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Updated: 5 days 11 hours ago

Israeli soldier kills Palestinian man during raid on West Bank village

Fri, 08/19/2022 - 12:24
Israeli soldier kills Palestinian man during raid on West Bank village
Salah Tawfiq Sawafta, 58, died in hospital on Friday after he was shot in the head with live bullets
MEE and agencies Fri, 08/19/2022 - 13:24
Salah Tawfiq Sawafta, a 58-year-old Palestinian from Tubas village, was shot dead on 19 August 2022 (Screengrab)

Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian man in Tubas, a village in the north of the occupied West Bank, during a dawn raid on Friday morning.

Salah Tawfiq Sawafta, 58, succumbed to his wounds in a hospital later on Friday. The Palestinian ministry of health said he was shot in the head with live bullets, which left him in a critical condition when he arrived at the hospital.

Wafa news agency reported that Sawafta was shot while returning to his home after performing the dawn prayer at a local mosque.

Israeli forces also raided Tamun village, north of the West Bank, on Friday, arresting four Palestinians from the same family and wounding another after he was shot in the thigh.

Palestinians in Tubas clashed with Israeli forces during an early morning raid which led to the arrest of a Palestinian university student at his home.

'Vengeful soldier'

The mayor of Tubas, Hossam Daraghmeh, told AFP that an Israeli soldier fired at Sawafta as he left dawn prayers.

"He left the mosque and was heading to his house wearing a prayer robe. There was a vengeful soldier stationed in a building near the municipality who shot him in the head," he said.

Daraghmeh added that Sawafta had been unarmed when he was hit.

"This man did not have a stone or anything in his hand," he said.

The account is contrary to Israeli claims that soldiers did not fire at Sawafta. The Israeli army said in a statement that soldiers had come under fire during a raid in the town aimed at apprehending "a group of terrorists" planning attacks on Israeli civilians.

During the operation "armed Palestinians opened massive indiscriminatory fire", and soldiers responded with "precise fire" that hit "a number of assailants”, Israel said in a statement cited by AFP.

In recent months, the Palestinian villages around Nablus and Jenin, in the northern West Bank, have seen increased Israeli raids to arrest political activists and, in some incidents, assassinate leaders from Palestinian factions. 

On Thursday, Israeli forces killed a 20-year-old Palestinian man, Wasim Nasser Abu Khalifa, and wounded at least 30 others in a pre-dawn raid in Nablus, in the West Bank.

Israeli security forces have killed more than 80 Palestinians so far this year, during raids in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli soldier kills Palestinian man during raid on West Bank village

Egypt: Sale of state assets to Saudi and UAE wealth funds divides opinion

Fri, 08/19/2022 - 10:52
Egypt: Sale of state assets to Saudi and UAE wealth funds divides opinion
As Cairo pushes privatisation to mitigate economic setbacks, the motives of Arab states investing billions of dollars are being questioned
MEE correspondent Fri, 08/19/2022 - 11:52
The Pyramid of Khufu seen before sunset behind a canal which flows into the River Nile on the outskirts of Cairo on 4 August 2022 (Reuters)
The Pyramid of Khufu, seen from a canal linked to the Nile, on the outskirts of Cairo on 4 August 2022 (Reuters)

The acquisition of Egyptian companies by foreign countries is creating rifts in Egypt, with some members of the public accusing the government of knowingly losing money-spinning businesses.

Arab companies and sovereign wealth funds, especially those of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, are acquiring stakes in Egyptian businesses and facilities, including fertiliser companies, hospitals and banks, and in so doing pumping billions of dollars into the national economy.

Saudi Arabia's Mouwasat Medical Services has recently acquired 100 percent of the shares in Al-Marasem international hospital, a major medical facility on the outskirts of Cairo. 

Earlier this month, the Saudi Egyptian Investment Co, the investment arm of Saudi Arabia's state-owned Public Investment Fund in Egypt, acquired the Egyptian government's stake in the Misr Fertiliser Production Co (Mopco) in the port city of Damietta, more than 200km north of Cairo.

UAE property company accused of causing irrevocable damage to Egypt's coast
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It also bought minority stakes in three other companies - Abu Qir Fertizilers and Chemical Industries, Alexandria Container and Cargo Handling, and payments firm E-Finance for Financial and Digital Investments. 

The total cost of the four investments reached $1.3bn.

Saudi Arabia had previously pledged to invest $10bn in Egypt to help the populous Arab country as it struggles to contain the effects of the Russian war in Ukraine. The conflict has sent the nation's wheat and fuel bills soaring, put pressure on its currency and prompted it to seek International Monetary Fund assistance.

The Saudi acquisitions come on top of those made by the UAE, which have included stakes in a snacks producerfinancial services companies, a bank, an electronic payment business and Mopco.

Investments of takeovers?

These transactions, among others, meant Egypt saw the second-largest number of acquisitions and mergers in the region during the first half of this year, with 65 deals worth $3.2bn.

However, the flurry of sell-offs has divided opinion in Egypt, with the government heralding them as positive for the country's economy while others warned of the dangers of selling state assets to overseas interests.

The government has said foreign investment will create jobs for citizens and expand the reach of Egyptian companies to the markets of the acquiring countries.

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In June, cabinet spokesman Nader Saad said the government had the right to manage its own assets in a manner that brought it profit.

"We have diverse assets, and at this stage we find it appropriate to sell some of them and invest the returns in something else, including in the purchase of other assets," Saad told a local television channel. 

Egypt is going to crash. We must act now to limit the chaos
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Some economists agree, stating that acquisitions are a form of investment that brings in foreign currencies, which ends up benefiting the national economy.

"Egyptian companies are acquired because they are successful," Khaled al-Shafie, director of the Egyptian Centre for Economic Studies think tank, told Middle East Eye.

"The acquisitions energise the stock market and create jobs, especially if they cause an increase of the companies' overall capital."

Some members of the public strongly disagree.

Many speaking on social media said the acquisitions by Arab companies and sovereign wealth funds are normal business takeovers that have nothing to do with investment or job creation. 

Others accused the government of selling what they describe as "strategic assets" to the Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

One user satirically said that, after acquiring all of Egypt's companies, the two Gulf countries will take the golden eagle from the nation's flag, too.

Mitigate losses

Despite the criticism by some, the acquisitions appear to be inevitable. The war in Ukraine has dealt a serious blow to the Egyptian economy in many aspects, from rising food and oil prices to a sizeable slash in tourism revenues.

"Wars always have devastating effects, and the Russian-Ukrainian war is doing just that," al-Shafie said. "Covid-19 also slowed growth, not only here but everywhere else."

To mitigate the losses, the government is now pushing for the privatisation of some sectors of the economy, including through foreign investors, among other measures. 

In a policy blueprint titled State Ownership Policy, the government laid out a plan to either partially or totally end state control over sectors such as port construction, fertilizer production and water desalination over the next three years. 

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Egypt hopes to attract $40bn in investments by offering these assets to private investors.

An Egyptian baker seller waits for costumers with plastic bags of bread outside a bakery in Cairo's southeastern Mokattam district in 16 March 2022 (Reuters)
Bags of bread for sale outside a bakery in Cairo's southeastern Mokattam district in 16 March 2022 (Reuters)

Cairo is also trying to capitalise on the surge in global energy prices by increasing its gas exports. One of the measures it will take to ensure that there is more gas to trade is to dim some of its lights.

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Egypt produces more electricity than its population needs, but its power plants consume almost 60 percent of its total natural gas production, according to Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly.

Promoting the government's new plan, Madbouly said Cairo can sell gas abroad at 10 times the cost it is bought internally by electricity plants, which can turn to fuel oil instead of gas. 

Egypt is also launching major tourism promotion campaigns and targeting new markets, including in the Arab region, Asia and Latin America, to compensate losses to the local tourism sector from the war in Ukraine.

"These measures were also accompanied by a series of social welfare initiatives to reduce pressures on ordinary people," Mohamed Abdel Hamid, a member of the parliament's committee on economic affairs, told MEE.

"Nevertheless, we are badly in need of increasing our agricultural output because this will help us save a huge amount of money that goes into the import of food."

Undeclared motives 

Privatisation and the sale of state assets have a historically negative reputation in Egypt, with the process associated with the corruption that tainted a national privatisation programme in the 1990s. 

A huge number of state-owned companies and factories were sold under late president Hosni Mubarak for prices far less than their market value, which caused public anger at the time. 

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There are fears that Arab states may now be using Egypt's deteriorating economic conditions to get public assets for less than their actual market worth and that the return from the sales will be used to repay the country's accumulating debts.

'Sorry to say, our country experiences exceptionally hard conditions and it does not have the freedom to select the type of investments it can take or leave'

- Mamdouh al-Wali, Economist

Some of the Arab states buying local assets have already deposited billions of dollars into the Central Bank of Egypt to prop up foreign currency reserves and help keep the national currency afloat against foreign currencies.

This has led to the concern that Egypt will trade these deposits for local assets or use the returns to repay its debts. 

Additionally, Arab states are acquiring companies that are successful and already making a lot of profit, independent economist Mamdouh al-Wali said.

"These acquisitions are not leading to the expansion of the companies acquired," Wali told MEE. "Sorry to say, our country is experiencing exceptionally hard conditions, and it does not have the freedom to select the type of investments it can take or leave."

Egyptians polarised by sale of state assets to Saudi and UAE wealth funds

Egypt 'furious' with Israel for ignoring request to reduce West Bank tensions

Fri, 08/19/2022 - 10:24
Egypt 'furious' with Israel for ignoring request to reduce West Bank tensions
Cairo was reportedly angered after Israeli troops killed a high-profile Palestinian in Nablus, a day after Sisi asked Lapid to restrain the army
MEE staff Fri, 08/19/2022 - 11:24
A Palestinian woman hangs laundry at her house that was damaged during Israel-Gaza fighting, in Gaza City 8 August (Reuters)

Egypt is angry with Israel for ignoring calls to reduce army raids in the occupied West Bank following the three-day bombing campaign of Gaza earlier this month, according to an Israeli report.

Haaretz daily revealed that Cairo was "furious" after Israeli troops killed high-profile resistance fighter Ibrahim al-Nabulsi on 9 August.

The deadly raid in Nablus came a day after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi requested Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid to restrain the army in the West Bank. 

In the Monday evening phone call, Sisi asked Lapid to reduce the tensions in the West Bank to avoid further escalation with Palestinians.

Nablus mourns dead fighters as West Bank resistance grows
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Lapid issued a statement after the call thanking Sisi for his "crucial role" in reaching a ceasefire agreement with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) a day earlier. 

Israel had launched a three-day assault on the Gaza Strip on 5 August in an operation targeting the PIJ, killing 49 Palestinians, including 17 children, and wounding more than 360. Egypt brokered a ceasefire between the two sides on 8 August. 

The Israeli bombardment followed the violent arrest of a PIJ leader in the West Bank, Bassam al-Saadi, a few days earlier. 

Egypt was hoping that such incidents in the West Bank would be avoided to prevent hostilities in Gaza. Egyptians expected Sisi's conversation with Lapid to lead to a directive to the Israeli army, which did not happen. The Egyptian request was also not relayed to other senior Israeli officials.

According to the Haaretz report, Cairo viewed the Nabulsi killing as "Israel sticking a finger in the president's eye".

Egyptian intelligence was already frustrated with Israeli officials for not allowing them enough time to reduce tensions with the PIJ ahead of the Gaza bombing. 

They were further irritated by Israel's refusal to include in the ceasefire agreement that Cairo would strive for the release of Saadi and another hunger-striking prisoner, Khalil Awawdeh

Islamic Jihad angry with Egypt 

The frustration over the Gaza assault is shared by the PIJ who were angry with Cairo's mixed signals ahead of the first air strikes on 5 August that killed one of the group's senior commanders. 

Sources close to the PIJ revealed to Middle East Eye that Egyptian mediators told the group Israel was not looking for an escalation and would respond "positively" to a request to release Saadi and Awawdeh four hours before it began bombing the Gaza Strip.

'There is a lot of anger and tension within Islamic Jihad because of the role of [the] Egyptian mediation'

- senior Palestinian source

"[The PIJ] believe they have been betrayed by the Egyptians and that they were part of the game - to make them feel relaxed and secure just before the air strikes took place," a senior Palestinian source close to the PIJ told MEE.

"There is a lot of anger and tension within Islamic Jihad because of the role of [the] Egyptian mediation because they consider the Egyptians gave them misleading information and hints just before the air strikes. As a result of this information, the Islamic Jihad relaxed and was unprepared for the air strikes."

Sources close to the PIJ told MEE that Egyptian mediator Brigadier Ahmed Abdul Khaliq incorrectly told Khaled al-Batsh, a senior member of the PIJ's political bureau, that there had been a "breakthrough" in indirect negotiations. 

Israeli intelligence agents reportedly passed the following message to the PIJ through Egyptian intelligence: "We want to end this escalation. Give us until Sunday and we are pushing them [Israel's political leaders] to agree."

As the air strikes rained down on Gaza for a second day, Khaled Mansour, a PIJ leader in southern Gaza, was targeted and killed in an Israeli air strike. Mansour had been a delegate at PIJ talks in Cairo. 

On the same day, the Israeli military said it had arrested at least 19 members of the PIJ in the West Bank. The targeted air strikes and the string of arrests ruptured relations between the PIJ and Egyptian intelligence, with Ziad al-Nakhalah, the head of the PIJ, refusing to take calls from Egyptian intelligence, sources close to the PIJ told MEE.

The two sides had been previously very close, with the PIJ having mediated between Egyptian intelligence and Hamas.

The anger towards the Egyptians was made evident after the ceasefire when Nakhalah spoke at a press conference in the Iranian capital, Tehran.

Nakhalah praised the support he had received from Iran, Iraq and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, but notably failed to mention the role Egypt had played. He also thanked the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera media network for its rolling coverage of the assault on Gaza.

Egyptians reportedly protested, telling the PIJ they could not understand why Doha's role had been praised and Cairo's efforts to de-escalate tensions were overlooked.

Fragile ceasefire

Following the ceasefire, the PIJ conveyed through Egyptian intelligence that they would stop rocket attacks following Israel's reported pledge to release Saadi and Awawdah.

Cage, smother, subdue, repeat: Israel’s Gaza policy
Read More »

However, Israeli officials have denied that such a condition was included in the agreement. Both prisoners remain in Israeli custody.

In an attempt to mend ties with the PIJ following Israel's offensive, Egypt promised to send "a large delegation" to Israel to secure Awawdah's release.

However, Awawdeh's health worsened last week as he passed more than 160 days on hunger strike protesting his administrative detentions without trial or charge.

Earlier this week, an Israeli military court rejected an appeal for his release on health grounds.

After the ceasefire, the PIJ threatened to restart military action if both men were not released soon. "The PIJ is threatening to go back to escalation if there is no progress," the source close to the PIJ told MEE kast week.

Erdogan says Turkey does not seek removal of Assad in Syria

Fri, 08/19/2022 - 09:42
Erdogan says Turkey does not seek removal of Assad in Syria
Turkish president argues relations need to be upheld as speculation grows that Ankara will normalise relations with Damascus
Ragip Soylu Fri, 08/19/2022 - 10:42
Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a press conference in Lviv, Ukraine on 18 August (Reuters)
Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a press conference in Lviv, Ukraine on 18 August (Reuters)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey does not seek the removal of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

“We don’t have such an issue whether to defeat Assad or not,” he told journalists accompanying him on a trip to Ukraine.

“All the steps we have taken with Russians in northern Syria and the east and west of the Euphrates, there is a fight against terrorism.” 

After a week of speculation that normalisation with the Syrian president’s government may be on the cards, Erdogan said Turkey will need to take “higher steps” with Damascus to end the “games” being played in the region.

He added that Turkey cannot totally cut off diplomatic relations with the Syrian government. 

'You have to accept that you cannot cut the political dialogue and diplomacy between the states'

- Recep Tayyip Erdogan

“You have to accept that you cannot cut the political dialogue and diplomacy between the states,” he said. “There should always be such dialogues. “ 

The Turkish president said he also wanted to work with Tehran in Syria but was unable to because “Iran has other plans as we see them”.

For weeks, Erdogan has suggested a Turkish military operation is close, with the aim of expelling Syrian Kurdish militants from areas around Syria’s Tal Rifaat and Manbij. On Friday, he once again stressed that Ankara was ready to launch the offensive.

He added that he discussed the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin and told him that the Syrian Kurdish armed factions have been resourced by the Assad government through oil sales done between Kurdish-controlled Qamishli and Damascus.

“The source of the money is the regime,” Erdogan said. “We don’t want to postpone this issue anymore. We don’t eye the Syrian territories. Syrian people are our brothers.”

While a Turkish-Russian brokered ceasefire has largely kept the frontlines static since 2019, UN-led peace talks centred on drafting a new constitution have stalled.

Erdogan said that he hopes that a new constitution will be drafted as soon as possible and the needs of the Syrian people fulfilled.

“We don’t host four million Syrian refugees to be perpetually at war with the regime,” he said. “We host them because of our ties with the Syrian people, especially religion. We hope the process from now on would be beneficial for everyone.” 

Syrians react furiously to Turkey's call for reconciliation with Assad
Read More »

Domestic pressure is growing on Ankara to warm relations with Damascus. The Turkish opposition's calls for reconciliation between Turkey and Syria are increasing every day, as the public grows increasingly hostile to the nearly four million Syrian refugees in the country.

The Syrian government became an international pariah when it violently cracked down on protests in 2011 and sparked a civil war that is continuing and believed to have cost half a million lives.

Syria remains the biggest displacement crisis in the world, with 6.8 million refugees and 6.2 million people internally displaced, according to UN figures.

But in recent years, many Arab countries, most prominently the UAE, have resumed ties with Damascus. Several have been urging the Arab League to reinstate Syria. Meanwhile Washington has held direct talks with Syrian officials seeking compromises and the release of US journalist Austin Tice.

Crippled by a decade of war, harsh sanctions and a devastating economic crisis, Damascus is keen to re-engage, but many in Ankara find the Syrian government's conditions for talks, not only with Turkey but also with the US and the Arab League, unrealistic.

Erdogan says Turkey does not seek Assad's removal in Syria

Sudan: Scores dead and thousands homeless since start of rainy season

Fri, 08/19/2022 - 09:20
Sudan: Scores dead and thousands homeless since start of rainy season
Seventy-seven people reported to have died since the beginning of May as torrential rain engulfs country
MEE and agencies Fri, 08/19/2022 - 10:20
A Sudanese man walks through a flooded area in the eastern state of Kassala on 18 August 2022 (AFP)

Flooding in Sudan in recent months has left scores of people dead and thousands homeless as seasonal torrential rain engulfs large parts of the country.

Seventy-seven people have died since the beginning of the rainy season in May, Brigadier General Abdul-Jalil Abdul-Rahim, the spokesman for Sudan’s National Council for Civil Defence (NCCD), told the Associated Press on Thursday.

Abdul-Rahim said the provinces most affected included North Kordofan, Gezira, South Kordofan, South Darfur, and River Nile.

An NCCD report on Sunday said 136,000 people across 12 of Sudan's states had been affected by the heavy rainfall since May. 

Homes destroyed

The report said torrential rain and floods had destroyed around 8,900 houses and damaged a further 20,600 across the country.

Earlier this week, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the number of people and localities affected by the seasonal rains as of Sunday had doubled compared with the same period last year.

Around 314,500 people were affected across Sudan during the entire rainy season in 2021, according to the UN.

Torrential rains usually fall in the east African country from June to October, causing severe flooding every year, wrecking properties, infrastructure, and crops.

In 2020, flood water swelled the Blue Nile, which joins the White Nile in Khartoum, to its highest level since records began over a century ago.

Scores dead and thousands homeless since start of Sudan's rainy season

Pegasus: English court rules Saudi dissident's case against kingdom can move forward

Fri, 08/19/2022 - 08:51
Pegasus: English court rules Saudi dissident's case against kingdom can move forward
Ruling for Ghanem Al-Masarir, who was allegedly targeted by Saudi Arabia with spyware and assaulted, could set precedent for legal action taken by other UK-based dissidents
Dania Akkad Fri, 08/19/2022 - 09:51
Al-Masarir outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in London in October 2018 calling for justice for Jamal Khashoggi (AFP)

A Saudi Arabian dissident who alleges that Riyadh installed spyware on his phones and ordered an assault on him can proceed with his lawsuit against the kingdom, England's high court ruled on Friday.

The judgement in Ghanem Al-Masarir's case is the first-ever ruling in a UK court involving spyware and a foreign country and could set precedent for other British-based dissidents alleged to have been the targets of state-sponsored surveillance on British soil. 

Masarir said it was a "huge relief" that the judgement had gone in his favour and said the alleged targeting with spyware and assault had had "a profound effect" on his life.

"I no longer feel safe and I am constantly looking over my shoulder. I no longer feel able to speak up for the oppressed Saudi people because I fear that any contact with people inside the kingdom could put them in danger," he said.

"I look forward to presenting my full case to the court in the hope that I can finally hold the kingdom to account for the suffering I believe they have caused me.”

Masarir used his YouTube channel, which had more than 300 million views at the height of its popularity in 2018, to make fun of the Saudi royal family, particularly Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

'I no longer feel safe and I am constantly looking over my shoulder. I no longer feel able to speak up for the oppressed Saudi people'

- Ghanem Al-Masarir

The lawsuit accuses the Saudi government of infecting Masarir’s phone in June 2018 with Pegasus, military-grade spyware that it acquired from Israeli company NSO Group.

His phone was examined by experts at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, who confirmed that he had been sent malicious texts associated with Pegasus and concluded “with a high degree of confidence” that Saudi Arabia was responsible, Masarir’s lawyers have said.

Once installed, it would have allowed them to access his microphone and camera to hear and record what he was doing, as well as examine location data, all stored messages and images, and the phone's browser history.

The lawsuit also alleges that the Saudi government directed an attack against Masarir across the street from Harrods in London on 31 August 2018, an incident that was caught on film and appeared on social media accounts linked to the authorities in Riyadh.

He is bringing a claim for personal injuries resulting from both alleged attacks. States are normally shielded from most litigation in the UK, thanks to the State Immunity Act of 1978, enacted before spyware existed. 

But the judgement handed down on Friday ruled that Masarir’s case is an exception. 

The ruling could open doors for other UK-based dissidents and civil society leaders trying to bring legal action in Britain over claims they were targeted with spyware by Gulf countries in recent years.

They include Saeed Shehabi and Moosa Mohammed, two prominent Bahraini activists living in London, who are trying to sue Bahrain over allegations that the kingdom infected their personal computers with FinSpy surveillance software.

Three others - Saudi human rights defender Yahya Assiri, Anas Altikriti, head of the Cordoba Foundation, and Mohammed Kozbar, chairman of Finsbury Park Mosque - have also taken legal action in the UK over spyware allegations.

In April, their lawyers notified NSO Group, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates that they plan to sue them in the high court over allegations that the two states infiltrated their phones with the Israeli firm's spyware.

Masarir's lawyers at London-based firm Leigh Day said they hoped the judgement will provide "a beacon of hope" that foreign governments won't be able to hide behind state immunity in spyware cases.

But they also said they were disappointed that the British government had done "so little" to protect dissidents like Masarir from such attacks. 

Martyn Day, a senior partner at the firm, said: "It seems clear that such attacks on people living in our country are becoming ever more common as the spyware software becomes more and more sophisticated.

"Whilst it is very good to know that NGOs like Citizens Lab and Amnesty International Tech are keeping an eye on the use of such software in this country, surely it is for our own security services to be undertaking that protective role.”

English court rules dissident's hacking case against Saudi Arabia can move forward

Tunisia: Ex-minister stages airport sit-in against travel ban

Thu, 08/18/2022 - 21:45
Tunisia: Ex-minister stages airport sit-in against travel ban
Former Minister of Religious Affairs Nourredine Khadmi held the protest with his family after he was prevented from travelling abroad for a seventh time
MEE staff Thu, 08/18/2022 - 22:45
Tunisia's former minister of religious affairs, Nourredine Khadmi, lying down on a bench at Carthage international airport (Facebook)

Tunisia's former minister of religious affairs staged a sit-in with his family at the country's main international airport on Thursday, after he was reportedly barred from travelling abroad for a seventh time.

Nourredine Khadmi, who served as minister of religious affairs from 2011-2014, said authorities had repeatedly prevented him from travelling abroad since July.

'I will not leave the airport until after I gain my right to travel'

- Nourredine Khadmi

Khadmi told Al Jazeera Arabic that the restrictions were unwarranted and vowed to continue the sit-in at Carthage international airport until the ban was lifted.

Tunisia descended into a political crisis last summer when President Kais Saied suspended the country's parliament, sacked the prime minister and granted himself prosecutorial powers, in effect taking full control of the state and sidelining all opposition.

The move came two months after Middle East Eye revealed Saied's plans. 

Since then, the 64-year-old president has made widespread use of arbitrary travel bans, with more than 50 Tunisians, including government officials, judges and businessmen prevented from travelling abroad.

In June, authorities imposed new, arbitrary restrictions that have prevented the travel of at least three opposition politicians, according to rights group Amnesty International.

Violation of constitutional rights

Khadmi told Arabi21 on Friday that "there is no judicial permit or ruling to prevent travel or legal prosecution against him." He added that the travel ban affected his daughter's university study abroad as his family insisted on travelling together.

"This is a violation of the authority and a violation of the legal and constitutional right to travel. I will not leave the airport until I gain my right to travel," he told the online newspaper.

Comedian Lotfi al-Abdali flees Tunisia citing lack of freedoms
Read More »

He also said that he was in touch with the ministry of interior, the judiciary and the presidency, which confirmed to him that there was no basis for the travel ban.

On Wednesday, Amal al-Saidi, the deputy leader of the Democratic Current party, was prevented from renewing her passport on the pretext of the S17, an arbitrary travel restriction for security reasons. According to Amnesty International, since 2013, almost 30,000 people have been prevented from travelling on the basis of S17.

The Democratic Current party demanded the cancellation of the travel restriction measure, placing "the political and criminal responsibility on the head of the coup authority, Kais Saied, and his interior minister, Tawfiq Sharaf al-Din." 

Earlier this week, Saied ratified his controversial new constitution that would give him unchecked powers.

The new constitution places the president in charge of the army, allows him to appoint a government without parliament's approval, and makes it close to impossible to remove him from office.

Former Tunisian minister stages airport sit-in against travel ban

Israel tells West it's time to 'walk away' from nuclear talks

Thu, 08/18/2022 - 20:42
Israel tells West it's time to 'walk away' from nuclear talks
Prime Minister Yair Lapid seizes on EU's passed deadline to call for an end to negotiations with Tehran
MEE staff Thu, 08/18/2022 - 21:42
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on 14 August 2022 (AFP)

Israel has told Western countries to "walk away" from nuclear talks with Iran after Tehran failed to respond to a yes or no ultimatum on the text of an EU proposal to revive the dormant 2015 accord.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a phone call on Thursday that ”the Europeans sent Iran a final offer... and they declared that this offer was take it or leave it".

“Iran refused the offer and therefore the time has come to walk away. Anything else sends a message of weakness," Lapid said, according to an Israeli diplomat who spoke with AFP.

Red lines

Also on Thursday, Lapid held a meeting with the US ambassador to Israel where he said that the EU draft proposal being discussed was in opposition to the red lines set out by the Biden administration when talks resumed.

“In the current situation, the time has come to walk away from the table. Anything else sends a message of weakness to Iran,” Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid told the US diplomat and congressman Ted Deutch, chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Middle East Subcommittee. 

Iranian press review: 'No text finalised' in nuclear talks, says Tehran
Read More »

Talks to revive the 2015 accord have now dragged on for 16 months.

On 26 July, in an effort to finish negotiations the EU submitted a "final" compromise and called on Tehran and Washington to provide a "yes or no" answer by Monday.

The US response has not been made public. On Wednesday State Department spokesman Ned Price said, “we’re making our views known privately and directly to the EU".

Tehran replied by neither accepting nor rejecting the draft. It is seeking assurances that it would be protected from economic sanctions if the US decides to unilaterally withdraw from the deal again.

Oil prices dropped three percent on Tuesday, partly amid anticipation that the two sides were inching closer to a deal that would free up Iranian crude for the international market.

However, analysts and observers have expressed caution. "Our view continues to be that a deal is still unlikely in the short term," experts at investment firm Goldman Sachs said in a note that emphasised both sides might prefer the grey zone of no deal, without calling off talks.

"An announcement by Iran indicating a willingness to entertain nuclear talks is likely intended to draw out further ongoing discussion in our view before more disruptive counter-measures are potentially taken by the US and its allies," the Goldman Sachs experts said.

Oil shortage

"The US is similarly incentivized to draw out negotiations given stricter sanctions enforcement would exacerbate the oil shortage.”

However, Israel’s move on Thursday to try and deter a return to the deal may indicate its fear that Tehran and Washington are moving closer to reviving the accord.

Israel, along with US Gulf Arab allies, opposed the 2015 deal.

The previous government of Benjamin Netanyahu publicly slammed the deal in 2015, straining the relationship.

When Prime Minister Naftali Bennet came to power in 2021 he promised that Israel would communicate its differences to Washington on Iran more privately. Lapid replaced Bennet earlier this year in a power-sharing agreement.

Israel has repeatedly said that a nuclear deal will not stop it from taking action against Iran.

The country frequently targets Iranian proxies in Syria and the wider region. Israel is believed to be behind a series of assassinations and acts of sabotage aimed at hindering Iran’s nuclear program.

Israel's National Security Council head, Eyal Hulata, is expected to visit the US next week to discuss the nuclear deal with US officials.

US asked Israel to review its 'rules of engagement' after Abu Akleh killing: Report

Thu, 08/18/2022 - 20:07
US asked Israel to review its 'rules of engagement' after Abu Akleh killing: Report
US secretary of state called Israel's defence minister with the request after meeting with family of slain journalist, according to US website
MEE staff Thu, 08/18/2022 - 21:07
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he thinks that either the rules of engagement were not followed or they need to be reviewed, according to Axios.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said either the rules of engagement were not followed or they need to be reviewed, according to Axios (AFP/File photo)

The Biden administration has requested that Israel review its "rules of engagement" during military operations in the occupied West Bank, following the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, Axios reported citing Israeli and US sources.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz and asked him to publish the final conclusions of the Israeli investigation into the journalist's death as soon as possible.

He also asked for a review of the Israeli forces' rules of engagement in the West Bank, saying it would be a step toward accountability, Israeli and US sources told Axios.

Abu Akleh family demands US probe into journalist's killing, rejects previous conclusions
Read More »

Blinken told Gantz he thinks that either the rules of engagement were not followed or they need to be reviewed if an Israeli soldier shot Abu Akleh while she wore a bulletproof vest that was marked "press," the sources said.

Gantz then told Blinken that situations on the ground are not always black and white during military operations, the sources added.

Blinken's call with Gantz took place after he met with Abu Akleh's family in Washington late last month. The family came to the US capital to meet with the Secretary of State after Biden ignored a call to visit the family during his visit to Jerusalem.

"Any family of a US citizen who is killed abroad expects their government to put their resources behind an investigation. This is the very least the Biden administration must do," Abu Akleh's niece Lina said during a press conference following the family's meeting with Blinken.

"We made this demand clear to Secretary Blinken, but he did not make any promises."

Abu Akleh, a veteran Palestinian-American journalist for Al Jazeera Arabic, was killed on 11 May while covering an Israeli military raid in the Palestinian city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank.

Since the killing, investigations by Middle East Eye, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, as well as international bodies and the United Nations, concluded that Israeli forces had likely killed Abu Akleh.

The State Department last month announced its conclusion on the killing, saying that while it was likely that Israeli fire killed Abu Akleh, the US had "found no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances".

The administration's conclusion was met with uproar from Palestinian advocates, as well as several members of US Congress who called on the FBI to launch its own probe into the killing.

A senior Israeli official said there was no official request from the US to change the rules of engagement and if there was, Israel would have rejected it.

"Israel is a sovereign country and the rules of engagement save lives," the official said.

Sources told Axios that the Biden administration is planning to follow up on the call with more talks with Israel on the rules of engagement.


Republicans slam Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan in scathing report

Thu, 08/18/2022 - 18:28
Republicans slam Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan in scathing report
Congressman Michael McCaul raises concerns of US-trained forces fleeing to neighbouring Iran
Umar A Farooq Thu, 08/18/2022 - 19:28
A US soldier stands on guard as Afghans gather on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on 20 August 2021.
A US soldier stands on guard as Afghans gather on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on 20 August 2021 (AFP)

House Republicans have issued a scathing rebuke of US President Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan last August, saying in a new report that the administration repeatedly failed to prepare for the aftermath of the evacuation and engaged the issue with an "utter lack of urgency".

The leading Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, published a 114-page interim report on the withdrawal, in which he outlined multiple flaws in the way in which the withdrawal was conducted.

'Following the evacuation debacle, the committee minority believes America’s standing in the world has been degraded'

- Report from House Foreign Affairs Committee Minority

"This interim report proves much of the deadly chaos during the evacuation from Afghanistan could have been prevented if the State Department and [National Security Council] had properly prepared for the expected fallout from President Biden's decision," to withdraw from the country, McCaul said in a statement about the report, which was shared with Middle East Eye.

In April 2021, Biden announced that the United States would be leaving Afghanistan, and in August the US fully withdrew from Afghanistan in a weeks-long evacuation that is largely remembered for the chaos in Kabul, when tens of thousands of Afghans tried to secure passage out of the country alongside American forces.

The Taliban, which had been fighting against the US and the Washington-backed Afghan government, had quickly taken over most of the country that year. And by the time of the US withdrawal, the Afghan government had fully collapsed and Taliban forces entered the capital city of Kabul.

"In the four months from when President Biden announced his plan to unconditionally withdraw until the fall of Kabul, the committee minority has found the State Department took very few substantive steps [to] prepare for the consequences that were expected," said the report.

McCaul's 114-page report highlighted many concerns with the withdrawal, including a lack of consular presence on the ground and rejecting offers from other countries including Pakistan to aid in evacuations which the congressman said delayed the process of getting Americans and Afghans out of the country.

"At the height of the evacuation, only 36 U.S. consular officers were on the ground in Kabul, despite needing to process more than one hundred thousand evacuees," the report said.

"Following the evacuation debacle, the committee minority believes America’s standing in the world has been degraded, the U.S. is less safe than it was before, and those Afghans most at-risk of Taliban reprisals remain trapped in Afghanistan."

US-trained Afghan forces flee to Iran

The report also raised serious concern over reports that thousands of Afghan forces with training from the US had fled into neighbouring Iran following the American withdrawal from the country.

Former Director of the Afghan National Directorate of Security General Masoud Andarabi said on 1 December 2021 that "a significant number of former Ministry of the Interior personnel went straight to Iran, where they were welcomed".

According to a May report from the special inspector general for Afghan reconciliation (Sigar), 3,000 Afghan special forces, ranging from high-ranking officers to foot soldiers, had entered Iran. The report adds that most of them "were sent back" to Afghanistan following UN intervention and a general amnesty issued by the Taliban.

However, the exact number of the forces that are still in Iran remains unknown. Middle East Eye reached out to the State Department for clarification on how many Afghan forces are in Iran but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

"Iran may seek to recruit from the pool of military-trained former Afghan security forces hiding in Iran," said the Sigar report.

Doha agreement

In his report, McCaul also hit out at Biden's rationale for the withdrawal, saying that the Doha agreement -  struck between the US and the Taliban more than two years ago - had been violated by the Taliban and therefore the US president did not need to abide by it.

"The 2020 Doha Agreement negotiated by the former administration was predicated on conditions by the
Taliban that were not being met – specifically cutting their close ties to terrorist entities like al Qaeda," the report claimed.

"Their failure to adhere to the agreement nullified the U.S. requirement to withdraw."

The Doha agreement was brokered by former US President Donald Trump, who had campaigned on a pledge to finish "endless wars".

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Following 17 years of bloody war and various failed attempts at diplomacy, the deal was signed in February 2020 by US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, with former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo serving as a witness.

The Taliban agreed that Afghanistan would not be used by groups like al-Qaeda, the Islamic State in Khorasan (IS-K), or other terrorist groups to conduct attacks that "threaten the security of the United States".

The Taliban also agreed to take part in peace talks with the Nato-backed Afghan government – a prospect the group had previously dismissed.

In return, the US pledged to reduce its number of troops in Afghanistan, followed by a full Nato withdrawal.

The Doha agreement has also recently been highlighted following the US targeted killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri earlier this month in a drone strike in Kabul.

The US claimed the Taliban had violated the agreement with Zawahiri's presence in Afghanistan, while the Taliban accused Washington of violating the agreement with its strike.


Muslims in New Mexico say recent killings were personal, reject sectarian label

Thu, 08/18/2022 - 16:01
Muslims in New Mexico say recent killings were personal, reject sectarian label
Members of the local Muslim community in New Mexico say the labelling of the killings of four Muslim men as sectarian are 'reckless'
MEE staff Thu, 08/18/2022 - 17:01
Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain, brother of victim Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, is embraced following Friday prayers at the Islamic Center of New Mexico on 12 August 2022 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain, brother of victim Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, is embraced following Friday prayers at the Islamic Center of New Mexico, Albuquerque, on 12 August 2022 (AFP)

Muslims who knew the victims, and the suspected gunman, in the recent killings of four Muslim men over the past year, say that revenge and personal feuds were likely motives, not sectarianism between Sunnis and Shias.

Police last week arrested Afghan refugee Muhammad Syed, 51, as the prime suspect in the shootings of four Muslim men - three Shia Muslims and one Sunni Muslim - in New Mexico's largest city, Albuquerque.

Syed has denied involvement.

The perspective shared by members of the local Muslim community in New Mexico is at odds with some of the national Muslim groups, who said the killings point to the issue of sectarianism within the larger faith community.

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Local Muslim leaders in New Mexico said it was inaccurate to call the killings sectarian, and feared the label could damage Shia-Sunni ties in the community.

Both Sunnis and Shias pray together at the Islamic Center of New Mexico, Albuquerque's main mosque.

Mazin Kadhim, who has been Syed's resettlement case worker since he arrived in Albuquerque six years ago, said that when Syed's daughter Lubna married Iftikhar Amir, a Shia Muslim, against his will in 2018, Syed's traditional male authority was challenged and he was humiliated.

Syed was charged with the 26 July murder of Amir's friend Aftab Hussein, 41, a cafe manager who was also a recent immigrant.

While Syed did hold hatred toward Shia Muslims, Khadim believes Hussein's death was a revenge killing for his daughter and son-in-law's defiance.

"It wasn't Sunni and Shia, it was extremism," Kadhim, who helped organise a Muslim unity march last week, told Reuters.

Imtiaz Hussain also said he does not believe sectarian hate played any role in the 1 August killing of his brother Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, a city planning director who was Sunni.

Syed was charged with the killing.

Hussain, a 41-year-old Pakistani lawyer, said he dismisses claims his brother was mistaken as Shia.

Hussain said he met Syed a few times at Albuquerque's main mosque.

'The simplicity of saying this is Sunni-Shia hate crime is so reckless'

- Samia Assed, a Palestinian-American human rights activist

"He must have observed us praying in the same pattern as all other Sunni do," said Imtiaz Hussain, who believes his brother was shot by more than one person.

Afghan-American business owner Mula Akbar said Syed treated women as "property", seldom worked, and would try to illegally exchange digital food stamps for cash at stores, including at his own.

The food stamp scheme led to a dispute with supermarket owner Muhammad Ahmadi, 62, Akbar told Reuters. Ahmadi was shot dead on 7 November 2021, in a killing police linked to the three other deaths in July and August of this year.

Detectives said an "interpersonal conflict" may have driven the killings.

According to reports by The New York Times and the Associated Press, Syed told police that he had been with special forces in Afghanistan and fought the Taliban.

A judge on Wednesday ordered that Syed remains in custody pending trial based on charges that he murdered two of the men: Muhammad Afzaal Hussain and Aftab Hussein.

Syed's son Shaheen, 21, was arrested last week on firearms charges after providing a false address when he bought a rifle. Federal prosecutors have linked the younger Syed to the 5 August killing of Naeem Hussain, 25, a truck business owner.

Shaheen's lawyer called the allegations "speculative".

'We have never had issues before'

The Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR) was among Muslim advocacy groups that have condemned the killings as possible "sectarian hatred". Three of the victims were members of the Shia minority Muslim sect, while Syed himself is a Sunni Muslim.

Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said the killings were clearly anti-Shia.

The Shia Racial Justice Coalition "condemned the heinous targeted killing of Shias".

However, Samia Assed, a Palestinian-American human rights activist who hosted an interfaith vigil for the victims, told Reuters that "the simplicity of saying this is Sunni-Shia hate crime is so reckless".

Members of the Shia Muslim community in the US also told Middle East Eye last week that there is not a significant presence of violence between Sunnis and Shias in the country.

"I have lived here for 15 years. No one has ever uttered a word to me because of how I practice Islam. I have friends and neighbours who are Sunni. Every once in a while we send food back and forth to each other’s houses," Fatima Bukhari, a practicing Shia Muslim and resident of New Mexico, told MEE.

"Something is telling me this was a lone wolf attack. It feels like there was a glitch in the system. You can ask anyone who lives here that we have never had any issues before."

Turkey and Ukraine sign agreement for reconstruction of war-torn country

Thu, 08/18/2022 - 15:43
Turkey and Ukraine sign agreement for reconstruction of war-torn country
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed a visit by Turkish ministers as a 'powerful message of support'
MEE staff Thu, 08/18/2022 - 16:43
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the end of their press-conference following the talks in Lviv on 18 August 2022. (AFP)

Turkey and Ukraine on Thursday signed an agreement deal for the war-torn country, with President Volodymyr Zelensky hailing a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a "powerful message of support" for its neighbour.

The two presidents met in the city of Lviv on Thursday as Ukraine continues to endure an invasion by its eastern neighbour Russia.

At the same time, Turkish Trade Minister Mehmet Mus and Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov signed a memorandum of understanding that would see Turkey involved in helping to rebuild Ukrainian infrastructure after the conflict ended.

"The agreement provides for the participation of the Turkish side in the reconstruction process of Ukraine," the Ukrainian infrastructure ministry said in a statement.

It added that a joint working group would be created to attract Turkish investment and develop specific cooperative projects.

In a statement, Zelensky - who was due to hold a press conference with Erdogan on Thursday - said the "visit of the president of Turkey to Ukraine is a powerful message of support from such a powerful country."

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Turkey has twice managed to bring the warring parties to the table, in Istanbul and Antalya, to discuss a ceasefire, but the talks failed.

However, Ankara succeeded in convincing Russia and Ukraine to sign a deal last month that is now facilitating the transportation of 22 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain from three Ukrainian ports to the world markets. Russia, in return, is able to export its own agricultural products.

Even though Turkey closed the straits to the Black Sea, stopped Russian military flights to Syria over Turkish airspace, and declared Moscow’s invasion an “illegal and unprovoked attack”, Erdogan maintains good ties with Putin, which draws eyebrows in western capitals.

Ankara hasn’t participated in the sanctions placed by the US and EU on Russia over the war, arguing that it only executes penalties issued by the UN.

Since the invasion was launched in February, there has been an inflow of Russian citizens to Turkey, from oligarchs and their yachts to regular citizens, and growing bilateral trade with Moscow sparked by western sanctions.

That has triggered suspicion that Moscow might try to circumvent sanctions via investing in or buying Turkish companies, including in the energy sector.

But Turkish officials say they wouldn’t allow such actions, despite their non-participation in the West’s punitive steps. The sources said Turkey’s policy is to continue playing the mediator role, though they acknowledge that Ankara tilts towards Ukraine in its sympathies.

Progressive Democrats seek to block US security pacts with Saudi Arabia and UAE

Thu, 07/07/2022 - 19:23
Progressive Democrats seek to block US security pacts with Saudi Arabia and UAE
Proposed legislation comes as US and Israel are seeking to lay the groundwork for a security alliance with Arab states
MEE staff Thu, 07/07/2022 - 20:23
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman offering condolences to Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, UAE president, in Abu Dhabi on 16 May 2022.
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi, on 16 May 2022 (AFP)

Two progressive US lawmakers have introduced legislation that would seek to block or slow down any new defence agreements with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Congressman Ro Khanna and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar put forward the legislation through several amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual defence budget for the Pentagon.

The amendments would require any new defence pact to be approved by a congressional vote - a situation that would likely lead to a massive debate in Congress.

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The total of three amendments put forward would require that any written US commitment to provide military security guarantees be considered a treaty; mandate congressional approval before any American funds are used for such an agreement; and require Congress to report on the potential downsides of increased air defence coordination between the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

The amendments come after reports surfaced earlier this year that Riyadh and Abu Dhabi were seeking a formal security agreement with the US to counter Iran.

Last month, Axios reported that Biden administration officials were in discussions with their Emirati counterparts over what such a security arrangement would look like.

The report said that the Biden administration had already sent a draft agreement to the UAE, which includes a defence and security component but also covers economic, trade, science and technology issues.

Establishing a new treaty with the US would require support from two-thirds of the Senate, which would be a difficult task with the 100-person legislative body split evenly between the two major American political parties.

Reprioritise US-Saudi relationship

On Thursday, sources told Reuters that the US and Israel are seeking to lay the groundwork for a security alliance with Arab states that would connect air defence systems using Israeli technology to combat Iranian drone and missile attacks in the Middle East.

The proposed amendments are the latest attempts by lawmakers to call for a reevaluation of US-Gulf ties that would favour Washington, not the other way around.

For months, Congress has been calling for a recalibration of the US relationship with countries in the Gulf, most recently in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the spike in global oil prices.

In April, more than two dozen members of Congress called on Biden to undertake a thorough review of its relationship with Saudi Arabia. 

"The United States can continue our status-quo of seemingly unconditional support for an autocratic partner, or we can stand for human rights and rebalance our relationship to reflect our values and interests," the lawmakers wrote in a letter.

Then, on Wednesday, a group of six House Democrats made a similar call, urging the White House to prioritise getting Saudi Arabia to boost oil production, and "ending the kingdom's arbitrary detention of human rights defenders, as well as other human rights abuses".


Probe into Egyptian economist's death was severely flawed, rights groups say

Thu, 07/07/2022 - 18:38
Probe into Egyptian economist's death was severely flawed, rights groups say
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accuse Egyptian prosecutors of failing to conduct an 'independent, effective, and transparent investigation'
MEE staff Thu, 07/07/2022 - 19:38
Egyptian economist Ayman Hadhoud
Egyptian economist Ayman Hadhoud was arrested on 5 February and subsequently went missing. On 9 April his family was asked to collect his dead body from the Abbasiya Mental Health Hospital in Cairo (AFP/File photo)

Egyptian authorities have been accused by two leading human rights groups of failing to conduct an "independent, effective, and transparent investigation" into the death of an economic researcher in custody.

In a joint statement on Thursday, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accused Egyptian prosecutors of ignoring "mounting evidence" that 48-year-old Ayman Hadhoud was tortured, and was denied access to timely healthcare.

"The severely flawed investigation into the causes and circumstances of Ayman Hadhoud's death in custody is another stark reminder of the impunity crisis in Egypt," said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy director at Amnesty International. 

US calls for probe of Egyptian economist's death 'without delay', after Cairo closes case
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Hadhoud, a senior economic adviser to Egypt's liberal Reform and Development Party, was arrested on 5 February on charges of alleged theft, and went missing. Then, on 9 April, his family was asked to collect his dead body from the Abbasiya Mental Health Hospital in Cairo.

The Egyptian Prosecutor's Office repeatedly denied playing a role in his death, emphasising "his body was examined and found to be free of injuries" and that he died as a result of a "drop in blood pressure".

The office added that he suffered from "mental disorders, dizziness, imbalance and high temperature", was suspected to have contracted Covid-19, and "died during his transfer to a hospital for treatment".

Several Egyptian and international rights groups, however, described the death as "suspicious" and accused Cairo of "hiding the truth".

His suspicious death had raised alarm among local and international rights groups, especially after his family alleged that his body had facial bruises and a cracked skull.

'Systematic negligence'

Last month, an Egyptian court rejected an appeal filed by Hadhoud's family to reinvestigate the evidence and the circumstances of his death. The court upheld the prosecutors' decision to close the case and to rule out any criminal suspicion.

Earlier, prosecutors had refused demands to allow independent observers to attend the autopsy of Hadhoud's body, and ultimately concluded that he had died of chronic heart disease, leading to a cardiac and respiratory arrest.

"Prosecutors have systematically neglected to investigate allegations of enforced disappearance and torture, and have admitted confessions extracted under torture as evidence in trials," read the statement.

Both advocacy groups cited what they claimed to be leaked documents from the hospital showing that Hadhoud's health was deteriorating while in custody and that authorities failed to transfer him promptly to a better-equipped medical facility, despite "imminent danger to his life". 

Hadhoud's case is not the first time detainees have died under mysterious circumstances in Egypt. 

In 2016, Giulio Regeni, an Italian doctoral student, was found dead on the side of a Cairo road. Signs of torture on his body raised suspicions of police involvement. Italy accused police officers of killing him, a charge that Egypt denied.

US nationals urge Biden to help free relatives detained in Egypt and Saudi Arabia

Thu, 07/07/2022 - 16:48
US nationals urge Biden to help free relatives detained in Egypt and Saudi Arabia
In a letter to the White House, families of people held by Cairo and Riyadh call on US president to raise the issue ahead of trip to the Middle East
MEE staff Thu, 07/07/2022 - 17:48
More than half of all prisoners in Egypt are political, according to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (AFP/File photo)

A group of US nationals and residents whose relatives are detained in Saudi Arabia and Egypt are urging President Joe Biden to help secure their freedom as he prepares to travel to the Middle East this month to meet with the leaders of both countries.

In a letter sent to the White House on Wednesday, the group made the appeal on behalf of more than 30 people detained by Riyadh and Cairo, including a journalist, rights activists and dissidents.

Some have officially been released but are subject to travel bans, while others have received harsh sentences for their public criticism of authorities.

"Like you, we have spent many holidays, the births of children and grandchildren, and other important family events with empty seats at our tables," the families said in a letter delivered to the White House, as quoted by The Wall Street Journal.

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"We appeal to your sense of compassion and commitment to justice to alleviate our suffering."

The longest-serving detainee mentioned in the letter is Salah Soltan, a US permanent resident who served in the government of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

He was sentenced to life in prison in a 2017 mass trial that rights groups criticised as unfair. Soltan's son Mohamed is an American citizen who was himself imprisoned for nearly two years before being stripped of his Egyptian citizenship and extradited to the US.

The most prominent US citizen on the list is Walid al-Fitaihi, a Saudi doctor who has been released from detention - but cannot leave the country.

Other individuals either detained or barred from travel include journalist Salah al-Haidar and his mother Aziza al-Yousef, Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, scholar Salman al-Awdah, and the children of Saudi Arabia's former spy chief Saad al-Jabri: Sarah and Omar al-Jabri.

The letter comes a week before Biden travels to Saudi Arabia for a summit of regional leaders, including countries from the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is expected to attend, and Biden will meet for the first time as president with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia.

Hopes of Biden's human rights commitments 'fading'

The relatives said in their letter to Biden that the hope they held in his promises regarding human rights was fading as Washington pursues a diplomatic reset after its relationship with Riyadh hit its lowest point in decades.

"We worry that these warmer relations will only eclipse the plight of our loved ones, and we at least expect closer ties be utilized to insist on their release and our reunification," they wrote.

Earlier this week, a number of families of detainees in Saudi Arabia and Egypt voiced anger after they were left out of a call held by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken with a number of relatives of US nationals who are hostages or otherwise wrongfully detained abroad.

Being left out of the call raised concerns they were being sidelined ahead of Biden's trip to the Middle East.

Saudi activists have said they felt betrayed by Biden's visit, who vowed as a candidate to put human rights at the centre of his administration's foreign policy and treat Saudi Arabia as a "pariah" over the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Sisi, meanwhile, has jailed tens of thousands of people since deposing Egypt's democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013.

More than half of all prisoners in Egypt are political, according to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.

The administration also deepened cooperation with Egypt last year on security, economics and climate change in a step towards closer ties - despite rights groups having raised concerns over the deteriorating rights sitiation in the country.

While Biden on the campaign trail said there would be no more "blank cheques" for Sisi, the administration has approved billions of dollars of arms deals to Cairo.

The White House and the embassies of Saudi Arabia and Egypt in the US did not respond to Middle East Eye's request for comment by time of publication.


UK court dismisses challenge to government schools guidance on Palestine

Thu, 07/07/2022 - 15:30
UK court dismisses challenge to government schools guidance on Palestine
Advocacy group had argued education minister's letter, which led to censure of dozens of schoolchildren showing support for Palestine, was discriminatory
Areeb Ullah Thu, 07/07/2022 - 16:30
Williamson sent his letter at the height of Israel's bombardment of Gaza in 2021 as schools across Britain grapple with growing student activism for Palestine (AFP)

The High Court in London has dismissed a legal challenge brought against the British Department for Education over the issuing of "discriminatory" guidance to teachers that led to dozens of schoolchildren being censured for showing support for Palestine during the Israeli bombing of Gaza last year.

Cage, a human rights advocacy group in London, launched judicial review proceedings last year after the letter, written in May 2021 by then-education minister Gavin Williamson, urged teachers to "act appropriately" when expressing views on Israel and Palestine.

'It validates the Department of Education's attempts to police the Palestine debate at our schools in favour of the pro-Israel narrative'

- Muhammad Rabbani, Cage

Described as a response to an "increase in antisemitic incidents in some schools" caused by "an increased focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict", the letter also advised schools not to work with organisations questioning Israel's "right to exist".

"I am aware that many young people will have a strong personal interest in these issues, and I am aware that in some schools, this has led to political activity by older pupils," Williamson, who was dismissed from his role in September 2021, wrote.

"It is unacceptable to allow some pupils to create an atmosphere of intimidation or fear for other students and teachers," the letter continued, warning headteachers of "legal duties regarding political impartiality" and urging administrations to favour a "balanced presentation of opposing views" on the Israel-Palestine conflict.  

I have written to headteachers today, following the concerning increase in antisemitic incidents in schools.

Discrimination and racism in any form should never be tolerated in education or in wider society. pic.twitter.com/bGz7a9PXqe

— Gavin Williamson (@GavinWilliamson) May 28, 2021

The review proposed by Cage and its lawyers called for the Department for Education to publicly withdraw the letter on grounds including that it was discriminatory against Muslim schoolchildren, that it reflected pro-Israel bias on Williamson's part, and that proper consultation had not been conducted before it was issued.

Speaking after Thursday's hearing, Muhammad Rabbani, the organisation's managing director, said the dismissal of the case was "disappointing but unsurprising" and a "blow to free speech".

"It validates the Department of Education's attempts to police the Palestine debate at our schools in favour of the pro-Israel narrative," said Rabbani. 

"The choreographing of political discussions in this way within schools is akin to the manner of autocratic regimes and seriously curtails freedom of speech."

'Partisan view'

On Thursday, Cage also published results of a survey of school events promoting support for Ukraine in its war with Russia, which it said contrasted with the "securitisation" of schoolchildren expressing support for Palestinians.

Fahad Ansari, a solicitor and director of Riverway Law, which represented Cage, said the High Court had "failed to protect the freedom of expression of pupils" who supported Palestinian rights.


Ansari said: "The Court has essentially enabled the government to compel head teachers and school leaders to adopt a partisan view on the Israeli-Palestinian issue thereby shifting their role from education to indoctrination."

"Equating the rejection of the State of Israel's 'right to exist' with antisemitism is not only factually wrong but undermines the fight against genuine antisemitism," he added.

Williamson's intervention came days after MEE reported that schools across Britain were clamping down on pro-Palestine activism on school premises. Some students said they were disciplined for wearing keffiyehs and holding Palestine flags. 

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Several students who spoke to MEE said they were threatened with detention, expulsion, and being blocked from taking their exams if they continued protesting for Palestinian rights on school premises. 

Cage said it had handled at least 47 cases of students and teachers who said they were censored for expressing their support for Palestine.  

Mend, a not-for-profit company that supports British Muslims, also recorded 146 statements from students detailing how schools attempted to shut down support for Palestine. 

One student was reprimanded for wearing a "Free Palestine" badge. In another school, teachers claimed it was Palestine's fault that it was being bombed.


Saudi Arabia's oil policy bankrolls Russian war crimes in Ukraine, US Democrats say

Thu, 07/07/2022 - 15:14
Saudi Arabia's oil policy bankrolls Russian war crimes in Ukraine, US Democrats say
A group of senior House Democrats call on US President Joe Biden to 'recalibrate' US ties with Saudi Arabia ahead of his trip to the Middle East
MEE staff Thu, 07/07/2022 - 16:14
A demonstrator dressed as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman holds 'the royal bone saw' outside the White House, on 19 October 2018 (AFP)

A group of senior House Democrats have criticised Saudi Arabia's "refusal to stabilize global energy markets", claiming it is helping bankroll Russian President Vladimir Putin's "war crimes in Ukraine".

In a letter sent to the White House on Wednesday, six House Democrats, including House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Gregory Meeks and House Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff, called on Biden to "further recalibrate the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia".

"The Kingdom has long been an important US partner, and we seek to further cooperate with it on regional, counterterrorism, energy and other priorities," they wrote. "However, since 2015, its leadership has repeatedly acted in ways at odds with US policy and values.

"Of most immediate relevance, Saudi Arabia's refusal to stabilize global energy markets is helping bankroll [Russian President] Vladimir Putin’s war crimes in Ukraine, while inflicting economic pain on everyday Americans," they added.

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The lawmakers urged Biden to prioritise securing further Saudi commitments to stabilise global energy markets "and definitively abandon its Trump-era oil production deal with Russia".

Oil prices have remained consistently above $100 a barrel since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February, with Brent crude trading at $101.36 per barrel on Thursday.

High energy prices have supported Russia's military campaign, with Moscow generating about $20bn per month in oil sales this year. Rising gasoline prices have also become a hot-button political issue in the West, helping to fuel historic inflation.

Until recently, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, two swing producers within Opec, rebuffed calls from the US to break from their agreement with Moscow, frustrating US attempts to isolate Russia on the global stage.

Last week, Biden told reporters that he would not directly ask Saudi Arabia to increase oil output when he visits the kingdom and that he had instead made the case that all Gulf countries increase production.

The average price per gallon for gasoline in the US was $4.78 on Thursday, down from the record $5.02 that Americans were paying last month.

'Unprecedented humanitarian disaster'

Also in Wednesday's letter, the lawmakers asked for continuing the suspension of offensive US military support to the Saudi-led coalition at war in Yemen.

Shortly after taking office last year, Biden declared in a speech - largely met with praise from many Democrats - that he would end "American support for offensive operations in the war".

But more than a year into his presidency, it remains unclear as to what ending "offensive support" entails. For months, questions have lingered regarding the details of the decision, such as what constitutes an offensive operation versus a defensive one, and what weapons systems would fall under such categories.

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According to Vox, the "defensive" support the US provides the kingdom also includes greenlighting the servicing of Saudi aircraft through defence contractors.

In February 2021, 41 members of Congress asked Biden to clarify what forms of military aid the US was providing to Saudi Arabia under Trump, what aid would continue, and how his administration would define "offensive operations".

Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in Yemen's civil war in March 2015, and have since carried out more than 20,000 air strikes in an effort to roll back territorial gains made by Houthi rebels, with one-third striking non-military sites - including schools, factories and hospitals, according to the war monitor the Yemen Data Project.

The United Nations has described Yemen as the world's worst humanitarian catastrophe, with an estimated 377,000 people killed by direct fighting as well as from hunger and disease.

"The prolonged Saudi-led war in Yemen has not reduced Iran's malign influence but instead created an unprecedented humanitarian disaster that will fuel regional instability," the lawmakers said in Wednesday's letter.

'End arbitrary detentions'

In the letter, the lawmakers also urged Biden to prioritise "ending the kingdom's arbitrary detention of human rights defenders, as well as other human rights abuses".

"Recent mass executions and Saudi pressure on Turkey to cease the trial for Jamal Khashoggi's brutal murder bely claims that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is pursuing genuine reforms," the lawmakers said.

Until Saudi Arabia "shows signs of charting a different course, and in light of deliberations regarding a potential visit to the Kingdom during which you may have an opportunity to meet with King Salman and other regional heads of state, we encourage you to redouble your efforts to recalibrate the US-Saudi relationship".

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Biden will embark on a four-day trip to the Middle East next Wednesday. He will first visit Israel and the occupied West Bank. The visit will then culminate with a major gathering of regional leaders in the Saudi port city of Jeddah.

Biden has said the agenda includes much more than energy policy and stressed that the meetings will include leaders from many Gulf nations.

"I guess I will see the king and the crown prince, but that's not the meeting I'm going to. They'll be a part of a much larger meeting," he said. "It's in Saudi Arabia, but it's not about Saudi Arabia."

Several lawmakers have publicly advised Biden against meeting Saudi Arabia's powerful crown prince during his stay in the kingdom.

"Until Saudi Arabia makes a radical change in terms of its human rights, I wouldn't want anything to do with him," Congressman Schiff said, referring to the crown prince during an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

Biden's visit marks a reversal for the US president, who on the campaign trail promised to make a "pariah" out of the kingdom. Soon after entering office Biden released the intelligence report that implicated the Saudi crown prince in the 2018 murder of Khashoggi.

Ons Jabeur: Tunisian tennis star reaches Wimbledon final

Thu, 07/07/2022 - 14:12
Ons Jabeur: Tunisian tennis star reaches Wimbledon final
Number two defeats Germany's Tatjana Maria to become first Arab in Grand Slam final
MEE staff Thu, 07/07/2022 - 15:12
Tunisia's Ons Jabeur hugs Germany's Tatjana Maria after beating her during their women's singles semi final tennis match at Wimbledon, southwest London on 7 July 2022 (AFP)

Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur is through to the Wimbledon final, marking yet another groundbreaking moment for Arab tennis. 

Having already become the first Arab or North African tennis player to make it to a Grand Slam semi-final, she beat Germany's Tatjana Maria 6-2 3-6 6-1 on centre court on Thursday to reach the final of the storied tennis championships. 

Jabeur will meet the winner of the other women's singles semi-final, which is being contested by Simona Halep of Romania and Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan. The Tunisian is ranked second in the world, and will be the favourite in Saturday’s final. 

“I really don't know what to say, it’s a dream come true,” Jabeur said following the victory. “I'm a proud Tunisian woman standing here today. I know in Tunisia they’re going crazy right now.”

She added that she wanted to continue to inspire not just Tunisians, Arabs and Africans, but all young players. 

Jabeur is the first Arab - man or woman - to reach a Grand Slam final, and the first African woman to reach the final. 


She is often described as a trailblazer: breaking new ground for Tunisians, Arabs and Africans alike with every new advancement and achievement in her career. 

In 2020, her run to the quarter-final of the Australian Open was the furthest a North African and Arab woman had ever reached in a Grand Slam, which she matched again at last year’s Wimbledon. 

In June last year, she won the 2021 Birmingham Classic, making her the first Arab woman to win a WTA Tour title. 

Jabeur was born in Ksar Hellal, a small town in northeastern Tunisia, and grew up in the nearby larger coastal city of Sousse. 

At the age of three, she was introduced to tennis by her mother. She started out by training in hotels and tourist resorts, owing to the lack of courts at local tennis clubs.  

Jabeur began competing in national tournaments aged six, and internationally four years later. 

Aged 12, she moved 90 miles to the capital Tunis where she trained at Lycee Sportif El Menzah, a multi-sport national academy for emerging Tunisian talents.

Egyptians prevented from answering questions on democracy in Arab World Survey

Thu, 07/07/2022 - 14:01
Egyptians prevented from answering questions on democracy in Arab World Survey
Major new survey finds declining faith in democracy, but critics say poll is 'skewed' and citizens of authoritarian countries not allowed to answer all questions
Rayhan Uddin Thu, 07/07/2022 - 15:01
Egyptian pro-democracy protesters celebrate at Cairo's Tahrir Square after president Hosni Mubarak stepped down on 11 February 2011 (AFP)

A major new survey has claimed that Arabs are losing faith in the effectiveness of democracy, despite respondents in autocratic Egypt being denied the chance to answer questions on that very topic.

Citizens of several authoritarian countries in the Middle East did not also participate. 

The Arab World Survey, commissioned by BBC News Arabic and conducted by the Arab Barometer network based at Princeton University, interviewed 23,000 people across Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and Palestine.

It was carried out between October 2021 and April 2022, and asked questions on a range of subjects including democracy, foreign leaders, religiosity, women’s rights and racism. 

The survey, published on Wednesday, found that the vast majority of respondents believed that “under a democratic system, the country’s economic performance is weak”. 

It also found that most people agree with the statements: “Democratic regimes are indecisive and full of problems,” “democratic systems are not effective at maintaining order and stability”, and “this country needs a leader who can bend the rules to get things done”. 

Egypt and Mauritania evade questions

These statements on democracy were answered by people from nine of the participating ten states, with the notable exception of Egypt. 

Egyptians also did not participate in questions on whether people prayed Fajr morning prayers on time, and whether they read the Quran daily.

A question asking respondents about their views on various world leaders’ foreign policy towards the Middle East and Africa region was also not answered in Egypt because “authorities would not allow these questions to be asked”. 

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Elsewhere, there are no results from Mauritania on the topic of racial discrimination because Mauritanian authorities asked for questions to be “modified or removed”.

The report notes that the country is going through a national dialogue to formally address racial issues. 

Michael Robbins, director of Arab Barometer, told Middle East Eye that apart from Lebanon and Tunisia, the researchers needed some form of state approval to carry out questionnaires in the surveyed countries. 

“Generally, locals have an idea of what is legal and what isn’t. We don’t want to put our teams in danger. I don’t think any survey is worth a human life or having someone jailed,” he said. 

He said that authorities had sensitivities on certain topics, and did not usually provide a reason as to why some questions were not allowed to be answered by citizens. 

“Egyptian authorities were very sensitive about international relations questions. That may be related to current negotiations with different powers.” 

'Skewed and manipulative'

Analysts have expressed doubt over the findings, citing the omission of some countries and the framing of the questions.

“We have to interpret these results cautiously. A number of countries are excluded, the sampling methodology is imperfect, and some questions could not be asked in some of the surveyed countries,” Mohamad Elmasry, chair of the media studies programme at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, told Middle East Eye. 

'[It was] engineered to elicit negative responses on democracy, while offering respondents no opportunity to give their opinions on the problems with undemocratic governance'

-Sarah Leah Whitson, Dawn

Elmasry said that it was fair to ask how democratic governments were likely to perform economically, particularly if the same questions are asked over time.

“However, I would prefer that mirroring questions be asked for other forms of government, most notably authoritarianism,” he noted.

“This is important, especially since authoritarianism is more common in the region.”

Asked by MEE why questions were not asked about the impact of authoritarianism, Robbins said it was something “we want to do and will do in future surveys”. 

“It’s unfortunate that the Arab Barometer’s questions on governance were so skewed and manipulative,” Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn), told Middle East Eye. 

“[It was] engineered to elicit negative responses on democracy, while offering respondents no opportunity to give their opinions on the problems with undemocratic, unrepresentative governance.”

Whitson took issue with the wording of the questions, noting that only negative options were given in relation to democracy, with “nothing positive”. 

“The survey provides a distorted image of Arab public opinion, entirely excluding respondents from some of the region’s most abusive governments, while omitting political questions in countries like Egypt,” she said. 

Erdogan rated most popular leader 

Gulf countries, which are among the most autocratic in the region, were not involved in the survey. 

Robbins said that the Gulf was a “much more restrictive environment” than other parts of the Middle East, but that the Arab Barometer is trying to push for more access in those countries. 

He added that the survey’s funding often fluctuated, and it currently only had funding to research 12 countries. The results for Kuwait and Algeria were received too late to be included in the study.

The Arab Barometer’s major funders include two US government agencies, the Middle East Partnership Initiative and the Agency for International Development. Among other funders are BBC Arabic, the National Endowment for Democracy, the UN Development Programme and Princeton and Michigan universities. 

While the findings indicated a decline in faith in democracy to provide stability and economic strength, overall most respondents still believed it to be the best form of government. 

Elsewhere in the survey, there was widespread acknowledgement of racial discrimination, except in Egypt, where only eight percent of people said it was a problem. Eighty-six percent of Egyptians said there was no racial discrimination “at all” against dark skinned individuals. 

It found that a majority of people surveyed said that men are better at political leadership than women, though support for this view had declined since 2018. 

Lebanon and Tunisia had seen the biggest decline in this view, where less than half of respondents believe men to be better leaders. 

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While the 2018 survey found that some in the region were turning their backs on religion, most countries have seen a decline in the number of people describing themselves as “not religious”. 

The analysis on global leaders compared the popularity of the MENA policies of presidents in the US, China, Russia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Syria, as well as Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. 

Six of the nine countries (Egypt did not partake) favoured Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s foreign policy the most, while Syria’s Bashar al-Assad was the least popular. 

Burying bad news: US condemned over report on Shireen Abu Akleh's killing

Thu, 07/07/2022 - 13:42
Burying bad news: US condemned over report on Shireen Abu Akleh's killing
Palestinian activists express outrage over 'inconclusive' assessment on Abu Akleh's killing, saying it adds to history of impunity for Israel's targeting of civilians
Umar A Farooq Thu, 07/07/2022 - 14:42
People in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem light candles during a vigil in memory of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, on 16 May 2022.
People in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem light candles during a vigil in memory of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, on 16 May 2022 (Reuters)

The United States has been accused of burying its findings in the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu-Akleh, and is facing criticism for issuing statements that appeared to absolve Israel of all responsibility over the killing.

The State Department announced earlier this week that gunfire from Israeli positions "was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh” but dismissed the incident as the unintentional "result of tragic circumstances".

Abu Akhleh, a veteran journalist with Al Jazeera Arabic, was killed by Israeli forces on 11 May during an Israeli military raid in the Jenin refugee camp, several eyewitnesses, including Middle East Eye contributor Shatha Hanaysha, have said.

The Israeli military denied responsibility for the killing but in the days and weeks after the incident, several publications including The Washington Post, The New York Times, as well as international bodies including the United Nations, concluded that Israeli forces had in fact killed Abu Akleh.

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Since the State Department's announcement, Palestinian activists have taken issue with the vague and inconsequential statement and criticised the decision to make it public on 4 July – US Independence Day – a major national holiday when many people are spending time with their families and not focusing on the news.

"Of course it was done on July 4th, at a time when nobody's really going to be paying attention to the outcome," Diana Buttu, a Palestinian human rights lawyer and former legal advisor to the negotiating team of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, told Middle East Eye.

"It was on a long weekend where people are away and that's the point. Since Shireen was murdered by Israel, the US administration has gone out of its way to try to crush this."

Buttu said the statement was carefully crafted to avoid any tensions ahead of US President Joe Biden's scheduled visit to Israel next week. 

Last month, the administration reportedly asked Israel to halt home demolitions, evictions of Palestinians and any decisions on settlement building "until after Biden's visit", saying they want "quiet and calm" for Biden's visit.

"It is not surprising in the least to see this buried announcement of a supposedly inconclusive verdict about just who murdered Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh issued by the State Department," Omar Zahzah, an organiser with the Palestinian Youth Movement, told MEE.

"The imperialist capitalist US government has long made it clear that Palestinian life, dignity and freedom is worthless to its oppressive interests and investment in the subjugation of the Global South."

US nationals killed by Israel

In its statement, the State Department said its investigation found "no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances". It said that the incident had taken place "during an IDF-led military operation against factions of Palestinian Islamic Jihad on May 11, 2022, in Jenin, which followed a series of terrorist attacks in Israel".

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In response, Abu Akleh's family released a scathing rebuke. In a statement released on Monday evening, the family described Washington's assessment as "frankly insulting to Shireen's memory".

The family, as well as activists who spoke to MEE, noted that the focus on the bullet that killed Abu Akleh was an attempt to spin the narrative around what happened, rather than seek actual accountability.

"The focus became on the bullet and which gun fired the bullet and all of these sorts of stupid things, rather than on what we know to be true," Buttu said.

"It's because she was reporting on [Israel's] military occupation that she was killed."

Buttu said that given Israel's advanced military capabilities and sophisticated technologies, she has doubts Israel does not know the identity of the killer.

In 2018, the Israeli forces posted a now-deleted tweet in which they said, "We know where every bullet has landed" after 773 Palestinians in Gaza were shot with live ammunition from Israeli forces during mass demonstrations

'It's because she was reporting on [Israel's] military occupation that she was killed'

- Diana Buttu, Palestinian human rights lawyer

"They have the system of being able to know where their soldiers are and who's doing the firing. They know the person who shot Shireen. For sure they do. This isn't a question in the dark," Buttu said.

Ramzy Baroud, a Palestinian-American journalist and author, told MEE that he believes it was a mistake to even allow the US to take part in the investigation, to begin with.

"Giving the State Department the opportunity to opine on the subject has both validated the US view on the matter and greatly confused the existing body of evidence, which seemed conclusive in asserting that Shireen was murdered by Israel," Baroud said.

In a news conference on Tuesday following the release of its assessment, State Department spokesperson Ned Price doubled down and said that "they found no reason to believe that it was an intentional killing, but rather the result of tragic circumstances in the course of a raid".

Price added that Washington would continue to call for accountability, saying "this clearly was the case of a wrongful death".

"Our goal – and what we believe is the collective goal of the parties – is to see to it that something akin to this, the killing of a journalist in a conflict zone, can’t happen again, must not happen again," Price said.

Yet just several weeks after Abu Akleh's death, another Palestinian journalist, 31-year-old Ghufran Harun Warasneh, was shot and killed by Israeli fire in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron. It was her third day of work at her new job at a local media network.

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What should accountability look like?

Palestinian advocates say Washington's assessment of the killing is another attempt to sweep the killing of a Palestinian and US national at the hands of Israel under the rug.

In January, Omar Asaad, an 80-year-old Palestinian American, died of a heart attack after he was violently detained by Israeli soldiers during a raid on Jaljulia village, north of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

An Israeli army probe led to the dismissal of two officers, something the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem described as a "slight rebuke".

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Still, Noura Erakat, a Palestinian-American human rights lawyer and professor at Rutgers University, told MEE that now is the time for the international community, and especially journalists, to increase their scrutiny over the probe into the killing.

"If we now know that Israel lies blatantly and can kill and get away with it, it should be imperative for journalists to now shift the way that they actually cover this issue with greater scrutiny," Erakat said.

"That's what accountability would look like, in my opinion. We're not going to get accountability for shootings and murder, but there should be a shift of how we interpret and understand information as a result of these findings."

On Tuesday evening, following the State Department's statement, a group of 11 Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation that would force the US government to investigate the killing and also investigate whether American weapons were used.

The legislation, spearheaded by Congressman Andre Carson, was submitted as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorises the Pentagon's annual budget.

Ayah Ziyadeh, advocacy director at American Muslims for Palestine, said that accountability would begin with a suspension of "all military funding for Israel" and would end with those responsible for Abu Akleh's killing being brought to justice.

"In the meantime, it is simply unacceptable for the President of the United States to conduct an ordinary diplomatic visit to a state that practices apartheid, and this is especially the case on the heels of the killing of an American journalist by this apartheid government," Ziyadeh said.

How the US tried to bury the report on Shireen Abu Akleh's killing