote up re: the Israel and Palestine conflict," M Baqir Mohie El-Deen, a policy manager at the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), wrote on Twitter.

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"November will be a close election and we won't defeat Trump without all being united."

But Palestinian-American activist and comedian Amer Zahr was less impressed, stressing that the edit to the platform does not signal any policy change.

"That is one small phrase in an agenda that is characterised by a complete denial and ignoring of Palestinian rights," Zahr told MEE. 

"Should that phrase ever have been in there? Of course not. So, the fact that they came back and deleted a few words that were particularly offensive and racist is nothing to be very excited about."

Biden has been a staunch supporter of Israel since he was first elected to the Senate in 1972. 

And while his campaign says that he opposes annexation and settlement expansion, the presumptive Democratic nominee has repeatedly ruled out leveraging US aid to Israel to deter the government of Benjamin Netanyahu against such policies.

Blinken's comment

The anti-BDS line about Palestinian "choices" was not the first time the former vice-president's campaign has been accused of racism towards Palestinians.

Last week, senior Biden adviser Tony Blinken echoed an anti-Arab trope during a briefing with the Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI).

"In the category of 'Never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity', I think a reminder to Palestinians... that they can and should do better and deserve better and that requires leadership: leadership to make clear the reality of the Jewish state; leadership to make clear the need to end incitement and violence; leadership to bring people along for the prospect of negotiating," Blinken said.

He was citing a saying by the late Israeli diplomat Abba Eban - "The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity."

The quote, often repeated by Israeli officials, is often rejected as racist by Arabs and Palestinians.

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"Biden's campaign is so beholden to AIPAC that they have adopted racist tropes to define Palestinians, the same tropes used to justify apartheid policies," Abed Ayoub, the legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), told MEE last week. 

Biden released a plan for Muslim-American communities early in May, pledging to immediately reverse Trump's "Muslim ban" if elected president.

The platform also vowed to advance human rights throughout the world and end Trump's "blank check" to Saudi Arabia.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the plan for Muslim communities says Biden would "engage Israelis and Palestinians alike to help them find ways to live together in peace, freedom, security and prosperity and to champion a two-state solution". 

The Muslim plan also vows that Biden would resume humanitarian aid to Palestinians and re-open the US consulate in East Jerusalem.

But the East Jerusalem consulate, which would serve Palestinians, is not mentioned in the Jewish plan. And the pledge to resume aid to Palestinians comes with a caveat - that the assistance would be restricted if the Palestinian Authority continues its monthly payments to the families of suspects killed or those imprisoned by Israel.

Aid to Palestinians would be "consistent with the requirements of the Taylor Force Act, including that the Palestinian Authority end its system of compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism," the Jewish-American platform says.


Coronavirus: Cairo may become the next Wuhan, opposition group warns

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 20:41
Coronavirus: Cairo may become the next Wuhan, opposition group warns
Batel campaign says Egypt has been underreporting Covid-19 cases and not spending enough to combat the spread of the disease
MEE staff Tue, 05/26/2020 - 21:41
Egypt has reported 17,000 cases of the coronavirus, however, Batel says the true figure is probably much higher (AFP/File photo)

An Egyptian opposition group has urged the World Health Organisation to monitor the country's fight against the coronavirus after it accused the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of underreporting the death toll.

The Batel campaign, which means "void" in Arabic, warned on Tuesday that if the country continues to mismanage the crisis, Cairo could become a "new Wuhan."

The coronavirus originated in Wuhan, the capital of China's Hubei province, and has killed at least 350,000 people globally.

"Efforts must be immediately combined to support Egypt before it becomes the world's new Wuhan."

'Where does the regime spend these billions of dollars that are supposed to be spent on supporting medical personnel and fighting the outbreak of the virus'

- Batel, Egyptian opposition campaign

Batel also warned that the government was likely to misuse it's recent $2.7 billion IMF emergency pandemic aid, which was recently criticised by a former investment minister and opponent of the Sisi government.

"Where does the regime spend these billions of dollars that are supposed to be spent on supporting medical personnel and fighting the outbreak of the virus?" the group said in its letter.

"Why do some international organisations still cover the regime up, and for whose interest?"

So far, Egypt, which has a population of 100 million, has reported only 17,000 cases of the coronvirus. However, Batel, which been monitoring the crisis, said the true figure was probably much higher.

"Unfortunately, the figures up to date show that Covid-19 infections and deaths are much more than the official figures announced by the regime in Egypt."

Underreporting and a lack of PPE

In March, Cairo forced a journalist from The Guardian to leave the country after she reported on a scientific study that argued the actual figure for coronavirus cases were far higher than authorities were reporting.

Sisi's government has also criticised news outlets including the New York Times and the Washington Post, accusing the newspapers of covering the situation "unprofessionally".

In addition to underreporting cases, doctors and healthcare workers have also complained of a lack in personal protective equipment (PPE) when treating Covid-19 patients.

Tens of Egyptian doctors at Al-Munira General Hospital in Cairo published a mass resignation letter on Facebook this week, protesting a lack of PPE and quarantine measures.

"The Egyptian people are not the only ones that will pay the price; but in fact, the whole world will," Batel said in its letter.

Newcastle takeover in doubt as WTO rules Saudi Arabia behind beoutQ piracy: Report

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 18:33
Newcastle takeover in doubt as WTO rules Saudi Arabia behind beoutQ piracy: Report
Guardian reports that the Premier league, which received WTO's unpublished report earlier this month, made submissions against the Saudi-funded takeover
MEE staff Tue, 05/26/2020 - 19:33
Newcastle United's Brazilian striker Joelinton controls the ball during the English FA Cup fifth round football match on 3 March (AFP/File photo)

The planned takeover of Newcastle United by a Saudi-backed consortium that involves Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) appears to be in serious doubt after the World Trade Organisation ruled that the country is responsible for a TV network that broadcasts pirated sporting events. 

In an unreleased 130-page report seen by the Guardian, the WTO firmly established that Saudi authorities are behind the illegal streaming service beoutQ, an accusation the kingdom has long denied. 

The trade organisation's report is set to be made public around mid-June but has already questioned Saudi Arabia's ability to go forward with its $365m  takeover. 

The kingdom's Public Investment Fund - chaired by MBS - has plans to take an 80 percent stake in the club, but to do so would require the fund to pass the Premier League's owners' and directors' test. 

That test can be failed if owners were thought to be in violation of UK law, even if it was committed abroad. 

US places Saudi Arabia on "Priority Watch List" for beoutQ piracy
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Since the report establishes a clear legal link between beoutQ and the Saudi state, the viability of the takeover has come into question, the Guardian reported. 

The beoutQ network was launched in 2017 and illegally streams content from Qatar's beIN Sports media group, which holds exclusive rights to broadcast international tournaments to the Middle East and North Africa region. 

BeoutQ works through the set up of illegal receiver boxes that are widely available across the region which allow the streaming of major broadcasters.

The WTO report revealed that the Premier League, which received an early copy of the report, has submitted legal complaints against Saudi Arabia over the issue. 

While Fifa (football's world governing body), the Premier League, La Liga and others had previously attempted to take legal action against beoutQ for its illegal streaming of their matches, they had been unable to secure a local firm willing to take on the copyright case, the Guardian said. 

The WTO, the highest judicial body that could take on such a case, has now ruled that Saudi Arabia is responsible for the network, and therefore in breach of international law. 

Saudi Arabia and two other minority buyers - PCP Capital Partners and the property developers David and Simon Reuben - which make up the other 20 percent stake in the club, contacted the Premier League for approval nearly two months ago. The process usually takes around 30 days.

Ongoing international concern 

Saudi Arabia's alleged ownership of beoutQ has for years caused problems for the kingdom.  

Earlier this month, the US - for the second year in a row - put Saudi Arabia on its "Priority Watch List" for failing to protect and enforce intellectual property rights around the world.

In a report released by the US Trade Representative (USTR), beoutQ was found to be the kingdom's main piracy offender. 

In January, the European Commission slammed Saudi Arabia for "causing considerable harm to EU businesses" through beoutQ, as well Arabsat, a Royadh-based satellite connectivity provider. 

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Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has continued to deny responsibility for the broadcast of the pirated content, suggesting instead that the piracy was operating out of Cuba and Colombia; both countries have also denied the accusations. 

The British government has also taken on the issue. Last year Liam Fox, then secretary of state at the Department for International Trade, in a letter to a colleague, said that he had contacted directly Saudi Arabia's minister for commerce and investment about the issue of Saudi piracy. 

At the time, he said that Philip Hammond, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, had also raised beoutQ with ministers in Saudi Arabia. 

In October 2018, beIN launched a compensation claim worth $1bn against the illegal network while Qatar filed an action at the WTO. 

For their part, rights group Amnesty International has also called for Saudi Arabia to be blocked from taking over Newcastle United over the government's "sweeping crackdown on human rights". 

Saudi Arabia targets family of ex-spy chief in effort to force him home

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 16:50
Saudi Arabia targets family of ex-spy chief in effort to force him home
Authorities arrested Saad al-Jabri's children and brother in an attempt to coerce him to return from Canada, sources say
MEE staff Tue, 05/26/2020 - 17:50
Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has centralised power and get rid of any opponents to his ascension to the throne (AFP/File photo)

Human rights advocates are calling on Saudi Arabia to immediately release the family of former intelligence official Saad al-Jabri - who is living in exile in Canada and resisting pressure from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to return to the kingdom.

Jabri, who was a key go-between for Western spy agencies, sought refuge in Canada in 2017 days before his former boss, Mohammed bin Nayef, was ousted by his younger cousin MBS in a palace coup.

Middle East Eye reported in March that after fleeing from Riyadh in 2017, Jabri was "chased" by Saudi authorities who were willing to do "anything to get him back".

Human Rights Watch reported on Tuesday that after Saudi authorities arrested bin Nayef and Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, a younger brother of King Salman, earlier this year, Jabri's children were subsequently detained in a bid to coerce him back to Riyadh.

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Saudi authorities had frozen the children's bank accounts and confiscated their financial assets after their father left in 2017, HRW said. Both were also interrogated separately about their father's whereabouts in 2018. 

The children were reported to have been summoned from the Presidency of State in early March and were told by security officials that their father "must return to the kingdom," the rights group said.

It added that less than a week later, on 16 March, Jabri's son Omar, 21, and daughter Sarah, 20, were dragged out of their beds at 6 am by armed security officers. 

Family members told reporters last week that after weeks of failing to discover the whereabouts of Omar and Sarah, they felt pressured into raising the issue publicly, describing the kidnappings as "daylight thuggery by a state".

Jabri's brother, Abdulrahman, a professor of electrical engineering in his sixties, was also taken, they said.

According to the rights group, no charges have been laid against the three and no reason has been given for their detention.

"It has been weeks and we don't know where they are," Khalid, another of Jabri's sons was quoted as saying. "They were kidnapped from their beds. I don't even know if they are alive or dead."

Omar al-Jabri was detained along with his sister in March (Courtesy of Omar al-Jabri's classmate)

'Enforced disappearance'

One of Omar al-Jabri's former classmates slammed the arrests as "disgraceful" and "immoral," calling for the immediate release of the detainees.

"Omar al-Jabri is a kind-hearted, caring and considerate friend, who was very popular amongst his classmates and a brother-like figure," the individual, who requested anonymity, told MEE on Tuesday.

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"What has happened to him is shocking, disgraceful, and quite frankly, immoral. He and his imprisoned family members should be released immediately and given complete freedom to travel outside the kingdom."

Michael Page, the deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, also denounced the arrests, saying the children had been held incommunicado since March.

"Saudi authorities are sinking to new lows in going after the families of former officials out of favour with the current leadership," he said.

"How can anyone describe the Saudi leadership as reformist while it's arbitrarily detaining the children of former officials?"

HRW said the arrests may qualify as an "enforced disappearance".

From the US to Canada

Sources told MEE earlier this year that shortly before Jabri went to Canada where he secured refuge in November 2017, he spent a brief period in Boston.

Despite Jabri having extensive relationships with the US intelligence community as bin Nayef's aide, the former intelligence official did not feel safe with Donald Trump in power.

Members of the US Congress, and high-ranking officials in other countries, have accused the White House of ignoring human rights abuses under MBS' leadership and of Trump giving the crown prince a pass after the brutal killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Canadian government's assistance to Jabri and his family is believed to have sparked tensions with the kingdom which eventually led to a diplomatic row between Ottawa and Riyadh in August 2018.

Despite Jabri never publicly criticising MBS, a source familiar with his situation told MEE that his loyalty to bin Nayef, and his decades-spanning knowledge of the inner workings of the kingdom's powerful interior ministry, made him a target of the young crown prince.

EXCLUSIVE: Top Saudi intelligence official 'chased' to Canada by MBS
Read More »

"Let's assume that there might be a coup in Saudi," the source said. "He's the biggest threat. He would have the money and power to do something."

A second source said that while in Canada, Jabri received intimidating messages from MBS. There was also concern that there was a rendition attempt to bring him back to the kingdom.

Since deposing bin Nayef three years ago, MBS has centralised power and targeted any and all perceived foes and potential opponents. He's arrested several members of the royal family, including Prince Faisal bin Abdullah al-Saud, the son of the late King Abdullah.

MEE reported in March that four members of the Allegiance Council had been targeted by MBS. Three members had been either jailed or questioned, while a fourth obtained nationality from Cyprus in a bid to escape.

Last month, Saudi Princess Basma bint Saud pleaded to the king for mercy and to release her from prison, citing her health being in critical condition. It was the first time she spoke out since being reported missing a year ago.

In recent weeks, some imprisoned members of the royal family have even sought the help of US lobby firms to convince Congress and the Trump administration to push for their release.

"Saudi Arabia's recent justice reforms have not curbed the authorities' contempt for the rule of law, HRW's Page said.

This shows "the country needs a full overhaul of the justice and security sectors."

Israel prevents Palestinian forces from entering West Bank village

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 15:33
Israel prevents Palestinian forces from entering West Bank village
The move occurred after Mahmoud Abbas halted security coordination with Israel over West Bank annexation plans
Akram Al-Waara Tue, 05/26/2020 - 16:33
Palestinian security forces man a Bethlehem checkpoint on 10 March 2020, when the city fell under lockdown due to coronavirus (AFP)

When Palestinian police officers got word of a violent dispute between families in the Nablus-area village of Qusra in the northern occupied West Bank on Monday night, they found themselves entering uncharted waters. 

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It was one of the first major incidents to happen in the area following the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) decision last week to end security coordination with Israel, in protest of Israeli plans to begin formally annexing large swathes of the West Bank in July.

Following the presidential announcement, Palestinian security forces have withdrawn from Area B of the West Bank, the 21 percent of the occupied territory where the PA is officially in charge of civil affairs, but otherwise remain under Israeli army control, as defined by the 1993 Oslo Accords. 

“Our forces immediately prepared themselves to deploy to Qusra, wearing civilian clothes and without coordinating with the Israeli side as we would usually do,” Nablus Governor Ibrahim Ramadan told Middle East Eye. 

But when they arrived at the borders of the village, which lies within Area B, the Palestinian officers were surprised to find flying checkpoints manned by Israeli soldiers standing in their way. 

“They began stopping all vehicles entering Qusra, and checking everyone’s IDs,” Ramadan said. “Anyone whose name popped up in their system as a policeman or national security officer was turned around.”

Ramadan speculated to MEE that once Israeli authorities got word of what was happening in Qusra, they set up the checkpoints in order to make a point: if the PA was stopping security coordination, then Israel would not be allowing PA forces into areas technically under Israeli security control.

“We believe it was a deliberate measure to prevent Palestinian police from entering Qusra and de-escalating the situation there,” Ramadan said.

By the time the plain-clothed Palestinian officers found a way into Qusra using a network of backroads, the confrontation in the village had escalated.

Two people had been critically injured, including a 22-year-old who later succumbed to his wounds in the hospital. 

‘We have no power’

When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced an end to all agreements with Israel on 20 May, including the controversial policy of security coordination, Palestinians were sceptical, given that Abbas has made similar threats numerous times over the years without any real action on the ground. 

But the subsequent withdrawal of Palestinian forces from Area B took many by surprise, as it was the first definitive action taken on the ground indicating that things might be different this time around. 

The pullback, however, has presented a number of new challenges to Palestinians in the occupied territory. 

With no police or security presence, Areas B and C, which together constitute more than 80 percent of the West Bank, how would the PA be able to maintain order in rural areas falling under Israeli jurisdiction?

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Ramadan argued that the events in Qusra served as a good indication of what is to come.

“If Israel prevents the movement of our security forces throughout the West Bank, many rural Palestinian communities like Qusra will be put at risk,” Ramadan said, adding that 46 towns and villages fall within Areas B and C in the Nablus governorate alone. 

Prior to Monday’s events, reports surfaced on local Arabic media outlets that Israeli authorities would begin preventing the movement of Palestinian security or police forces throughout the West Bank as early as this week, in retaliation for the PA’s move.

The incident in Qusra was the first documented case of Israeli forces preventing the entry of Palestinian authorities into a Palestinian town or village since security coordination was allegedly ended.

MEE contacted both the Israeli Civil Administration and the Palestinian liaison’s office, but did not receive confirmation that Israel would be enforcing a ban on the movement of Palestinian security forces throughout the West Bank. 

Despite technically being under Israeli security control, communities in Area B and C rely on the PA to instil social order in the event such as intracommunity disputes, or most recently, quarantine and social distancing orders amid the Covid-19 pandemic

“Technically under the Oslo Accords these areas should be under the responsibility of the Israeli security apparatus,” Ramadan noted. “But in reality, they don’t protect Palestinians in these areas. 

“And now, they want to prevent us from protecting our people as well.”

Security coordination had enabled Palestinian police and security forces to access these areas in such a capacity - but without it, the PA has very little power to enforce any of its policies outside of Area A, the 18 percent of the West Bank under full PA civilian and security control. 

“Even the lowest ranking Israeli soldier still has more power than a minister of the PA,” Ramadan said, noting that even as the governor of Nablus, he still gets stopped and checked by Israeli soldiers at military checkpoints.

“We as a people and as a government, are under occupation, it’s plain and simple,” he added. “And this shows that, as Palestinians, we don’t have power.”

Bethlehem, occupied West Bank

Blacklisted Lebanese boss prevents abused domestic worker from returning to Nigeria

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 15:14
Blacklisted Lebanese boss prevents abused domestic worker from returning to Nigeria
Ariwolo Temitope was at the airport about to board a flight home when her boss intervened, activists say
Amandla Thomas-Johnson Tue, 05/26/2020 - 16:14
Domestic workers have few rights under Lebanon's controversial kafala system

An abused Nigerian domestic worker in Lebanon was prevented from boarding a repatriation flight home after her blacklisted employer intervened, anti-trafficking activists have said.

Fifty trafficked Nigerian women arrived home from Lebanon on Sunday, along with 19 nationals who have been stranded in the country because of Covid-19 travel restrictions, Nigeria’s foreign minister said at the weekend.

But activists have told MEE that eight women were prevented from boarding the flight, including Ariwolo Olamide Temitope, 31, whose bloodied image circulated on social media last month after an altercation with her employer.

With the financial and logistic support of the Lebanese Government and Lebanese community in Nigeria, 50 trafficked Nigerian girls and 19 stranded Nigerians were successfully evacuated from #Lebanon and arrived Nigeria today.

— Geoffrey Onyeama (@GeoffreyOnyeama) May 24, 2020

MEE has learnt that another woman who was rescued by Nigerian authorities after being put up for sale on Facebook has chosen to stay in Lebanon for now.

Temitope told Al Jazeera last month that she had been set upon by her employer Mahmoud Zahran, who accused her of stealing a phone while she spoke to her family in Nigeria on 25 April.

After receiving a blow to her mouth, she took a video of herself.

"Help me. Oh lord. How long do I want to keep doing this? And I didn't take the phone. Look how they beat me! Look how they beat me!" she says during the film.

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Temitope said that the family turned against her when she refused Zahran's advances shortly after arriving at their home in October 2019.

Zahran’s family has denied the claims, but the Lebanese authorities have banned him and his wife Feyzeh from hiring domestic workers and launched a criminal investigation into the allegations.

Temitope fled after the assault and contacted the Nigerian embassy, which arranged for her to leave on the emergency evacuation flight at the weekend.

An image posted on social media shows her at the airport pushing a luggage trolley, wearing a surgical mask and a New York Yankees baseball cap.

But activists at This is Lebanon, a coalition of former domestic workers in Lebanon that regularly names and shames abusers, said that shortly after the picture was taken they received a text message with devastating news.

"I was not allowed to enter [sic] plane to Nigeria. They said my madam did not approve me to leave Lebanon country."

Temitope was assaulted by her Lebanese employers who then stopped her from leaving on the emergency evacuation flight. Because they own her. @NaomiCampbell @IshaSesay https://t.co/STnK6nU7xp#lebanon#abolishkafala pic.twitter.com/IosajL63Ci

— This Is Lebanon (@ThisIsLebanonLB) May 25, 2020

Speaking to MEE, a spokesperson for the group said: 

 “Why is the family who assaulted her allowed to prevent her evacuation? It seems as though the family who was supposedly blacklisted from having another domestic worker owns the one they assaulted and can control her movements.”

Enebeli, a Nigerian anti-trafficking activist based in Lebanon, told MEE that when asked by immigration officials, the employers of Temitope and those of some of the other women had refused to give permission for them to leave and then further alleged that they had stolen from them.

The kafala system, widespread across Lebanon and parts of the Middle East, grants employers a large say over the fate of domestic workers who have few rights.

Enebeli, who did not want to give his full name, said he has not heard from Temitope since the weekend.

“We don’t know where she is right now. I’m worried for her, I’m seriously worried about it.”

Goni Zannabura, Nigeria’s ambassador to Lebanon, confirmed that some of the women failed to board the flight but said that he was “yet to know” the reasons why.

Thousands of Nigerians are lured away each year to work as domestic workers across the Middle East, with some suffering abuse. 

Many have gone without pay for months, activists say, as Lebanon reels from a collapsing economy compounded by a coronavirus lockdown.

Last month, a Lebanese man was arrested and charged after putting a Nigerian domestic worker up for sale on Facebook for $1,000. 

A source at the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, which falls under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Tuesday that the woman, who was rescued after the attempted sale, chose not to board the weekend flight but was still in the care of consular authorities.

A spokesperson for the commission, which supports nationals abroad, told MEE last month that they were dealing with hundreds of cases of abuse of domestic workers across the Middle East, including in Lebanon, which they described as “very dangerous”.

“We’re dealing with sexual harassment and abuse, cases of men abusing them and wanting them not to tell their wives, death threats,” the spokesperson said.

The 50 trafficked women have been placed in quarantine and are set to be interviewed by the country's anti-trafficking agency about their experiences once their isolation ends.