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Mahsa Amini: Iran's raging protests draw sympathy from all corners of society

Wed, 09/21/2022 - 13:29
Mahsa Amini: Iran's raging protests draw sympathy from all corners of society
Alleged police brutality and crackdowns on women's dress find little support as demonstrations sweep the country
MEE correspondent Wed, 09/21/2022 - 14:29
A man gestures during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran, Iran 19 September (Reuters)
A man gestures during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran, on 19 September 2022 (Reuters)

As teargas swirled on the streets and authorities moved to dispel the women who had gathered in rage and defiance, Poori*, a 31-year-old physics graduate, insisted on standing her ground.

“I was out there. I feel like my chest and throat are burning as a result of teargas,” she told Middle East Eye.

Poori was at one of dozens of protests that have broken out across Iran over the past four days, sparked by the death in custody of a young woman who was arrested by Iran’s so-called “morality police”, who were enforcing the country’s strict regulations on women wearing the hijab.

Though Poori willingly wears a headscarf, she disagrees with Iran’s strict laws on women’s dress.

“It was totally worth it," she says of the protest. "I saw the amazing moment when the other girls were twirling their scarves in the air and shouting ‘Woman, life, and freedom.'”

A newspaper with a cover picture of Mahsa Amini is seen in Tehran (Reuters)
A newspaper in Tehran leads with a picture of Mahsa Amini (Reuters)

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Mahsa Amini lived in the small city of Saqqez in Kurdistan province, but was visiting Tehran when she was arrested outside a metro station. The “morality police” are often positioned outside metro stations, where they look for loose hijabs.

Soon after the 22-year-old’s arrest, the authorities said she had died of a stroke. But allegations of beatings and torture began to circulate, reportedly meted out after Amini challenged the police’s motivations and efforts to detain her.

Her father, who denies there was any issue with her clothing, says there were bruises on her body. According to some media reports, radiology images suggest Amini was beaten.

Iranian women have been subject to modest dress codes since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, but since President Ebrahim Raisi came to power last year, the “morality police” have stepped up their activities, enforcing the hijab law to a stricter degree.

Amini’s death touched a nerve. In several cities, Iranians have gathered on the streets to denounce the “morality police” and the government. At many of the demonstrations, women have been removing their headscarves and setting them on fire.

'I saw the amazing moment when the other girls were twirling their scarves in the air and shouting "Woman, life, and freedom"'

- Poori, protester

Protests of this scale are unusual in Iran, and often subject to brutal and deadly crackdowns. In 2019, more than 300 protesters and bystanders were killed by authorities during anti-government demonstrations, according to rights groups.

Security presence has been stepped up in major cities, including Tehran, Mashhad and Rasht, but many others are also rocked by demonstrations.

Saqqez, Amini’s hometown, has also witnessed serious protests, with officials shutting down the internet in an attempt to quell the disturbances and stop more images from circulating online. The same has been witnessed in other cities and parts of Tehran. Eisa Zarepour, the communications minister, confirmed this on Wednesday.

Many protests have been violently suppressed by the security forces. Government officials confirmed that at least three protesters have been killed so far.

Some are fighting back. According to the state-run IRNA news agency, four police officers have been wounded and one “police associate” has been killed.

Footage emerging on Tuesday showing security forces fleeing protests and their vehicles being set on fire.

In Tehran, despite the presence of security forces, people have gathered in several areas, including Valiasr Square. However, anti-riot forces used batons and teargas to disperse the crowd.

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The police have sent text messages to people’s phones, urging them to leave the streets, saying they want to “deal with the ones who are causing insecurity”.

A new kind of protest

In the past two decades Iran has witnessed several major protests, including the deadly demonstrations in 2019, mostly over poor economic conditions. But observers believe there is a stark difference between today’s protests and previous ones.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a political journalist told MEE: “What I’m seeing is a large number of people united for reaching their goals.

“Unlike previous protests, today people are chanting slogans and risking their life for a cultural demand, which is an end to the compulsory hijab and oppressing Iranian women,” he said.

'Unlike previous protests, today people are chanting slogans and risking their life for a cultural demand, which is an end to the compulsory hijab and oppressing Iranian women'

- Iranian journalist

“In the 2019 protests, people from the poor class mostly took part in the demonstrations. But today, people from all classes, with different thoughts, are taking to the streets. Many people who have hijab, too, are also present in the streets, along with others who all want an end to the compulsory hijab.”

The journalist, who has been out on the streets amid the demonstrations, said sympathy for the protesters is coming from unusual places.

“Even the most religious people and those loyal to the Islamic Republic have been moved by the brutality of the police against Mahsa Amini, and are, to some extent, having sympathy with protesters.”

Farah* is a 43-year-old woman who wears a chador. She disagrees with the compulsory hijab, describing the Islamic Republic’s behaviour as “damaging the whole of Islam. They are causing insecurity for women like me who wear hijab, as some angry young men mistakenly see us as the supporters of the state.”

The scenes in Iran are astonishing. How far will these protests go?
pic.twitter.com/AJeHB0yyYB

— Frida Ghitis (@FridaGhitis) September 20, 2022

Among principalists, the conservative political camp sometimes known as hardliners, a division over the Amini issue is becoming increasingly pronounced, with many conservatives also angered by her death.

“I believe that the government is itself making the protests violent in order to have a pretext to crush them," said a political analyst, speaking anonymously due to security concerns.

"The result is that some hardliners have now grown worried about the protests, while a few days ago they had sympathy with people against police. Moreover, the government and its supporters are saying that protesters have set two mosques on fire.” 

He said these tactics are “old tricks” used by authorities and seen in 2009, when supporters of the reformist politicians protested against the presidential election result that put principalist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power for a second term.

“By doing so, they want to provoke the hardline base to not have any sympathy with protesters and also prepare a pretext for themselves to crack down on people.”

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Meanwhile, celebrities are becoming more vocal, using language unprecedented in its harshness.

Ali Karami, a legendary figure in Iranian football, has been highly active lately. He posted a video of security forces beating women on the streets, calling them “bastards”. Pantea Bahram, a famous actor, also called security forces a “bunch of traitors”.

Results unclear

Though the crackdown is not yet at the levels seen in 2019 or 2009, further deadly violence cannot be ruled out. And it’s not clear what this emotional and directionless outpouring can achieve.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Tehran-based political analyst told MEE: “Although this demonstration is significant in terms of dimensions and scope, it is unlikely to reach a specific result, due to the lack of leadership or any organised behaviour.

Iran: Three killed in protests over death of Mahsa Amini, says rights group
Read More »

“I feel that these protests will only be limited to people venting out their anger, which will, unfortunately, end with a severe repression by the government,” he added.

“There is no specific goal in the protests. Some people want an end to the compulsory hijab, some want an end to the ‘morality police’, and some want the Islamic Republic to be overthrown.”

According to a former official in the moderate political camp, any concessions by the government would be dangerous.

“The system has no way except resisting. If it takes a step back, there would be serious repercussions for it. If the system retreats and puts an end to the ‘morality police”, the next step would be an end to compulsory hijab, which is among the identities of the system. So, it won’t happen,” he said.

“Therefore, violent repression of the protests is not something that would surprise us.”

*Some names have been changed

Tehran
Iran's raging Mahsa Amini protests draw sympathy from all corners of society

World Cup 2022: Qatar plans to be flexible over crimes like drunkenness

Wed, 09/21/2022 - 13:18
World Cup 2022: Qatar plans to be flexible over crimes like drunkenness
Qatari organisers will allow minor offences to escape prosecution as the country is preparing to host more than one million football fans
MEE and agencies Wed, 09/21/2022 - 14:18
The FIFA World Cup Trophy on display at the Katara cultural village in Qatar's capital Doha in May 2022 (AFP)
The Fifa World Cup trophy on display at the Katara cultural village in Qatar's capital, Doha, in May 2022 (AFP)

Qatari authorities are preparing to show flexibility for World Cup fans committing minor offences such as drunkenness and public disorder, ahead of the international tournament starting in November.

According to Reuters, a plan is being developed by Qatari organisers that will allow minor offences to escape prosecution, as the country is preparing to host more than one million football fans who hail from all round the world.

A western diplomat told Reuters that an "increased leniency pleases the international community, but comes with the risk that it might upset conservatives inside the country".

However, until now, there has been no official announcement of the plan and what minor infringements could possibly escape prosecution by Qatar's World Cup organisers.

Several embassies have warned their fans to respect Qatari laws which prohibit drinking alcohol in public areas, or they could face punishment.

Morgan Cassell, a US diplomat, warned fans, "Remember, while you're in Qatar, you are subject to local laws."

Qatar World Cup set to be major windfall for tourist-ready Dubai
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"Arguing with or insulting others in public could lead to arrest. Activities like protests, religious proselytising, advocacy of atheism and criticism of the government of Qatar or the religion of Islam may be criminally prosecuted here. That applies to your social media posts, too."

Qatar, whose citizens are overwhelmingly Muslim and Arab, punishes public drunkenness with a prison sentence of up to six months. It also prohibits displaying public affection or wearing revealing clothes, and homosexuality and sex outside marriage are deemed illegal.

However, the country could potentially relax some laws and make an exception to serving and selling beers near the stadiums a few hours before the matches kick off.

Qatari authorities had informally briefed some European police agencies, who are sending officers to help maintain security during the tournament, about this plan.

"Minor offences won't result in a fine or arrest, but police will be instructed to go to a person and ask him or her to comply...someone who removes a T-shirt in public will be asked to put his T-shirt back on. There is some sort of tolerance," a person familiar with Qatari briefings of several European police officials, told Reuters.

Qatar, with a population of fewer than three million people, is the first Middle Eastern country to host the World Cup.

Qatar plans to be flexible over crimes like drunkenness at World Cup

Ukraine war: Russians snap up Moscow-Istanbul flights as people flee conscription

Wed, 09/21/2022 - 10:40
Ukraine war: Russians snap up Moscow-Istanbul flights as people flee conscription
Fearful of being conscripted to fight in Ukraine, people are booking up flights to countries like Turkey where Russians can get visas on arrival
Ragip Soylu Wed, 09/21/2022 - 11:40
Plane arriving from Istanbul parks at the Basel - Mulhouse Euroairport in Saint Louis, eastern France, on August 4, 2020. (AFP)
Plane arriving from Istanbul parks at the Basel - Mulhouse Euroairport in Saint Louis, eastern France, on August 4, 2020. (AFP)

Russians fearful of being conscripted by the Russian military's partial mobilisation, announced by President Vladimir Putin, have purchased all direct flights between Moscow and Istanbul for the next three days. 

Turkish Airlines don’t have available seats for a direct flight until Sunday and the cheapest flight is 81,000 roubles ($1,340). At the time of publication, Pegasus, a low-cost Turkish airliner, only had one available flight, on Saturday, with a price of $1,599. 

Russian national airline Aeroflot also has no available seats until Sunday, and the cheapest direct flight is $1,217. Indirect flights are routed via awkward destinations, and are going for $2,500. 

All economy seats have gone, leaving only business class available for customers.

With Russia's invasion of Ukraine flagging, and Ukrainian forces staging a breakthrough counteroffensive in recent weeks, President Putin on Wednesday ordered a partial mobilisation of 300,000 reservists, triggering fear that some men who are qualified to serve won’t be allowed to leave the country. 

Authorities said only experienced soldiers were going to be called up immediately.

Russians' Mir credit cards rejected in Turkish hotels as West pressures Ankara
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Reuters reported that Google Trends data showed a sudden rise in searches for Aviasales, which is Russia’s most popular website for purchasing flights. 

Local Russian media reports suggested flights from Moscow to the Armenian capital Yerevan also sold out on Wednesday. Russians are able to get visas on arrival in Turkey and Armenia.

Some routes with connecting flights, including to Tbilisi, are also sold out. 

Thousands of Russians have headed to Turkey since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine in February. The majority have moved to Istanbul and southern Turkey, purchasing houses and sometimes trying to obtain Turkish citizenship. 

Turkey walks a careful line on the Ukraine war. Even though Ankara closed the Bosporus strait to the Black Sea and declared the Russian assault an “illegal and unjust war”, it still enjoys good ties with Moscow and has not joined the US, UK and EU in imposing sanctions.

Data from the Turkish statistics agency indicates nearly 4,900 Russians purchased houses in Turkey between February and June 2022, a major shift compared to previous years.

The Russian flow into Turkey has alarmed the US government, which dispatched Treasury Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo to Ankara in June. There, he warned Turkish authorities and businesses not to become a conduit for “illicit financing”.

In recent days, some Turkish banks have stopped accepting the Mir card payment system, which is a Russian version of Visa and Mastercard. Russians have also complained of payments with Mir being rejected by Turkish hotels.

Ankara
Russians snap up Moscow-Istanbul flights as people flee conscription

Explained: Leicester riots, Hindutva and the RSS

Wed, 09/21/2022 - 10:15
Explained: Leicester riots, Hindutva and the RSS
How a right-wing nationalist ideology with affinity to European fascism came to dominate Indian politics and export its ideals around the world
Rayhan Uddin Wed, 09/21/2022 - 11:15
Hindu Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) volunteers march along a road during an event to mark the Hindu New Year in Allahabad on 2 April 2022 (AFP)
Hindu Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) volunteers march along a road during an event to mark the Hindu New Year in Allahabad on 2 April 2022 (AFP)

Police have been deployed on the streets of Leicester to deter clashes between groups of young men that have sharpened tensions between Hindus and Muslims in one of the UK's largest British-Indian communities. 

The recent violence has been partly blamed on “far-right Hindutva groups”, including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) paramilitary organisation, which have been accused of targeting Muslim residents and seeking to sow discord in a mixed community that has co-existed for decades.

Leicester is one of the most diverse cities in the UK, with people who identify as British Indians, both Hindu and Muslim, making up more than a quarter of the total population of 329,000, according to figures from the 2011 UK census.

At least 47 arrests have been made and two people were jailed in relation to the unrest, which the Muslim Council of Britain said followed a "series of provocations" from far-right Hindutva groups over a number of months. Leicestershire Police's chief said arrests would continue for "several weeks if not months." 

How did Hindutva, a political ideology originating in the early 20th century under British colonial rule in India, come to impact social and religious cohesion in the English Midlands almost a century later?

Middle East Eye takes a look at the origins of the movement, its early affinity with European fascism, and how its paramilitary proponents came to dominate Indian politics and export their ideology across the globe. 

What is Hindutva? 

The term Hindutva was first coined in 1892 by Bengali scholar Chandranath Basu, to describe the state or quality of being Hindu, or "Hindu-ness".

It took on its contemporary meaning, as that of a political ideal, in a 1923 essay by Indian activist Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. 

In a paper titled “Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?” Savarkar, who described himself as an atheist, wrote that “Hindutva is not identical with what is vaguely indicated by the term Hinduism.” 

He sought to separate the term from “religious dogma or creed,” and instead link the idea of Hinduism with that of ethnic, cultural and political identity. 

Savarkar posited that to Hindus, India was both a “fatherland” and a “holy land”, distinguishing them from non-Hindus, for whom it was the former but not the latter. 

“Their holy land is far off in Arabia or Palestine. Their mythology and god-men, ideas and heroes are not the children of this soil. Consequently their name and their outlook smack of a foreign origin,” he wrote. 

The polemicist’s definition of Hindutva would go on to form the basis of Hindu nationalist political ideology. 

It would be utilised by the RSS group, India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and other organisations in the Sangh Parivar right-wing Hindu nationalist umbrella grouping. 

The RSS and fascism links

The RSS, which has described itself as the world’s largest volunteer organisation with around six million members, is the main vehicle through which Hindutva ideas are spread. 

It was founded in 1925 by physician Keshav Baliram Hedgewar as a movement against British colonial rule and in response to Hindu-Muslim riots.

Hedgewar, heavily influenced by the writings of Savarkar, set up the RSS as a group dedicated to protecting Hindu religious, political and cultural interests under the “Hindutva” banner. 

Though it supported independence, it is not believed to have played any significant role in the fight for freedom from British colonial rule.

Hedgewar was highly critical of the Congress Party, India’s main independence movement, for both its diversity and its political hierarchy. Instead he modelled his RSS members as uniformed, equal volunteers, who practised their discipline with daily exercise and paramilitary training drills. 

After Hedgewar’s death in 1940, Madhav Sadashivrao Golwalkar took charge of the RSS group. 

Golwalkar, one of the ideological architects of the RSS, took inspiration from European fascism, including Nazi Germany. 

In his 1939 book We, or, Our Nationhood Defined, Golwalkar said: “To keep up the purity of its race and culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging of the country of the Semitic races - the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here… a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.” The RSS has since distanced itself from the book. 

Earlier this year, a teacher in Uttar Pradesh was suspended for posing the examination question: “Do you find any similarities between Fascism/Nazism and Hindu right-wing (Hindutva)? Elaborate with the argument.” 

It’s a subject that was meticulously researched by Italian historian Marzia Casolari, who in her book In the Shadows of the Swastika utilised archives from Italy, India and the UK to outline the relationship between Hindu nationalism and Italian fascism and Nazism. 

Hindutva figures have been linked to extremist right-wing European figures in more recent years too: Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik hailed the Hindu nationalist movement as a “key ally to bring down democratic regimes across the world”, listing the websites of the RSS and BJP among others. 

Increasing influence in politics 

In 1948, the RSS was banned by the Indian government after one of its members, Nathuram Godse, assassinated anti-colonial hero Mahatma Gandhi. 

The RSS said he was a rogue extremist who had left the group by the time of the killing - something Godse’s own family members have since disputed

A year later, the ban was lifted and an official investigation absolved the group of involvement in the assassination. Since then the group has recovered to become one of the biggest forces in Indian society. 

It gained particular prominence in the 1980s after calling for a Hindu temple to be built over the Babri mosque - a 16th century Muslim place of worship in Ayodhya - because it believed the Hindu god Ram was born there. 

The mosque was destroyed by Hindu extremists in 1992, and subsequent riots, allegedly spurred on by RSS "foot soldiers", resulted in the death of around 2,000 people, mostly Muslim. 

The group gained popularity following the incident, as did the BJP - often referred to as the political wing of the paramilitary movement - which subsequently won parliamentary elections in 1996 and 1998. 

In 2002, extreme Hindutva nationalist groups belonging to the Sangh Parivar coalition were blamed for instigating the Gujarat riots, which saw some 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus killed. The then chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, was accused of failing to stop the violence. He was banned from entering the UK and US on that basis - a boycott which has since been reversed.  

Modi, who has been Indian prime minister since 2014, is a longtime RSS member. 

Following his re-election to office in 2019, a study found that of 53 ministers from the BJP in Modi’s government, 38 had an RSS background (71 percent). That share had risen from 61 percent in his first term. 

That influence can be seen in policy areas such as education, where RSS efforts have led to some Indian states teaching Hindu scripture as historical fact.

Exported around the world 

Beginning as a 17-member cadre in Hedgewar’s living room in the Indian city of Nagpur, the RSS now boasts over 80,000 shakhas (branches), thousands of schools across India, and membership among nearly three quarters of government ministers. 

It also has a presence around the world: its overseas units, known as Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), are reportedly in 39 countries, including the United States, Australia and the UK. 

While the shakhas abroad provide a means for community activities and charity, it has also been seen as a key vehicle - along with the Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP) - for mobilising votes for Modi. 

As well as encouraging friends of family to vote back home, Hindutva adherents abroad have also been known to provide expertise and funding to help the BJP electoral machine. 

They are also involved in organising high-profile mass rallies held by Modi during his overseas trips, such as the “Howdy Modi” event in Texas in 2019 which was attended by former US President Donald Trump and 50,000 others. 

Earlier this month, Democratic Party officials in New Jersey accused Hindutva organisations of “infiltrating all levels of politics” in the US, including in efforts to successfully block a 2013 congressional resolution to warn against the Hindu nationalist movement.  

The Hindu nationalist movement has sparked controversy in the UK too: in 2019, right-wing anti-Muslim activists targeted British Hindus with text messages urging them not to vote for the UK Labour Party, accusing it of being “anti-India” and “anti-Hindu”. 

On Monday, after the weeks-long confrontations between Hindu and Muslim communities in Leicester, the Muslim Council of Britain condemned what it described as "the targeting of Muslim communities in Leicester by far-right Hindutva groups".

Videos on social media showed men in balaclavas near mosques chanting “Jai Shri Ram” (Glory to Lord Ram), a slogan used by far-right Hindus during anti-Muslim rallies. 

The scenes came just days after calls mounted for the UK government to ban a speaking tour by Modi ally and nationalist activist Sadhvi Nisha Rithambara. Organisers called off the tour on Friday, citing her ill health. 

Turkey and Israel leaders meet for first time since 2008

Wed, 09/21/2022 - 07:06
Turkey and Israel leaders meet for first time since 2008
President Erdogan and Prime Minister Yair Lapid hold talks at UN General Assembly in New York, as two countries continue to boost bilateral relations
MEE and agencies Wed, 09/21/2022 - 08:06
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York City, US, on 20 September 2022 (Reuters/Presidential Press Office)
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York City, US, on 20 September 2022 (Reuters/Presidential Press Office)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Tuesday, in the first such face-to-face talks between leaders of the two countries since 2008. 

The meeting took place on the sidelines of the 77th United Nations General Assembly in New York, shortly after world leaders addressed the podium in the annual general debate

Lapid “thanked President Erdogan for intelligence cooperation” during a joint Israeli-Turkish effort earlier this year to prevent an alleged Iranian plot to attack Israeli tourists in Istanbul, the prime minister’s office said in a statement. 

The Israeli premier also "brought up the issue of missing and captive Israelis and the importance of bringing them home," his office said, referring to four of its citizens, including two soldiers, believed to be missing in the besieged Gaza Strip since 2014. 

The two leaders also discussed boosting bilateral relations, including economic and energy cooperation. 

In his address to the General Assembly earlier on Tuesday, Erdogan called for the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. 

He also said that Turkey was "determined to continue to develop our relations with Israel for the sake of the future, peace and stability of not only the region, but also of Israel, the Palestinian people and ours."

Restoring ties 

Last month, Turkey and Israel announced they had decided to fully restore diplomatic ties and assign ambassadors. 

Relations between the two countries have been rocky since 2011, when Ankara expelled Israel's ambassador following a UN report into Israel's 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara aid ship to Gaza, which killed nine Turkish citizens. 

The rift was healed in 2016 when full diplomatic relations were restored and both countries traded ambassadors.

Turkey's Erdogan skips Queen Elizabeth II's funeral for diplomatic blitz in US
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Tensions were renewed in 2018 when Israeli forces killed scores of Palestinians taking part in the Great March of Return protests in the Gaza Strip. The protesters demanded the implementation of refugees’ right of return and an end to the crippling 11-year siege on Gaza. 

Turkey recalled all its diplomats and ordered Israel’s envoy out of the country. 

The last face-to-face talks between leaders came in 2008 when Erdogan met former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Ankara. 

On Tuesday, a senior official told MEE that the Turkish president plans to visit Israel after its November parliamentary elections. Erdogan hasn’t visited Israel since 2005, when he was prime minister.

Earlier this week, he met with leaders of American Jewish organisations, telling them that antisemitism was a “crime against humanity”, according to a report by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

UN General Assembly: Middle Eastern leaders raise Israeli occupation, Syria and climate change

Tue, 09/20/2022 - 19:12
UN General Assembly: Middle Eastern leaders raise Israeli occupation, Syria and climate change
Leaders from Turkey, Qatar and Jordan took to the podium on Tuesday to address the 77th UN General Assembly
MEE staff Tue, 09/20/2022 - 20:12
Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani speaks at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at U.N. headquarters on September 20, 2022 in New York City (AFP)
Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani speaks at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at U.N. headquarters on September 20, 2022 in New York City (AFP)

World leaders met on Tuesday for the 77th United Nations General Assembly debate, marking the first fully in-person gathering in three years since the onset of the pandemic.

The war in Ukraine and mounting global economic headwinds took centre stage at the assembly. Middle Eastern leaders from Turkey, Jordan and Qatar took to the podium on Tuesday to address those issues, in addition to other regional developments. 

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sought to portray himself as a mediator in the war, and highlighted his country's role in brokering a UN agreement to unlock Black Sea grain. 

UN General Assembly: Which Middle East leaders are speaking, and when?
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The deal between Russia and Ukraine was signed in Istanbul in July, boosting the UN's efforts to rein in spiralling food prices. Erdogan called the agreement "one of the greatest accomplishments of the United Nations in recent decades". 

"I think the international community revived its confidence in the United Nations as a result of the Istanbul Convention, because the Istanbul Convention proves once again that negotiations can yield results, especially in issues which are vital to all the parties involved," he said. 

Erdogan reiterated Turkey's support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, calling for a diplomatic solution to the conflict "which is rational, which is fair, and which is applicable”. 

More recently, Turkey's role as a mediator has been overshadowed by signs of growing economic cooperation with Moscow.  

Turkey's import of Russian oil has doubled this year, and Erdogan has committed to deepening trade and investment with Moscow, prompting concern in Washington that the Nato country could help Russia evade western sanctions.

The US and EU are reportedly planning to put pressure on Turkey for accepting the Mir Russian payment system.

Syrian conflict

Erdogan also called for a peaceful settlement to the Syrian conflict along the lines of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which calls for a political transition in the country via elections. 

While Turkey was an early supporter of the rebels fighting against the government of Bashar al-Assad, and continues to back militants in northeast Syria, it is reportedly considering normalising ties with Damascus. 

'We are trying to do everything we can… to ensure that our Syrian brothers and sisters will be able to go back to their country in a dignified, safe and secure fashion'

- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey has launched several invasions into northern Syria to stamp out Kurdish militants it deems "terrorist groups" and has threatened a new incursion into the country.

On Tuesday, Erdogan trumpeted Turkey's military capabilities saying: "We [Turkey] are powerful enough to take all measures against terrorism." 

Turkey currently hosts more than four million Syrian refugees, whose presence in Turkey has become a contentious issue as Erdogan prepares for elections next year. The Turkish leader said his government had built 100,000 permanent residences on Syrian soil for returning refugees.

"We are trying to do everything we can… to ensure that our Syrian brothers and sisters will be able to go back to their country in a dignified, safe and secure fashion," Erdogan said.

The Turkish president also took aim at Greece, accusing Athens of "being tyrants" while handling refugees attempting to reach Europe. Tensions between the Mediterranean neighbours have been on the rise in recent times. 

'Alarm bells'

Jordan's King Abdullah warned that “alarm bells" were sounding around the globe, as he touched on climate change, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the refugee crisis.

Jordan is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world, and Abdullah warned that the Jordan river, the Dead Sea and coral reefs of Aqaba were “all threatened by climate change”.

The king also issued a stark warning about the plight of Christians in the Middle East, and particularly in the occupied West Bank, saying that “Christianity is under fire” in Jerusalem.

Turkey's Erdogan skips Queen Elizabeth II's funeral for diplomatic blitz in US
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“Undermining Jerusalem’s legal and historical status quo triggers global tensions and deepens religious divides," he said. 

Palestinian Christian leaders have criticised Israel for hindering religious services recently and discriminating against them. 

“As a Muslim leader, let me say clearly that we are committed to defending the rights, the precious heritage, and the historic identity of the Christian people of our region," Abdullah said.

The Hashemite kingdom is the custodian of Christian and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. Abdullah also reaffirmed his call for a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict along the 4 June 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. 

The king said that peace remained "elusive” in the conflict and that “neither war nor diplomacy has held the answer to this historic tragedy”.

“It is the people themselves, not politics and politicians, who will have to come together and push their leaders to resolve this," he added.

'International responsibility'

Abdullah also urged world leaders to support the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), whose mandate is up for a vote this year. 

“The international community should send a strong message of support for the rights of Palestinian refugees, ensuring that Palestinian refugee children have schools to go to and access to appropriate medical care," the king said.

'It is the people themselves, not politics and politicians, who will have to come together and push their leaders to resolve this'

- King Abdullah of Jordan

Besides hosting millions of Palestinian refugees, Jordan hosts nearly 1.3 million Syrians who have fled the war.

"Meeting the needs of these and other refugees is an international responsibility," Abdullah said. 

Jordan has long been a bulwark of stability in the Middle East. Recently, the cash-strapped country has been at the forefront of US-backed efforts to deepen cooperation between regional states. 

The kingdom is seeking to deepen economic ties with Iraq and Egypt. In addition, it has signed two memorandums of understanding with Israel and the United Arab Emirates to exchange solar power for desalinated water. 

“In my region, we are looking to build integrated partnerships that tap the capabilities and resources of each of our countries for the benefit of all," Abdullah said. 

'Casualties'

Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, took his time at the podium to trumpet his country's role as a reliable supplier of energy and mediator in the region. 

On Ukraine, he said that an immediate ceasefire was the only solution.

"This is ultimately what will happen regardless of how long this conflict goes on for," he said, warning that “perpetuating the crisis will not change this result, it will only increase the number of casualties". 

Qatar's foreign minister rules out normalisation with Israel
Read More »

Thani called for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict along the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as the capital, as he warned against Israel "pursuing a policy of fait accompli" in the occupied West Bank.

"This will change the rules of the conflict and will change the format of solidarity in the future,” he said.

He said the UN Security Council "must shoulder its responsibility and must compel Israel to end the occupation of Palestinian territories". 

The emir also pushed back against normalising ties with the government of Bashar al-Assad, which other regional states such as Jordan, Turkey and the UAE have pursued to varying degrees. 

"Some are trying to turn the page on the Syrian crisis,” he said, “ignoring the significant sacrifices made by the blighted Syrian people without fulfilling its aspirations, without ensuring the unity of Syria." 

Thani also addressed Iran's nuclear programme, saying: “We in Qatar believe in the need to achieve a just agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme. 

“No one has an alternative to such an agreement, and reaching it would be in the interest of the security and stability of the region and would open the door to a broader dialogue at the regional security level.”

Doha has sought to mediate between Tehran and western powers, favouring a return to the 2015 agreement. But those efforts have stalled. 

Energy crisis

Some of the emir's most pointed remarks came while addressing the global energy crisis, which he said had been “exacerbating silently even before the war in Ukraine". 

Thani said that “decades of pressure to stop investing in fossil fuels before having sustainable alternatives" had "led to significant shortage[s] in energy supplies". 

“We have to recognise that the future of energy will include a combination of energy sources, including solar, wind and hydrocarbon energy." 

Qatar is the world's largest exporter of LNG and has seen demand skyrocket since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The US and EU have banned Russian oil purchases, while Moscow has moved to cut off gas supplies to Europe ahead of winter.

Thani warned against the "weaponising" of energy.

“Banning the transit of these commodities, banning their export or import during times of political crisis and imposing blockades on effective countries is not acceptable," he said. "Just as it is not acceptable to use commodities as tools of war."

New York City

American Muslims as likely as general population to serve in US military, poll finds

Tue, 09/20/2022 - 15:55
American Muslims as likely as general population to serve in US military, poll finds
Institute for Social Policy and Understanding survey found white Muslims more likely than white non-Muslims to serve in the US armed forces
MEE staff Tue, 09/20/2022 - 16:55
US soldiers pose for a group shot after becoming American citizens at a naturalisation ceremony on 2 July 2021 in New York City (AFP)

American Muslims are just as likely as any other faith group to serve in the US military, a new poll by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (Ispu) has found.

More specifically, white Muslims are more likely than white non-Muslims among the general American public to serve in the military. The numbers in the poll came down to 17 percent versus 11 percent. 

The findings were listed in Ispu’s American Muslim Poll 2022: A Politics and Pandemic Status Report. 

A quarter of America's 400 wars have been in the Middle East and Africa, study finds
Read More »

According to the poll, roughly four in five Muslims in America hold US citizenship. However, Muslims are still just as likely to serve in the military as the general American public.

The poll found that 11 percent of Muslims, 10 percent of Catholics and Protestants, 13 percent of white Evangelicals, and nine percent of the nonaffiliated and the general public served in the armed forces. 

"What the findings tell us is that American Muslims are part and parcel of American society, so it's not necessarily a surprise that we would find representation in the US military,” Ispu research project manager and American Muslim Poll 2022 co-author Erum Ikramullah told Middle East Eye.

The poll also specifies that white Muslims (17 percent) are more likely than Asian (4 percent) and Arab Muslims (less than 1 percent) to serve in the military. When it comes to Black Muslims, they are just as likely as Black non-Muslims to serve the US.

Those numbers seem to be unaffected by US interventions in the largely Muslim Middle East. In August, a major study entitled Introducing the Military Intervention Project: A New Dataset on US Military Interventions, 1776–2019, concluded that US military interventions "increasingly" target the Middle East and Africa, making up more than a quarter of the country's campaigns throughout its history. 

From its founding in 1776 to 2019, the US has undertaken almost 400 military interventions, with more than a quarter occurring in the post-Cold War period, the report found.

In addition, it also found that the post-9/11 era resulted in "higher hostility levels", with US military adventures becoming "overwhelmingly commonplace".

UN General Assembly: Which Middle East leaders are speaking, and when?

Tue, 09/20/2022 - 14:47
UN General Assembly: Which Middle East leaders are speaking, and when?
World leaders take to the stage in New York for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic
MEE staff Tue, 09/20/2022 - 15:47
King of Jordan Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein speaks at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at U.N. headquarters on 20 September 2022 (AFP)

The 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is underway, with the general debate beginning on Tuesday in the first in-person meeting of the international body since the Covid-19 pandemic.

No gathering in world politics attracts more heavyweights during its first week.

The General Assembly is a core component of the UN with manifold duties, including overseeing voting in new members, choosing non-permanent members of the UN Security Council and playing a part in electing the UN secretary-general.

It also gives observer status to non-member states and blocs including Palestine and the European Union, whose speakers are allowed to address the assembly.

What's happening this week?

The theme for this year's General Assembly debate is "A watershed moment: transformative solutions to interlocking challenges".

According to the UN, it "stems from the recognition that the world is at a critical moment ... due to complex and interconnected crises".

But don't expect world leaders to stick to the theme: most will promote whatever international issue is at the top of the agenda for their country.

Nor will many speakers stick to the allotted 15-minute time slot: frequently they over-run, although none this year is likely to equal the performance of the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who clocked up an impressive four hours in September 1960.

What's the schedule?

Morning debating sessions run from 9 am ET (that's four hours behind GMT) until 2:45pm. The afternoon session begins at 3pm and ends at 9pm. You can catch live coverage here. An archive of speeches so far this week is being updated on the United Nations website.

World leaders have complicated lives: the running order below may change, especially if, as mentioned above, speakers inevitably go over their time. The position in brackets refers to where in the order of each session the speaker is due to take to the podium.

Tuesday 20 September

Full coverage of speeches, including video.

Morning  (9am ET -  2:45pm ET)

  • King Abdullah II, Jordan (6th)
  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey (8th)
  • Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir of Qatar (11th)

Afternoon (3pm ET - 9pm ET)

  • Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch, Morocco (34th)

 

Wednesday 21 September

Full coverage of speeches, including video.

Morning  (9am ET -  2:45pm ET)

  • President Ebrahim Raisi, Iran
  • President Joe Biden, US
  • Mohammed Younis Menfi, Chairman, Presidential Council of Libya

Afternoon (3pm ET - 9pm ET)

  • Prime Minister Liz Truss, UK
  • Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Lebanon

 

Thursday 22 September

Full coverage of speeches, including video.

Morning  (9am ET -  2:45pm ET)

  • Rashad Al-Alimi, President of Yemen's Leadership Council
  • Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Israel

Afternoon (3pm ET - 9pm ET)

  • Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, Kuwait

 

Friday 23 September

Full coverage of speeches, including video.

Morning  (9am ET -  2:45pm ET)

  • Speaker TBA
  • Speaker TBA
  • Speaker TBA

Afternoon (3pm ET - 9pm ET)

  • Speaker TBA
  • Speaker TBA
  • Speaker TBA

 

Saturday 24 September

Full coverage of speeches, including video.

Morning  (9am ET -  2:45pm ET)

  • Speaker TBA
  • Speaker TBA
  • Speaker TBA

Afternoon (3pm ET - 9pm ET)

  • Speaker TBA
  • Speaker TBA
  • Speaker TBA

 

Sunday 25 September

Full coverage of speeches, including video.

Morning (9am ET -  2:45pm ET)

  • Speaker TBA
  • Speaker TBA
  • Speaker TBA

Afternoon (3pm ET - 9pm ET)

  • Speaker TBA
  • Speaker TBA
  • Speaker TBA

 

Monday 26 September

Full coverage of speeches, including video.

Morning  (9am ET -  2:45pm ET)

  • Speaker TBA
  • Speaker TBA
  • Speaker TBA

UK: Truss accused of 'misleading' Gulf human rights comments

Tue, 09/20/2022 - 13:46
UK: Truss accused of 'misleading' Gulf human rights comments
Prime minister has failed to back up claim in parliament that she personally raised concerns during Gulf visits, Labour MP says
Simon Hooper Tue, 09/20/2022 - 14:46
Truss told MPs in June she had "personally" raised human rights with Gulf leaders (AFP)

British Prime Minister Liz Truss has been accused of misleading Parliament after telling MPs she raised human rights issues in meetings with Gulf leaders as foreign secretary in Boris Johnson’s government.

In a letter sent to Truss on Tuesday, Chris Bryant, a Labour MP, said she had failed to provide any examples of human rights issues she had raised during visits to the Gulf despite telling the parliamentary foreign affairs select committee she had personally done so when quizzed on the matter by Bryant in June.

'...It is difficult not to conclude that you have deliberately misled the committee, because you did not want to own up to the fact that you knew that you had never raised these issues with Gulf states'

- Chris Bryant MP

Asked then to provide examples, Truss told Bryant she would not go into details of private conversations but would write to the committee with details.

But, according to Bryant, in a follow-up letter to the committee she cited only a meeting in December 2021 with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) foreign ministers at Chevening House, an official government residence traditionally used by the foreign secretary, at which “a wide range of issues were discussed, including human rights”.

Bryant said Truss, the foreign secretary from September 2021 until she succeeded Johnson as Conservative Party leader and prime minister earlier this month, had failed to cite a single instance when she had personally raised human rights with Saudi Arabia or any other GCC state, and accused her of “attempting to pull the wool further over our eyes”.

He wrote: “In the absence of an explanation or an apology for your inaccurate comments at the Committee, it is difficult not to conclude that you have deliberately misled the Committee, because you did not want to own up to the fact that you knew that you had never raised these issues with Gulf states either in the Gulf or at home.”

I’ve written to the PM about her claims at the Foreign Affairs Committee that she had “personally” raised human rights issues with Gulf State leaders including “when I was in the Gulf”. She has been unable to back these up. The claims were untrue. She misled us. pic.twitter.com/GGJN8m7xWJ

— Chris Bryant (@RhonddaBryant) September 20, 2022

Bryant said he was “mystified” why Truss had “refused to raise human rights concerns with Saudi Arabia, especially considering its sponsorship of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and its execution of 81 people on a single day”.

Asked by Bryant in June whether she considered Saudi Arabia responsible for the killing of journalist Khashoggi, who was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, Truss said: “What I would say is that Saudi Arabia is an important partner of the United Kingdom.”

Truss has faced criticism from human rights and arms trade activists over her record as both foreign secretary and formerly as a trade minister when she oversaw the resumption of British weapons sales to Saudi Arabia after campaigners challenged their legality over violations of international law committed by the Saudi-led coalition waging war in Yemen.

Liz Truss: The triumph of style over substance
Read More »

Katie Fallon, parliamentary coordinator for Campaign Against Arms Trade, which brought legal action against the government over its arms sales to Saudi Arabia, told Middle East Eye: "The discrepancy between the prime minister’s claim that she has personally raised human rights issues with Gulf leaders, and what she has actually been able to prove, reflects the falsehoods we are told time and time again about the UK’s relationship with Gulf leaders.

"This failure on the part of the government and specifically Liz Truss, has sent a clear signal that the most grievous human rights abuses and killings can take place with impunity as long as international trade continues."

Truss is also the latest minister to be accused of failing to provide straight answers to Parliament over questions of human rights issues raised by British government officials with Gulf states.

Bahraini activists have accused the UK government of evasiveness in response to parliamentary questions and freedom of information queries about whether foreign office ministers raised human rights cases with Bahraini officials.

Middle East Eye has contacted Truss's Downing Street office for comment.

Tunisia opposition leaders summoned over 'politicised' terrorism allegations

Tue, 09/20/2022 - 13:40
Tunisia opposition leaders summoned over 'politicised' terrorism allegations
Former PM Ali Laarayedh arrested over allegations of 'sending jihadists to Syria'
Elis Gjevori Tue, 09/20/2022 - 14:40
Tunisia's former premier and general secretary of the Islamist Ennahda party, Ali Laarayedh, arrives at the office of Tunisia's counter-terrorism prosecutor in Tunis on 18 September (AFP)

Police have targeted two Tunisian opposition leaders in the latest crackdown on critics of President Kais Saied.

Rached Ghannouchi, former speaker of Tunisia's dissolved parliament and president of the Ennahda movement, has been summoned to a police station facing accusations of supporting "terrorism".

The country's anti-terrorism police also arrested Ali Laarayedh, who was prime minister from 2013 to 2014.

Laarayedh, who is also a senior official in the Ennahda party, was arrested on suspicion of "sending jihadists to Syria", according to his lawyers. 

Tunisian authorities have not yet explained why they summoned Ghannouchi, who has been under investigation since June on allegations of money laundering linked to foreign funds. Ghannouchi denies the allegations.

'By initiating such investigations against perceived opponents of the government, including journalists, Tunisia is rejoining the club of repressive states'

- Said Benarbia, Director at the International Commission of Jurists

In July, he appeared in court as a result of a money laundering probe, which critics described as politically motivated.

"President Saied is using the office of the prosecutor and civil and military courts to target his perceived opponents through politicised criminal proceedings," Said Benarbia, Middle East-North Africa regional director at the International Commission of Jurists, told Middle East Eye.

"He's turning the justice system into a tool of repression rather than a defender of the rule of law."

Ever since Saied suspended parliament last year and moved to rule by decree, he has rolled back hard-fought democratic achievements, using growing public discontent over the economic situation to make his power grab

A constitutional referendum on 25 July initiated by Saied consolidated his grip over the country. Around nine million Tunisians were eligible to vote; however, the final turnout was around 30 percent

By incrementally ratcheting up the pressure on the 81-year-old Ghannouchi, Said is increasingly joining the club of repressive states, Benarbia said.

"By initiating such investigations against perceived opponents of the government, including journalists, Tunisia is rejoining the club of repressive states that use counter-terrorism measures as a pretext to crack down on dissent and legitimate exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms," Benarbia told MEE. 

As Saied has become more emboldened, he has increasingly gone after a wide range of activists, journalists, and comedians. 

In August, the Tunisian comedian Lotfi al-Abdali announced his intention to leave the country amid growing repression of free speech.

Speaking on Instagram, Abdali said the increasing threats he faced to his safety and his family made it difficult to continue living in the country, referring to the country's security apparatus as "the mafia that carries weapons legally".

Following Abdali's plight, a military tribunal sentenced the prominent journalist, Salah Attia, to three months in prison, despite human rights organisations calling the trial a "travesty of justice".

Attia, the editor-in-chief of local independent news website al-Ray al-Jadid, had been in jail since June, following remarks he made to Al Jazeera that the powerful UGTT workers' union was in regular contact with the military and Saied.

Increasing economic woes 

Even after a year in power, Tunisia's economic woes, far from being resolved, have only worsened. 

Earlier this month, the killing of a young Tunisian in broad daylight by a customs officer over a suspicion of smuggling cigarettes triggered widespread public anger.

Last week the Tunisian government hiked the price of cooking gas cylinders and fuel as part of a plan to reduce energy subsidies, a policy change wanted by the country's international lenders.

Tunisia: Killing of young cigarette seller stirs social tensions
Read More »

The rise in fuel prices is the fourth this year as the country struggles with a worsening budget deficit as a result of a stronger dollar and a sharp increase in grain and energy prices.

With Tunisia in the throes of its worst financial crisis, the country is now looking to agree on a new financing programme with the International Monetary Fund.

Earlier this month, Hamish Kinnear, Middle East and North Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, told Middle East Eye that Tunisia is one of the main countries in the region dependent on food and fuel imports and "exposed to high international prices". 

At the time, he warned that Tunisia, widely seen as the epicentre of the Arab Spring, remains "vulnerable to civil unrest risk".

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

West Bank: Detention of Palestinians wanted by Israel sparks deadly clashes

Tue, 09/20/2022 - 13:23
West Bank: Detention of Palestinians wanted by Israel sparks deadly clashes
One Palestinian was killed during an armed confrontation between Palestinian Authority security forces and protesters
Shatha Hammad Tue, 09/20/2022 - 14:23
Palestinian demonstrators protesting the arrest of two Palestinian fighters clash with Palestinian security forces, in Nablus in the occupied West Bank, 20 September 2022 (Reuters)
Palestinian demonstrators protesting the arrest of two Palestinian fighters clash with Palestinian security forces, in Nablus in the occupied West Bank, 20 September 2022 (Reuters)

Armed clashes broke out between Palestinian security forces and protesters in the early hours of Tuesday after the Palestinian Authority arrested a high-ranking Hamas member wanted by Israel in an ambush on the occupied West Bank city of Nablus the night before. 

The confrontation persisted through the morning, leaving a 53-year-old Palestinian, Firas Yaish, killed and another critically wounded.

PA forces arrested Musab Shtayyeh, who had been the target of several assassination attempts by Israel, in an ambush on Faisal Street, east of Nablus, shortly before midnight. PA forces also arrested Ameed Tabileh, a Palestinian fighter close to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who is also wanted by Israel, in the same raid.

Shtayyeh had had a close relationship with Ibrahim Nabulsi, a leading member of Fatah’s armed wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, who was shot and killed by Israeli forces in August.

Shtayyeh’s family called for his immediate release and denied PA reports that they had handed him over to security forces. 

//--> //--> //--> //-->

“We hold the security forces fully responsible for the life of our hero son Musab Shtayyeh and the ensuing events and attacks on our people,” the family said in a statement, demanding access to Shtayyeh to check on his condition after he was beaten during his arrest.

Hamas, longtime rival of the PA’s leading party Fatah, condemned Shtayyeh’s arrest, calling it a "kidnapping... a national crime" and a "stain" on the PA's image. 

To Israel's benefit

Hundreds of Palestinians have participated in marches coming out of the city’s refugee camps, including Balata camp, al-Ain camp and Askar camp, demanding the immediate release of the detainees. Protesters closed off streets with burning tyres and hurled rocks at PA armoured vehicles. 

Meanwhile, armed Palestinians exchanged fire with security forces, in clashes that lasted throughout the morning and during which Yaish was killed.

Gunmen also targeted the PA’s district headquarters with bullets in protest against the authority’s policies.

The PA’s security services spokesperson Talal Dweikat confirmed Yaish’s death in a statement, adding that they “are waiting for the medical report” on the circumstances of his killing.

Dweikat said Yaish was killed "in a place where no security personnel were present".

//--> //--> //--> //-->

Unconfirmed eyewitness reports said Yaish was killed by PA police fire. 

Palestinian security forces keep guard following clashes with gunmen over the arrest of two Palestinian fighters in Nablus on 20 September 2022 (Reuters)
Palestinian security forces keep guard following clashes with gunmen over the arrest of two Palestinian fighters in Nablus, 20 September 2022 (Reuters)

Four Palestinian protesters were also wounded, including Anas Abdel-Fattah, a student at al-Najah University and former detainee in Israeli prisons, who sustained bullet wounds to the stomach and is in a critical condition. 

"We had hoped that popular anger would erupt against the Israeli occupation, and we have worked towards that, but what the PA’s actions have done destroyed all our efforts," leader of the Popular Resistance Committees, Khaled Mansour, told Middle East Eye.

“We've never expected the events that we have been witnessing in Nablus since last night. They are a result of the PA’s mistakes and transgressions, which they must retract,” Mansour said.

“Calm will not return until the authority stops detaining and persecuting people wanted by Israel.”

Mansour also held the PA responsible for the casualties.

//--> //--> //--> //-->

"The authority arrests Palestinians and pursues them in accordance with its obligations with Israel. But Israel violates all treaties with Palestinians and does not abide by any of them,” he said. 

“Israel is the only one benefiting from the events in Nablus today, and we, the Palestinian people and our resistance, are the losers because of these unfortunate events.”

The PA's 'own reasons'

The PA did not give a clear account of the unrest, but Dweikat said in its statement that Shtayyeh and Tabileh were detained “for the security establishment’s own reasons that will be disclosed later”.

'Calm will not return until the authority stops detaining and persecuting people wanted by Israel'

- Khaled Mansour, Popular Resistance Committees

The detainees “will not be exposed to any harm” and “human rights organisations would be allowed to visit them immediately”, he added.

The statement attempted a calming tone, but labelled the protests against the PA as “foreign agendas”.

"Today, when we are in dire need of closing ranks and not being drawn into some malicious agendas," Dweikat said.

The Nablus-based armed group Lion’s Den, which was founded following Nabulsi’s assassination, released several statements calling for escalation against the PA over Shtayyeh’s arrest and the authority’s persecution of Palestinians on Israel’s wanted list.

The group threatened that the PA security forces would not be allowed in Nablus city if Shtayyeh was not released.

“We direct an urgent message to the security services: the sons of ‘Lion’s Den’, and all the Palestinian political factions in Nablus, will not accept the [Israeli] occupation’s number one wanted person being held in the PA’s prisons,” the group said.

Nablus, occupied Palestine
Deadly clashes in West Bank after PA arrests Palestinians wanted by Israel

Leicester riots: Muslim Council of Britain calls for action against 'Hindutva extremism'

Tue, 09/20/2022 - 12:36
Leicester riots: Muslim Council of Britain calls for action against 'Hindutva extremism'
MCB says latest confrontations in the city follow a series of provocations, including chanting outside mosques and mob attacks on Muslims
MEE staff Tue, 09/20/2022 - 13:36
Muslims praying out on the street in Leicester at the weekend (Screengrab/Majid Freeman)
Muslims praying out on the street in Leicester at the weekend (Screengrab/Majid Freeman)

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) on Monday condemned what it described as "the targeting of Muslim communities in Leicester by far-right Hindutva groups".

Hindutva refers to the Hindu nationalist ideology promoted by India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been accused of stoking violence and hate crimes against Muslims and other minorities. 

'We condemn attacks against any place of worship or symbols of religion - hatred of any kind has no place in our society'

- Zara Mohammed, MCB

The statement comes after police were deployed onto the streets of the English city following weekend confrontations between crowds of young men primarily from Hindu and Muslim communities.

Witnesses, supported by videos circulating on social media, have said they saw hundreds of men wearing masks and balaclavas chanting “Jai Shri Ram”, which translates from Hindi to “hail Lord Ram” or “victory to Lord Ram”, words that have increasingly been appropriated by perpetrators of anti-Muslim violence in India.

"This follows a series of provocations, including: chanting outside mosques, targeted mob attacks on Muslims, and vandalism to homes and businesses over recent months," the MCB said. 

"Groups of young people from both communities have subsequently come out on the streets to protest, resulting in physical altercations and running battles."

pic.twitter.com/PIKiTVw2FJ

— Pakistan High Commission London (@PakistaninUK) September 20, 2022

Various Sikh groups and community figures in the UK have also raised concerns about growing Hindutva violence in the country.

Scores of arrests

On Monday, Leicester police said that so far a total of 47 arrests had been made in relation to the unrest.

"Some of those arrested were from outside of the city, including some people from Birmingham," it said.

The weekend's unrest was the latest in a series of street disturbances in the area.

Leicester is one of the most diverse cities in the UK, with people who identify as British Indians, both Hindu and Muslim, making up more than a quarter of the total population of 329,000, according to figures from the 2011 UK census.

//-->

"There is now a concern of this toxic brand of extremism, imported from India, spreading to other cities," the MCB said, citing what it said was "criticism locally of the perceived inaction of law enforcement officers, who failed to disperse the mobs, despite long-standing concerns being raised."

Leicester riots: Are Muslims ever allowed to be victims in UK media?
Faisal Hanif
Read More »

On Tuesday, the Pakistan High Commission in London also voiced concerns over the violence, saying it "strongly condemned the systematic campaign of violence and intimidation that has been unleashed against the Muslims of the area".

In a statement on Monday, the High Commission of India in London said: "We strongly condemn the violence perpetrated against the Indian community in Leicester and vandalization of premises and symbols of Hindu religion.

"We have strongly taken up the matter with the UK authorities and have sought immediate action against those involved in the attacks."

MCB Secretary-General Zara Mohammed said: "Communities have expressed their deep concerns to me around the propaganda perpetuated by far-right groups in India and their Hindutva agenda, which we are now seeing expressed on British streets.

"We do not believe these people represent the views of wider Hindu communities, with whom Muslims and Sikhs, among others, enjoy good relations in the UK, of which Leicester, historically, is a prime example. 

"We condemn attacks against any place of worship or symbols of religion - hatred of any kind has no place in our society."

Muslim Council of Britain calls for action against 'Hindutva extremism' in Leicester

Indonesian official and Pakistani delegation head to Israel on rare visits, says report

Tue, 09/20/2022 - 12:03
Indonesian official and Pakistani delegation head to Israel on rare visits, says report
Former head of Pakistan Cricket Board among those visiting, despite the furore surrounding last delegation
MEE staff Tue, 09/20/2022 - 13:03
Indonesians place a poster picturing the Israeli flag on the street to be run over by passing vehicles in Bandung, 26 April 2022 (AFP)
Indonesians place a poster picturing the Israeli flag on the street to be run over by passing vehicles in Bandung, 26 April 2022 (AFP)

A senior Indonesian official and a Pakistani delegation are on rare visits to Israel, according to Israeli media.

Both Indonesia and Pakistan do not have official ties with Israel. The two countries' parties were not travelling together.

According to i24NEWS, a senior official from Indonesia is visiting to meet officials in the foreign ministry. However, Jakarta denied these reports on Tuesday.

Bagus Hendraning Kobarsyih, an official in Indonesia's foreign ministry, said: "As long as Palestine is under Israeli occupation, Indonesia will not open diplomatic relations with Israel."

He said the visit has "never happened and Indonesia's stance will always be the same", adding that Jakarta remained committed to the two-state solution between Israel and Palestine to end the conflict. Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world.

In December, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly discussed the prospect of normalising ties between Israel and Indonesia during a visit to Jakarta.

Israeli media also reported that an Israeli delegation of technology and trade entrepreneurs and investors had visited Indonesia in August, and that the trade between the two countries had reached a volume of $500m annually.

'People-to-people'

Meanwhile, a Pakistani "peace" delegation is also visiting Israel and is scheduled to meet President Isaac Herzog and senior religious and foreign policy figures, as well as visit the Holocaust Museum.

According to i24NEWS, the delegation includes Nasim Ashraf, who was chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board and also served as minister of state for six years.

The Pakistani delegation comprises nine members. Four of them are currently living in Pakistan, the rest are from the Pakistani diaspora in the US. It includes a journalist from a Karachi news station, and a British-Pakistani imam, i24NEWS reported

Pakistan and Israel do not maintain diplomatic ties. However, the two countries recently joined a US-led naval exercise in the Red Sea, alongside Saudi Arabia, Oman, Comoros, Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen.

Last May, a Pakistani journalist working for a state-run news channel was fired after backlash over his recent visit to Israel.

Israel and Pakistan have made overtures to each other in the past, most notably when the country's foreign ministers met in Istanbul in 2005 following Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

But there has not been any major public push to bring the countries closer. Meanwhile, Israel has grown ties with India in recent years.

US boosts assistance to Jordan with 'longest and largest' aid package

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 21:59
US boosts assistance to Jordan with 'longest and largest' aid package
Yearly aid to Jordan from the US has more than doubled over the past decade
Sean Mathews Fri, 09/16/2022 - 22:59
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi (R) at the US Department of State in Washington on 13 January 2022 (AFP).

The US is boosting aid to its longtime ally Jordan as the resource-poor kingdom copes with a flagging economy at home and the lingering effects of conflicts amongst its neighbours.

The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Friday that will see the US provide $10.15bn in aid to Jordan over the next seven years.

The deal was first announced by President Joe Biden in July following his meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II on the sidelines of a summit in Jeddah.

"The US has gone above and beyond for Jordan," the country's foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, said at an event hosted by the Wilson Center in Washington following the signing.

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"It's an extremely important MOU. It speaks to the strong friendship the two countries have. This is the longest and the largest MOU that we signed."

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, as it is officially known, is one of the US's most stalwart allies in the region and a key partner in the campaign to defeat the Islamic State group. It is also home to US military bases.

"The MOU represents a major commitment to Jordan's stability and the durability of the strategic partnership," read a joint statement released by the State Department on Friday after the signing.

"The US commitment to Jordan's security and prosperity is ironclad, and this MOU will address the extraordinary challenges Jordan faces," the statement added.

The US is Jordan's largest donor, and the level of aid the kingdom receives exceeds the amount Washington provides to Egypt, another US ally in the region with a population 10 times the size of Jordan.

US aid to Jordan has been climbing for nearly a decade. In 2014 it totalled about $660m per year. With the new MOU it is on track to reach $1.45bn in 2023.

Notably, the rise in funding has occurred across administrations, from former presidents Barack Obama to Donald Trump, who had a testy relationship with King Abdullah over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict

The aid comes as Jordan continues to deal with the fallout of the war in neighbouring Syria. The kingdom hosts roughly 1.3 million refugees from the conflict, half of whom are under the age of  15.

Safadi said the new aid package would allow Jordan to address the changing nature of the country's refugee crisis.

"They [refugees'] no longer need emergency relief. They need schools, universities and jobs," he said.

'Russia stabilising factor'

More recently, Jordan has seen an influx of drugs crossing its border with Syria. The number of captagon pills seized by Jordan is on track to double this year compared with 2021. Safadi said the aid would help Jordan bolster its border security.

Yet, Syria is one area where there is some daylight between Amman and Washington, particularly in Congress, where support for normalisation with Damascus is weak.

Jordan, along with other states in the region, has been pushing ahead with efforts to revive ties with Syria, with many Jordanian businesspeople hoping that normalisation can renew old trade links. Last year, King Abdullah held a rare phone call with Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad.

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Also on Syria, Safadi said that while Jordan supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, "there are many issues with which we still need to engage with Russia".

"The truth is [the] Russian presence in Syria has been a stabilising factor in the south because the vacuum would be filled by militias and other groups that will not be able to insure stability in those places," he said.

The diplomat's comments come amid reports of concern in other nearby states, such as Turkey, that Iranian-backed forces could fill any void left by Russian troop redeployments from Syria to Ukraine.

Trimming the public sector 

 Jordan has been at the forefront of US efforts to foster greater cooperation with other US partners in the region, particularly as Washington looks to step back from the Middle East to confront rising threats from China.

The kingdom aims to deepen economic ties with Iraq and Egypt. It is developing an industrial city along its border with Iraq, and the two countries are working to link their power grids. Iraq suffers from regular blackouts.

In addition, Israel, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates signed a US-backed deal last year under which a solar plant in the Jordanian desert will generate power for Israel, and a desalination plant in Israel will provide water to Jordan.

These initiatives come as Jordan tries to revive its struggling economy. Gross domestic product per capita in the kingdom has been more or less declining since 2009. One in four adults in the country is unemployed, while youth unemployment stands at roughly 50 percent.

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Historically, Jordanians have turned to the government for job creation, with the bulk of its budget supporting public-sector salaries and pensions. In 2021, public payrolls comprised nearly 65 percent of state spending.

Safadi said the kingdom is pushing ahead with economic reforms to make its private sector more competitive. "The public sector can no longer offer jobs. The only way to get jobs, which is the key challenge for us and others, is to get the private sector to come to Jordan.

"These reforms are essential for Jordan. They are our reforms. We would have done them with or without the MOU, because we have no alternative if we want to put our economy on a more sustainable and resilient path. But the MOU coming in at this time is going to help us implement many of the projects."

Washington DC

Canada: Human rights commission chief forced to resign over Islamophobic comments

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 19:42
Canada: Human rights commission chief forced to resign over Islamophobic comments
More than two dozen groups have been calling for Collin May's resignation over comments he made in 2009 saying Islam was a 'militaristic' religion
MEE staff Fri, 09/16/2022 - 20:42
On Monday, Justice Minister Tyler Shandro asked Collin May to resign from his post as Alberta Human Rights Commission chief.
On Monday, Justice Minister Tyler Shandro asked Collin May to resign from his post as Alberta Human Rights Commission chief (AFP/File photo)

The human rights commission chief for Canada's Alberta province has been forced to resign after a number of Canadian community organisations called for his removal due to Islamophobic comments he made.

Collin May, a lawyer from Calgary, was originally appointed to a five-year term as the head of the province's human rights commission. He served as a member since 2009.

But earlier this week, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and nearly 30 other community groups sent a letter to Justice Minister Tyler Shandro calling for May's resignation over Islamophobic comments he made in 2009.

That year, in a book review, May said that Islam was "not a peaceful religion misused by radicals" and instead was "one of the most militaristic religions known to man".

Hate crimes against Muslims in Canada jump 71 percent
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In their letter, the NCCM and the other groups said May had agreed to a dialogue with the Muslim community, but later declined dates to meet and then also sent letters threatening to sue those criticising him.

"In a time where brazen attacks on Muslims in Alberta have been growing, specifically targeting Black Muslim women wearing hijab, Mr. May's decision to threaten to sue his critics, while simultaneously suggesting outreach with Alberta's Muslim communities, have been extraordinary and shocking," the groups said.

"This behaviour cannot be countenanced from the Chair of the Alberta Human Rights Commission."

On Monday, Shandro asked May to resign, according to Canadian news outlets.

"We can't have the normalisation of Islamophobia and racism in human rights works. That is why we appreciate Minister Shandro's decision yesterday," Said Omar, the NCCM's advocacy officer, said in a statement.

May had resisted the resignation, with his lawyer telling Canadian media he would "not be resigning his position" and saying he had done nothing wrong. However, the Alberta Human Rights Commission has now placed Evaristus Oshionebo as the new acting chief of the commission.

The commission's website shows May's term as chief ended this month, but has not commented, announced, or given a reason for the former chief's resignation. The commission did not respond to Middle East Eye's request for comment by the time of publication.

Hate crimes against Muslim communities across Canada increased by 71 percent in 2021, according to a report by the government agency Statistics Canada released last month.

Experts in Canada previously told MEE that, while the country is seen by the outside world as a haven for multiculturalism, Canada has witnessed decades of anti-Muslim rhetoric both from politicians and the media.

Last year, NCCM released a report that listed 61 recommendations that included the development of a federal anti-Islamophobia strategy to include a clear definition of Islamophobia as well as funding to help support victims of hate-motivated crimes.

The group also called for Canadian provinces to ensure their anti-racism directorates were well resourced and for municipalities to fund community-based efforts to tackle Islamophobia.

Middle East views China more favourably than the US, but economic ties are a barrier

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 17:09
Middle East views China more favourably than the US, but economic ties are a barrier
Poll shows declining enthusiasm for increased economic relations with Beijing
MEE staff Fri, 09/16/2022 - 18:09
China's President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz during a signing ceremony in Beijing on 16 March 2017.
China's President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz during a ceremony in Beijing on 16 March 2017 (AFP)

Across the Middle East and North Africa, China is seen as a more favourable presence than the United States. However, the region's desire for closer economic ties with Beijing has dropped considerably over the past several years, according to new data from the Arab Barometer.

The Arab Barometer, a research project based at Princeton University, presented its new findings on Thursday at the Middle East Institute, which showed that out of the nine countries it polled, only those in the occupied Palestinian territories had less than 49 percent favourability of China.

The US, meanwhile, found itself having a favourability of higher than 47 percent in only four countries - Morocco, Sudan, Mauritania, and Jordan.

The US is also seen by a majority of the countries polled as a greater economic threat to the region, according to the Arab Barometer.

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"There is a lot of potential attractions with the economic model China has presented for the past 40 years to increase the wellbeing of the people in the country, at least in terms of income," said Michael Robbins, project director of the Arab Barometer.

"With the United States ... its political policies are typically less popular, it's invaded a number of countries in the region. It certainly has a tie with Israel, which as we saw is not very popular" in the region.

Over the past decade, China has emerged as a key player in the Middle East, economically, politically, and militarily.

For Middle East countries, purchasing weapons from Beijing can reduce their political dependence on the US and Europe - while providing an inexpensive means to stockpile their arsenals.

Chinese weapons also come with few strings attached, unlike the US and Europe, which use human rights concerns to apply some conditions on the supply of arms to some countries.

China has also emerged as the biggest buyer of Gulf energy, while oil-rich monarchies have turned to Beijing for 5G and surveillance technology.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia, some of the top economic powers in the region, now rank in the top three countries globally for Chinese construction projects under the Belt and Road initiative.

Little awareness of Uyghurs across Mena

However, according to the Arab Barometer's latest polling, the enthusiasm for China's economic ties in the region has dropped.

While, overall, China has a higher favourability than the US for increased economic ties in the region, 48 percent versus 46 percent, this favourability has fallen in a number of countries.

Seventy percent of Jordanians wanted stronger economic ties with China in 2019, however, in 2022 only 50 percent of them do. This 20-point drop was also seen in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Arab Barometer's poll also found little awareness about the plight of the Uyghur Muslim minority throughout the Middle East.

In most countries polled by the research group, less than 40 percent of the population was following the news of Uyghurs regularly.

For years, China has been accused of detaining more than one million Uyghurs and other Muslims in the region. Beijing has insisted it is merely running vocational centres designed to curb extremism.

A controversially delayed report this year by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) detailing a string of rights violations against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China's far-western region, was met largely with silence by Muslim-majority countries and the Mena region as a whole.

Russian state firm signs $9.1bn loan deal to fund nuclear plant in Turkey

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 14:01
Russian state firm signs $9.1bn loan deal to fund nuclear plant in Turkey
Rosatom, which has been wiring money to Ankara to shore up Turkey’s depleted foreign currency reserves, signs deal with Gazprombank
Ragip Soylu Fri, 09/16/2022 - 15:01
Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a thumbs-up as he attends a foundation-laying ceremony for the third reactor of the Akkuyu nuclear plant in Turkey, via a video link in Moscow (Reuters)

A Russian state-owned company signed a $9.1bn loan deal with Gazprombank in August to fund the construction and development of Turkey's Akkuyu nuclear power plant, according to the official documents. 

In a public announcement on Wednesday, Rosatom Corp published the deal signed on 3 August, which opens a line of credit to finance Akkuyu Nuclear JSC, its subsidiary in Turkey.

The official documents suggest the money would be used for the following:

  • $7bn for construction and operation of a nuclear power plant at the Akkuyu site, including four power units with VVER-1200 reactors
  • $1.6bn for financing the acquisition and development of a uranium deposit in Kazakhstan
  • $500m for financing expenses for the acquisition and development of lithium assets

The draft deal published in July included a special section suggesting that the intended use of the credit line would be "temporary placement in deposits, purchase of dollar bonds of the Ministry of Treasury and Finance of the Republic of Turkey". 

However, the final deal doesn’t specify such a condition but only says the loans would be temporarily placed in “an account that will be pledged in favour of the lender”.

This still opens the way for Akkuyu to purchase Turkish treasury dollar bonds or deposit them in the treasury and pledge them to the lender.

The privately owned Gazprombank, which is headquartered in Moscow, still has access to the Swift international payment system, which Russia was kicked out of after the invasion of Ukraine. This means the bank could wire money to Akkuyu’s dollar and euro account with the Turkish state-owned Ziraat Bank.

Bloomberg reported last month that Rosatom had decided to wire $15bn to Turkey for the construction of the $20bn Akkuyu nuclear power plant, citing officials who said that an initial $5bn had already been received.

The officials suggested the move was a goodwill gesture by Russian President Vladimir Putin to thank Turkey for the breakthrough Ukraine grain deal brokered by Ankara in July.

The Turkish central bank’s gross reserves increased by $7.4bn during the week ending on 5 August, the biggest increase in 12 months, according to data from the monetary authority. That is the same date Gazprombank signed the deal with Akkuyu.

The Turkish government is in dire need of foreign funding as a result of its rapidly evaporating foreign currency reserves.

Rosatom is expected to rapidly spend up to $2bn on overdue payments to subcontractors. The company told Bloomberg that it would indeed transfer some funds to Turkey, but an amount much lower than that declared by Turkish officials.

The power plant is slated to satisfy 10 percent of Turkey's energy needs when fully operational in 2026.

Antalya, Turkey

Wagner group: Russian prisoners recruited by mercenaries 'already captured by Ukrainian forces'

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 13:30
Wagner group: Russian prisoners recruited by mercenaries 'already captured by Ukrainian forces'
Sources tell MEE that poorly trained and equipped convicts are being captured on the Kherson and Kharkiv fronts
Levent Kemal Fri, 09/16/2022 - 14:30
Ukrainian artillerymen fire the 2S7 Pion, a self-propelled 203mm cannon, on the southern frontline of Ukraine (AFP)

Some of the criminals that the Wagner Group private military company has recruited from Russian prisons have already been captured in Ukraine, sources have told Middle East Eye.

Wagner, a paramilitary firm employed by Russia’s government to fight in conflicts from Mali to Syria, has reportedly been recruiting Russian prisoners to fight in Ukraine, to alleviate the troop shortages in Moscow’s ranks.

Wagner, an opaque amalgamation of shadowy firms and contractors, is linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin through his close associate Yevgeny Prigozhin. It has allegedly committed abuses in Syria, Libya and the Central African Republic.

One foreign volunteer fighting for Ukraine, speaking anonymously, told MEE that many Wagner mercenaries have been taken prisoner recently, and about 30 of them were Russians who used to be inmates. 

'They usually drive these people to the front as bait. We know that 500 to 600 prisoners were brought from Russia in this way in the last months'

- Anonymous source

The source said in total around 400 Russians have been captured in recent weeks, and as their interrogations were conducted by Ukrainian officials, available information on the captives was limited.

“The majority of the former Russian prisoners fighting in Ukraine have been convicted of military crimes, or [were] involved in military crimes, or [are] those who did not obey orders,” the source added.

The source also said his unit, which is participating in the steamrolling Ukrainian counteroffensive around Kherson and Kharkiv, has in recent days come across Russian troops with no military experience.

A second source familiar with the issue told MEE that Wagner has given its worst equipment to the prisoners it brought to fight in Ukraine.

"They usually drive these people to the front as bait,” the second source said. “We know that 500 to 600 prisoners were collected and brought from Russia in this way in the last months."

The source added that the Russian prisoners claiming to be freed inmates are mostly troops seized after being left behind by their forces, and appear to have no combat experience.

A Ukrainian official told MEE that Kyiv could not comment on the issue due to ongoing operations.

//-->

Prison recruitment

Russia had long denied that Wagner existed, but since the organisation began fighting in Ukraine, Russian media has begun excitedly discussing its operations.

Prigozhin has also denied any links to the private army. Yet he is believed to have begun visiting prison colonies in March, as the Russian invasion that began the previous month faltered and its military losses mounted.

Olga Romanova, director of the Russia Behind Bars foundation, told the media that Wagner’s prisoner-conscription process started in February and March, when convicted Siloviki began to be recruited from prisons. Siloviki is a term to describe the Russian security men close to Putin, many of whom served in the KGB and have maintained conservative political views.

An average of 20 percent of the Wagner convicts are murderers and robbers recruited from penal colonies, according to Romanova and another source familiar with the issue.

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Romanova claims that Prigozhin could easily recruit 50,000 to 60,000 criminals in the near future.

The investigative outlet Verstka and Russia Behind Bars said that by mid-August Wagner representatives had visited 21 Russian penal colonies in 13 regions. Recruiters offered inmates up to 200,000 roubles ($3,341) and amnesty in exchange for going to the front for six months. In most penal colonies, according to Verstka, about 20 percent of convicts accepted Wagner’s offer.

The anonymous source familiar with the issue, who closely follows Russia's military presence in Ukraine, told MEE that in addition to the Siloviki, imprisoned members of organised crime syndicates, especially the Chechen mafia, were recruited by unnamed mercenary units affiliated with Wagner and some oligarchs.

There are approximately 650 penal colonies of different types in Russia, and according to May 2022 figures, 468,000 people are incarcerated - consisting of Siloviki, Chechens and other convicts.

Footage posted on Russian Telegram channels on Monday showed a man addressing what appears to be a crowd of prisoners in Russia, who were standing underneath a banner that read: “Choose life”. Some have claimed the man is Prigozhin.

“After six months [at war] you receive a pardon, and there is no option for you to return to prison,” the man said. Wagner, in a statement to the Ria Novosti news agency on Thursday, confirmed sarcastically that the man indeed looked like Prigozhin and was delivering a “professional” speech like him.

English subtitles for the video of #Russia|n oligarch Prigozhin, who is close to Putin & runs the Wagner private military company, pitching to prison inmates, while trying to recruit them for his PMC to deploy in the #war against #Ukraine:

Via @kozako01 pic.twitter.com/TwCQ0Ok4yz

— Alex Kokcharov (@AlexKokcharov) September 14, 2022

Verstka has also quoted the wife of a Russian convict, who spoke about her struggle to prevent her husband from being recruited by Wagner. Her husband was questioned by the prison colony chief, a Russian Federal Penitentiary Service officer and a Wagner representative after she complained about his recruitment, according to the report.

Witnesses told Verstka that in his speeches in prison colonies, Prigozhin said that 80 percent of those who went to Ukraine would not return. However, he reportedly uses the promise of salaries and amnesties from Putin to motivate the recruits, benefits they receive after six months.

Wagner’s fighters are renowned for their far-right views and Slavic nationalism. Though Wagner is the best known, other similar Russian military companies, such as Rusich Group, Imperial Legion and RSB Group, also support Moscow’s army and separatist militias in Ukraine.

Russian prisoners recruited by Wagner 'already captured by Ukrainian forces'

France came to Syria with a list of children to take home. One was left behind

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 13:01
France came to Syria with a list of children to take home. One was left behind
A former IS member taking care of Ali, 6, refused to hand him over to French officials, despite his family's request. So they left without him
Céline Martelet Fri, 09/16/2022 - 14:01
Residents of al-Roj camp in northern Syria (MEE/Bernard Jallet)

Ali was meant to be amongst the selected few French citizens to be repatriated from Syria to France this summer. Instead, the six-year-old French boy was left behind to live in a tent in al-Roj camp, an open-air prison in the country's northeast.

Ali sits in the tent, looking terrified of a Tunisian woman, a former member of the Islamic State group (IS), to whom he had been entrusted by the Kurdish authorities running the camp.

The boy lost his mother, brothers and sisters in the eastern village of Baghouz during the weeks-long operation led by the international anti-IS coalition to seize the last territory held by the militant group. Only Ali's father, a suspected IS member, survived. He has since been held in a prison run by the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Ali refuses to speak French, yet seems to understand when asked simple questions. But he remains silent, wriggling his fingers. 

The former IS member, wearing a black niqab, her hands covered in gloves, says that she takes care of the boy as if he were her own son. But Ali looks lost. 

//--> //--> //-->

His relatives in France located him a few months ago, after a long and difficult search during which they thought that he, too, had not survived. Once he was found, they immediately alerted the French foreign ministry, which put Ali's name on the list of citizens to be repatriated in July.

But when French officials travelled to al-Roj to repatriate the group, the Tunisian woman refused to hand him over. For reasons that are unclear, the French authorities complied and did not bring the boy back to his family.

Middle East Eye has reached out to the French foreign ministry for comment but had received no response by the time of publication.

'They ask us why'

Every day just before noon, al-Roj comes alive. Children wearing backpacks, some emblazoned with images of superheroes, walk to a school housed in prefabs provided by Save the Children.

A small playground and a metal set of swings are the only distraction for these children, who are primarily under 10 and have spent more time living in the camp than in the heart of the so-called Islamic State. 

Bursting out in laughter, a little French girl in a flowery dress, pointing to a white, rickety tent, says: "You know, tomorrow I'm going to France. My house is here; I live here with my mum."

Al-Roj camp in northern Syria (MEE/Bernard Jallet)
Al-Roj camp in northern Syria (MEE/Bernard Jallet)

//--> //--> //-->

The girl and her mother, however, did not leave for France. Instead, she and her friends will continue to wander between the tents on dusty afternoons, while some children ride bikes or scooters bought with money sent by their families. 

"There are some French women who receive money. This allows them to live a little better, and it eases our burden," Rachid Afrin, the Kurdish leader of al-Roj camp, tells MEE. 

"Each country must bring back all its women and children. Here, we have more and more problems because of some countries' selection process. Then these women come and ask us why they did not take everyone."

//--> //--> //-->

About 60,000 women and children live in two sprawling, Kurdish-run camps, al-Roj and al-Hol, in the semi-autonomous Hasakah region of Syria. According to Laurent Nunez, France's former national coordinator for intelligence and counterterrorism, about 100 French women and 250 children still live in al-Roj. Some rights groups, however, estimate that there are 75 women and 160 children remaining in the camps.

'Not on the famous list'

On 5 July, French authorities drove up to the camp in vans to collect 16 former IS members and 35 children, including seven orphans, whose names were on the list drawn up by the foreign ministry. The move broke with France's case-by-case policy of repatriating children without their mothers.

Early that morning, Manon, a 28-year-old French woman who has been held in the camp for over three years, rushed to see if she and her son could get in one of the vans.

"But I was not on this famous list," Manon says.

Manon joined IS in 2014, but claims she had tried and failed several times to escape the militant group.

'We are all aware that we will go to prison for several years, but we still ask for our repatriation. I want to be judged by France and not stay here'

Manon, former IS member at al-Roj

"We are all aware that we will go to prison for several years, but we still ask for our repatriation. I want to be judged by France and not stay here," she says. "The living conditions are impossible for our children in tents. I talk about France to my son all the time. I describe the sea and the mountains to him. My son knows he is French. He is not Syrian, even though he was born here." 

The French authorities did not explain how the 16 women were chosen for repatriation, but upon arrival in France all of them were charged and jailed ahead of trial, and their children placed in foster care.

Among these women was the widow of one of the Islamist militant attackers who stormed the Bataclan concert venue in Paris in November 2015 and killed dozens of people. She was charged with associating with terrorists, sources close to the case told AFP.

On Wednesday, the European Court of Human Rights condemned France over its refusal to repatriate two of its female citizens from Syria, saying the Macron government would be expected to re-examine its decision.

The case was brought by the parents of the women, who had travelled with their partners to parts of Syria and Iraq then controlled by IS.

'They didn't come back for us'

Desperate for a life away from the camp and the horror of witnessing the death of their parents in Baghouz, two teenage sisters stood expectantly by the vans taking other French nationals to Erbil airport. But 14-year-old Ines and Zahra were never called to board by French foreign ministry officials.

The girls were taken on by an IS member of Moroccan origin, who they say beats them.

'I tell myself it's dead; no one will come and take us back to France. They are going to leave us here'

Ines, 14

"I want to go back to France. When they came to get the others, the French here told me 'We will return in a few days.' But they didn't come back for us," says Ines. "I cried for two days after they left."

The teenager is struggling to understand why the French officials lied to her about promising to return quickly for them. 

Ines, whose right arm is paralysed due to a bullet lodged in her posterior collarbone, does not have the strength to be angry any more. Sitting at the back of the tent, her older sister Zahra says nothing. She does not move, only stares into space, resting her head on her hands. 

Zahra was traumatised by the last, particularly violent, days of the siege of Baghouz. Abandoned in the prison camp, without any psychological support, she has been trapped in the memory of those last moments.

"I tell myself it's dead; no one will come and take us back to France," her sister says with tears in her eyes. "They are going to leave us here."

Al-Roj camp, Syria
France came to Syria with a list of children to take home. One was left behind

Bahrain ignoring death row inmate's pleas for medical care, says wife

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 13:00
Bahrain ignoring death row inmate's pleas for medical care, says wife
Mohamed Ramadan has been in 'severe pain' for two months and asking Jau Prison authorities for help, but has been met with silence, his wife tells MEE
Dania Akkad Fri, 09/16/2022 - 14:00
Mohamed Ramadan with his son in Bahrain before his arrest in 2014 (Zainab Ibrahim)

The wife of a Bahraini death row inmate who has long maintained his innocence says he has been in "severe pain" for two months, but authorities have ignored his requests to be examined as his condition worsens.

Zainab Ibrahim says her husband, Mohamed Ramadan, has had a lump in his neck for two months which has been causing pain, numbness and swelling, and is impacting the entire left side of his face.

Ramadan has asked authorities in Jau Prison for help on a daily basis and has seen other inmates taken for medical treatment by bus, but has yet to receive an assessment, Ibrahim told Middle East Eye on Friday.

"It's been difficult to sleep these nights," she said. "I ask myself, 'Why must he suffer?'"

'I ask myself, Why must he suffer?'

- Zainab Ibrahim, wife of Mohamed Ramadan

Ramadan, 39, was sentenced to death in 2014 after he and a second man, Husain Moosa, 36, were charged with targeting police officers with a bomb and killing one of them. 

Ramadan, the father of three children, had been employed by Bahrain's interior ministry as a police officer at the kingdom's international airport and was his family's sole breadwinner.

He had previously attended peaceful rallies, including one marking the third anniversary of Bahrain's pro-democracy uprising in February 2014, which drew tens of thousands to the streets just days before his arrests.

Their sentences were overturned by Bahrain's Court of Cassation in 2018, when an internal review found evidence that they may have been tortured into confessions, something the two men had repeatedly claimed. 

But in 2020, the same court - the kingdom's court of last resort - reinstated the sentences.

UN experts have since called on Bahraini authorities to release the men and investigate whether their rights were violated and, earlier this year, their cases were raised by Lord Ahmad, the UK's minister responsible for human rights, with senior Bahraini officials and human rights bodies. 

Middle East Eye understands that the UK's foreign office is monitoring Ramadan's case and has raised its concerns with the Bahraini government.

Continued concerns

Rights groups have previously documented medical neglect across Bahrain's prisons.

Earlier this year, an officer in Jau Prison laughed when inmates pleaded that a fellow political prisoner with tuberculosis (TB) be transferred for care while two others who suspected they had TB struggled to receive timely care.

Sayed Nizar Alwadaei, one of the prisoners who feared he had TB, has since tested negative, but has had ongoing severe neck pain and eczema that has remained untreated, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, his brother-in-law and director of advocacy at the UK-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, told MEE.

The prisoner was taken earlier this month to a local hospital to have his eyes checked, but Bahraini prison authorities have not allowed his family to deliver the medicine prescribed by the hospital's doctor.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei said he finds Ramadan's case, however, particularly concerning and a sign that Bahraini authorities are acting with impunity.

Ibrahim has been tweeting in Arabic and English about her husband's condition since Monday and, on Wednesday, Alwadaei raised the case with Bahraini officials. Meanwhile, he pointed out, the UN Human Rights Council is currently meeting.

"This is what we are dealing with now," Alwadaei said.

MEE did not receive an immediate comment on Friday from the Bahraini Embassy in the UK.

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