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Bahrain: Rights groups urge Pope Francis to raise religious freedom concerns during visit

Tue, 10/25/2022 - 18:06
Bahrain: Rights groups urge Pope Francis to raise religious freedom concerns during visit
In three letters to the Vatican, rights activists and groups warn that the Pope's visit could be used as a 'whitewashing' campaign by Manama
MEE staff Tue, 10/25/2022 - 19:06
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Bahrain from 3-6 November 2022.
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Bahrain from 3-6 November 2022 (AFP/File photo)

Leading Bahraini rights activists are urging the Vatican to address a number of serious religious freedom concerns during Pope Francis's scheduled visit to Manama next month.

In a letter sent to the Papacy, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) called on Pope Francis to urge "the Bahraini authorities to stop the systematic institutionalised discrimination against Shiites" and also stop the trip from being used to "whitewash these systematic human rights violations".

"The ruling family in Bahrain uses religious discrimination as a tool to preserve its authoritarianism and it exploits public manifestations of interfaith coexistence or Papal visits to overshadow its human rights violations. Unfortunately, these violations do not limit to the religious domain," ADHRB said in its letter, seen by Middle East Eye.

The letter also called on the Pope to urge that political prisoners be released.

In a response to the letter campaign from ADHRB, seen by MEE, the Vatican thanked the rights group for the letter which it said was "read carefully". However, no details were given as to whether the Pope would raise these concerns.

ADHRB also worked with the Italian chapter of Amnesty International to deliver another letter to the Vatican.

A separate letter was sent to the Papacy from Ali Mushaima, the son of prominent Bahraini opposition leader Hassan Mushaima, who called for the Vatican to meet with him and other rights activists to understand the situation in the country.

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"If you would be able to meet with me and other human rights defenders from Bahrain, we could perhaps further explain how you might be able to aid us in our struggle," wrote Ali Mushaima, who is currently based in London.

"If you cannot, then I implore you to at least meet with my father … A true religious dialogue in Bahrain cannot happen without visiting our prisons and exiled clerics."

Middle East Eye reached out to the Vatican for comment on the letters.

The Pope is scheduled to visit Bahrain from 3-6 November. He is set to meet with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and will also attend the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue.

"It is disappointing to see that there is no serious engagement. And the serious concern we have is that this visit will be used as a serious PR stunt, serious whitewashing effort by the Bahraini government to try to deflect the international community from the horrible concerning records it has on human rights and political prisoners," Husain Abdulla, founder and executive director of ADHRB, told Middle East Eye.

Shia clerics in prison

Bahrain was the only Gulf Arab state to have experienced major unrest during the 2011 Arab Spring protest movement in the region, during which protesters demanded greater political freedoms and equal rights for all citizens 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.

Human rights groups have denounced the crackdown on the use of military courts to try civilians, as well as the practice of torture, forced disappearance, and revocation of citizenship.

Bahrain has also used this campaign to curb political dissent to target influential clerics in the Shia Muslim community, according to activists.

The kingdom is governed by a Sunni Muslim monarchy, while the majority of the country's population is Shia.

"Imagine the Pope, the highest Christian Catholic figure, going to a country where the highest Shia Muslim figure is basically exiled, and his citizenship is revoked," Abdulla told MEE, referring to Sheikh Issa Qassim, the leading Bahraini Shia cleric whose citizenship was revoked in 2016.

"The most prominent, knowledgeable, Muslim Shia figures and clerics are in prison. So it's really, really concerning to see the Papacy's position to be used by an oppressor, by a dictator."

The US State Department cites in its most recent report on international religious freedom the arrest and detention of Shia clerics in Bahrain.

"Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), media, and opposition outlets said the government continued to question, detain, and arrest Shia clerics. NGOs stated prison authorities routinely denied Shia prisoners needed medical treatment more often than Sunni prisoners."

The Gulf kingdom rejects allegations of human rights violations and denies discriminating against its Shia citizens. But last year the UN high commissioner for human rights accused Bahrain of being in "violation of international law" over its treatment of prisoners, some of whom are documented to be as young as 13 years old.

US universities accepted millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi murder

Tue, 10/25/2022 - 18:06
US universities accepted millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi murder
American universities, 144 of them, were gifted $270m in 2019 from the kingdom. Despite outcries about Khashoggi's murder, universities continue to accept money
MEE staff Tue, 10/25/2022 - 19:06
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman smiles as he arrives at Elysee Palace in Paris for a meeting with the French president, on 28 July 2022 (AFP)

Saudi Arabia gifted close to $270m to 144 American universities in 2019, and a total of $440m since the death of Jamal Khashoggi, and these numbers do not include funds yet to be paid out.

“These figures don’t take into account contracts that started after Khashoggi’s murder but have not been paid out, a gargantuan figure that totals nearly $700m,” Responsible Statecraft, which analysed the data from the Department of Education, reported. 

Jamal Khashoggi, a Middle East Eye and Washington Post columnist, was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018. 

'US universities should not be taking dollars from brutal dictators'

- Sunjeev Bery, Freedom Forward

“These figures reveal that once the spotlight of Khashoggi’s murder had moved on, university administrators quietly continued taking the kingdom’s checks.”

The top university on the list is the University of Toledo, which was gifted $23,263,343 from October 2018 to now. Then comes George Washington University, which was gifted $19,033,137. Third place goes to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which was gifted a total of $16,885,405. 

Middle East Eye reached out to all of the top 20 universities on the list, but only two responded in time for publication.

The list includes: University of Toledo; George Washington University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; California State University, East Bay; Oregon State University; The Catholic University of America; Boston University; Florida Institute of Technology; West Virginia University; Western Michigan University; University of New Haven; University of Colorado Boulder; University of Delaware; Northeastern University; Alfred University; California State University, Fresno; Eastern Washington University; Oklahoma State University; George Mason Unversity; and New York Institute of Technology.

"The Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission provides tuition scholarships for students studying abroad, including many universities in the United States, including Catholic University. That's what the funds are, which are reported by the University," a spokesperson at the Catholic University of America told MEE.

The Catholic University of America received $15,118,320 from the kingdom from 2018 to now.

A spokesperson for the New York Institute of Technology, which received $6,497,497 from Saudi Arabia, told MEE: "The Saudi payments are from the Saudi government for student scholarships for Saudi students studying at New York Institute of Technology in New York. The funding covers tuition and fees for the students. New York Institute of Technology does not have an agreement with any universities there."  

According to Sunjeev Bery, the executive director at Freedom Forward, a US-based human rights group, there is no reason why universities should be accepting money from Saudi Arabia.

“US universities should not be taking dollars from brutal dictators. The monarchies that ruled Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates work overtime to block freedom within their borders and undermine the possibility of democracy across the Middle East and North Africa," he told MEE.

“Any US university that currently takes dictator dollars must as a first step publicise the underlying agreements and contracts, instead of keeping these deals in the shadows. Students and parents have a right to know whether the universities they are funding are tied to brutal dictatorships.”

MIT’s relationship with Saudi Arabia

According to Responsible Statecraft, MIT was one of the universities that had given a second thought to its association with the kingdom. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had visited MIT before Khashoggi’s murder and was met with protests for Saudi Arabia's involvement in Yemen.

In response to the killing, MIT launched a formal review of its partnership with Saudi Arabia. But after the inquiry came out a few months later, nothing changed. 

“I know many of you find the behaviour of the Saudi regime so horrifying that you believe MIT should immediately sever all ties with any Saudi government entities. I share the sense of horror, and I have great respect for that point of view,” MIT president, L Rafael Reif, said in a statement in 2019.

“However, my experience leads me to see our Saudi engagements differently, and therefore to believe that cutting off these longstanding faculty-led relationships abruptly in midstream is not the best course of action.”

MIT did not respond to MEE’s request for comment in time for publication. 

According to a report by the New York Times Magazine, the benefits to Saudi Arabia from partnering with these universities are clear.

“The kingdom gets access to the brain trust of America’s top academic institutions as it endeavours to modernise its economy,” the Times reported. “Perhaps as important, the entree to schools like MIT serves to soften the kingdom’s image. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, hostile to women’s and LGBTQ rights and without protections for a free press or open expression, but its associations beyond its borders can make it seem almost like an honourary Western nation.”

“Another way to view the Saudi relationship with American universities is as a form of branding; its recent moves to sponsor prominent sporting events serve the same purpose.”

Syrian government insiders reap millions from UN contracts, new report finds

Tue, 10/25/2022 - 15:57
Syrian government insiders reap millions from UN contracts, new report finds
Businesses tied to militia leader accused of massacre and brother of sanctioned Bashar al-Assad cousin top beneficiaries
Sean Mathews Tue, 10/25/2022 - 16:57
A picture taken on 28 July 2022 shows the entry of the first United Nations aid convoy through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey (AFP)

A new report has found "systemic" corruption in humanitarian aid to Syria, with individuals accused of human rights abuses benefiting from procurement contracts with United Nations agencies.

Between 2019 and 2020, nearly 47 percent of UN procurement funding in Syria went to businesses tied to human rights abuses committed by the government of Bashar al-Assad, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Syrian Legal Development Programme (SLDP) and the Observatory of Political and Economic Networks (Open).

In addition, nearly 23 percent of the UN’s procurements - worth about $63m - were sourced from individuals sanctioned by the US, UK, and EU.

“The level of abuse is incredible, but it’s highly credible if you understand the situation in Syria,” Natasha Hall, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), said in a panel discussion on the report, hosted by the Middle East Institute.

According to its website, SLDP is a non-aligned NGO headquartered in London and works on utilising international law to respond to human rights issues triggered by the war in Syria. Open is an online data project launched primarily by Syrian and Arab youth.

Warlord wins million-dollar contracts 

In one case, a company reportedly affiliated with Maher al-Assad, the Syrian president’s younger brother, obtained contracts worth about $2.3m from the World Health Organisation, World Food Programme, and the United Nations Development Programme between 2019 and 2020.

In what Karam Shaar from Open called one of the “most shocking” examples of human rights abusers profiting from UN contracts, a firm called Desert Falcon received over $1m in contracts from the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

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“The problematic ones (suppliers) are the ones who have bigger contracts,” Shaar said.

Desert Falcon is co-owned by Fadi Saqr, leader of a pro-government militia known as the National Defence Forces. The group is widely believed to have committed the 2013 Tadamon massacre in which 41 people were killed.

Shaar stressed that the authors of the report were not “anti-UN”, but said “there are serious issues that need to be addressed”.

Hall, from CSIS, said the report's findings revealed that the “credibility and sanctity” of the international aid system were on the line.

“We need to get this right,” she said. “Other regimes are learning from the Assad playbook”

Front companies proliferate

In another case, the Rami Kabalan Group, a firm owned by an individual associated with the brother of sanctioned Syrian businessman Rami Makhlouf, obtained contracts worth $21.5m from UN agencies between 2019 and 2020.

'The level of abuse is incredible, but it’s highly credible if you understand the situation in Syria'

- Natasha Hall, CSIS

Rami Mahklouf, a cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is on multiple US sanctions lists. He was placed under house arrest in 2020 as part of a shakedown by Syria's cash-strapped government of wealthy business figures.

“A major issue is with fronts and intermediaries,” Eyad Hamid, senior researcher at SLDP said. “Some names have become so exposed, they rely on other players on the ground to work on their behalf,” a common practice in money laundering.

The report was based on open-source information, as well as interviews with former staff from UN agencies in Syria and Syrian businesspeople.

Lack of transparency

The researchers said one trend they found was UN agencies' practice of engaging private suppliers in large contracts, which reduced competition and makes it more likely for businesses affiliated with the government to apply for the contract.

“When the product is readily available on the market and the contract is small..then there is a potential for genuine competition,” the report said.

The report also emphasised a lack of transparency in UN procurement processes. Between 2019 and 2020, over $75m worth of procurements were won by businesses where the name of the supplier is withheld for security or privacy reasons.

Russia-Ukraine war: Moscow could close Syria aid corridor in response to conflict
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Syria topped the list of countries receiving UN-facilitated aid in 2020 with the highest share of such suppression.

The report comes amid other research pointing to the Assad government’s widespread manipulation of UN aid.

According to a report last year by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Syrian government has siphoned millions of dollars in international aid by distorting the country's rate of currency exchange.

The authors found that Damascus kept 51 cents of every international aid dollar spent in Syria in 2020.

Last week, the Associated Press reported new allegations that the World Health Organisation’s top official in Syria mismanaged millions of dollars and provided Syrian government officials with gifts - including computers, gold coins, and cars.

Correspondence sent to the WHO director general complained about the agency's representative, Dr Akjemal Magtymova, hiring unqualified relatives of government officials, including some accused of “countless human rights violations”.

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

Iraq: Inside Iran's plan to make Ammar al-Hakim Sadr's chief rival

Tue, 10/25/2022 - 14:52
Iraq: Inside Iran's plan to make Ammar al-Hakim Sadr's chief rival
The Hikma leader has finally taken up an offer made to him years ago by Qassem Soleimani. But observers are sceptical the Iranian gambit will pay off
Suadad al-Salhy Tue, 10/25/2022 - 15:52
Ammar al-Hakim (right) meets with Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf in 2018 (Reuters)
Ammar al-Hakim (right) meets with Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf in 2018 (Reuters)

In August 2018, all eyes in Iraq were trained on the Babylon, Iraq’s most luxurious hotel, where political leaders were gathering on the banks of the Tigris to thrash out a deal to form the largest parliamentary alliance seen in the country.

Three names stood out: Muqtada al-Sadr, the influential Shia cleric, Haider al-Abadi, a former prime minister, and Ammar al-Hakim, a key Shia player.

But it wasn’t Hakim’s first meeting that day. The Babylon summit may even prove to have been the least important.

A few hours earlier, Hakim had a meeting that one of his assistants described as “seductive”.

It took place at his political headquarters, a few blocks away from Baghdad’s Babylon.

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Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian general who would later be slain in a US drone strike, was there, presenting what seemed at the time to be “the opportunity of a lifetime'', a Shia political leader familiar with events told Middle East Eye. 

According to Hakim’s assistant, Soleimani proposed the scion of a clerical family become the dominant figure in Iraq’s Shia politics, backed by Iran and overseeing the mosaic of ferocious armed factions. He would be given wide powers, a huge budget, and political, media and religious backing.

In return, Hakim had to forget the alliance he was about to form with Sadr and prepare for life as his rival, ready to oppose the cleric whenever necessary.

An aerial view of Babylon Hotel in Baghdad (Reuters)
An aerial view of Babylon Hotel in Baghdad (Reuters)

Hakim was propelled into politics in 2009 when he succeeded his father as leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), one of the key parties that set up Iraq’s post-Saddam political system.

But a year before the two meetings, Hakim left ISCI to establish his own project, al-Hikma, to distance himself from both the politics of his father’s old comrades and Iran, the assistant said.

That move achieved some results. Hakim emerged from the May 2018 elections with relative success, his newly formed bloc obtaining 25 seats. It was a platform he felt could propel him on the road to become a leading moderate Shia voice attractive to Shia liberals.

'From our point of view, Shia rule will not be strong and effective unless everyone is under the umbrella of the state'

- Prominent Hikma leader

Hakim rejected Soleimani's offer and went to his meeting with Sadr, which would lead to a new parliamentary bloc including most political forces not associated with Iran. 

Almost five years later, "in an attempt to put their cards in order in Iraq", the Iranians tabled a similar offer to Hakim in July, Shia and Kurdish political leaders familiar with the talks told MEE.

This time the offer includes empowering Hakim politically, militarily and in the media “to be the Shia counterpart to Sadr”, several Iraqi politicians told MEE.

Both men come from two of the most famous clerical families of Najaf, and are symbolic of the religious authority associated with the holy city.

Yet in the October 2021 elections, Hakim performed disastrously, winning just two seats. Weakened, he "eagerly seized the Iranian offer, and rushed to play the role required of him in the best way", one of Hakim's prominent Shia allies told MEE.

The Iranians also began implementing some of what they promised. Media platforms and channels owned by the political forces and armed factions linked to Iran began presenting Hakim as the spearhead of the Iranian-backed Shia forces. 

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Hakim was able to grow his number of MPs to 11 when Sadr’s withdrew in June, and despite this modest number, he became one of three leading voices in the Coordination Framework, an alliance of Iran-backed forces. In fact, he has often been the strongest voice, bending the alliance’s direction to his will, several Framework leaders told MEE.

Militarily, Hakim’s people were granted 3,600 positions within the Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary umbrella organisation, much of which is dominated by Iran, Hashd commanders said.

He also regained offices and equipment he lost to the ISCI in 2017.

In return, Hakim began reconciling with his old ISCI colleagues “to unify efforts and resources” of the movement of the Martyr of the Mihrab, as Hakim’s late uncle and founder of the ISCI is known, against the Sadrists, Shia leaders told MEE.

Already, Hakim’s public speech has taken a sharp turn. In a July interview with the BBC, he publicly criticised Sadr and his followers for the first time since 2003.

Hakim, who is known to be reserved with journalists, spent two-thirds of the interview answering questions related to Sadr and the actions of the cleric’s followers.

It was an “unprecedented challenge” to Sadr, said a prominent ally of Hakim. In response, Sadr’s followers shut down 15 of his movement’s offices in Baghdad and the south.

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"Ammar jumped with both feet from the American trench into the Iranian trench and burned all his cards,” a Shia political leader close to Hakim told MEE.

Many Iraqi political parties and armed factions, particularly those who performed poorly, believe the US and UN conspired to manipulate the October 2021 election in some parties’ favour. Hakim is one of those who believe this to be true.

“He switched projects after his recent loss. He felt wronged and that the last [western] project in Iraq, whether intentionally or accidentally, has crushed him politically."

When asked about the Iranian scheme to create a counterweight to Sadr, three al-Hikma leaders acknowledged that it began in June and did not deny Hakim was a key player. But none of them seemed confident in its agenda, effects or those behind it.

“The Iranians tried to revive the [old] project, but there was no real and serious engagement with what they proposed," a prominent al-Hikma leader told MEE.

"The project is not feasible. It was presented as a reaction to what the Iraqi political arena is currently witnessing, and not as a conviction. The timing of the proposal is not appropriate and we do not think that the partners are ready to deal with it in a manner that satisfies us."

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

According to the source, Hakim will only accept the Iranian offer if three conditions are met: Iran’s proxies give up their weapons, their paramilitaries are disbanded and Iraqi law is followed.

"From our point of view, Shia rule will not be strong and effective unless everyone is under the umbrella of the state. This necessarily means that no one is above the law and no weapon is other than that of the state," he added.

"The Iranians want the whole package and are not ready to give up the weapons they control outside the umbrella of the state. This does not suit us and we do not adopt it."

Iran 'no longer strongest player'

It may be an overreach to say Iranian influence in Iraq has waned in recent years, but Iran’s ability to impose its will on Iraqi allies and opponents has certainly significantly declined.

At least, this is what the course of events suggests over the past year, a period of chaotic politics and stagnation where neither Iran’s allies nor opponents have managed to seize control.

Iraqi politicians and officials and western diplomats all note that, though three years ago Iran’s word was carried out far more easily and rapidly, Tehran has still obtained economic, financial and political gains during the government of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, more than ever before.

Kadhimi helped to release Iranian funds frozen by US sanctions in TBI Bank, and bills for the Iranian gas exported to Iraq are paid without any delay.

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Also, Kadhimi played a pivotal role in restoring Iranian-Saudi relations, which were severed in 2016, and indirect negotiations are currently underway to resume Iranian-Jordanian-Egyptian relations with Iraq’s mediation, Iraqi officials said.

"It is the Iranian approach to working in Iraq that has differed," a senior Iraqi official close to Kadhimi told MEE.

"It is certain that they are still a very strong player in the Iraqi arena, but they are no longer the strongest player. Iran is still able to inflict heavy losses on the political process and end any political player and remove him from the game, but it is no longer able to impose the alternative that it chooses."

Soleimani's shadow: How the general's death upended Iranian strategy in Iraq
Read More »

The “approach” that the Iraqi official refers to is the way that different branches of the Iranian authorities - the Revolutionary Guard, the intelligence, and the office of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei - all drive policy in Iraq, with occasionally competing interests, bemusing Iraqi partners and opponents alike.

A senior commander of a prominent Iran-backed armed faction told MEE: “That confused our guys, and it still confuses most people. They have not yet understood the role-playing game that the Iranians are good at.”

The armed factions, the senior commander said, operate between two extremes: seeing someone as a sworn enemy or as a close ally. So when Tehran encourages them to change tack, "they cannot move between the two situations without losing face”.

Iran has simply been unable to overcome the absence of Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the godfather of most Iran-backed armed factions who was also killed in the same January 2020 drone strike as the general. 

Without them, the Iranian-backed armed factions have repeatedly squabbled with each other, their allies and their opponents, hamstringing Iran’s ability to manoeuvre in Iraq, political leaders close to Tehran and paramilitary commanders told MEE.

With this in mind, it’s most accurate to say that we are currently seeing the effects of the Revolutionary Guard’s weakened influence playing out, the political leaders said.

“The Iranian Revolutionary Guard is at its weakest [in Iraq] now. Their tools are the same, but the mastermind [Soleimani] is absent," a Shia political leader close to Iran told MEE.

“Soleimani’s relationship with his followers was exceptional and very special. It was even stronger than their relationship with Khamenei himself. 

'The Revolutionary Guard is at its weakest [in Iraq] now. Their tools are the same, but the mastermind [Soleimani] is absent'

- Shia political leader

“This relationship no longer exists, and Iranians have not succeeded in overcoming the losses caused by Soleimani's assassination in all the arenas in which he worked.”

According to the sources, Iran believes it was a mistake to concentrate so much power and responsibility in the hands of one man, as the vacuum left by Soleimani’s death has proved very damaging.

Instead, several Iraqi political leaders said, Iranian officials have forced members of the Revolutionary Guard working on Iraq to take several steps back and allow the intelligence service to mitigate the losses inflicted by Soleimani’s death.

Meanwhile, all Revolutionary Guard operations in Iraq must now be done under the supervision of Iran's National Security Council led by General Ali Shamkhani, they added.

Neither agency has the right to act or carry out any operation without Shamkhani's approval, the leaders said.

One key Shia political leader speculated that the scheme to create an alternative to Sadr could be the work of “junior” Revolutionary Guard commanders working in Iraq, who have been resisting the recent changes in tactics pursued by Iranian intelligence.

Some have said it's impossible to give Hakim the same profile as Sadr (Reuters)
Some have said it's impossible to give Hakim the same profile as Sadr (Reuters)

However, enabling Hakim to be a “social” match for Sadr, “is something entirely different”, a senior commander of a prominent Iranian-backed Shia armed faction told MEE. 

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“The Iranians are not pushing for a political or military counterpart between Hakim and Sadr. There is no idiot who does this, as the difference between the two men is too big and cannot be overlooked," the commander said.

“The proposed project aims to create a kind of social balance. A son of a clergyman vies with another son of a clergyman. It has nothing to do with the creation of symmetrical political or military forces on the ground.”

The idea, he said, was to frame Sadr as a “religious radical figure” in comparison to Hakim.

“The goal is to attract the head of tribes and Hakim has good relations with them and can be exported as a good front to develop and expand these relations.”

Turning to tribes

Iraqi society is not overtly tribal, but tribal customs nonetheless still dominate in areas where law enforcement is weak, especially in the southern provinces. 

Even there, tribal sheikhs do not enjoy real influence, bar a few who have enough money and connections to secure people of their tribe jobs and therefore loyalty. This can be seen in Basra, Amarah and a number of border areas where some tribal sheikhs have mutual interests with smugglers and organised crime gangs active there.

Acquiring these tribal sheikhs’ loyalty is a tactic used by colonial powers and leaders seeking influence in Iraq since the state was established in 1921, from US general David Petraeus to former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.

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Most prominently, Soleimani and Muhandis leveraged tribal sheikhs to mobilise tribes against the Islamic State group.

Money and jobs are essential if this tactic is to succeed. They can be used to ensure tribes’ loyalty, or at least stand back from a conflict.

It is notable that Iran has begun to do the same. Iraqi officials, armed faction commanders and observers believe it means Tehran’s large-scale use of intimidation to subjugate local partners has resulted in losses, with the Iranians now preferring to use soft power.

'The Iranians are trying to rebuild their political and ideological base within the Shia community, which in recent years was undermined by the armed factions'

- Iraqi official

Hakim will not be the only Iranian ally to seek the tribes’ backing. The leaders and commanders of Iran-backed armed factions are expected to do the same soon, using tribal leaders to cement their influence in preparation for another election.

"The Iranians are trying to rebuild their political and ideological base within the Shia community, which in recent years was undermined by the armed factions. So they resorted to this classic tactic to limit these losses," an Iraqi official specialising in tribal affairs told MEE.

“Betting on tribal leaders is an expensive and exhausting bet, if not a loss, because it requires an open budget and hundreds of thousands of job vacancies,” the official added.

"Without the money and the jobs, this project would be like cutting water with a sword, and the Iranians would make no real progress.”

Inside the Iranian plan to make Ammar al-Hakim Sadr's chief rival

Qatar stops one-man protest by British LGBTQ+ campaigner Peter Tatchell

Tue, 10/25/2022 - 13:15
Qatar stops one-man protest by British LGBTQ+ campaigner Peter Tatchell
Tatchell wanted to 'shine a light on the abusive human rights in Qatar' ahead of the Fifa World Cup due to be held in the Gulf country next month
MEE staff Tue, 10/25/2022 - 14:15
Peter Tatchell carrying a protest sign outside the National Museum of Qatar in Doha, 25 October 2022 (Twitter\Peter Tatchell)
Peter Tatchell carrying a protest sign outside the National Museum of Qatar in Doha, 25 October 2022 (Twitter\Peter Tatchell)

Qatari police on Tuesday stopped a one-person protest in Doha led by former Labour party candidate and British LGBTQ+ campaigner Peter Tatchell.

Tatchell said that he staged a 35-minute protest on the road outside the National Museum of Qatar ahead of the World Cup tournament which Doha is due to host on 20 November.

'This is the first-ever LGBT+ protest in Qatar or any Gulf state'

- Peter Tatchell

According to a video broadcast by Peter Tatchell Foundation on YouTube, on Tuesday morning, a policeman approached Tatchell, folded his protest sign and stopped him before the footage was cut short.

"I was arrested and detained for 49 minutes and subjected to interrogation about where I was from and where I was going," Tatchell claimed in a video message.

Qatar's Government Communication Office told Reuters that Tatchell was "neither arrested nor detained", and was simply told "cordially and professionally" to move.

Tatchell then said that he was released and was heading to the airport. Tatchell was wearing a white T-shirt with the hashtag "#QatarAntiGay".

"This protest was to shine a light on the abusive human rights in Qatar. This is the first-ever LGBT+ protest in Qatar or any Gulf state. But also, I sought to draw attention to the abuse of rights of women and migrant workers as well," Tatchell added.

The former Labour party candidate and LGBTQ+ campaigner heads the Peter Tatchell Foundation, which raises awareness about several issues, including homophobia, sexism and gender inequality.

The foundation's Twitter account posted a picture of Tatchell carrying a sign which said, "Qatar arrests, jails, and subjects LGBTs to 'conversion'", in front of the National Museum of Qatar.

It tweeted: "Busy few hours with the first ever LGBT+ protest in #Qatar ahead of the World Cup," thanking the staff at the UK embassy in Doha and the Foreign Office. Tatchell also tweeted the same photo and text.

'Slander' campaign

Qatar, an energy-rich Gulf country, has faced criticism over a wide range of issues by human rights activists since 2010, including reports of mistreatment of migrant workers and LGBTQ+ people. 

On Tuesday, Qatar's ruler Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, said that his country faced an unprecedented campaign that amounted to slander and fabrications since winning the bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

World Cup 2022: Football-loving workers fear exploitation in Qatar gig economy
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In the televised address, the emir said Qatar dealt with this criticism in good faith and "even considered some criticism as positive and useful to help us improve aspects that need to be improved".

However, he added that the campaign was relentless and included "slander and double standards until it reached such a ferocity that everyone wondered about the real motives and reasons behind this campaign". 

Gianni Infantino, the Fifa president, has said the Qatar World Cup, set to start on 20 November untill 18 December, will be the "best ever".

World Cup 2022: Qatar faced 'slander' campaign since being awarded tournament, says emir

Tue, 10/25/2022 - 11:09
World Cup 2022: Qatar faced 'slander' campaign since being awarded tournament, says emir
Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani says an unprecedented level of criticism was directed at the country over the past decade
MEE staff Tue, 10/25/2022 - 12:09
Visitors take photos with a FIFA World Cup sign in Doha ahead of the football tournament, 23 October 2022 (AFP)
Visitors take photos with a FIFA World Cup sign in Doha ahead of the football tournament, 23 October 2022 (AFP)

Qatar has faced an unprecedented criticism campaign that amounted to slander and fabrications since winning the bid to host the 2022 World Cup, the country's ruler Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said on Tuesday.

"Since we had the honour of hosting the World Cup, Qatar has been the target of an unprecedented campaign that no other host country has suffered," Al Thani said during the opening speech of the Shura Council legislative chamber.

In the televised address, the emir said Qatar dealt with this criticism in good faith and "even considered some criticism as positive and useful to help us improve aspects that need to be improved".

However, he added that the campaign was relentless and included "slander and double standards until it reached such a ferocity that everyone wondered about the real motives and reasons behind this campaign". 

Qatar World Cup: Football, neoliberalism and revolution in the Middle East
Read More »

"We are aware of the importance of hosting a major event such as the World Cup in the Arab world, and Qatar is now more like a workshop in preparing for events," the emir said.

"[The World Cup] is an occasion to show who we are, not only in terms of the strength of our economy and institutions, but also at the level of our identity."

Qatar won the bid to host the global football tournament in 2o1o, making it the first Arab and Muslim country to do so.

Gianni Infantino, the Fifa president, has said the Qatar World Cup, set to start on 20 November, will be the "best ever".

The energy-rich Gulf country has faced criticism over a wide range of issues by human rights activists since 2010, including reports of mistreatment of migrant workers and LGBTQ+ people. 

Since being awarded the World Cup tournament, Qatar has been under intense pressure to reform its labour rights and ban the exploitative kafala system

But despite making strides in labour reforms, migrant workers in Qatar are still banned from joining trade unions and participating in strikes. 

Qatar faced 'slander' campaign since being awarded World Cup, says emir

Israel-Gaza: Amnesty calls for probe into possible war crimes during offensive in August

Tue, 10/25/2022 - 10:58
Israel-Gaza: Amnesty calls for probe into possible war crimes during offensive in August
Human rights group says 'unlawful attacks' killed civilians despite Israel boasting about the precision of its weapons
MEE staff Tue, 10/25/2022 - 11:58
Classmates of Palestinian girl Lian al-Shaer, who was killed in an Israeli air strike in August, mourn her death on the first day of school after the summer holiday, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on 29 August 2022 (AFP)
Classmates of Palestinian girl Lian al-Shaer, who was killed in an Israeli air strike in August, mourn her death on the first day of school, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on 29 August 2022 (AFP)

The International Criminal Court (ICC) "must investigate unlawful attacks" and possible war crimes during Israel’s August offensive on the Gaza Strip, Amnesty International said in a news report on Tuesday.

The human rights advocacy organisation collected photographs of weapons fragments, satellite imagery and testimonies that it says amount to evidence that war crimes were committed in three separate attacks during the three-day bombing campaign. 

Two were committed by Israel and killed six civilians despite Israel boasting about the precision of its attacks, according to the report.

The victims included a four-year-old boy, a teenager visiting his mother’s grave and a student at home with her family. 

“Israel’s latest offensive on Gaza lasted only three days, but that was ample time to unleash fresh trauma and destruction on the besieged population," said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

'Israel’s latest offensive on Gaza lasted only three days, but that was ample time to unleash fresh trauma and destruction on the besieged population'

- Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International

The London-based NGO examined a third incident that left seven civilans killed in “what appears to have been caused by an unguided rocket” fired by Palestinian groups.

"The three deadly attacks we examined must be investigated as war crimes; all victims of unlawful attacks and their families deserve justice and reparations,” Callamard added. 

Amnesty documented 17 attacks during the offensive, but it could only gather sufficient evidence to assess the lawfulness of three of those.

Israeli authorities have blocked Amnesty workers from reaching the Gaza Strip since 2012, so the organisation relied on local fieldworkers, wh0 collected 42 interviews and visual evidence from the sites of the attacks.

On 5 August 2022, Israel launched a pre-emptive military offensive on Gaza to target the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and its armed branch, the Al-Quds Brigades.

During the offensive, 49 Palestinians were killed, including 17 children, and more than 360 wounded as Israeli air strikes rained down on the besieged Strip over three days.

Amnesty said 33 were killed by Israeli forces while seven were killed by misfired Palestinian rockets. For the remaining nine, the group said it could not determine which party was responsible for their death.

Rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups did not cause the death or serious injury of Israeli civilians.

Amnesty calls for probe into possible war crimes during Gaza offensive in August

Israel: Top doctor says 'Arab womb' is overwhelming country with high birthrate

Mon, 10/24/2022 - 11:13
Israel: Top doctor says 'Arab womb' is overwhelming country with high birthrate
Palestinian health workers call for dismissal of medical chief after he suggests 'regressive' child allowance policy that fines women who give birth to five children
MEE staff Mon, 10/24/2022 - 12:13
Medical staff work at the Covid-19 isolation ward of Soroka Medical Center in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba on 15 September 2020 (AFP)

A top Israeli medical official expressed fear of the "Arab womb" on Sunday and suggested fines on Palestinian mothers giving birth to five children to limit the Palestinian fertility rate in the country.

Gideon Sahar, director of the Department of Thoracic and Heart Surgery at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, was speaking at a meeting of the far-right Jewish Home party where he directed a question to Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked about the "most problematic population", referring to Palestinian citizens of Israel

“Regarding the matter of population growth and the more problematic population, we face a kind of paradox," Sahar explained. 

"On the one hand, we understand that the birthrate is decisive - the Arab womb; and on the other hand, we encourage it with all the child allowances. 

"That's why I think we should consider a child allowance that is regressive: the first child receives one, the second child receives one, perhaps the third child; the fourth child does not, and the fifth child perhaps triggers a fine. We have to figure out something," he added. 

דרישה לפטר את פרופ' גדעון סהר, מנהל מחלקת ניתוחי לב וחזה בסורוקה, על דבריו נגד "ריבוי האוכלוסייה בעייתית". סהר דיבר בחוג בית שקיימה אמש איילת שקד בעומר וטען כי "מצד אחד אנחנו מבינים שהילודה היא זאת שמכריעה אותנו, הרחם הערבי. ומצד שני אנחנו מעודדים את זה עם קצבאות הילדים". pic.twitter.com/XksiwpC24R

— Nati Yefet (@ntiyft) October 24, 2022

In response, Shaked said the suggestion was "impractical" and said the best solution is to help Palestinian women "simply undergo Westernisation". 

//-->

Sahar's comments have caused an uproar among Palestinian citizens of Israel, who are the descendants of those expelled from their homes in the Nakba.

Palestinian medical workers called his remarks "racist" and demanded his dismissal.

'Anyone who sees the Arab womb as a threat has no place in the health system'

- The Association of Arab Doctors of the Negev

The Association of Arab Doctors of the Negev filed a petition signed by more than 150 doctors calling for disciplinary action against the doctor. 

"Anyone who sees the Arab womb as a threat has no place in the health system, and certainly cannot care for the hearts of the Arabs," read the petition. 

The petition stated that following his comments there was no way to be confident in Sahar treating Palestinian patients with the same care as Jewish patients. 

"We expect the hospital management to take a strong stance against statements of this kind, from which emerges a spirit of general racial arrogance against an entire population."

Birthrate fears

For years, Palestinian citizens of Israel had a higher birth rate than their Jewish peers, which has long been a concern among many Israelis who view it as threatening their demographic superiority in the country.

However, the fertility rate among Palestinians has gone down to 2.9 in 2022 from 9.2 in 1960, compared to 3.0 among Jewish women.

Earlier this year the government passed a law to block the unification of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip with their spouses who hold Israeli citizenship. 

The new bill extended emergency legislation that was passed in 2003 to prevent those from the Palestinian territories from gaining residency or citizenship of Israel through marriage to another citizen.

Shaked openly said the law was passed for "demographic reasons" and was aimed at stopping the "creeping right of return".

The law was denounced as racist by Palestinians, who make up around 20 percent of Israel's citizens in addition to the five million Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.

Israeli doctor says 'Arab womb' overwhelming country with high birthrate

Qatar World Cup: MBS tells national team nil points is okay

Mon, 10/24/2022 - 09:54
Qatar World Cup: MBS tells national team nil points is okay
Mohammed bin Salman urges players to play for enjoyment and not think about the pressure
MEE staff Mon, 10/24/2022 - 10:54
Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, speaks to members and football players of the national team ahead of the World Cup, 23 October 2022 (Twitter/@spagov)
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks to the national team and staff ahead of the World Cup, 23 October 2022 (Twitter/@spagov)

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told his country's football players that no one expects them to win any points in the upcoming World Cup in Qatar. 

In a reception ahead of the tournament, the crown prince said on Sunday that he doesn't want the players to feel they were "under pressure".

"I know our group is difficult in the World Cup, and nobody expects us to secure a win or a draw. So what I want to say is just be comfortable, play your game and enjoy the tournament," Mohammed bin Salman said, addressing the national team and staff. 

Saudi Arabia is in Group C of the World Cup, along with Argentina, Mexico and Poland. The "Green Falcons", as they are nicknamed locally, will kick off their tournament on 22 November against Argentina, twice a winner of the World Cup in 1978 and 1986.  

#فيديو_واس | سمو #ولي_العهد يستقبل لاعبي المنتخب السعودي الأول لكرة القدم وأعضاء الجهازين الفني والإداري.#واس pic.twitter.com/NFl1tqEgc8

— واس الأخبار الملكية (@spagov) October 23, 2022

"I don't want any of you to be under psychological pressure that will affect your spontaneous performance," the crown prince affirmed.

"What's important to me is that they enjoy the three matches," he added, while addressing the Saudi minister of sport.

//-->

The Saudi national football team has won three matches out of 16 fixtures they played in the World Cup across five tournaments between 1994 and 2018.

Led by the French coach Herve Renard, the Saudi national team has demonstrated its eagerness to put on a good show in the World Cup by starting preparation 10 days earlier than other teams competing in Qatar.

Saudi Arabia is reportedly preparing to launch a bid to host the World Cup in 2030, along with Greece and Egypt. 

The Gulf state has invested heavily in sport in recent years, acquiring the rights to host Formula One and major international boxing events, as well as investing in the English Premier League football club Newcastle United.

Such investments have been mired in controversy, with human rights groups accusing Riyadh of sportswashing its human rights abuses.

'Nobody expects us to win or draw': MBS tells players to enjoy World Cup

World Cup 2022: Qatar detained and abused LGBTQ+ people, says report

Mon, 10/24/2022 - 07:23
World Cup 2022: Qatar detained and abused LGBTQ+ people, says report
Authorities subjected gay and transgender Qataris to severe beatings and sexual harassment in custody, according to Human Rights Watch
MEE staff Mon, 10/24/2022 - 08:23
People walking past the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup countdown clock in the Qatari capital Doha on 20 October 2022 (AFP)
People walking past the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup countdown clock in the Qatari capital Doha on 20 October 2022 (AFP)

Qatari authorities have arbitrarily arrested LGBTQ+ people and subjected them to ill-treatment in detention, Human Rights Watch said on Monday. 

The New York-based rights group interviewed six LGBTQ+ Qataris, including four transgender women, one bisexual woman and one gay man, who documented severe beatings and sexual harassment in police custody from 2019 until as recently as September, just weeks before the Gulf state hosts the World Cup

“While Qatar prepares to host the World Cup, security forces are detaining and abusing LGBT people simply for who they are, apparently confident that the security force abuses will go unreported and unchecked,” said Rasha Younes, LGBTQ+ rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. 

Security forces arrested people in public places based on their gender expression and unlawfully searched their phones, HRW said, as well as mandating that transgender women attend conversion therapy at a government-sponsored centre. 

In a statement, a Qatari official said that the country does not “licence or operate ‘conversion centres”. 

The official claimed HRW’s report “contain[s] information that is categorically and unequivocally false," without specifying further. 

All those interviewed by the rights group said that Qatar’s preventative security department detained them in an underground prison in the al-Dafna district of the capital city, Doha. 

At the facility, they were subject to verbal harassment and physical abuse, including slapping, kicking, and punching until they bled. 

Authorities extracted forced confessions and denied access to legal counsel, family, or medical care, and forced detainees to sign pledges to “cease immoral activity”. 

Transgender women abused 

A transgender Qatari woman said she was arrested on the street in Doha, and beaten in the police car until her lips and nose were bleeding, in addition to having her stomach kicked.

“I saw many other LGBT people detained... two Moroccan lesbians, four Filipino gay men, and one Nepalese gay man,” she said. 

“I was detained for three weeks without charge, and officers repeatedly sexually harassed me. Part of the release requirement was attending sessions with a psychologist who ‘would make me a man again.’”

Another transgender woman said she was beaten daily and her hair was shaved. 

“They made me take off my shirt and took a picture of my breasts. I suffered from depression because of my detention. I still have nightmares to this day, and I’m terrified of being in public,” she added. 

All the LGBTQ+ detainees that spoke to HRW said that the authorities forced them to hand over their phones, taking screenshots of private pictures and chats.

“The Qatari government should call an immediate halt to this abuse and Fifa should push the Qatari government to ensure long-term reform that protects LGBT people from discrimination and violence,” said Younes. 

Same-sex acts between consenting adults in private are a criminal offence in Qatar punishable by up to seven years in prison. 

Fatma Al-Nuaimi, communications director for Qatar's 2022 World Cup Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, previously told Middle East Eye that “everybody is welcome regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation”. 

When asked about whether the tournament would bring about reforms for LGBTQ+ Qataris, Nuaimi asked for people to “respect the culture and the tradition of the country”. 

Qatar detained and abused LGBTQ+ people ahead of World Cup, says report

Sudan: Government forces fatally shoot protester as coup anniversary looms

Sun, 10/23/2022 - 19:10
Sudan: Government forces fatally shoot protester as coup anniversary looms
Latest death brings the number of demonstrators killed since last year's October military coup to 118
MEE and agencies Sun, 10/23/2022 - 20:10
Sudanese protesters block a street in Omdourman the capital Khartoum’s twin city on 21 October (AFP/File photo)

Security forces shot dead a protester in Sudan's capital on Sunday, medics said, two days ahead of the first anniversary of a military coup that derailed the country's transition to civilian rule.

The latest death - the first of a protester since 31 August - brings to 118 the number of demonstrators killed over the past year, according to the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors.

Sudan’s Unfinished Democracy: A new history of the 2019 revolution
Read More »

The demonstrator was killed "by a bullet fired by the security forces," the committee said. 

Tuesday marks one year since the 25 October coup led by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, a year marked by near-weekly anti-coup rallies and a crackdown on protests by the authorities.

The coup upended a transition to civilian rule that was launched after the 2019 ouster of strongman Omar al-Bashir, who ruled the northeast African country for three decades.

In July, Burhan pledged in a televised address to step aside and make way for Sudanese factions to agree on a civilian government.

However, civilian leaders dismissed his move as a "ruse".

Pro-democracy protesters have since held fast to their rallying cry of "no negotiation, no partnership" with the military, and have pledged a show of force for Tuesday's anniversary.

On Friday, thousands of people took to city streets across Sudan to demand a return to civilian rule in one of the world's poorest countries as it sinks even further into political and economic crisis.

Despite international mediators trying to get the army and civilian factions to negotiate, no end seems in sight to the impasse.

The economic situation is only getting worse, with three-digit inflation and a third of the country's 45 million people suffering from food shortages.

Iran's atomic energy organisation emails hacked, in solidarity with protests

Sun, 10/23/2022 - 13:04
Iran's atomic energy organisation emails hacked, in solidarity with protests
Hacking group releases information on Bushehr power plant, declaring support for demonstrations sparked by death of Mahsa Amini
MEE and agencies Sun, 10/23/2022 - 14:04
Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant during a ceremony to kick-start works on a second reactor at the facility on 10 November 2019 (AFP)
Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant during a ceremony to kickstart work on a second reactor at the facility on 10 November 2019 (AFP)

Iran's atomic energy organisation said the email server of one of its subsidiaries had been hacked from a foreign country and information published online, state media reported on Sunday.

Black Reward, an Iranian hacking group, published a statement on Twitter declaring that it had released information on Iranian nuclear activities. 

The statement ended with the words "in the name of Mahsa Amini and for women, life, freedom" - echoing the slogan of the weeks-long protests in Iran sparked by the death of 22-year-old Amini while in custody of the country's morality police last month.

According to the group, the hacked data consisted of "management and operational schedules of different parts of Bushehr power plant" located 1200km south of Tehran, as well passport and visa documents of Iranian and Russian specialists working there. 

It also included "atomic development contracts and agreements with domestic and foreign partners". 

The atomic energy organisation played down the significance of the hacked information, suggesting that the move "was made with the aim of attracting public attention". 

"It should be noted that the content in users' emails contains technical messages and routine and current everyday exchanges," state media reported.

On Friday, Black Reward threatened to release hacked information within 24 hours unless Iran released political prisoners and those arrested during recent protests. 

Iran's crackdown on demonstrators protesting over Amini's death, following her arrest for wearing an "inappropriate" hijab, has left scores of people dead, with Tehran linking the unrest to foreign foes.

The nationwide protests have turned into one of the boldest challenges to the Iranian government since the 1979 revolution.

Palestinian fighter killed by Israel in targeted explosion, Lion's Den group says

Sun, 10/23/2022 - 09:46
Palestinian fighter killed by Israel in targeted explosion, Lion's Den group says
The group says Tamer Kilani was killed overnight when a rigged motorcycle exploded as he passed by in the Old City of Nablus
MEE staff Sun, 10/23/2022 - 10:46
A man inspects a damaged motorcycle at the scene where Palestinian Lion's Den member Tamer Kilani was killed in an explosion in Nablus on 23 October (Reuters)

A senior member of The Lion's Den was killed in an explosion in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, in what the newly formed Palestinian armed resistance group has called a targeted assassination by Israel.

Tamer Kilani was killed overnight in the Old City of Nablus when a bomb placed on a motorcycle parked nearby was detonated, The Lion's Den said in a statement.

The group said Israel assassinated Kilani, one of its "fiercest fighters", with a "sticky TNT device" and vowed to deal Israel "a harsh and painful response".

The Lion's Den has emerged in the Old City of Nablus in recent months, where clashes between Palestinian fighters and Israeli military forces have been occurring almost daily.

Tamer Kilani was a senior member of The Lion's Den, a newly formed Palestinian resistance group (social media)
Tamer Kilani was a senior member of The Lion's Den, a newly formed Palestinian resistance group (social media)

"The bomb exploded as he passed by and he became a martyr," Kilani's father, Sufian Kilani, who was not at the scene when the bomb went off, told Reuters. 

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

"We don't know whether the bomb was timed or triggered remotely."

Kilani had spent eight years in an Israeli prison on charges of belonging to the military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Palestinian media reported.

The Israeli military did not comment on its involvement in the killing, but an army spokeswoman claimed Kilani was involved in attacks targeting Israelis, according to AFP.

In one of two videos published by The Lion's Den on Telegram, an unidentified person can be seen parking the rigged motorcycle. The second footage shows the moment the blast occurred. 

The militant group Lions den accused #Israel of assassinating one of its fighters by sticking an explosive device on a motorcycle parked off a road by what they claimed an “Israeli collaborator” near the old city of Nablus, video showed the explosion pic.twitter.com/J54gAgke73

— Rushdi Abualouf (@Rushdibbc) October 23, 2022

Several Palestinian factions paid tribute to Kilani, with the Fatah movement describing his killing as a "cowardly assassination". A day of mourning has been declared in Nablus.

Palestinians gathered on Sunday around the charred remains of a motorbike that was allegedly laden with explosives.

Dozens of Palestinian fighters and civilians have been killed this year amid an increase in Israeli military raids, most targeting the northern West Bank.

Israel's top court rejects appeals against Lebanon maritime deal

Sun, 10/23/2022 - 09:07
Israel's top court rejects appeals against Lebanon maritime deal
Supreme Court says demarcating disputed Israeli-Lebanese border does not need Knesset approval, paving way for the signing of agreement
MEE and agencies Sun, 10/23/2022 - 10:07
An Israeli Navy vessel is moored in Mediterranean waters off Israel's crossing at Rosh Hanikra, known in Lebanon as Ras al-Naqura, at the border between the two countries on 4 October 2022 (AFP)
An Israeli Navy vessel is moored in Mediterranean waters off Israel's crossing at Rosh Hanikra, known in Lebanon as Ras al-Naqura, at the border between the two countries on 4 October (AFP)

Israel's Supreme Court rejected four petitions on Sunday filed against a US-mediated maritime border deal with Lebanon, paving the way for the agreement to be signed in the coming days. 

Four appeals, including one from far-right Israeli lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir, called on the country's highest court to force the government to hold a full vote on the deal in the Knesset. 

Sheikh Jarrah: Israeli lawmaker Ben-Gvir pulls gun on Palestinian residents
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Earlier this month, an "historic" agreement was reached between Israel and Lebanon, demarcating a disputed maritime border in the Mediterranean, allowing both sides to capitalise on potential gas discoveries vital for their economies. 

The neighbouring countries, who have historically fought several wars with each other, established a mechanism for both to receive royalties from exploration by French company TotalEnergies of a gas field straddling the maritime boundary.

With Israel set for a general election on 1 November, Prime Minister Yair Lapid's caretaker government has attempted to fast track the deal. 

Petitioners to the court argued that the government had exceeded its authority by approving the deal, claiming that it must be voted for in parliament or put to a referendum. 

But on Sunday, the Supreme Court ruled that Israeli regulations did not require the cabinet to present all international agreements to the Knesset. 

"According to the regulations, there are cases in which the cabinet can use its discretion and not even inform the Knesset about communications, if an agreement is secret," said Supreme Court President Esther Hayut. 

"The question, in this case, is whether the cabinet examined all the relevant aspects and concluded that the agreement could be brought before the Knesset without a vote, which is a reasonable course of action."

Minister of Defence Benny Gantz welcomed the court's ruling, describing the timing of the deal close to elections as "not desirable but necessary". 

The Lavi Organisation, one of the appealing parties, said: "[The decision] allows a caretaker government, in its final moments, to agree to a deal that is a surrender to Hezbollah and endangers the security of Israel."

Turkey: Erdogan proposes vote on right to wear hijab

Sat, 10/22/2022 - 20:32
Turkey: Erdogan proposes vote on right to wear hijab
The headscarf was at the centre of debates in the 1990s but no party today proposes or supports a ban in Muslim-majority Turkey
MEE and agencies Sat, 10/22/2022 - 21:32
A woman supporting President Erdogan waves a Turkish flag during a military parade in the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus on 20 July 20 2021 (AFP/File photo)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proposed a nationwide vote on guaranteeing a woman's right to wear a headscarf in state institutions, schools and universities.

The subject is particularly important for devout Muslim Erdogan, whose Islamic-rooted ruling party lifted a long-standing ban on wearing the hijab in state institutions in 2013.

Turkey elections: Why the CHP has changed its stance on headscarves
Read More »

The headscarf issue has dominated political debate in recent months ahead of general elections in 2023 that are set to be one of the most serious challenges to Erdogan's two-decade control of Turkey.

Erdogan often refers to the ban's lifting as an example of how his party represents devout Muslim Turks against secular parties that ruled Turkey before his party's arrival in 2002.

"If you have the courage, come, let's put this issue to a referendum... Let the nation make the decision," Erdogan said in remarks aimed at main opposition party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu on Saturday.

Kilicdaroglu leads the secular CHP, a party established by the founder of the secular modern Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The CHP leader had proposed a law to guarantee the right to wear a headscarf to alleviate any fears his party would reinstate the ban.

The headscarf was at the centre of debates in the 1990s but no party today proposes a ban in Muslim-majority Turkey.

'If this issue cannot be resolved in parliament, we will submit it to the people'

-Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish President

"We had made mistakes in the past regarding the headscarf," Kilicdaroglu admitted earlier this month. "It's time to leave that issue behind us."

Kilicdaroglu seeks to show religious voters they have nothing to fear from opting for his secular party next year, experts say.

In response, Erdogan proposed a constitutional change that would "soon" be sent for approval to the parliament where his party holds a small majority with his nationalist alliance partner.

But under Turkish law, changes require 400 lawmakers to pass without a need for a referendum and so the CHP would need to give its backing.

Otherwise, with 360 votes, a proposal can be put to the people.

"If this issue cannot be resolved in parliament, we will submit it to the people," Erdogan said.

Israeli forces fatally shoot two Palestinians in occupied West Bank, Jerusalem

Sat, 10/22/2022 - 17:24
Israeli forces fatally shoot two Palestinians in occupied West Bank, Jerusalem
One Palestinian was shot while 'illegally' entering Israel for work, while another was killed following an alleged stabbing attack that left one Israeli injured
MEE and agencies Sat, 10/22/2022 - 18:24
Israeli forces gather around a Palestinian man fatally shot after he allegedly stabbed an Israeli in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah on 22 October (AFP)

Israeli soldiers fatally shot two Palestinians in separate incidents in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem on Saturday, official sources have reported.

The Palestinian killed in the occupied West Bank was shot dead at a checkpoint, Palestinian health officials said. 

The Israeli military alleged that its troops were trying to detain a vehicle after its passengers had crossed "illegally" into Israel. It said the vehicle fled and hit a soldier, after which "the soldiers fired toward the vehicle". 

Israel's occupation of West Bank unlawful under international law, UN report finds
Read More »

One of the passengers died at hospital, Palestinian hospital officials said. The victim's father told Palestinian Qudsnet news that his son was headed for work when he was shot. It was unclear whether he had a work permit for entry into Israel.

In Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighbourhood, Israeli police said they shot and "neutralised" a Palestinian who had stabbed and badly wounded an Israeli. Video circulating on social media showed the Palestinian lying wounded at a playground where children had been playing soccer, as an armed police officer stood over him. 

Israel's crackdown in the West Bank has escalated in recent months, occasionally spilling over into Jerusalem.

Israeli forces shot dead a 19-year-old Palestinian overnight on Friday during an operation in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin. The teen was fatally shot in the neck while three others were wounded, the Palestinian health ministry said at the time. 

On Thursday, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy succumbed to his gunshot wounds, a month after he was shot by Israeli military forces. 

More than 120 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem this year, making 2022 the deadliest year since 2015.

This week, UN-appointed commission of inquiry concluded that Israel's "permanent occupation and de-facto annexation" violated international law.

US-brokered talks aimed at ending Israel's decades-old occupation and establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, collapsed in 2014 and show no sign of revival. 

Israel holds an election on 1 November with Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who in September backed a two-state deal with the Palestinians, competing against former hawkish premier Benjamin Netanyahu, who has gone back and forth on the issue.

Yemeni Houthi drones target oil port in first attack since truce expired

Sat, 10/22/2022 - 10:03
Yemeni Houthi drones target oil port in first attack since truce expired
Houthis say attack was to prevent government from using al-Dhaba terminal for oil exports
MEE staff Sat, 10/22/2022 - 11:03
A Houthi fighter is deployed during a ceremony marking the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on 8 October (AFP)

Yemen's Houthi rebels attacked a southern oil port on Friday, in the first operation the group has claimed since a truce between the warring sides ended earlier this month.

The attack targeted a Marshall Islands-flagged tanker, the Nissos Kea, at the port of Ash Shihr, about 550km south of the Houthi-held capital Sanaa, but did not strike it, a Greek company that owns the vessel said.

Okeanis Eco Tankers said that while the tanker was at the buoy for loading, "there were two drone-driven explosions in close proximity", prompting it to leave the port and head out to sea.

The attack did not cause any casualties or damage.

The government warned that it was keeping "all options" on the table in response to the attack and that it could affect any further peace talks.

It is the first announced attack by the Houthis, who control the capital and most of northern Yemen, since the end of a six-month truce between Yemen's warring parties on 2 October.

The Houthis said in a statement they had carried out a "minor warning strike" on Friday on the government-controlled al-Dhaba port in the eastern province of Hadramaut to prevent the government from using it for oil exports.

Yemen's truce between the Houthi movement and forces loyal to the Yemeni government was brokered in April and immediately raised hope that a negotiated route out of the eight-year conflict could be found. Initially agreed for two months, the deal was renewed twice.

The United Nations estimates that around 380,000 people have died as a result of the war, which in 2015 drew in a Saudi-led coalition to prop up the internationally recognised government.

The Houthis have been demanding that the government pay the salaries of employees and retired soldiers in the areas under their control.

The rebels said on Friday that the operation was launched "to prevent the continuation of the widespread looting of oil wealth and the failure to allocate it to serve the people... and pay the salaries of the employees".

Efforts by the UN envoy to Yemen to revive the six-month truce ended in stalemate early this month, as the Yemeni government and the Houthis failed to reach an agreement to extend it.

World Cup 2022: Qatar cancels Yemeni visas for tournament, say local reports

Sat, 10/22/2022 - 09:53
World Cup 2022: Qatar cancels Yemeni visas for tournament, say local reports
Football fans from Yemen complain of Hayya card being revoked with no explanation, potentially causing them to lose vast sums
Rayhan Uddin Sat, 10/22/2022 - 10:53
Workers move trash bins past Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup football tournament posters in Doha on 21 October 2022 (AFP)
Workers move trash bins past Qatar 2022 Fifa World Cup football tournament posters in Doha on 21 October (AFP)

Yemeni football fans have had their Hayya cards, the document which acts as a visa for World Cup ticket holders in Qatar, cancelled without explanation, according to local media reports.

Al-Mashhad al-Yemeni reported on Friday evening that citizens had told the publisher of their surprise after being notified the document had been rejected, despite having been previously approved. 

The report included a screenshot of an email sent to a Yemeni football fan, stating: "Your request for a Hayya card has been declined." No explanation was provided for the decision. 

There has yet to be any official comment from Yemeni or Qatari authorities, or football's governing body Fifa. 

Fifa told Middle East Eye that this was a matter for Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC), the World Cup organising committee.

The SC did not respond to MEE's request for comment by the time of publication. 

Aden Today reported that hundreds of Yemeni fans had paid large sums on match tickets, airfare and hotel reservations, and were set to suffer huge losses if the decision was not reversed.

"Without the slightest respect for working with Fifa principles and sports law, Qatar cancelled all Hayya cards belonging to Yemenis," wrote Yemeni journalist Nabil Alosaidi. 

"I wish that the organising committee and the Qatari authorities will be able to resolve this so Yemenis will be able to attend and enjoy the tournament like the rest of the world," tweeted Baraa Shiban, a former adviser to the Yemeni embassy in London. 

In addition to acting as a visa, the Hayya card is necessary to enter football stadiums during the tournament, which kicks off on 20 November. It can also be used by fans to travel on Doha's public transportation for free.

Last week, Saudi Arabian authorities announced that Muslim holders of the card would be able to perform the umrah pilgrimage in Mecca without the need to pay for a visa.

Qatar cancels Yemeni visas for World Cup, say local reports

Afghan Americans enraged over US marine's 'abduction' of orphan

Fri, 10/21/2022 - 18:54
Afghan Americans enraged over US marine's 'abduction' of orphan
The child's next of kin say the three-year-old was reportedly taken away from her rightful guardians after her immediate family was killed in a US-led military operation
Azad Essa Fri, 10/21/2022 - 19:54
The US-led invasion of Afghanistan lasted 20 years, leaving in its wake untold horrors for the Afghan people.
The US-led invasion of Afghanistan lasted 20 years, leaving in its wake untold horrors for the Afghan people (AFP)

Afghan American activists have expressed outrage over allegations that a US marine abducted an Afghan war orphan after luring the baby's legal guardians to the US with the promise of providing medical treatment. 

The girl, now three years old, lost her parents and five siblings in a classified US-led military operation on 6 September 2019. She was seven months old at the time.

The child's extended family is suing the US marine and his wife in a federal court, alleging that the girl was forcibly taken once she arrived in the US in September 2021.

The complaint, filed on 2 September at the Virginia District Court, states that US Marine Joshua Mast and his wife Stephanie Mast convinced the child's legal guardians to bring her to the US where they would assist with her injuries - a fractured skull and femur and second-degree burns - sustained during the operation. 

Court documents say that as soon as her legal guardians arrived in the US, they met with a social worker who took the child from them.

"We call on the State Department, the Department of Justice, and the US Marine Corps to immediately investigate the methods that Joshua Mast used to kidnap this child and to intervene in the ongoing court case to bring forth justice and reunite her with her family," Halema Wali, the co-founder of Afghans for a Better Tomorrow, told Middle East Eye.

"Afghans do not need white saviours who disguise human trafficking as humanitarianism in the name of Christianity," Wali said.

The Masts reject the idea that they deceived the family and took the baby from them, saying in a response to the lawsuit that the Mast's informed them of "Mast’s relationship and legal responsibility for the child," Richard Mast wrote in a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

"The sole legal identity created for Baby Doe saved not only her from the evils of life under the Taliban – it saved numerous others – including Plaintiffs John and Jane Doe. The fact that the Does are here in America today is a result of the countless hours invested by these Americans at no charge to the Does," Richard Mast wrote in a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, he said. 

On Sunday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan released a statement in which it called the case worrying, adding it was "far from human dignity and an inhumane act".

The lawyer representing the Afghan family declined to comment about the case and the identity of the plaintiffs, citing safety as the reason for maintaining anonymity. 

According to the filing, Joshua Mast, working through his attorney and brother Richard Mast, had already obtained a custody order for the baby despite the child having Afghan citizenship as well as legal guardians in her home country. 

Mast's lawyers did not respond to MEE's requests for comment.

Multiple co-conspirators 

The complainants also name Richard Mast, the family attorney; and Kimberley Motley, a well-known American lawyer who has been operating in Afghanistan for more than a decade; as well as Ahmad Osmani, a Baptist pastor who acted as a translator between the families; as co-conspirators in the lawsuit.

Richard Mast did not reply to MEE's request for comment but in his motion to have the case dismissed, he described his brother's decision to adopt the child as "selfless", adding that the child had been saved from "the evils of life under the Taliban”.

It is further alleged that Joshua Mast hired Motley to search for and communicate with the legal guardians.

Motley is said to have known that the Masts had obtained a custody order and their purpose was not to offer medical treatment but to secure custody of the baby. “In coordination with Joshua and Stephanie Mast, however, Motley did not disclose the Masts’ true intentions to the Does [name given to the complainants],” the complaint read. 

Motley did not reply to MEE's request for comment. 

According to the lawsuit, the Masts tried several avenues to have the child transferred into their care when they found out that a next of kin had been located.

On 26 February 2020, the Masts filed a petition against the US government, seeking a temporary restraining order to keep the child in the custody of the American military hospital in Afghanistan where she was staying for treatment. The petitioners in the case remained anonymous, but it was Richard Mast who was the representing attorney.

When this failed, the Masts then took another path - convincing the family to travel to the US to get better medical treatment for the child.

After a year of wrangling with the family, first through Motley and then through the translator Osmani, the Afghan family agreed to bring the little girl to the US in August 2021. 

Battle over custody

Concurrent with the discussion between the Mast's representatives and the child's legal guardians in Afghanistan, the Masts were simultaneously working on gaining custody of the child in American courts.

They filed a petition in a Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in Virginia where they asserted that the former Afghan government, under deposed President Ashraf Ghani, had intended to issue a waiver "in a matter of days" to waive jurisdiction of the child.

But in an email to the Associated Press (AP), which conducted an investigation into the case, Ghani's former deputy chief of staff, Suhrob Ahmed, said there is "no record of this alleged statement of waiver of Afghan jurisdiction".

Unlike in the US, and similar to other Muslim-majority nations, Afghan law dictates that Muslim orphans cannot be given to the custody of non-Muslims and that the child's family lineage cannot be erased.

Under the country's kafala laws, or guardianship system, Muslims are allowed to take in Muslim orphans and raise them alongside their family, but these adopted children are to keep their family names.

The State Department has only recognised 14 American adoptions from Afghanistan in the past decade, none of them in the past two years, according to the AP.

The Virginia court granted a custody order to the Masts in November 2019, on the basis that the child "remains up to this point in time an orphaned, undocumented, stateless minor".

The order was granted despite Virginia law stipulating that the adoption needed to be "finalised pursuant to the laws of the country from which the child was adopted". 

But the battle to take custody of the child did not stop there, and the child’s family in Afghanistan accuse the Masts of taking part in a years-long deception to steal their child from them.

Obscure details

Not much is known about the military operation on 6 September 2019 that killed the girl's parents and siblings.

According to the filing, which does not reveal the plaintiffs nor the child's name due to the sensitivity of the case, the Afghan family was killed during a joint operation between US military and Afghan forces in a rural part of the country.

According to legal papers filed by the Masts, the US government "sent helicopters full of special operators to capture or kill" a foreign fighter. 

According to the filing, the child’s father detonated a suicide vest while the mother was shot dead by armed forces as they entered the home. Five out of the six children were also killed and their home was completely destroyed.

"US military forces discovered Baby Doe [synonym given to the baby] in the rubble and immediately transported her to a nearby US military hospital for urgent surgical and medical care," the filing reads. 

The Department of Defence did not reply to MEE's request for further details of the operation.

Court documents show the US military informed the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that the child's family was killed and that the ICRC began searching for next of kin. 

On 25 October 2019, the ICRC made contact with the child's uncle, and the paternal uncle requested to be reunited with the child. In January 2020, Donna Welton, the US State Department's assistant chief of mission in Kabul, wrote to the Afghan government, noting that the US government was ready to transfer custody of the infant to family members. This was arranged for 26 February 2020, the same day the Masts filed their petition to stop the transfer.

Lucien Christen, ICRC spokesperson based in Kabul, confirmed to MEE they had helped facilitate the reunification of the child with family members. However, Christen said that she was unable to comment on "any legal or administrative procedures that might have followed this reunification, neither is part of any legal process in Afghanistan or abroad".

"The reunification of the baby with the family members in Afghanistan in 2020 is ICRC’s sole implication in the case you are mentioning," Christen added.

Acting Secretary Welton, now in the bureau of political-military affairs, as well as the US State Department, did not reply to several requests from MEE for comment. 

The ICRC declined to comment on the specifics of the incident. A spokesperson at the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan told MEE that he was unable to assist with details because "we don't have any ground incident on our records for the mentioned date".

'Tragic'

James Dwyer, a professor of law at William and Mary College in Virginia, told MEE that there was so much "uncertainty about certain important facts [that] it is difficult to predict the ultimate outcome."

"The Virginia court that conferred legal custody and adoption seems to have acted improperly, so the Afghan couple, who now has quite capable American attorneys helping them, should be able to get those actions overturned IF they are deemed to have standing to challenge them."

"The US is in a difficult position diplomatically. It does not want to appear to condone 'baby stealing' by its military, but it also does not want to be blamed if the girl returns to Afghanistan and suffers some tragedy because of the turmoil and human rights situation there," he said.

"The complexity of the case could cause it to drag on for quite a long time, and at some point, stability for the child can - or at least should - become a decisive consideration."

According to the United Nations, 1,659 people were killed and 3,524 were injured in Afghanistan in the first half of 2021, with the total number of civilians killed and injured having "increased by 47 percent" compared with the first half of 2020.

During that same period, the number of civilians killed by air strikes from pro-government forces also increased by 33 percent.

Stephanie Savell, a senior researcher at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, described the case as "tragic".

"The costs of the US invasion for people in Afghanistan have been enormous and tragic. By every measure I know of, Afghans are worse off now than they were before the US invasion," Stephanie Savell, a senior researcher at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, told MEE.

Savell said that a staggering 97 percent of Afghans are projected to be living in poverty in 2022. 

"Large numbers of Afghans are dying and will continue to die because of disease, malnutrition, and a nonfunctioning healthcare system, all of which have been severely exacerbated by the US-led war," Savell said.

In 2020 alone, the ICRC facilitated four family reunifications in Afghanistan and 1049 worldwide. 

This includes working to reunite unaccompanied minors with their families where appropriate or identifying other long-term solutions in the best interest of each child.

Despite US operations, Somalia, Sahel drive increase in militant violence in Africa, report says

Fri, 10/21/2022 - 18:30
Despite US operations, Somalia, Sahel drive increase in militant violence in Africa, report says
A new report says there has been a 300 percent increase in militant attacks in Africa over the past decade
MEE staff Fri, 10/21/2022 - 19:30
French Prime Minister Jean Castex (R) looks outside a plane flying towards Faya Largeau, Chad, on December 31, 2020, after spending the New Year's Eve with French troops serving in the counter-terrorism 'Barkhane' force deployed in Sahel. Jérémy MAROT / AFP
French Prime Minister Jean Castex (R) looks outside a plane flying towards Faya Largeau, Chad, after spending New Year's Eve with French troops deployed in the Sahel, on 31 December 2020 (AFP/Jeremy Marot)

Violence in the Sahel region of Africa linked to “militant Islamist groups” has quadrupled in the past three years, according to a report from the Pentagon, despite an ongoing US counterterrorism mission in the area.

The September report from the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, the Pentagon’s academic institution focusing on the region, reveals that seven administrative districts in the Sahel are each projected to suffer more than 100 violent events in 2022, a threshold only ever crossed five times before. 

The report comes months into ongoing US efforts to combat militant violence in the region. 

In addition to the situation in the Sahel, years-long operations in Somalia targeting the militant group al-Shabab, namely, have yielded few results.

In May of this year, the US announced it would shift from a policy of need-based attendance in the country to one of “persistent presence”, deploying several hundred troops and taking on an “advise-and-assist position” without directly intervening, according to the Pentagon. 

US Secretary of Defence John Kirby said in a May press conference that the new system would enable US forces to continue “training, advising and equipping partner forces to give them the tools that they need to disrupt, degrade and monitor al-Shabab”.

More violence

But despite persistent military operations, the report says the violence doubled in just the past three years.

The Africa Center says Somalia and the Sahel are driving a rise in militant attacks in Africa, with a 300 percent increase in the past decade, according to the report, which revealed that the two regions are key drivers in the rise of militant violence in Africa. 

In 2021, John T Godfrey, then-acting coordinator for counterterrorism and acting special envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, characterised the US’s partnership with Somalia on counterterrorism efforts as “very strong”. 

But according to the report, roughly 95 percent of the increase is in the western Sahel and Somalia from those "militant Islamist groups", with both the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda affiliated insurgencies at the root of expanded presence in the region.

The violent events in 2022 linked to these groups represent a 21-percent increase from last year, compared to the 18-percent average annual increase on the continent in the past decade. Fatalities linked to these groups have also been on the rise, reaching 14,635 in the past year - a nearly 50 percent increase since 2019.

In Somalia, the report marks an 11-percent increase in “militant Islamist events and fatalies” over the past year. 

“The record 2,221 violent events reported are a 45-percent increase from the 3-year average from 2018-2020,” the report said. 

Somalia's al-Shabaab was linked to 36 percent of all militant group violence recorded in Africa in the past year, according to the report.

Differences across regions

In North Africa, observers report a drop in militant activity and related violence - a trend continuing since 2015.

Such incidents in the region decreased by 23 percent over the past year, according to the report. Further, the report finds that “virtually all 222 violent events and 313 fatalities reported in North Africa” occurred in Egypt and were linked to the Islamic State in the Sinai Province - a 50 percent decline over the past 3 years. 

“There has been progress in the fight against militant Islamist groups in Africa, though,” the report said. “Underscoring the great variance across regions, militant Islamist violence in the Lake Chad Basin and North Africa declined by 33 percent and 23 percent, respectively, over the last year.”

The report also covered a decrease in violence in the Lake Chad Basin and only a moderate increase in militant-related violence in Mozambique, compared to a reported spike between 2018 and 2020.

Meanwhile, French operations in the Sahel region continue. France's Operation Barkhan, launched in 2014 to quell a militant uprising in the region, is ongoing, involving over 5,000 soldiers at its peak.

The country’s withdrawal from Mali earlier this year meant a reorganisation of forces in other Sahel countries, including Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger. Think tanks have branded the withdrawal as inevitable given a history of rifts between Bamako and Paris.

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