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US: Lawyer accuses Saudi crown prince of attempting to 'manipulate' court system

Wed, 11/30/2022 - 20:57
US: Lawyer accuses Saudi crown prince of attempting to 'manipulate' court system
US court should reject Biden administration's suggestion to award immunity to Mohammed bin Salman, says lawyer
MEE staff Wed, 11/30/2022 - 20:57
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman authorised the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018, according to both Turkish intelligence and the CIA.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman authorised the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018, according to both Turkish intelligence and the CIA (AFP/File photo)

A lawyer for Hatice Cengiz has accused Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of attempting to "manipulate" the US court system, after the administration of US President Joe Biden declared in recent documentation that the Saudi royal should be given immunity in a lawsuit accusing him of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

In a 10-page legal filing, lawyer Keith Harper, who represents both Cengiz, a writer and Khashoggi's fiancee, and Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn), urged the court to reject the Biden administration's suggestion.

"In this rarest of cases, the court should decline to shield MBS for his ordering of the murder of US-resident Jamal Khashoggi," the filing said, first reported by The Guardian.

The lawyer said while it was customary for courts to defer to the executive branch on judgments of whether foreign leaders should be given diplomatic immunity, this case was unique because Riyadh engaged in an unprecedented legal move to name the crown prince the country's prime minister.

Harper said the move had no precedent "in the history of international law".

Biden 'betrays' own words by giving Saudi crown prince immunity in Khashoggi killing, says Hatice Cengiz
Read More »

Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018, in an operation that both Turkish intelligence and the CIA have said was sanctioned by the crown prince.

Cengiz and Dawn sued the crown prince and his associates in 2020, accusing him of conspiring to kidnap, torture and murder Khashoggi.

In June, the district court invited the US government to give its own opinion about whether the crown prince deserved to be treated as a head of state, which in most cases would lead to the dismissal of his name from the case.

In its filing on the matter in late October, the Biden administration cited the decision by Saudi Arabia's King Salman to appoint his son prime minister as grounds for Mohammed bin Salman to be given immunity.

The appointment of Mohammed bin Salman as prime minister is a rare move in Saudi history, as the post is traditionally held by the king. The move was announced just days before an earlier court-appointed deadline for the Biden administration to offer its opinion. 

Some human rights activists viewed the move as an attempt by the Saudi government to manipulate the court system in favour of giving the crown prince immunity in the US.

The parties are due to meet for a hearing on 9 December in Washington.

On Tuesday, Mohammed bin Salman's lawyer argued the case was all but closed, and that the Biden administration had effectively divested the court of its jurisdiction.

However, Dawn's executive director Sarah Leah Whitson previously told Middle East Eye that while the Saudi crown prince's removal from the lawsuit would be a blow to directly holding him accountable for the killing, the legal battle was far from over.

There are still 20 other co-defendants in the case, including Saud al-Qahtani, a top confidante and senior adviser to Mohammed bin Salman.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit last year, and the court has yet to rule on this. If the court rejects the motion and allows the case to proceed, it would then move to the discovery phase, which would allow Dawn to request answers, evidence, and even the deposition of the Saudi officials named in the suit.

If that happens, it "means that the truth of the evidence about Mohammed bin Salman's personal role in the murder of Khashoggi will continue to come out and this lawsuit will continue to be a thorn in Mohammed bin Salman's side", Whitson said.

"They can choose to not cooperate with the court, but that would be a pretty embarrassing look for Saudi Arabia."

Lawyer accuses Saudi crown prince of attempting to 'manipulate' US court system

New House Democrat leader's staunch ties to US-Israel groups

Wed, 11/30/2022 - 19:18
New House Democrat leader's staunch ties to US-Israel groups
Hakeem Jeffries has been selected as the new House minority leader. His biggest donor this past year was a pro-Israel group
MEE staff Wed, 11/30/2022 - 19:18
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries talks to reporters on Capitol Hill on 30 November 2022 in Washington.
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries talks to reporters on Capitol Hill on 30 November 2022 (AFP)

New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries' selection for the role of House minority leader next year has made history as a sign of a changing party, but the lawmaker's ties to major pro-Israel groups has raised questions over whether that change will extend to the largely uncritical support the US shows for Israel.

Jeffries, who on Wednesday was chosen to replace former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 82, as the Democratic Party's leader in the House of Representatives, will be the first Black lawmaker to hold the position.

"This is a moment of transition," Jeffries told a small group of reporters on Tuesday night. "We stand on the shoulders of giants, but are also looking forward to being able to do what's necessary at this moment to advance the issues."

Jeffries' ascension to lead the Democrats in the House is a net positive for pro-Israel groups, who have dealt with growing opposition and criticism of Israel stemming from within the Democratic Party.

'Back home in New York City we consider Jerusalem to be the sixth borough'

- Hakeem Jeffries, US congressman

The congressman maintains close ties to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), the largest pro-Israel lobby in the US, as well as other pro-Israel groups.

Amid the increasing criticism of Israel coming from Democrats, Aipac launched a new Super PAC, the United Democracy Project (UDP), that began pouring millions of dollars into electoral campaigns ahead of the November midterm elections.

Some of these donations were given to candidates running against progressive Democrats who had voiced criticism of Israel.

Jeffries, on the other hand, has been unequivocally in support of Israel throughout his political career, and also vocally supported several pro-Israel Democrats instead of their progressive challengers in this year's midterms.

Over the past year, he has received nearly $460,000 in campaign donations from pro-Israel groups, including more than $213,000 from Pro-Israel America, his largest single donor.

He has been opposed to the conclusion made by Israeli and international human rights groups that Israel's treatment of Palestinians amounts to apartheid. He said such reports were "designed to isolate Israel in one of the toughest neighbourhoods in the world".

He also criticised Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh for using the term apartheid to describe Israel during a visit the congressman made to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories earlier this year.


Jeffries also opposed a bill introduced last year by fellow Democrat Betty McCollum, which would ensure that the nearly $4bn in annual US military aid to Israel was not used to illegally annex Palestinian land, demolish Palestinian homes, or to detain Palestinian children in Israel's military prisons.

In 2020, Jeffries told Aipac that US aid to Israel should continue with "no conditions", and added: "Back home in New York City, we consider Jerusalem to be the sixth borough." Jeffries attended this conference despite several Democratic leaders, including multiple presidential candidates, deciding not to attend.

Hakeem Jeffries with AIPAC in 2020:

- Jerusalem is NYC's 6th borough

- Important to maintain Israel's "qualitative military edge" and oppose efforts to "delegitimize Israel" like BDS (AIPAC talking points)

- No conditions for U.S. military aid

- AIPAC lobbying is important pic.twitter.com/rZpl3HONEp

— Walker Bragman (@WalkerBragman) November 17, 2022

Robert Wexler, a former Democratic congressman, told Jewish Insider that "if the pro-Israel community wanted to create a Democratic leader for the future, we would create Hakeem Jeffries".

But Jeffries is set to take over the Democratic House leadership as a new far-right government is to take power in Israel, posing a challenge for the party's more staunchly pro-Israel members.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bloc won 64 seats out of 120 in this month's Israeli election, and is expected to form a government with ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ), as well as with Itamar Ben-Gvir's far-right Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit alliance.

Ben-Gvir, like Netanyahu, is opposed to the creation of an independent Palestinian state, which would be an essential part of a two-state solution that many Democrats continue to support.


Qatar World Cup: Tunisia exit after bittersweet win over France

Wed, 11/30/2022 - 16:51
Qatar World Cup: Tunisia exit after bittersweet win over France
Victory over defending champions is not enough to send Carthage Eagles to the knockout stages
MEE staff Wed, 11/30/2022 - 16:51
Tunisia's Issam Jebali reacts in Tunisia v France match at the World Cup in Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan, Qatar on 30 November 2022 (Reuters)
Tunisia's Issam Jebali reacts in Tunisia v France match at the World Cup in Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan, Qatar on 30 November 2022 (Reuters)

Tunisia failed to advance to the World Cup knockout stages despite a historic win over defending champions France on Wednesday.

The 1-0 win took the Carthage Eagles to the third spot of Group D with four points, missing out on qualification by two points to France and Australia who gained six points each.

The North Africans dominated most of the play until they broke the deadlock in the 58th minute with a brilliant effort by Wahbi Khazri. The French-born striker glided past the French defence and put the ball in the net in an impressive individual effort.

The goal briefly put Tunisia in the second spot of the group from which they could have qualified for the first time ever to the last 16 of the tournament.    

Qatar World Cup: A historic tournament for Arab nations, on and off the pitch
Read More »

But the celebrations quickly turned into heartbreak after Australia scored their winning goal in the other match against Denmark and sent Tunisia back to the third spot. 

France, who made nine changes for this match from the team that beat Denmark, finished top of the group on goal difference from runners-up Australia.

Tunisia started the tournament with a goalless draw against Denmark before losing 1-0 to Australia in the second match.

They became the third team from the Middle East and North Africa to miss out on qualification after Qatar and Iran crashed out on Tuesday.

All eyes now turn to Saudi Arabia, who need a win in their match with Mexico later on Wednesday to secure qualification, and Morocco, who need a draw from their match against Canada on Thursday to advance.

Tunisia exit World Cup after bittersweet win over France

Turkey's looming invasion of Syria tests US-Kurdish ties

Wed, 11/30/2022 - 16:48
Turkey's looming invasion of Syria tests US-Kurdish ties
US ties to its Kurdish allies become less of a priority as Washington focuses on the war in Ukraine
Sean Mathews Wed, 11/30/2022 - 16:48
A Syrian Democratic Forces fighter aims a machine gun during a joint military exercise with forces of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State group in al-Malikiya, in Syria's northeastern Hasakah province, on 7 September 2022 (AFP)

Turkey’s threatened incursion into northern Syria is testing US efforts to balance between an important counterterrorism partner in the Middle East and a pivotal geopolitical ally in the war in Ukraine.

At the heart of the tussle between Ankara and Washington is the United States’ support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-majority militia Washington has partnered with to fight the Islamic State (IS) group.

Ankara views the SDF as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has waged a decades-long war for independence against Turkey. The US considers the group, known as the PKK, a terrorist organisation, but refuses to cut ties with the SDF, which Washington sees as the most effective fighting force against IS.

'The US needs Turkish buy-in on other issues'

- Andrew Tabler, former Syria director National Security Council

Turkey launched its first invasion of Syria in 2016, with the aim of depriving Kurdish fighters of a base along its border. Two more military forays followed in 2018 and 2019, giving Turkey and its Arab allied militias control over large swaths of Syrian territory.

Turkey has been threatening a new ground offensive for months, but its artillery and air campaign in the region accelerated after a bombing in Istanbul killed six people and wounded dozens more in November. Turkey blamed the attack on the PKK and its associated groups. Both the PKK and SDF denied involvement.

The US has tried to prevent escalations between the two during previous flareups, but analysts and former US officials are less optimistic about Washington’s mediation efforts this time.

“The larger issue is that the US has bigger fish to fry in Europe,” Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former Syria director on the White House National Security Council, told Middle East Eye.

“The US needs Turkish buy-in on other issues, so the response to this potential incursion has been pretty muted.”

Fighters with the Turkish-backed "Syrian National Army" along the frontlines of areas under control by the Syrian government and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), on 29 November 2022 (AFP)

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Turkey has emerged as a swing player in the Ukraine war. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is one of the few Nato leaders to still maintain communication with Vladimir Putin. Russian and American spy chiefs have met on Turkish soil, while Ankara has helped broker a UN-backed deal to unblock Black Sea grain.

“You cannot extricate what’s going on in northern Syria from the wider political climate,” Jonathan Lord, director of the Middle East security programme at the Center for New American Security and a former Department of Defence official, told MEE.

While Erdogan has billed himself as a mediator, critics see an untrustworthy partner leveraging Turkey’s position inside Nato to extract concessions on foreign policy goals that run counter to western interests.

In September, Erdogan made a veiled threat to invade neighbouring Greece, as Ankara is locked in a series of maritime disputes with Athens. Turkey is also blocking the Nato ascension bids of Sweden and Finland over what it says is their support for Kurdish militant groups.

Turkey Grain deal
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres shake hands in western Ukrainian city of Lviv, on 18 August 2022 (AFP)

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On Syria, Lord said: “There is no question that Ankara has longstanding security concerns regarding PKK activities, but what Turkey is doing now fundamentally undermines our [US] capability to counter IS.”

The US has already been caught in the crossfire.

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Last week, a Turkish drone strike on a base in Hasakah, Syria, came within 300 metres of American troops. Without naming its Nato ally, the Pentagon said the strike “directly threatened” US forces.

“The continued conflict, especially a ground invasion, would severely jeopardise the hard-fought gains that the world has achieved against ISIS and would destabilise the region,” a Pentagon spokesperson said on Tuesday. 

“The SDF are using the only card they have to persuade the Americans to do everything in their power to stop the Turkish incursion and protect them"

- Natasha Hall, CSIS

But the looming Turkish incursion is also testing Washington’s relationship with a longtime counterterrorism partner at a time when international attention has moved away from Syria.

“The counter-IS campaign is not the kind of mobilising force in public opinion that Ukraine is today,” Sam Heller, a Syria expert at the Century Institute based in Beirut, told MEE.

The SDF has gone public, calling for more support from its ally. Mazloum Abdi, the group’s chief, has repeatedly demanded a “stronger” US message to stop a Turkish assault.

The group has said it is halting operations against IS to refocus on fending off a Turkish attack. On Tuesday, the Pentagon said it had reduced patrols in northern Syria because of SDF cutbacks.

But the SDF’s leverage with the US is limited compared to Ankara’s.

“The SDF are using the only card they have to persuade the Americans to do everything in their power to stop the Turkish incursion and protect them,” Natasha Hall, senior fellow with the Middle East programme at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told MEE.

Hall said the SDF has been “on alert” since the Trump administration withdrew troops from northern Syria and that mistrust likely grew after the Biden administration’s Afghanistan pullout.

“They (the SDF) have gotten guarantees, but given the mass public relations campaign [they] have been on, it’s clear that they know that there are different levels of support and protection. It doesn’t bode well when the Pentagon says that Turkey has the right to defend its southern border.”

Syrian-Kurdish demonstrators
Syrian-Kurdish demonstrators protest Turkey's threats against their region, in the northeastern city of Qamishli, on 27 November 2022 (AFP)

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Tabler, the former White House official, said the SDF is working to show it remains an “indispensable partner” to the US in combating IS, even as it scales back operations.

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“The SDF relationship is not very high up on the priority list for the US right now. But that still begs the question: Who keeps IS in check? There are two options: Turkey and the SDF,” he said.

“Turkey wants a security belt along its border, but it does not want to go all the way down the Euphrates and do counter-terrorism operations,” Tabler added.

'The US is not going to go to bat for the SDF against the Turks in the way the SDF lobbies for'

- Sam Heller, Century Institute

Heller, from the Century Institute, said that previous Turkish military actions have been negotiated through the Astana format, with Russia and Iran.

Moscow has used previous flareups to cement its position as a powerbroker in Syria, fixing deals that have seen Turkey and the Assad government gain territory at the expense of the Kurds. Analysts say the Kremlin's influence has not waned despite being bogged down in Ukraine. 

“Right now it’s Russia that has more influence to dissuade Turkey on whether an incursion goes forward [rather] than the US," Heller said. 

Erdogan said last week that Turkey will target the areas of northwest Syria including Kobane (known as Ain al-Arab in Arabic), Manbij and Tal Rifaat. The latter two are outside the US’s area of military operations, a key difference compared to 2019 when US troops withdrew from northeast Syria in the face of Turkey’s ground offensive.

As for the SDF’s pleas to Washington, analysts say the Kurdish militia is likely to be disappointed.

“The US is not going to go to bat for the SDF against the Turks in the way the SDF lobbies for. It’s just not plausible,” Heller said. 

“Turkey has taken big bites out of SDF territory before, and the group's ties with the US have continued.”

American arrested in UAE facing deportation to Egypt

Wed, 11/30/2022 - 15:57
American arrested in UAE facing deportation to Egypt
US citizen Sherif Osman was arrested in Dubai this month, and is now facing extradition to Egypt - where he was born
MEE staff Wed, 11/30/2022 - 15:57
Dubai's court building
Pedestrians walk past Dubai's court building during a hearing on 4 April 2010 (AFP)

Sherif Osman, a US citizen who was arrested this month by UAE authorities, faces possible deportation to his native country of Egypt. 

Osman was arrested because of a request "from an Arab League entity that coordinates among member states on law enforcement and national security", The Wall Street Journal reported. According to that official, the UAE is working to secure legal documentation for his extradition.

Egyptian-American arrested in UAE after calling for Cop27 protests in Egypt
Read More »

Osman was born in Egypt, but hasn't been in the country since before the 2011 uprising. 

He is an outspoken supporter of protests against President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. He was arrested after he arrived in Dubai to visit his sister, a UAE resident, and his mother, who was visiting from Egypt. He was arrested by police outside his sister's home, Middle East Eye reported earlier this month. 

A former Egyptian army officer, Osman was one of three exiles who called for anti-government protests in Egypt on 11 November during the UN climate summit (Cop27), held in the resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh. The demonstration was also referred to as the 11/11 protest, in which nearly 1,000 people were detained in the ongoing crackdown against government critics in Egypt. 

Rights groups estimate Egypt holds about 60,000 political prisoners. At least 4,500 political prisoners were detained without trial in one six-month period, many facing life-threatening conditions, The New York Times reported

"Though he is being treated well now, Sherif's life is in danger in Dubai detention, and if the US allows his extradition, we fear that his fate will be sealed," Radha Stirling, a UAE legal expert, told the Jerusalem Post. 

"Sherif's extradition is certain unless the US takes a stand… This is almost a replay of the Saudi killing of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, except that Sherif is still alive, and the US has a chance to intervene before it is too late.”"

Researchers fear UK sale of artefacts could include items looted from Yemen

Wed, 11/30/2022 - 15:42
Researchers fear UK sale of artefacts could include items looted from Yemen
Antiquities researchers say the lack of an exact origin on items raises concerns over where the artefacts came from, as some resemble items stolen from Yemen
Umar A Farooq Wed, 11/30/2022 - 15:42
Artefacts that were recovered before being smuggled out of the country, at the National Museum in Taez, Yemen on 22 February 2022.
Artefacts that were recovered before being smuggled out of the country, at the National Museum in Taiz, Yemen, on 22 February 2022 (AFP)

An auction in the UK has sparked concerns over the sale of artefacts that researchers say resemble the types of items looted from Yemen, after the auction house did not label their place of origin.

The issue has shone light on the stolen antiquities market, which has continued to thrive despite international efforts to curb sales.

On Tuesday, London's TimeLine Auctions began the online bidding of thousands of antiquities from all around the world. It will run until 3 December.

In the weeks leading up to the auction, Yemeni antiquities researcher Abdullah Mohsen posted on Facebook that a few of the artefacts to be auctioned off resemble artefacts that are from Yemen, though the exact provenance of the items is unknown to the researchers. It is unclear whether or not the auction house knows the precise origins of the items. 

'It's very difficult to be sure of the very provenance of these objects that are present in different areas in Yemen'

- Jeremie Schiettecatte, antiquities researcher

One item, a set of gold jewellery beads, sold for 715 pounds ($850), while a bronze camel figurine was sold for 975 pounds ($1160). A statue of a camel rider is also being auctioned and is estimated to be valued at £400-600 ($480-720).

Middle East Eye reached out to TimeLine Auctions for comment but did not receive a response.

Jeremie Schiettecatte, an antiquities researcher who focuses on artefacts from Yemen, said he couldn't confirm if the items were indeed stolen, but they resembled ones he had personally seen and knew had been looted from areas of Yemen. 

"Nevertheless, this is something that I have been able to see in private collections, not the same item but similar items in a collection, which was held in Yemen," he told MEE.

He said the items had been mostly comprised of stolen antiques, and "among these, there were some jewellery, almost similar or resembling those on sale in London".

Schiettecatte noted that the artefacts on sale this week are unusual compared to the usual types of auctioned items coming from Yemen.

"This is not the kind of item we usually see on sale coming from Yemen. Most of the recent artefacts are mostly inscriptions on stone or bronze plates. It's not so common to have these artefacts that we can see here," Schiettecatte told MEE.

He added that one of the main issues when it comes to trying to identify stolen items is that auction houses do not provide the item's provenance, or its exact origin, both in terms of time and place.

"It's very difficult to be sure of the very provenance of these objects that are present in different areas in Yemen. We can find these kinds of artefacts in different areas. It's very difficult to discern whether it comes from a looted area or any other unlooted area."

History of looted items

Manel Chibane, legal programme manager for the Clooney Foundation for Justice's Docket initiative, told MEE that she was not surprised by the concerns.

Stolen antiquities trade fuels conflict in Middle East, report says
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In their latest report on stolen antiquities, which found that hundreds of thousands of artefacts have been stolen from war-torn countries in the Middle East in the past decade, Chibane said that TimeLines was not named. However, they had been named in a report regarding the trade out of Libya.

"In a study back from 2011, [researchers] spotted four portraits from Cyrene that had been traded through or by this auction house."

In May 2020, the TimeLines auction house was involved in the sale of a stolen artefact, this one being a Sumerian temple plaque from around 2400 BC. It was eventually returned to Iraq.

That same year, The Guardian reported that a sculpture stolen from the National Museum of Afghanistan had appeared on the auction house's website.

There is "this feeling of impunity" that auction houses and dealers have, Chibane said.

Stolen antiquities trade fuels conflict

In terms of Yemen, Chibane noted that the ongoing war in the country has led to an increase in the smuggling of looted antiquities.

"Basically you have regular reports of arrests of individuals being involved in the smuggling of antiquities from Yemen," she said.

"Yemen is a conflict area, there is an international conflict happening there and there are several armed groups there, and they've contributed to the looting of antiquities."

'Pillaging qualifies as a war crime'

- Manel Chibane, the Clooney Foundation 

Chibane said it was difficult to determine the origin of the current items for sale on TimeLines because it says they are from a 1980s collection, well before the Clooney Foundation's Docket initiative was tracking the sales of stolen items.

"When it comes to Yemen, we researched and we saw that there was pillaging happening in Yemen since 2011 and that feeds conflict."

According to the Docket initiative, nearly 150,000 items were looted from Yemen. According to Unesco, the illicit trade in cultural goods - of which antiquities trafficking is a part - is worth $10bn a year. A portion of these profits is known to be used to finance conflicts and global terrorism.

Chibane said that her work at the Clooney Foundation is focused on using strategic litigation to stop the trade of stolen goods, rather than simply calling for more regulation.

"And that's why we think that going to the international crime aspect and the litigation aspect is a good deterrent for those dealers who should realise what their role is in this," she said.

"Pillaging qualifies as a war crime, so that's where the dealer operating in the various places in London or Paris would probably be deterred if they're being prosecuted for those sorts of legal grounds."

Turkey in final stage of talks for up to $10bn funding from Qatar: Sources

Fri, 11/25/2022 - 10:54
Turkey in final stage of talks for up to $10bn funding from Qatar: Sources
Qatar has strong ties with Turkey, which supported Doha when it was blockaded by several Arab countries
MEE and agencies Fri, 11/25/2022 - 10:54
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (centre) is welcomed by Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani (right) in Doha on 24 July 2017 (Reuters)

Turkey and Qatar are in the final stages of talks for Doha to provide up to $10bn in funding for Ankara, including up to $3bn by the end of this year, according to two senior Turkish officials.

One of the officials told Reuters the total funding could take the form of a swap, eurobond or other method, and that the Turkish and Qatari leaders had discussed the issue.

Turkey is also in the final stage of talks with Saudi Arabia over Riyadh placing a $5bn deposit at the Turkish Central Bank, a Saudi finance ministry spokesman said on Tuesday.

The foreign funding could help shore up foreign exchange reserves to backstop Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's unorthodox policy of pursuing interest rate cuts and other stimulus measures despite soaring inflation and a slumping currency.

Azerbaijan denies negotiating a currency swap deal with Turkey
Read More »

Turkey's treasury and officials in Qatar were not immediately available for comment.

With western countries balking at investments in Turkey, Ankara has turned to "friendly" countries for foreign resources to backstop its policy of supporting the lira by balancing the economy's supply and demand for foreign exchange.

Turkey's central bank already had in place a swap deal with Qatar's central bank, which was originally worth $5bn but was tripled in 2020 to $15bn.

The sources spoke to Reuters under condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the funding.

"Talks for Qatar to provide new resources to Turkey have reached the final stage," the first official said.

"A minimum amount of $8bn is foreseen" but it could total "as much as $10bn", of which $2bn-$3bn is to be obtained this year and the rest next year, the source added. 

"This could be a swap or eurobond, but they are discussing several methods. There is a mutual agreement."

The second Turkish official said the talks for $2bn-$3bn funding for this year were focused on the eurobond.

Multiple swap deals

Qatar has strong ties with Turkey, which supported Doha when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt imposed an embargo on Qatar in 2017, in a row that was resolved early last year.

Erdogan was in Qatar for the opening game of the football World Cup on Sunday, while Turkish finance minister Nureddin Nebati met his Qatari counterpart Ali bin Ahmed Al Kuwari last month.

Turkey's finance ministry has so far borrowed $9bn in 2022, of the $11bn foreign borrowing foreseen for the year.

The ministry foresees $10bn foreign borrowing for 2023, but it can bring forward its debt issuances when needed for earlier financing.

Ankara already has a total of $28bn in currency swap deals with the UAE, China, Qatar and South Korea and bankers calculate around $23bn-$24bn are already in the Turkish central bank's reserves.

Instead of swap deals, Turkey's central bank has recently preferred depo accounts, which involves dollars or euros entering the system instead of local currencies.

Turkey in final stage of talks for up to $10bn funding from Qatar

Iran protests: Security forces intensify deadly crackdown on Kurdistan region

Sun, 11/20/2022 - 18:40
Iran protests: Security forces intensify deadly crackdown on Kurdistan region
Iranian forces kill at least four demonstrators, stepping up crackdown on anti-government protests around the country's Kurdish region
MEE and agencies Sun, 11/20/2022 - 18:40
Iranians mourn in front of the coffins of people killed in a shooting attack, during their funeral in the city of Izeh in Iran's Khuzestan province, on 18 November (AFP)

Iran's clerical rulers have stepped up suppression of persistent anti-government protests in the country's Kurdish region, deploying troops and killing at least four demonstrators on Sunday, activists and rights groups said. 

Iran protests: Three reported killed in Kurdistan region as Amini unrest continues
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Nationwide protests, sparked by the death of 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in September in the custody of morality police, have been at their most intense in the areas where the majority of Iran's 10 million Kurds live.

Videos on social media, which have not yet been verified, showed a convoy of military vehicles with heavily armed troops, purportedly in the western city of Mahabad. The sounds of heavy weaponry could be heard in several other videos. 

The Norway-based human rights group Hengaw said military helicopters carried members of the widely feared Revolutionary Guards to quell the protests in the Sunni-dominated Kurdish city of Mahabad.

Prominent Sunni cleric Molavi Abdolhamid, a powerful dissenting voice in Shia-ruled Iran, called on security forces to refrain from shooting at people in Mahabad. 

'Pressure and crackdown'

"Disturbing news is emerging from the Kurdish areas, especially from Mahabad ... pressure and crackdown will lead to further dissatisfaction. Officers should refrain from shooting at people," Abdolhamid tweeted. 

Hengaw said at least four protesters were killed in the Kurdish area. The widely-followed activist account 1500Tasvir said a 16-year-old student and a school teacher were killed in the Kurdish city of Javanrud. The details could not be independently confirmed. 

Confirming the unrest in Kurdish region, Iran's state media said calm had been restored in the area, but activists and Hengaw said on Twitter that "the resistance" continued in several Kurdish cities. 

"In (the Kurdish city of) Marivan repressive forces have opened fire at people," Hengaw said. 

No, Iran has not sentenced 15,000 protesters to death
Read More »

On Saturday, Hengaw reported that at least three protesters had been killed in the town of Divandarreh. 

The uprising has turned into a popular revolt by furious Iranians from all layers of society, posing one of the boldest challenges to the clerical leaders since the 1979 Islamic revolution that swept them to power.

Iranian authorities, who have blamed Amini's death on pre-existing medical conditions, say the unrest has been fomented by foreign adversaries and accuse armed separatists of perpetrating violence.

Protests have stretched into a third month despite violent state clampdowns and death sentences issued for at least six protesters. 

Hrana said 410 protesters had been killed in the unrest as of Saturday, including 58 minors. Some 54 members of the security forces were also killed, it said, adding that more than 17,251 people have been arrested. Authorities have not provided an estimate of any wider death count.

Two Iranian actresses, who had posted pictures of themselves on Instagram without the compulsory headscarf in solidarity with the protest, were arrested on Sunday for stoking protests, Iranian state media reported. 

Videos posted on social media showed Iranians in several other cities kept up protests, from Tehran to the northwestern city of Tabriz, calling for the toppling of the Islamic Republic and chanting "Death to (Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei".

Qatar humbled by Ecuador in opening World Cup match

Sun, 11/20/2022 - 18:16
Qatar humbled by Ecuador in opening World Cup match
Hosts beaten comfortably 2-0 by South American nation, leaving uphill battle to qualify for knockout stages
Rayhan Uddin Sun, 11/20/2022 - 18:16
Qatar's Akram Afif gestures during the Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium (AFP)
Qatar's Akram Afif gestures during the Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium (AFP)

Hosts Qatar were comfortably beaten by Ecuador in the opening match of the World Cup on Sunday, dampening the spirits of Qataris after a grand opening ceremony

Ecuador won 2-0 at al-Bayt Stadium in al-Khor, on the outskirts of Doha, thanks to two first-half goals by former West Ham and Everton forward Enner Valencia. 

It means that Qatar become the first host nation to lose the opening match of a World Cup. 

The scoreline could have been worse for the hosts. An early goal by Valencia was ruled out for offside by the video assistant referee after a lengthy stoppage. 

The cheer as the goal was ruled out was perhaps the biggest of the night, but Qatar were unable to profit from the let-off. 

Several journalists noted that thousands of home fans left the stadium at half time and did not return. More filed out during a flat second half when Qatar failed to rally and cause their opponents signifcant difficulties. 

It will now be an uphill battle for Qatar to make it to the knockout stages. 

Their remaining two games will be against the Netherlands and Senegal, both ranked higher than Ecuador. 

Arab leaders attend opening ceremony

Before the match kicked off, fans enjoyed a glitzy opening ceremony attended by several leaders from the Middle East. 

Among the stars to perform were Qatari singers Dana and Fahad al-Kubaisi, as well as Jung Kook, a member of South Korean boyband BTS. 

Erdogan and Sisi meet for the first time during Qatar World Cup opening ceremony
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American actor Morgan Freeman delivered a message of unity and overcoming divisions with disabled Qatari influencer Ghanim al-Muftah.

Fans were also treated to a traditional sword dance (known as Ardah), followed by a display of flags of all the participating nations and a mashup of previous World Cup songs, including Shakira's Waka Waka and K'naan's Wavin Flag.

Several Middle Eastern leaders were in attendance, including Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Erdogan and Sisi, whose countries are in the process of normalising relations after years of tensions, were pictured shaking hands and speaking to each other for the first time.

Ukraine war: Russia deploys Syrian fighters to shore up its defences

Wed, 11/09/2022 - 10:52
Ukraine war: Russia deploys Syrian fighters to shore up its defences
A few hundred Syrians have been sent to eastern Ukraine after training in Russia, but are yet to see combat
Levent Kemal Wed, 11/09/2022 - 10:52
A Ukrainian soldier of an artillery unit fires towards Russian positions outside Bakhmut on November 8, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
A Ukrainian artillery unit fires towards Russian positions outside Bakhmut on 8 November 2022 (AFP)

Russia has deployed more than 500 Syrian fighters in Ukraine for primarily non-combatant roles, tasking them generally with safeguarding facilities in Luhansk and Donetsk in the past few months, regional intelligence sources told Middle East Eye. 

The sources said the experienced fighters were drawn mainly from pro-Syrian government units that were backed, trained and managed by Russia in the fight against opposition forces and the Islamic State group (IS). These include the 25th Special Mission Forces Division, known as the Tiger Forces, Fifth Corps and Liwa al-Quds, a militia made up predominantly of Palestinian Syrians. 

A Syrian government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told MEE that Russia had recruited the Syrians, including former rebels, through its special forces and the notorious Wagner Group private military contractor, and transferred them to Ukraine. 

In March, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said during a United Nations Security Council meeting that Moscow had received more than 16,000 applications from people in Middle Eastern countries to help fight in Ukraine.

However, that was perceived by many observers as an attempt to scare Ukraine and other European countries in the conflict's early days.

Members of the Tiger Forces in Aleppo in 2016 (AFP)
Members of the Tiger Forces in Aleppo in 2016 (AFP)

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In the same month, MEE reported that adverts were circulating in Syria calling for potential recruits, promising substantial salaries of around "$3,000, depending on the specific skills and expertise each person has” - large sums in Syria's shattered economy. 

The official Telegram channel of IS Hunters, a Russian-backed group that was created in 2017 to fight IS, also issued a widespread call for recruits to report to their base in Homs for registration, to fight alongside the Russians in Ukraine.

However, with little evidence that Syrians had been deployed in Ukraine following reports of recruitment, suspicions arose that the calls to arms were a scam.

'The Syrians aren’t partaking in the actual fighting, they are mainly functioning as logistics near the front lines'

- Syrian government official

The New York Times reported earlier this year that at least 300 Syrian fighters had been sent to Russia for further training, before being deployed in Ukraine.

The Syrian government official told MEE that about 1,000 Syrian fighters were flown to Russia for the training, but only half of them had gone to Ukraine.

The official said the main task of the Syrian fighters was providing security and protection for areas managed by Wagner and other military contractors in Luhansk and Donetsk, but they could be called to the front for combat if an emergency or pressing need presented itself. 

A Ukrainian official told MEE that Kyiv had seen indications from the field that Syrians have been deployed to Ukraine. 

People familiar with the Syrian deployment say the fighters weren’t sent to the front line due to a set of technical issues, such as problems that may arise over coordination and a language barrier.

“They wouldn’t be able to communicate smoothly with the fellow Russian regiments in an open battlefield, and for example the Russian artillery could hit them,” a person familiar with the issue said.

“There would be issues of conduct, since the front line is a quite large area.” 

Those sources told MEE that the Syrians might be serving under the Russian military contractor Shchit (“Shield”) and a Wagner subsidiary group called Task Force Rusich, which earned a reputation for its self-declared neo-Nazi ideology during its deployment to eastern Ukraine in 2014. 

Russia-Ukraine war: Moscow rejoins grain deal after Turkey's mediation
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There are already reports of Syrian casualties in eastern Ukraine. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group that monitors Syria's conflict, claimed earlier this month that nine fighters from Liwa al-Quds and the Tiger Forces have died since September.

The Observatory also alleged that 2,000 Syrian fighters have been participating in the defence of Russian-occupied territory in Kherson and Donetsk.

However, the Syrian government official said the number of Syrian fatalities was much higher than reported, with at least 50 killed in the Ukrainian bombardment so far.

“The Syrians aren’t partaking in the actual fighting, they are mainly functioning as logistics near the front lines. However, there is a small number of them that work as part of the artillery,” the official told MEE. 

Russia has previously deployed Syrian fighters in Libya during the 2019-2020 Libyan conflict, where they fought as part of the Wagner Group on behalf of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.

Middle East Eye has previously reported that Syrians were used by Wagner during massacres in the Central African Republic.

Turkey, meanwhile, has deployed Syrian fighters in conflicts in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Exclusive: Russia deploys Syrian fighters to Ukraine to shore up its defences

Israel: Netanyahu ally Smotrich calls for football to be banned on Saturdays

Wed, 11/09/2022 - 10:36
Israel: Netanyahu ally Smotrich calls for football to be banned on Saturdays
Religious Zionism MP Bezalel Smotrich describes football on Shabbat as 'non-Jewish act'
MEE staff Wed, 11/09/2022 - 10:36
Israel supporters wave the national flag during the UEFA Nations League - League B Group 2 - football match between Israel and Albania at the at the Bloomfield Stadium, in Tel Aviv on September 24, 2022 (AFP)
Israel supporters at a Uefa Nations League match against Albania at the Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv, on 24 September 2022 (AFP)

A far-right Israeli MP poised to become a minister in the incoming government has demanded that football be banned on Saturdays in Israel, in order to respect the Jewish Shabbat.

Bezalel Smotrich, a member of the Religious Zionism party, said that he regarded playing football on the holy day as an "undemocratic, unsportsmanlike, non-Jewish act that must be stopped.

"It is unfortunate that for you, new crowds do not include Shabbat-keeping fans," wrote Smotrich in a letter to the commissioner of the Israeli Professional Football Leagues, Erez Halfon. "You have chosen to ignore a large audience of players, children and families."

According to Jewish religious law, no work is allowed on Shabbat - which takes place between sunset on Friday and sunset Saturday - while electricity must not be turned on or off and engines must not be operated.

However, in response to Smotrich, the Israeli Professional Football Leagues said that football had been played on Shabbat "even before the founding of Israel", adding that they had "changed the hours of the games in order to allow as many children and families to arrive at the games", according to the Jerusalem Post.

'Theocracy' alarm

Smotrich and his party are currently in negotiations with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and ultra-Orthodox parties to form a new government in Israel, following the fifth election in less than four years.

Israel's Channel 12 has previously reported that Smotrich is a likely candidate to become either finance or defence minister, while his fellow party member Itamar Ben-Gvir has demanded the public security minister role, which would put him in charge of the police.

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There has been alarm both inside Israel and abroad at members of Religious Zionism joining the government. The party is the successor to the banned Kach party and has ideological links to the Jewish Defence League, an organisation banned as a terrorist group in numerous countries, including the US.

The party espouses greater influence of Jewish religious law in the state and society and has been branded "racist, anti-Arab, homophobic and anti-democratic" by the Anti-Defamation League. 

Following Smotrich's letter to the football leagues, Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli accused him in a tweet of wanting to impose "theocracy" on Israel.

"Smotrich has not yet sat in his [coalition] seat and already, he's trying to force his religious way of life on the entire nation of Israel," she wrote.

"Soccer games will continue as usual and if you dare to change it, the public will show you the way out. Israel will not be a theocracy."

Bezalel Smotrich, likely future minister, calls for football to be banned on Saturdays

Qatar World Cup 2022: A lost economic opportunity for Bahrain?

Wed, 11/09/2022 - 10:29
Qatar World Cup 2022: A lost economic opportunity for Bahrain?
The tournament is proving to be a boon for some Gulf Arab countries, but Bahrain's long-standing rivalry with Qatar means there's a subdued World Cup mood in Manama
AP Muhammed Afsal Wed, 11/09/2022 - 10:29
A Bahrain supporter waits for the start of the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup Final football match between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia at the Khalifa International Stadium in the Qatari capital Doha on 8 December, 2019 (AFP)

Football fever has engulfed much of the Middle East, but one Gulf Arab country doesn't appear to be too excited over the upcoming Qatar World Cup.

Every four years, the World Cup captivates the region's football fans and businesses for the better part of four weeks. It could be down to an Arab country's appearance, or revenues the tournament helps generate for local businesses.

And with just days until kick-off, countries which were once at odds with Qatar, are eagerly hoping to cash in on the sporting spectacle.

World Cup 2022: Qatar's foreign minister denounces 'hypocrisy' of criticism
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Gas-rich Qatar has spent an estimated $220bn on building world-class infrastructure, including new roads, public transport and sporting facilities - but a significant shortfall on hotels remains.

The Emirate of Dubai, which is just a 45-minute flight away, is expecting a last-minute surge in bookings as more than 1.2 million people prepare to descend on Qatar.

Dubai's hotels are offering special packages for fans and the emirate has prepared fan zones at parks, beaches and in the financial centre.

Meanwhile, neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which had largely cut itself off from tourism until it began issuing tourist visas in 2019, is offering those with Hayya cards the opportunity to visit the kingdom for 60 days.

But just a few nautical miles from Qatar there appears to be little fanfare in the Kingdom of Bahrain over the Middle East's first World Cup.

There are no direct flights, no fan zones, and little advertising for the tournament playing out a short trip across from its shores.

"Bahrain seems to have missed the World Cup opportunity, especially given its tourism-friendly hospitality sector," Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a fellow for the Middle East at Rice University's Baker Institute, told Middle East Eye.

'Slow rapprochement'

Ties between Bahrain and Qatar have been tense in recent years and broke down completely in June 2017 following the Gulf diplomatic crisis.

Bahrain joined Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in cutting ties with Qatar and imposed a blockade on its neighbour over allegations that it supported "terrorism" and had close relations with Iran. Doha denied the charges and said the boycott was aimed at curtailing its independence.

'It just appears that the rapprochement process is going too slow for Bahraini businesses to reap anything out of the World Cup'

- Bahraini academic 

Since last year's historic Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Saudi Arabia's Al-Ula, which saw the official end to the rift, Qatar's ties with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and to a lesser extent the UAE markedly improved. Despite the development, there hasn't been a real mending of relations between Doha and Manama.

Two weeks after the Al-Ula summit, Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani accused Qatar of not taking the "initiative" to solve its dispute with the kingdom.

"It is certainly the case that diplomatic and political relations between Bahrain and Qatar have been the slowest to improve," Ulrichsen said.

A UK-based Bahraini academic, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said he wouldn't characterise Bahrain's attitude as a lack of enthusiasm.

"It is the World Cup, after all... [it] just appears that the rapprochement process is going too slow for Bahraini businesses to reap anything out of the World Cup."

Several people who spoke to MEE on condition of anonymity said there was a largely subdued World Cup mood in Manama, with residents struggling to gauge the government's attitude to the event.

Qatar World Cup 2022: How to watch, what are the match dates and times?
Read More »

A newspaper executive told MEE that there was an instruction from the Bahraini government to tone down coverage of World Cup events.

MEE reached out to the Bahraini embassy in London for comment but did not receive a response by time of publication.

According to the executive, World Cup sponsors who have business interests in the kingdom were also cautious about running print and outdoor ad campaigns because of fears over how the government would respond.

MEE reached out to five major sponsors of the tournament but did not receive a response by time of publication.

The newspaper executive added that his company had rented a stadium for the 2018 Russia World Cup and set up giant TV screens for football fans - but there was nothing of that scale planned for this year's event.

"Bahraini malls used to be abuzz [with excitement] when World Cups were held elsewhere. But now - even though the event is very close - there are no usual commercial rituals like the sale of discount TVs," he said.

Watching from home

Historically, Bahrain and Qatar have clashed over control of the Hawar and Janan islands as well as the town of Zubarah; as well as Al Jazeera's coverage of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, and Qatar's decision to grant citizenship to Sunni Muslims from the Shia-majority kingdom.

A travel agent in Manama said the long-standing dispute meant that chances were slim of direct flights between the two countries.

'A chance to host World Cup fans could do well for Bahrain's economy and [there is] still hope it will happen'

- Kamal Mohiyuddin, realtor, Manama

According to Kamal Mohiyuddin, an Indian realtor in Manama, the issue of Bahraini fans' commuting to Qatar wasn't the only fallout from the absence of direct flights.

Shuttle services from Doha to Manama, the region's most permissive city with around 20,000 hotel rooms, would have benefitted everyone, he said. 

"A chance to host World Cup fans could do well for Bahrain's economy and [there is] still hope it will happen," Mohiyuddin said.

"Bahrain's budget targeted 20 percent of revenue from tourism this year, and it has already achieved 18 percent," he said, citing a report that claimed a 984 percent increase in tourists' arrival in Bahrain in the first quarter of this year following the end of pandemic-related restrictions.

Oman's Ministry of Heritage and Tourism has said the World Cup is poised to "raise the profile of many regional destinations" and the financial upturn associated with the event could extend well after the tournament finishes. 

In the first quarter of this year, 1.483m tourists entered Bahrain through the King Fahd causeway that connects the island nation with Saudi Arabia - compared with last year's 84,000, a huge growth attributed to the easing of Covid-19-related travel restrictions.

As a result, Qataris, too, were back in Bahrain. "I see a lot of Nissan Patrols [a favourite vehicle of Qatari nationals] with Qatari number plates here," a greengrocer told MEE.

Qatar World Cup 2022: Where will the games be played? How do you get to the stadiums?
Read More »

He claimed this happened after Qatar's Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa met on the sidelines of the Jeddah Summit in July.

The grocer said he saw news of the meeting through a screenshot of the banned dissident website Bahrain Mirror, which also reported that Manama removed Qatar from the list of countries that Bahrainis were forbidden from visiting.

"Whenever we see the photographs of Qatari and Bahraini leaders shaking hands and smiling, but still no air travel, we think they forgot to discuss the issue yet again," the grocer said.

Still, some fans said they would take the five-hour car journey to watch the matches live, while others would still celebrate the Arab world's first World Cup from the comfort of their homes.

"Some of us Bahrainis may be unable to come to Qatar, but we will watch all the games on TV," Ammar Ahmadi, a Bahraini business consultant, told MEE.

"We are ardent football fans, and it's a major sport here. I want to come to all the games that Brazil plays, but I didn't get a ticket."


Saudi Arabia detains US woman who said she had been trapped in kingdom

Wed, 11/09/2022 - 08:50
Saudi Arabia detains US woman who said she had been trapped in kingdom
Carly Morris and her daughter have not left the country since her ex-husband persuaded them to visit in summer 2019
MEE staff Wed, 11/09/2022 - 08:50
This undated handout image released by the Morris family on 21 September 2022 shows US citizen Carly Morris, at an unspecified location in the central Saudi city of Buraydah (AFP photo/Family handout)
This undated handout image released by the Morris family on 21 September 2022 shows US citizen Carly Morris, at an unspecified location in the central Saudi city of Buraydah (AFP photo/Family handout)

A US citizen trapped in Saudi Arabia in a custody battle over her eight-year-old daughter was temporarily detained by authorities this week, a rights group said on Tuesday. 

Carly Morris and her daughter Tala have been in the Gulf kingdom since her Saudi ex-husband persuaded the two to visit the country in 2019. 

On Monday, Morris was detained after being called by police in the central city of Buraydah to clarify documents, according to advocacy group the Freedom Initiative

She was held for at least a day, during which it was unclear whether her daughter was detained with her. Morris was later released, according to reports early on Wednesday. 

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that Washington was "aware of the reports that Ms Morris has been detained". 

"Whenever a person is detained abroad, we seek immediate access to visit the individual, to aid him or her with all appropriate consular assistance," he said during a press conference on Tuesday. 

"Our embassy in Riyadh is very engaged on this case; they're following the situation very closely."

Custody battle

Morris met her husband in 2012 while he was studying in the US. The two divorced after five years of marriage in 2018.

After agreeing to visit Saudi Arabia on holiday in summer 2019 to introduce Tala to her father’s family, the Saudi man seized their documents and refused to give them back.

He later registered a hotel room, where Morris and her daughter have lived for more than three years. 

'Morris’ detention means that we’re now aware of three Americans behind bars in Saudi Arabia'

- Allison McManus, Freedom Initiative

Morris told MEE earlier this year that her husband took Tala on 30 March and didn't return her. 

"I can't believe how they could take a woman's child from her. I didn't even know where my daughter was. I didn't know where they took her," she said. 

"I didn't even know if she was alive. I sat in this hotel apartment every day for two months not knowing where my daughter was. And they were absolutely ignoring every one of my phone calls and messages. It was absolute cruelty."

Three months later, the police finally reunited Tala with her mother. During that time, Morris discovered her ex-husband was filing for custody of their daughter. She wrote a 16-page letter to the court - and on 23 August the Saudi court gave Morris full custody of her daughter.

The US citizen eventually got her passport back, but found out that her ex-husband reportedly converted Tala's US citizenship into Saudi citizenship.

'End the abuse of women'

While Morris can technically leave the country, her daughter cannot leave without her father's permission due to Saudi Arabia's legal male guardianship system

When a woman is born, her father is her legal guardian until she is married, when her husband becomes her legal guardian. Women need approval from their "guardians" to apply for passports, travel, and work at a paying job. These rules extend to foreign women who marry Saudi men, such as Morris. 

Morris has in recent months taken to social media to seek help from Saudi and US officials. 

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According to the Freedom Initiative, she was placed under a travel ban after being summoned by the public prosecutor in the Qassim province of Saudi Arabia on 15 September. She was charged with “disrupting public order” - a common charge brought against those who speak out in ways seen as critical of authorities. 

Morris’s Twitter account was deleted on Monday after she entered the police station in Buraydah. 

“Morris’ detention means that we’re now aware of three Americans behind bars in Saudi Arabia, yet another sign that Saudi simply does not value the US as an ally,” said Allison McManus, the Freedom Initiative’s director of research. 

“Before we hear any more reference to Saudi’s strategic partnership, we need to see an end to the abuse American citizens. We need to see an end to the abuse of women and children whose only crime is their gender.” 

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

Cop27: Climate activists slam hostile and 'impossible' environment in Egypt

Wed, 11/09/2022 - 03:28
Cop27: Climate activists slam hostile and 'impossible' environment in Egypt
The dissent that has come to characterise the annual climate conference has been greatly diminished in a host country where activism is criminalised
Azad Essa Wed, 11/09/2022 - 03:28
Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest outside the venue hosting the Cop27 climate conference, on 9 November 2022 (AFP)

Climate conferences are usually inclusive forums that bring together world leaders, NGOs, activists and civil society groups. But advocates have told Middle East Eye there is little space for any serious activism at this year's UN Climate Change Conference in Egypt, also known as Cop27.

A culture of fear, intimidation, and arrests has not only stifled the work of grassroots activism in Egypt over the past decade, but it has also ensured there will be limited mobilisation efforts amongst civil society groups at the conference itself.

"This year's Cop is very different from previous Cops, especially since there is a lack of engagement from Egyptian civil society and a complete shutdown of all outside engagement and protest at Cop," Sharif Zakout, a community organiser with the Arab Resource & Organizing Center (Aroc), told MEE.

"I participated in Cop26 and can see the stark difference between the role of civil society at last year's conference compared to this year," said Zakout, who is currently representing Aroc as part of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance and It Takes Roots delegation at Cop27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh. 

Cop27: Surveillance and fear in Sharm el-Sheikh as Egypt clamps down on activists
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Over the past week, Egypt's human rights record has made international headlines, with activists and scholars using the event to highlight how President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's government arbitrarily arrests and tortures dissidents and academics.

Since Sisi came to power in a 2013 military coup, his government has run roughshod over basic components of governance, with civil-society organisations crippled by draconian laws prohibiting NGOs from engaging in public affairs.

"Cop27 attendees and those following outside Egypt will not hear of Sisi’s environmental and social injustices because Egypt’s General Intelligence Service controls large parts of the country’s news media, film, and television outlets," said a group of anonymous Egyptian journalists and academics, known as the "Egypt unsilenced collective".

A spokesperson for the climate conference disputed assertions that this year's conference - which the UN manages in full - hasn't been as vibrant and open to civil society.

"The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat will maintain the same high standard in the facilitation of conference registration and NGO demonstrations at the Cop venue as in any past sessions," the spokesperson said.

"In regards [to] the demonstrations at the venue, the secretariat works with any and all observer organisations regardless of their views, in order to facilitate their demonstrations on site in accordance with the established procedure, which respects the UN safety and security guidelines and the code of conduct," the spokesperson said.

No room for resistance

But activists say the issue is not a question of protesting at the venue under UN protection. It's a question of what remains when the UN leaves.

At a side event on Tuesday at the conference, "Climate justice and human rights at Cop27 and beyond", noted Egyptian rights activist Hossam Bahgat said Egypt's human rights crackdown had made it impossible to lobby, investigate or protest government policy in the country.

Even local communities impacted by egregious "development projects" have declined to mobilise due to fear of the state, he said.

"Egypt was never a liberal democracy. Egypt has always had a problematic human rights record, with areas of concern, some systemic. But we had a fighting chance.

Climate change: Half of youth in Middle East and North Africa reconsider having kids
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"We had the room for resistance. We had the ability to engage in strategic litigation; to access members of parliament to lobby; to spread and disseminate our information through independent media; to organise at the community level; to give direct support to [the] most at risk, most affected, most vulnerable communities. None of this is available right now," Bahgat, executive director of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), said. 

On 6 November, Amnesty International said the Egyptian government had arrested "hundreds of people" on the suspicion of calling for protests during the conference.

"The arrest of hundreds of people merely because they were suspected of supporting the call for peaceful protests raises serious concerns over how the authorities will respond to people wishing to protest during Cop27 - an essential feature of any UN climate conference," Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy director, said in a statement.

"World leaders arriving in Sharm el-Sheikh for Cop27 must not be fooled by Egypt's PR campaign. Away from the dazzling resort hotels, thousands of individuals including human rights defenders, journalists, peaceful protesters, and members of the political opposition continue to be detained unjustly," Luther added.

On Tuesday, several activists expressed concerns over the level of surveillance in and around the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, noting that their movements were being monitored.

"Everything is being recorded and monitored, and connected to an interior ministry that we know are involved in crimes against humanity, Amr Magdi, a human rights researcher, told MEE. 

MEE reached out to the Egyptian consulate in New York for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Cop27: Climate reparations are on the table and will be hard to ignore

Tue, 11/08/2022 - 20:23
Cop27: Climate reparations are on the table and will be hard to ignore
The question of whether developed countries should provide 'loss and damage' funds is at the heart of this year's Cop27 climate conference
MEE staff Tue, 11/08/2022 - 20:23
Poor, underdeveloped countries argue that rich countries bear the brunt of the blame for the heating of the Earth's atmosphere and increased climate hazards.
Poor, underdeveloped countries argue that rich countries bear the brunt of the blame for the heating of the Earth's atmosphere and increased climate hazards (AFP/File photo)

As world leaders come together this week to strategise and discuss the best ways to curb the effects of climate change, underdeveloped countries are using the platform to raise the issue of climate reparations, as global climate-induced catastrophes wreak havoc on the most vulnerable nations.

The question of whether developed countries should have to pay for the atmospheric damages done to their underdeveloped neighbours is at the heart of this year's United Nations climate conference, known as Cop27, taking place in the Egyptian Red Sea resort town, Sharm el-Sheikh.

'Developed nations ... want to straight up avoid saying, okay, these are reparations'

Mirette Mabrouk, Middle East Institute

For the first time in history, climate reparations were adopted in the climate summit's main agenda.

"The fact that it was put on the table is really, really big. Egypt had been pushing this for a long time," Mirette Mabrouk, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and founding director of its Egypt studies programme, told Middle East Eye.

"You could say well, all they've agreed to is to talk and talk and talk about it. Yes, but once you start talking about something, it's actually very difficult to pull it back."

At the same time, the discussions around reparations have also received some pushback from western countries who say the topic is divisive and would only hamper efforts to unite in a goal to stay under 1.5 degrees Celsius - the agreed-upon limit for the rise in global temperatures.

But what are climate reparations and why are underdeveloped nations pushing for these payments to be made?

Loss and damage

Poor, underdeveloped countries argue that rich, industrialised countries bear the brunt of the blame for the heating of the Earth's atmosphere and increased climate hazards - and they want rich countries to pay.

These payments are what are referred to as climate reparations, also known as "loss and damage" in UN vernacular.

Cop27: Surveillance and fear in Sharm el-Sheikh as Egypt clamps down on activists
Read More »

The "loss" refers to the economic impacts of climate change, including how much economic output is lost because of extreme heat; how much agricultural revenue is lost due to rising sea levels or floods; or how much tourism revenue is lost because of natural disasters.

"Damage" - the easier of the two to quantify - refers to the physical destruction of infrastructure, including roads, homes, buildings, and bridges.

The issue had remained at the sidelines of diplomatic discussions around the environment for decades, until it reached a boiling point last year during the Cop26 summit in Glasgow. 

Now, in Egypt, it is driving talks.

"Loss and damage have been the always-postponed issue," UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said last Thursday, ahead of the summit.

"There is no more time to postpone it. We must recognise loss and damage and we must create an institutional framework to deal with it."

How much money is owed?

In 2009, wealthy nations promised to provide $100bn each year in financing to poorer countries to help them mitigate the effects that climate change was having on their economies. By 2020, only $83bn was delivered, and only a third of that went towards adaptation while most went towards mitigation.

"That distinction is important. Mitigation is cleaning up the mess. Adaptation is attempting to ensure that you don't need to clean up as much. Adaptation is enormously important," Mabrouk said.

In addition to receiving this funding, many countries have said that "loss and damage" funds would constitute a separate pot of money issued to compensate for the damage the climate has had on their own economies.

'We small islands and people of the small islands have every right to exist in the world, just as all you major nations of the north'

- Bakoa Kaltongga, Vanuatu's climate envoy

A study by several climate-vulnerable nations found that their countries' would have been 20 percent wealthier without the effect of climate change. The report also found that those countries lost a total of $525bn dollars because of climate change.

And given the difficulties in assessing how much these underdeveloped countries have lost as a result of climate change, especially in terms of the "loss" category, there has yet to be an agreed-upon monetary amount.

And as the climate only gets hotter, that monetary compensation may balloon. One study shows that costs from loss and damage could reach $290bn to $580bn in 2030, and rise to more than $1 trillion per year by 2050.

Mabrouk said given the number of climate variables, it is difficult to produce a single figure in terms of these reparations.

The damage from specific climate disasters could also be a window into how much money could be demanded. The catastrophic floods in Pakistan earlier this year led to the deaths of more than 1,500 people and roughly $30bn in damage. 

The small island nation of Vanuatu in the South Pacific has laid out a starting point for its loss and damage needs: $177m. The more than 80 islands that make up the country face the brunt of the climate crisis, as its lands are in danger of rising sea levels and increasing cyclones.

"What is happening now is affecting human lives and human rights," said Bakoa Kaltongga, Vanuatu's climate envoy. "We small islands and people of the small islands have every right to exist in the world, just as all you major nations of the north."

On Monday, the UN chief issued a plea to help Pakistan and other vulnerable countries suffering the consequences of a warming climate.

"If there is any doubt about loss and damage, go to Pakistan," Guterres said.

Western countries hesitant

So far, a small number of European countries have offered up what they say are "loss and damage" funds, including Scotland, which pledged an extra five million pounds ($5.7m), and Denmark which offered 100 million Danish crowns ($13.5m).

Other European countries, including Germany and Austria, have offered to provide tens of millions to fund insurance and disaster protection finance. However, many nations do not see this as the reparations they have been seeking.

'The consequences of letting your poorer neighbours drown to death ... are going to be huge'

- Mirette Mabrouk, Middle East Institute

The United States, the world's biggest climate emitter, has meanwhile signalled for the first time an openness to the idea of "loss and damage", without mentioning a figure.

However, while the Biden administration has signalled a nod to issue payments for the amount of carbon it has pushed into the atmosphere, any such proposal to spend billions would require approval from Congress. And such a move is unlikely to get much support from the Republican Party.

And other western countries that have historically made up most of the world's carbon emissions have been less supportive of the idea of paying more climate-vulnerable countries.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said it was "morally right" for the country to commit to its climate pledges. But in his speech to the climate summit, he did not mention the issue of reparations or loss and damage.

The country's former prime minister, Boris Johnson, said on Monday that the UK did not have the financial resources to be able to provide other countries with climate reparations.

"Developed nations go on to say we are happy to try and provide financing to help and to provide technical assistance, because they want to straight up avoid saying, okay, these are reparations. Because if they open that door, they're afraid they might not be able to close it," Mabrouk said.

She added that recent world events, including the war in Ukraine, have shown that "the world is now very, very, very small".

"So the consequences of letting your poorer neighbours drown to death or dehydrate to death or burn to death are going to be huge," she said. "I sincerely hope that we are past the stage of dragging our feet."

Climate reparations are on the table and will be hard to ignore

Erdogan says Sweden must do more to unlock Turkey’s veto on Nato

Tue, 11/08/2022 - 19:57
Erdogan says Sweden must do more to unlock Turkey’s veto on Nato
Turkey reiterates demand that Sweden extradite Kurdish opposition figures it accuses of terrorism
MEE staff Tue, 11/08/2022 - 19:57
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, shakes hand with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson during a press conference following their meeting at the presidential palace in Ankara, on 8 November 2022 (AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, shakes hand with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson during a press conference following their meeting at the presidential palace in Ankara, on 8 November 2022 (AFP)

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he expects to see “concrete steps” taken by Sweden towards Ankara’s security concerns before dropping his opposition to the Nordic country’s bid to join Nato.

Both Sweden and Finland, who long maintained a position of neutrality and military non-alignment, have sought to join Nato in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey has stalled the Nordic countries' requests to join the alliance over accusations that they are providing a safe haven to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and other groups linked to them.

Inside the meeting that broke Sweden and Finland's Nato deadlock with Turkey
Read More »

“Sweden wants Nato membership for its own security, and we want a Sweden that will support eliminating our security concerns,” Erdogan said at a joint press conference in Ankara on Tuesday, following his meeting with  Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.

“It is our sincere wish that Sweden realise Nato membership, following full implementation of the memorandum.”

'Distance ourselves' 

Turkey is seeking the extradition of 33 individuals linked to Kurdish groups it considers “terrorists”. A memorandum in June spelled out steps for Sweden and Finland to take to address Ankara’s concerns and facilitate its extradition requests.

Following the agreement, Sweden and Finland reversed a ban against exporting military equipment to Turkey that had been imposed in 2019 after Turkey invaded northern Syria, a move Erdogan welcomed on Tuesday.

Sweden has faced opposition from rights groups and Kurdish organisations, including a large diaspora inside the country, on extraditing Kurdish opposition figures.

But in a sign that Sweden is moving in Ankara’s direction, the foreign minister said on Saturday that Stockholm needed to "distance" itself from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) because of their links to the PKK.

"I think it is important that there is a distance to this organisation from the Swedish side," Sweden's Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told broadcaster Sveriges Radio.

"We think there are doubts and problems regarding those who are damaging our relationship with Turkey.”

"There is too close a link between these organisations and the PKK, which is a terrorist organisation listed by the EU," Billstrom said.

Kurdish groups demand Sweden repatriate citizens from Syria after move against YPG and PYD
Read More »

The comments are noteworthy because the YPG remains a key US ally in the fight against the Islamic State group, although the US designates the PKK as a terrorist organisation. 

“I want to reassure all Turks, Sweden will live up to all the obligations made to Turkey in countering the terrorist threat before becoming a member of Nato and as a future ally,” Kristersson said.

Sweden has so far authorised one extradition for fraud, though Erdogan said that four people had already been deported to Turkey. Both Stockholm and Helsinki say that extradition decisions are made by the courts.

Moving parts

“Terrorist organisations’ exploitation of Sweden’s democratic environment must absolutely be prevented,” Erdogan said Tuesday. “When our citizens see these terrorists walking the avenues of Sweden and Finland with terrorist rags in their hands, they hold me to account.”

Greece warns of Ukraine-style war with Turkey in East Mediterranean
Read More »

Turkey’s neighbours, and historic rivals, are concerned that Erdogan is seeking to leverage his Nato veto power to extract further concessions from western governments. Turkey has been involved in a war of words with Greece and it is also negotiating an F-16 purchase from the US in the face of congressional opposition to the deal.

Erdogan has positioned himself as a mediator in the Ukraine conflict, and one of the only Nato leaders who can maintain a channel of communication with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Earlier this month, he intervened to persuade Russia to re-enter a grain export agreement.

At the same time, Turkey has deepened its economic ties with Moscow. On Tuesday, Turkey’s energy minister said the country had started paying for some of its natural gas from Russia in roubles, a step that would help bolster the currency.

Israel and Jordan advance water-for-energy deal

Tue, 11/08/2022 - 17:46
Israel and Jordan advance water-for-energy deal
US-brokered agreement will see Jordan export solar energy to Israel, in exchange for desalinated water
MEE staff Tue, 11/08/2022 - 17:46
King Abdullah II and Israel's President Isaac Herzog at the Cop27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on 7 November 2022 (Jordanian Royal Palace/Handout via Reuters)

Israel and Jordan on Tuesday signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to move ahead with a water-for-energy deal on the sidelines of Cop27 at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The deal, initially agreed upon by the two countries last November, will see Jordan build a solar plant with the capacity to export 600 megawatts of energy to Israel. In return, Israel will supply Jordan with 200 million cubic metres of desalinated water.

The UAE, which backed the plan along with the US, hosted the signing ceremony in the presence of Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, UAE climate envoy and industry minister, and US special envoy for climate John Kerry.

Emirati state-owned company Masdar is slated to construct the solar farm in Jordan. Once operational, the plant is expected to produce two percent of Israel's energy by 2030. Israel will make payments of $180m per year to the Jordanian government and the Emirati company.

Cop27: Gulf states empowered by global scramble for fossil fuels
Read More »

It is the first such deal between Israel and Jordan. Although the two established official diplomatic relations in 1994 and engage in security and economic matters, their ties are kept mostly out of the public sphere.

Cooperation with Israel has historically prompted popular backlash in Jordan, a country of 10 million that is home to around three million Palestinians.

The UAE, on the other hand, has openly embraced ties with Israel, including people-to-people activities such as tourism. The wealthy petrostate normalised relations with Israel in 2020 as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world. Amman already obtains 55 million cubic metres of water from Israel, as stipulated in their 1994 peace agreement.

The MOU comes as Abu Dhabi looks to position itself for Cop28, which is to be held in the UAE next year.

The UAE is one of the world’s top investors in green energy and is already home to the largest single-site solar park in the world. Last week, the UAE signed a strategic partnership with the US that will see $100bn invested to develop 100 gigawatts of clean energy by 2035.

'We are ants being crushed': Egypt’s poor face more hardship after devaluation

Tue, 11/01/2022 - 12:07
'We are ants being crushed': Egypt’s poor face more hardship after devaluation
Residents of an impoverished Nile island speak to Middle East Eye in the aftermath of the record depreciation in the Egyptian pound as the country agrees new deal with the IMF
Shahenda Naguib Tue, 11/01/2022 - 12:07
Egyptians shout solgans against Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during the funeral of Syed Tafshan, who died in clashes with residents of the Nile island of al-Warraq, when security forces attempted to demolish illegal buildings, in the south of Cairo, Egypt July 16, 2017. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
Residents of Warraq Island take part in anti-government protests when security forces attempted to demolish illegal buildings, in the south of Cairo, 16 July 2017 (Reuters)

Egypt’s sharp devaluation of the pound last week has left millions of impoverished citizens wondering how to make ends meet as prices of basic commodities continue to soar.

As Egypt gears up for hosting the Cop27 UN conference on climate change in Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday, spending billions on logistical preparations, Mohamed Belal, 41, a railway worker who lives in an impoverished home on Warraq Island, Giza, is counting how his salary won’t be enough to cover his and his family’s expenses till the end of the year. 

'The situation is rough. How can I feed two kids and their mother and myself with such a salary?'

- Mohamed Belal, railway worker

“The situation is rough. How can I feed two kids and their mother and myself with such a salary?” Belal, who earns EGP 2500 ($103) a month, told Middle East Eye. He already works on the weekends as a farmer with landowners as an extra channel to get more money. He is considering taking his children out of school and putting them to work. 

“Whenever I am going back from work at night, I find people, men, women and children, standing by the garbage dumpsters fishing for food. I stopped judging, because I might end up doing so. I even started to instruct my wife to throw any leftover food in intact boxes in case someone eats it,” he said. 

Belal lives in a small room built illegally after his original house was demolished by the government in 2017, in police raids claiming that houses built on the island must be removed.

Warraq Island, an agricultural island in the middle of the Nile between Cairo and Giza, has been eyed by the regime of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as a spot to change into a “modern” gated community and high-rise destination for the country’s rich. 

The poverty-stricken island is now inhabited by residents who cannot afford to move to the crowded and expensive housing in Cairo and Giza. Well-off residents who got modest compensation from the government were able to move out and purchase houses elsewhere. 

The government intends to call Warraq “Houras Island” or Manhattan on the Nile, and to build high-rise housing units and business and shopping centres. In 2017, riot police killed one man and arrested dozens, accusing them of terrorism-related charges as they tried to resist attempts by security forces to survey properties ahead of planned demolitions. 

“Between receiving no compensation from the government for five years and having a low salary, my only opportunity is to become a crook,” an emotional Belal said in despair while being comforted by other male friends. 

Austerity bites

Aside from the tragedy and anxiety of being displaced from their homes, Warraq residents like millions of other Egyptians are crushed by the monetary policies which have been implemented by the government since 2016.

Last week, the Egyptian government devalued the pound by 15 percent before reaching a staff-level agreement with the IMF on a $3bn, 46-month extended fund facility. 

Egypt's pound gets pummelled, but reform hinges on military's ousting from economy, analysts say
Read More »

Following the announcement, the central bank said it was set on intensifying economic reforms, and had "moved to a durably flexible exchange rate regime, leaving the forces of supply and demand to determine the value of the EGP against other foreign currencies".

Analysts told MEE last week that Egypt's preliminary agreement with the IMF could help restore some investor confidence in the North African country, but real progress hinges on Cairo's appetite to follow through with reform.

Egypt, according to Moody's, is one of five countries in the world at risk of failing to repay its foreign debt instalments, which exceed $150bn. In August, Goldman Sachs said that Egypt needs about $15bn in external funding to be able to repay its debts.

The country’s already heavily indebted economy has been battered by the war in Ukraine and a rising US dollar. Egypt has seen about $20bn in outflows from foreign investors this year. The war has also hit imports of wheat and inflows of tourists from Russia and Ukraine, both of which Egypt - the world's largest importer of wheat - relied on.

The latest deal is the third time that Egypt has resorted to the IMF, having previously done so twice in the past six years. The first time was in 2016, when it secured a $12bn credit facility to support an ambitious programme of economic reforms. The second time was when it received a $5.2bn loan to mitigate the economic impact of the Covid pandemic. 

The IMF deals have been coupled with tough austerity measures that saw prices of electricity and those of basic commodities and food soar, bringing more suffering for tens of millions of people in a country where almost 70 percent of the population of more than 100 million depends on food rations.

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

As a result of the latest devaluation, the prices of food commodities also increased, ranging between 5 and 7 percent in dairy and cheese products, which rely on imported dairy and vegetable oil. The percentage is likely to increase with the expected rise in the prices of all basic commodities, such as meat, fish and poultry, eggs, rice, lentils, beans, grain, sugar, coffee and tea.

cairo warraq woman 2017 afp
A resident of Cairo's Warraq island sitting on the rubble of her house that was demolished by the state, 20 July 2017 (AFP/file photo)

Samira, a housewife and nurse from Warraq who MEE contacted over the phone, suffers similar problems. Although she has never carried a dollar or even seen one, she said that her life became deeply affected by the global currency.

“As the price hikes continue, the support of the government decreases,” she said, adding that all her family were cut from the food rations card, while school fees and transportation costs are getting higher. 

In order for Samira to go to her place of work, she has to take four different kinds of public transport, not counting the ferry which connects the island and the other bank of the Nile.

“Because the government wants to kick out all the rest of the island residents, they sometimes shut down the ferry or limit its working hours as punishment.”

She added that even the state-owned schools and the hospitals on the Island are getting demolished, with the land appropriated to the government's development plans. “They are trying to suffocate us, and deprive us of basic services, which lead to the rising cost of food and transportation on the island as a result.”

Planned protests

Another resident of Warraq Island, Ismail, a tuk-tuk driver by day and sandwich-maker by night, told MEE that he has been engaged for seven years to his fiancee but can not afford a furnished room anywhere in Cairo. “We both work, but the prices rise more than we can save. And what we save is not insured against medical emergencies or crises.” 

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

Ismail’s brother was arrested early this year in a police raid when he was trying, along with other young male residents, to defend houses from being demolished. He and others who were arrested are still in detention facing terrorism charges, which have cost Ismail’s families almost half of their savings to hire a lawyer and pay bribes. 

Greta Thunberg to boycott Cop27 in Egypt over country's human rights abuses
Read More »

“Now we are threatened to be kicked out of our land which we have owned since the 1980s, and we cannot live like normal human beings,” Ismail said, complaining that he cannot live a normal life working two jobs. 

Ismail and others are planning to take part in protests on 11 November, called to coincide with the Cop27 event, in order to voice their anger and frustration with the Sisi government’s economic policies. 

Abu Bakr, another Warraq resident, is a 34-year-old construction worker, one of thousands helping build the posh and high rise New Administrative Capital, Sisi’s most treasured mega project.

Abu Bakr, like thousands of his colleagues, is uninsured, and works without a contract, according to the demand of the contractors. He told MEE that he will stop having breakfast at a fava beans cart near the construction site where he works, which now costs 20 EGP (83 US cents), and will end up eating dry bread crackers and old cheese, which is stored in his house in order to save money. 

His son has been diagnosed with cancer, which requires imported medicine, a product which, he said, is increasing in price every two months as the government is putting restrictions on imported goods and at the same time allowing the private sector to control state-owned health institutions. 

'A lot of people will sleep or go to work hungry because they will sacrifice to feed their children'

- Abu Bakr, Warraq resident

“A lot of people will sleep or go to work hungry because they will sacrifice to feed their children,” he said, adding: “No one can feel the misery that the poor are living. We are just ants being crushed and no one cares.”

Abu Bakr told MEE about a colleague of his who could not afford to support his family anymore so he took his life by throwing himself underneath the metro. “I know it is forbidden by God but sometimes I feel I want to end my life so I can be over with this misery.”

Self-harm as a tool of protesting economic hardship has been rising in Egypt in recent years. Almost every month Egyptian media carries reports about people committing suicide due to economic hardship. 

Um Farouk is a single mother of three daughters in her 50s who works as a cleaner. She is concerned about whether she will be able to afford basic needs for her family as her income does not suffice.

“I know families who allowed their daughters to become prostitutes in order for them to eat and leave the island to go somewhere else, but not me.”

Um Farouk currently buys chicken bones and waste and cooks them to make soup. “Meat products and vegetables are expensive. Only beans and rice are available, along with bone soup,” she added. 

Warraq Island, Egypt

Israel election: Polls open with far right on cusp of power

Tue, 11/01/2022 - 07:45
Israel election: Polls open with far right on cusp of power
Controversial Religious Zionism bloc has gained momentum in recent weeks and may become coalition kingmaker
Lubna Masarwa Tue, 11/01/2022 - 07:45
An Israeli man casting his ballot on the day of Israel's general election in a polling station in Rahat (Reuters)

Israelis began voting for the fifth time in less than four years on Tuesday, with a high chance that former Benjamin Netanyahu could return as prime minister alongside far-right parties that have vowed to pursue racist policies which would upturn Israel forever.

Yet final opinion polls published last week showed Netanyahu still short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, opening the prospect of weeks of coalition wrangling and possibly new elections.

Israelis have until 20:00 GMT to cast their ballot, after which complex bargaining to build a coalition will get underway.

"I hope we will finish the day with a smile but it's up to the people," Netanyahu said as he voted in Jerusalem.

'Ben-Gvir talks about a law that would see anyone who opposes the regime, whether Arab or Jewish, deported'

- Meron Rapoport, political analyst

The former prime minister is on trial on corruption charges, which he denies, but his Likud party is still expected to finish as the largest in parliament.

Though Israeli politics in recent years has long been divided between Netanyahu's alliance of right-wing and ultra-orthodox parties and all those who want to see the back of him, seasoned political analyst Meron Rapoport believes the Likud leader is far from the most significant aspect of this election.

"He is a marginal figure in the story today," Rapoport told Middle East Eye. Instead, driving Israeli politics is Religious Zionism, a far-right party led by Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, open racists who have floated the idea of stripping the citizenship of Palestinian citizens of Israel, among other destructive policies.

"This is a party that has influenced Likud, which has adopted its language to a large extent, and it is also a party that is thinking of eliminating democracy at its base," Rapoport said. "Ben-Gvir talks about a law that would see anyone who opposes the regime, whether Arab or Jewish, deported."

Rapoport noted that Palestinians who remained in Israel after 1948 were given citizenship by David Ben-Gurion, a status that has always remained sacrosanct. Yet likely future ministers are floating the idea of taking that away.

"Smotrich talks about bringing the army into Lod and Acre," he added, referring to two cities with large Palestinian populations. "There is a potential here that cannot be underestimated, and cannot be ignored."

Voter concerns

Security and surging prices have topped the list of voter concerns in a campaign triggered by outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid's decision to seek an early election following defections from his ruling coalition.

Lapid, a former TV anchor, urged the electorate on Tuesday to cast their ballot.

"Go and vote today for the future of our children, for the future of our country. Vote well!" he said at a Tel Aviv polling station.

Gridlock, fascism or more polls? Israel's latest election could provide all three
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Lapid was the architect of the last coalition, which included the United Arab List party, known as Raam in its Hebrew acronym, as well as others from the right and left.

That unlikely alliance was made possible after Raam's leader Mansour Abbas pulled his party from a united slate, with other parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel paving the way for him to join the coalition.

Recent months have seen further divisions within the bloc representing Palestinian citizens of Israel, which is running on three separate lists in a move expected to weaken the minority's representation in parliament.

The campaign takes place against a backdrop of months of Israeli raids against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli police urged settlers and citizens to carry guns on election day, as the army deployed additional troops into the West Bank fearing potential attacks, public broadcaster Kan reported.

Police on Sunday told licensed and well-trained gun-owners to keep their weapons on them on Tuesday and in the near future. 

US fears

If Netanyahu and his allies are able to cobble together a working coalition, the extremist views of his allies are likely to gain even more attention in the international arena. 

According to Walla, an Israeli website, Israeli President Yitzhak Herzog during a visit to the US last week was forced to allay fears put to him by officials in the Biden administration that members of far-right parties could be appointed to any new coalition government.

Israel's Herzog sought to calm US fears of far-right influence following election: Report
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Sunday's report said Washington fears that if leaders of the far-right parties receive senior positions it could damage relations between the US and Israel.

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed is reported to have warned Netanyahu in private that any cooperation with extreme right-wing parties could damage nascent relations between the countries.

Israel has faced several election cycles since 2019, the year Netanyahu, now 73, was charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three cases that he describes as a "rigged" political witch-hunt meant to keep him out of office.

According to the Israeli Central Elections Committee, 209,000 first-time voters will participate in the coming election who did not vote in March 2021, the last time elections were held.

Many of those voting for the first time, the majority of whom are Jewish, are expected to favour right and far-right parties over the left.

Netanyahu appears to have an advantage over his opponents with much of Israel's media treating him favourably. Recently, the Likud leader promised an Ethiopian Israeli that he would freeze mortgages if elected to office, seemingly confusing his property tax policies just before election day. Yet the media barely covered his gaffe, Rapoport noted.

"They used to make a story out of such a candidate, making them look like a joke. Yet they just didn’t talk about it in the media," he said.

Polls open in Israeli election with far-right on cusp of power

From spies to free trade: Bahrain and Israel aim to deepen economic ties

Mon, 10/31/2022 - 18:45
From spies to free trade: Bahrain and Israel aim to deepen economic ties
Economic ties have lagged behind the two countries' flourishing security relationship
MEE staff Mon, 10/31/2022 - 18:45
Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani (L) walks with Israel’s then-Foreign Minister Yair Lapid after the Negev Summit, on 28 March 2022 (AFP/Jacquelyn Martin)

Israel and Bahrain hope to reach a free trade agreement before the end of the year, potentially deepening ties between them which have lagged behind other Arab countries that officially recognised Israel. 

"We're optimistic and hopeful that we will close the deal by the end of the year," Bahraini Minister of Industry and Commerce Zayed Alzayani said during a trip to Israel on Monday, where he was leading a business delegation.

Bahrain, along with the UAE, was one of the original signatories to the US-brokered Abraham Accords in September 2020. Morocco and Sudan followed shortly after.

The deal normalised ties between Israel and its neighbours, opening the way for greater economic and security cooperation, but broke with decades of precedent which held that Arab states would not officially establish relations with Israel until a resolution to the conflict with Palestine was reached.

Israel and Bahrain signed a security cooperation agreement in February, with Bahrain becoming the first Arab country to officially host an Israeli military official.

The Abraham Accords have allowed for decades of covert military cooperation between Israel and Gulf states to come out in the open.

Spies, drones, and trade deals

Israel has sold missile defence systems to the UAE to protect against drone attacks. On Friday, the Tactical Report news site published images showing that the UAE has deployed the Israeli Barak 8 missile defense system near Abu Dhabi.

Bahrain has also turned to Israel for security assistance. According to the Wall Street Journal, Manama has sought training from Israel’s Mossad and Shin Bet intelligence services, while Israel has provided Bahrain with both drones and anti-drone systems.

Israeli military officials sent to Qatar as US works to bolster security cooperation
Read More »

Bahrain’s Sunni ruling family governs a majority Shia population.

The country of about 1.8m was the only Gulf Arab state to have experienced major unrest during the 2011 Arab Spring protest movement, with citizens demanding greater political freedoms and equal rights regardless of religious identity.

Manama's rulers quashed the uprising with the help of Saudi Arabia, and since then the Bahraini government has cracked down on political opposition.

Economic relations have not kept up with the burgeoning defence ties. In 2021, the trade volume between Israel and Bahrain stood at just $7.5m.

The slow progress is in contrast with Israel’s booming business with the UAE. Between September 2020 to March 2022, non-oil trade exceeded $2.5bn. The two countries expect annual bilateral trade to hit $10bn in five years.

In May, the UAE signed the Arab world’s first-ever free trade deal with Israel, eliminating or reducing 96 percent of tariffs on goods and services. The agreement is expected to add $1.9bn to the UAE’s economy over the next five years, according to Emirati state media.