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Hajj: The Palestinians deprived of pilgrimage under Israeli travel bans

Thu, 07/07/2022 - 11:48
Hajj: The Palestinians deprived of pilgrimage under Israeli travel bans
Palestinian activists describe the pain of missing out on the holy ritual due to 'confidential' reasons they are not allowed to hear
Aseel Jundi Thu, 07/07/2022 - 12:48
A Muslim pilgrim prays on the Mount Al-Noor in holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia on 4 July 2022. (Reuters)
A Muslim pilgrim prays on the Mount Al-Noor in holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia on 4 July 2022 (Reuters)

After three years in an Israeli jail and then two years locked out due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Nihad Zughair had been eagerly waiting for this year's Hajj

But as the Palestinian pilgrimage group tour administrator was finalising preparations last month, he was surprised by the extension of an Israeli travel ban against him. 

The Jerusalem native will now have to watch the holy ritual on a screen, having bitterly bid pilgrims on his tour farewell before they set off for Saudi Arabia's Mecca, where Hajj is set to commence on Thursday. 

"The ban has had a heavy toll on me," he told Middle East Eye. "My heart is attached to the sacred house of God, and I find my comfort only in that part of the world."

Zughair, a well-known activist in Jerusalem, was handed a three-month travel ban in April that was extended for another four months in June.

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The notice given to him cited "security reasons," Zughair said, without elaborating further.  

"No one knows what the deprivation of Hajj means except those who tasted the sweetness of Hajj," he wrote in a Facebook post after he learned about the ban.

"Every year people say goodbye to us as [we leave to Mecca], and this year I say goodbye to the pilgrims with tears."

Nihad Zughair (L) pictured in the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca during his last trip in 2017. (Provided)
Nihad Zughair (L) pictured in the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca during his last trip there in 2017. (Provided)

Zughair said that since he turned 18 he has been targeted by Israeli authorities for his activism and banned from entering al-Aqsa Mosque repeatedly over the years.

Upon returning from an Umrah trip to Mecca in 2017, he was arrested by Israeli police and sentenced to three years in prison.

He was accused of supporting an organisation called "the youth of al-Aqsa," a name he said he had never heard in his life.

After his release, Zughair's travel was widely restricted and he was not allowed to leave with a youth football team he coached for a tournament in Europe. 

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Since then, he has vowed not to leave Jerusalem unless it's for Mecca, a destination that he now also can't reach. 

'Tight prison'

Israeli authorities routinely issue travel bans against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem based on unspecified security reasons. 

In 2017, Israel listed almost 13,937 Palestinians on a travel ban for "security reasons" - the figure dropped to 10,594 in 2021, according to Israeli rights group HaMoked.

Often the bans target human rights defenders, activities and their relatives. 

'I have not been able to travel to the two Holy Mosques my whole life, although it's my only wish'

- Nasser al-Hadmi, Palestinian researcher 

Nasser al-Hadmi, a Palestinian researcher and head of the Jerusalem committee against Judaisation, has been a victim of this practice almost all his adult life.

On top of renewed travel bans against him, he is also repeatedly barred from entering al-Aqsa Mosque and any neighbourhood in East Jerusalem aside from the one he resides in.

"I live in a tight prison," Hadmi told MEE, describing life in al-Suwaneh neighbourhood, where he is confined. 

The travel ban order against him, usually signed by the Israeli minister of interior, accuses him of being a "leading figure in Hamas." 

Every time he files an appeal against the order, which has been extended regularly since 2017, it gets rejected, he said. 

"I have not been able to travel to the two Holy Mosques [Mecca and Medina] my whole life, although it's my only wish," said Hadmi.

"Whenever I hear from my friends about registering their names for the upcoming Hajj season, I feel deeply saddened."

Movement restrictions

Israel has been accused for decades of imposing discriminatory restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both cite "draconian" movement restrictions as one of the measures imposed by Israel that contribute to a "system of apartheid," a charge Israel vehemently denies.

Palestinians decry new West Bank restrictions on movement in wake of protests
Read More »

In East Jerusalem, where Israel applies civil law unlike in the West Bank, Palestinians are still disproportionately handed travel bans over political activity compared to Israelis, lawyer Khaled Zabarqa said in an interview with MEE. 

The reasons behind such bans are often concealed and neither the lawyer nor the defendants can have access to them. 

When cases are appealed and reach the high courts, they are presented to judges without the presence of defendants or their lawyers due to the "confidential" nature of the information discussed, according to Zabarqa. 

The lawyer, who is based in Lydd (Lod) and has spent his career defending Palestinian activists in Jerusalem and Israel, says the practice and the legal process both reflect a "racist" Israeli policy.

"The travel ban is not practised to preserve the law or public security, as the Israeli authorities claim," Zabarqa said. 

"It is to subjugate Jerusalemites and suppress their freedoms." 

Jerusalem
'This is my only wish': The Palestinians deprived of Hajj under Israeli travel bans

Iranian press review: Raisi further militarises his administration

Thu, 07/07/2022 - 11:21
Iranian press review: Raisi further militarises his administration
Meanwhile, Tehran blames US over deadlock in nuclear talks, late president’s daughter charged with 'insulting the sacred' and thugs recruited in Tehran’s housing market
MEE correspondent Thu, 07/07/2022 - 12:21
Gholam Reza was a member of the Quds Force, the international branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (AFP)

Raisi appoints former Soleimani ally as deputy

The appointment of a high-ranking intelligence officer as a deputy interior minister has fuelled concerns over the increasing presence of military and intelligence officers in Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s administration.

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi appointed Mohammad Reza Gholam Reza as his political deputy on Sunday, Ensaf News reported.

Little is known of Gholam Reza, although local media reported he had served as deputy intelligence minister and head of Tehran’s provincial intelligence organisation.

The state-owned Iran Newspaper wrote that Gholam Reza was also a deputy of Qassem Soleimani, the late commander of the Quds Force, the international branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The newspaper said that Gholam Reza had fought alongside Soleimani, without elaborating where or when.

Ahead of the new appointment, a reshuffle was reported last week at the highest level of the IRGC, with two of the force’s most influential intelligence commanders being dismissed.

The men who lost their positions were Hossein Taeb, the IRGC spy chief, and his close partner Brigadier General Ebrahim Jabbari, commander of the IRGC's Hefazat-e Vali-e Amr forces.

The Hefazat-e Vali-e Amr is responsible for the security of Iran’s supreme leader.

Nuclear deal 'will fail' unless US addresses Iran’s demands

Mohammad Marandi, the media adviser to Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, has said that attempts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), will fail if the West does not guarantee Iran’s economic gains from the deal.

“The two topics related to receiving a guarantee [from the West] and the removal of sanctions have been very crucial for Iran, and the implementation of the JCPOA will fail again unless these are solved,” Marandi said in an interview with the hardline Jam-e Jam daily.

Grim assessment of Doha talks adds fresh uncertainty to Iran deal
Read More »

Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in 2015 in return for the lifting of international sanctions against its economy, however, the US unilaterally left the deal in 2018, subsequently imposing more than 1,000 new sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

During negotiations to revive the deal which began in April 2021, Iran urged Washington to guarantee it would not leave the deal again.

Marandi said that Iran’s three leading concerns regarding any new deal were: the removal of sanctions; a guarantee from the US over its commitments to the agreement; and an initial verification period for the US commitments.
 
“We should wait and see what the US will do. We will see if the US has finally decided to reach a good agreement or will continue procrastinating,” said Marandi.

Rafsanjani's daughter charged

A branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran has charged Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, the daughter of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, of “carrying out propaganda against the Islamic Republic” and “insulting the sacred,” the pro-conservative Javan daily reported.

Hashemi, a women’s rights activist, is known for her stand against the wearing of the obligatory hijab, defending religious minorities, and opposing the IRGC’s role in Iran’s foreign policy and economy.

According to the Javan daily, the charges against Hashemi were issued following comments she made about what she said was the Prophet Muhammad’s failure in managing financial affairs.

In a video that went viral on Farsi social media, Hashemi said: “The Prophet Muhammad wasted Khadija’s money... The Prophet Muhammad didn’t [know how to] do financial activities; he did prophecy,” referring to the Muhammad’s wife, Khadija bint Khuwaylid.

Hashemi, who was elected to Iran’s parliament in 1996 for one term, opposed the conservative politics of her father, who had assisted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in becoming Iran’s supreme leader.

In 2012, she was imprisoned for six months over similar charges of “propaganda against the Islamic system”.

Property developers recruit gangs

Property developers in Tehran are employing thugs to terrorise municipal officials reporting building code violations on new constructions in the capital, a report in the Shahrvand newspaper has revealed.

In line with the increasing cost of living in Tehran, accommodation prices have risen sharply, benefitting those in the construction industry.

How four years of US sanctions have devastated Iran's economy
Read More »

According to official data, flats in Tehran sold for an average of 400m Iranian rials ($9,500) per square metre in June.

The Shahrvand said recruitment of thugs had occurred most in Tehran’s 18 and 19 districts, two of the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in the south of the capital.

One of the most common code violations in Iran takes place when constructors build more storeys than they have been given permission to from the municipality.

In May, such violations led to the collapse of a 10-storey building in the southwestern city of Abadan, which left 37 people dead.

The Shahrvand said that in some southern districts of Tehran, thugs had prevented municipality officials from sealing off buildings constructed higher than the permit allows.

On other occasions, the newspaper said, owners of buildings with irregularities had let them to low-income families for free in order to prevent their demolition.

Boris Johnson and the Middle East: Gaffes, talking Turkey and pro-Israel pressure

Thu, 07/07/2022 - 11:01
Boris Johnson and the Middle East: Gaffes, talking Turkey and pro-Israel pressure
With the UK prime minister's resignation, MEE looks at issues that defined his service, including the arrest of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and backing the Yemen war
Alex MacDonald Thu, 07/07/2022 - 12:01
Boris Johnson arrives for a media interview at the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi during his visit to the United Arab Emirates in March 2022 (AFP)

After just under three years in office and following a slew of scandals and resignations, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday finally announced he was going to resign.

During his tenure he has overseen some of the biggest crises to face the country in recent years: primarily the Covid-19 pandemic and the process of removing the UK from the European Union.

Johnson, like Nixon, will fall due to his vanity
Peter Oborne
Read More »

In foreign policy terms, he has made much of his involvement in the war in Ukraine and his support for resistance to Russia's invasion.

But in the Middle East, Johnson's legacy is a mixed. Having taken up the premiership following two years as foreign secretary, he largely bolstered the UK's traditional relationships in the region, but his career has also been marked by what have been seen as a number of unforced errors.

With Boris Johnson's days in Downing Street now numbered, Middle East Eye takes a look at some of his most notorious Middle East-related moments.

1. The fate of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Boris Johnson's involvement with the Middle East is likely to be defined - in the minds of most British people - by the Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe affair.

British-Iranian aid worker Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in Iran in 2016 while on holiday with her family, accused of conspiring to otherthrow the Tehran government and sentenced to five years in jail.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her daughter (AFP)
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her daughter (AFP)

Her imprisonment, which was later extended, became a highly publicised running scandal in the UK until she was finally released in March 2022 and returned to Britain.

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While foreign secretary, Boris Johnson was heavily criticised when, in 2017, he claimed at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been "teaching people journalism" in Iran.

His comments, which he admitted later were a "mistake", led to the Iranian-British citizen being brought before a court once more and accused of "spreading propaganda against the regime". 

The threat that her sentence would be extended hung over her, though in the end no extra charges were brought.

It is generally accepted that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was used as a bargaining tool by Tehran to force the UK government to pay a £600m ($719m) debt owed to Iran over an order of armoured vehicles that was cancelled following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

On 16 March 2022, Boris Johnson's government announced it had paid the debt owed to Iran and on that same day Zaghari-Ratcliffe returned to the UK.

Upon returning she was highly critical of Johnson's handling of the affair.

"I don't agree with Richard [her husband] on thanking the foreign secretary, because I have seen five foreign secretaries over the course of the six years… how many foreign secretaries does it take for someone to come home, five?" she said.

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“I think the answer is clear. I cannot be happier than this that I’m here. But also, this should have happened six years ago.”

2. Talking Turkey

Boris Johnson has regularly made reference to his Turkish heritage. His great-grandfather, Ali Kemal, was a liberal reformer turned unpopular and short-lived interior minister for the Ottoman Empire.

Kemal was murdered during the Turkish War of Independence and in practice, his great-grandson's relationship with Turkey has often been fairly bumpy.

Campaign material from the Vote Leave campaign in the EU referendum (Vote Leave)
Campaign material from the Vote Leave campaign in the EU referendum (Vote Leave)

In 2016, as a leader of the campaign to leave the European Union, the spectre of Turkey joining the EU and millions of Turks having access to freedom of movement was a regularly touted scare story that may have helped swing the vote.

That same year, Johnson won a competition in the Spectator magazine for an offensive poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in which he described him as a "wankerer from Ankara" and implied he had sex with goats.

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Later, he was able to put relations back on a more steady footing, not least as both countries' relations with their neighbours in the EU began to deteriorate.

According to a report by MEE in 2018, the UK sold Turkey more than $1bn worth of weapons after the poem incident, while both countries have been heavily reliant on one another for trade and tourism.

In one of his last foreign engagements before resigning, Johnson met with Erdogan at a Nato summit.

video released from the summit shows Erdogan jokingly addressing Johnson and saying "this one is a disgrace to us", apparently in reference to his Turkish heritage. Johnson responds with "very nice, very nice" in Turkish.

3. Rwanda and the refugee 'crisis'

For many years, there has been discussion in the British media and political class about how to deal with people seeking refuge in the UK by crossing the English Channel from France.

As someone who came to power partly on the basis of xeonophobic rhetoric linked to the anti-EU campaign, Johnson has tried to make much political capital out of the issue.

Migrants disembark from a UK Border Force rubber dinghy, after they were picked up at sea while attempting to cross the English Channel, and brought to the Marina in Dover, in June 2022 (AFP)
Migrants disembark from a UK Border Force dinghy, after trying to cross the English Channel in June 2022 (AFP)

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In 2022, Johnson's government unveiled its plan: asylum seekers arriving through "illegal" means would be put on a one-way charter plane to Rwanda, where they would expected to seek asylum.

The policy horrified human rights campaigners and has, so far, been blocked by court appeals, including one to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

While Johnson has claimed the policy is aimed at deterring people smugglers, others claim its sole purpose is to dissuade refugees from attempting to come to the UK.

Those who made the crossing to the UK - many Syrians, Iraqis and Iranians - and who are still being held in detention and threatened with transport to Rwanda, were dismayed at their treatment in what they thought was a welcoming country.

"If I knew there was such a policy, I wouldn't come to UK," one Iranian Kurdish refugee told MEE last month.

"At the same time, I wouldn't be staying in Iran... my life would be worse there."

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4. Clampdown on Palestinian movements

In their resignation letters, Tory ministers have made much of Johnson's "success" in seeing off then Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn at the 2019 general election.

Corbyn's reputation as a staunch supporter of the Palestinians and a long-running crisis over allegations of antisemitism in the party have provided ample opportunities for Johnson's government to show its pro-Israel credentials.

Pro-Palestinian activists and supporters wave flags and carry placards during a demonstration in support of the Palestinian cause outside the Israeli Embassy in central London on May 15, 2021 (AFP)
Pro-Palestinian activists and supporters outside the Israeli Embassy in central London on May 15, 2021 (AFP)

In November 2021, Johnson's government announced that it would be listing the Palestinian organisation Hamas as a terrorist group in its entirety in the UK, having previously only done so for its military wing.

The new law meant that "members of Hamas or those who invite support for the group could be jailed for up to 14 years", with Home Secretary Priti Patel saying it was crucial for fighting antisemitism in the UK.

Another piece of legislation promised by Johnson - though not yet actually implemented - is a ban on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that aims to apply non-violent pressure on Israel to follow its obligations in international law.

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The new policy was promised in the Queen's Speech in May and has been criticised as an "attack on democracy" by pro-Palestinian campaigners.

5. The Gulf states and the Yemen war

As both foreign secretary and prime minister, Johnson has largely maintained the UK's traditional relationships with the Gulf states.

During the 2017 boycott of Qatar by its neighbours, Johnson - while stressing that the country should tackle "extremists" - called for the boycott to end and later attempted to mediate between the different sides.

A handout picture released by Kuwait's news agency KUNA on July 8, 2017, shows the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled al-Sabah (C-R) meeting his British counterpart Boris Johnson (AFP)
Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled al-Sabah (C-R) meets UK counterpart Boris Johnson in 2017 (AFP/KUNA)

His cordial relations with the Gulf states have come in for criticism from human rights groups, particularly over his government's continuing support for the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen.

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Billions of pounds worth of equipment was reportedly sold to the coalition by the UK, even as the war turned Yemen into what the UN has described as the world's worst humanitarian disaster.

A temporary halt was placed on the UK's arms sales to the coalition in 2019 after the Court of Appeal ruled there had not been adequate assessment of the risks to civilians from the sales - but less than a year later sales resumed after it was deemed that only "isolated incidents" of civilian deaths had occured.

In what was Johnson's last trip to the region prior to announcing his resignation, he touched down in Saudi Arabia on the same day that the kingdom executed more than 80 prisoners.

“It is not acceptable to cite Russia’s war crimes to try to justify trading blood for oil elsewhere," said Reprieve director Maya Foa, at the time.

"It shows the world we will apply double standards for our convenience and embolden countries like Saudi Arabia into further atrocities, just as Putin was emboldened by our willingness to take his cronies' cash for decades."

London

Shireen Abu Akleh: Lawyers request bullet be examined by independent expert

Thu, 07/07/2022 - 10:31
Shireen Abu Akleh: Lawyers request bullet be examined by independent expert
A London-based legal team wants access to US and Israeli investigations and interviews with soldiers present during the shooting
MEE staff Thu, 07/07/2022 - 11:31
Parish priest of the Melkite Greek Catholic church in Ramallah speaks during a memorial service for the late Palestinian and veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jerusalem on 18 June 2022 (AFP)

British lawyers on Wednesday said they have requested access to the bullet and firearm that killed the Al Jazeera Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May.

In a statement sent to Middle East Eye, lawyers from leading London law firm Bindmans LLP and Doughty Street Chambers, who are acting on behalf of Abu Akleh's family, said they have sent the request to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Israeli army.

'The forensic analysis of the firearm forms a small but important part of the evidence in this case'

- Tayab Ali, Bindmans LLP

They have also requested the PA, Israeli army and the US embassy in London to provide access to their respective investigations, evidence and findings, including a copy of the recent forensic ballistic analysis conducted on the bullet referred to in the US State Department’s press statement of 4 July. 

The lawyers have also requested the opportunity to interview the soldiers that the Israeli army has identified as having been present during the shooting.

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. Her death sparked Palestinian outrage and widespread international condemnation. Her colleague Ali al-Samoudi was also shot and wounded in the same attack.

"The forensic analysis of the firearm forms a small but important part of the evidence in this case. It is crucial that we, as the lawyers representing the victims in this case, are able to independently assess the evidence and are not prevented or hampered in our investigations," said Tayab Ali, partner at Bindmans.

"The evidence that we have seen so far provides a strong case that Israel has a policy of targeting journalists in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Evidence is mounting that the killing of Shireen and shooting of Ali was part of that purposeful policy."

Shot by Israeli snipers

Multiple eyewitnesses, including Middle East Eye contributor Shatha Hanaysha, said the 51-year-old journalist was shot dead by Israeli snipers while reporting on the raid.

Investigations by the PA and the United Nations, as well as several journalistic probes, also found that the shot that killed Abu Akleh was fired by Israeli forces.

The PA on Saturday handed over the bullet that killed Abu Akleh to US authorities for forensic examination.

On Monday, the US Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority (USSC) said that gunfire from the positions of Israeli forces was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh but there was no definitive conclusion on the origin of the bullet.

The assessment, which found no reason to believe the killing was intentional, was based on investigations by both Israel and the PA.

The USSC statement said that independent third-party examiners could not reach a definitive conclusion regarding the origin of the bullet that killed the journalist despite an "extremely detailed forensic analysis".

Israel said on Monday that its own forensic investigation could not determine from which weapon the bullet was fired.

"The physical condition of the bullet and the quality of the characteristics on it do not enable a ballistic examination to conclusively determine whether or not the bullet was fired from the weapon which was examined," the Israeli army said.

Rights groups have said that it's unlikely Israel would conduct a proper investigation into the killing, adding that the country has a poor record of probing the conduct of its forces in relation to the deaths of Palestinians.

Legal paths for justice

In the early aftermath of the killing, legal experts told MEE that there were a number of legal mechanisms that Abu Akleh's family could use in order to seek justice, given the journalist's American citizenship.

Her family said in its statement that it would continue to advocate for justice, hold Israel accountable, and call on the US to conduct its own probe into the killing.

Al Jazeera has already referred the case to the International Criminal Court in the Hague and vowed to bring the killers to justice through all international legal platforms.

Shireen Abu Akleh killing: The legal mechanisms available for justice
Read More »

However, Israel maintains that it is not subject to the court's mandate because it is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the tribunal, and that the ICC cannot investigate abuses in the Palestinian territories because Palestine is not a state.

The British lawyers said their requests for access to the bullet and other evidence are part of an investigation into the alleged Israeli policy of targeting Palestinian journalists.

The legal team has been instructed to submit a new complaint to the ICC by Abu Akleh's family, the International Federation of Journalists, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, and the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians. The complaint asks the ICC prosecutor to launch an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Abu Akleh's death and Samoudi's shooting.

The lawyers said the new complaint follows an April submission to the court that requested the ICC prosecutor launch an investigation into the systematic targeting, maiming and killing of journalists and destruction of media infrastructure in Palestine. Abu Akleh was killed only days after the ICC prosecutor acknowledged receipt of the first complaint.

On 5 February 2021, the ICC ruled that its criminal jurisdiction extended to "the situation in Palestine," and that its territorial scope covered allegations that occurred in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the lawyers said.

"This presents for the first time a real opportunity for the accountability of Israel’s alleged policy of targeting journalists and could lead to a formal investigation by the ICC prosecutor and potential prosecutions," the lawyers' statement said.

Lawyers ask bullet that killed Shireen Abu Akleh be independently examined

Turkey releases Russian ship carrying 'Ukrainian grain'

Thu, 07/07/2022 - 09:22
Turkey releases Russian ship carrying 'Ukrainian grain'
Ukraine summons Turkish ambassador over release of the Zhibek Zholy, the Russian ship allegedly carrying stolen Ukrainian grain from occupied Berdyansk
Ragip Soylu Thu, 07/07/2022 - 10:22
The Zhibek Zholy ship was detained by Turkish authorities over the weekend and has since been released (Reuters)

Turkey has released a Russian-flagged cargo ship that was thought to be carrying stolen Ukrainian grain, the Ukrainian ministry of foreign affairs announced in a statement. 

The Zhibek Zholy, which was detained by Turkish authorities over the weekend, left the Black Sea port of Karasu in northwest Turkey on Wednesday, according to Refinitiv ship tracking data. 

Ukrainian officials, speaking to Middle East Eye, said they believed the ship was likely to have sailed for Russia or to the occupied Ukrainian port city of Berdyansk, which is where it came from. 

Russia-Ukraine war: Turkey seeks 25 percent discount from Kyiv over grain deal
Read More »

“Ignoring the appeal of the Ukrainian side, the ship was released on the evening of 6 July,” the Ukrainian foreign ministry said. 

“The Ukrainian side received the mentioned information with deep disappointment and appeals to the Turkish side with an urgent request to conduct an investigation into the mentioned situation and provide a comprehensive answer to the requests of the relevant authorities of Ukraine, as well as to prevent similar cases in the future by all means.” 

Ukrainian authorities have also summoned the Turkish ambassador in Kyiv to provide an explanation, the statement said. 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu discussed the issue with his Ukrainian counterpart on Thursday morning, according to a Turkish readout. 

On Wednesday, Russia's foreign ministry dismissed what it said were false reports of the ship's detention by authorities. 

Kyiv has accused Moscow of stealing grain from territories seized by Russian forces since the invasion began in late February.

The Kremlin, which calls the invasion of Ukraine a "special military operation", has previously denied that Russia has stolen any Ukrainian grain.

Ankara

Israel and Turkey to expand mutual flights in their first aviation deal since 1951

Thu, 07/07/2022 - 07:16
Israel and Turkey to expand mutual flights in their first aviation deal since 1951
Move is latest agreement aimed at cementing the countries' rapprochement after years of strained relations
MEE and agencies Thu, 07/07/2022 - 08:16
The agreement is expected to result in the resumption of flights by Israeli companies to a variety of destinations in Turkey, alongside flights by Turkish companies to Israel (AFP)

Israel and Turkey will expand bilateral airline traffic under a new aviation deal to be signed on Thursday, their first since 1951, Israel's transportation ministry said.

"The agreement is expected to result in the resumption of flights by Israeli companies to a variety of destinations in Turkey, alongside flights by Turkish companies to Israel," the ministry said in a statement.

Last month Yair Lapid, the Israeli prime minister who was at the time foreign minister, hailed security cooperation with Turkey in helping foil an alleged Iranian plot to kidnap or kill Israeli nationals in Istanbul, as he met his counterpart in Ankara for high-level talks aimed at cementing the countries’ rapprochement.

In March, Israeli President Isaac Herzog met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, the first visit by an Israeli head of state to Turkey since 2008.

Gaza: 15 years of a devastating blockade that benefits no one
Read More »

Herzog's visit came after more than a decade of strained relations between the two countries during which Turkey gave vocal support for the Palestinian cause and criticised Israeli policies.

Relations between Turkey and Israel nosedived after Israeli commandos raided a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying aid in 2010 and killed 10 Turkish civilians in international waters.

The flotilla, led by the Mavi Marmara ship, was an attempt to bring urgently needed humanitarian supplies to the besieged people of Gaza and shine a spotlight on the Israeli-imposed blockade of Gaza.

Ties were fractured again in 2018, when Israeli forces killed dozens of Palestinians taking part in the Great March of Return protests in Gaza, as the protesters demanded the implementation of refugees’ right of return and an end to the 15-year crippling blockade.

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

Experts believe Turkey and Israel began to move closer and cooperate following events in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020 and then in Afghanistan in 2021.

However, the Hamas movement, which governs Gaza and maintains strong relations with Ankara, condemned Herzog's visit, and reiterated its policy of rejecting “any form of communication with our enemy”.

British foreign office denies UK diplomat detained in Iran

Wed, 07/06/2022 - 19:28
British foreign office denies UK diplomat detained in Iran
Video footage released by the IRGC claimed to show Giles Whitaker, the UK's deputy ambassador, near a site where Iran was conducting missile exercises
MEE staff Wed, 07/06/2022 - 20:28
Iranian state TV showed footage of Giles Whitaker and his family in central Iran where the British diplomat appeared to be taking ground samples (AFP/File photo)

The UK Foreign Office late on Wednesday denied Iranian state TV reports that Iran's Revolutionary Guards had detained the UK's deputy ambassador and several foreigners on claims of spying, calling the reports "completely false", Reuters has reported.

State TV aired footage that it claimed was of Giles Whitaker and his family in central Iran, with the British diplomat appearing to be taking ground samples. 

"These spies were taking earth samples in Iran's central desert where the Revolutionary Guards' aerospace missile exercises were conducted," state TV said.

"Whitaker was expelled from [the area] after apologising," the report added.

One of those reportedly detained was identified by state TV as the husband of Austria's cultural attache in Iran. It also showed a picture of a third foreigner, identifying him as Maciej Walczak, a university professor in Poland whom it said was visiting Iran as a tourist.

The TV report ran footage allegedly showing Walczak and three colleagues collecting earth samples in another area after visiting Iran on a scientific exchange programme. It said their sample collection also coincided with a missile test in Iran's southern Kerman province.

The report claimed Israel had sent the trio to Iran in order to "steal" information from the Islamic Republic.

The IRGC has arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners in recent years, mostly on espionage and security-related charges.

Earlier this year, British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released after spending nearly six years in detention after being convicted of plotting to overthrow the government.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe finally returned home in March along with a fellow dual national, after the UK agreed to pay a longstanding debt to Iran.

Shortly before the 1979 Iranian revolution that overthrew Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the British government agreed to sell more than 1,500 Chieftain battle tanks and 250 repair vehicles to Iran.

Iran paid £600m ($795m) for the tanks in advance, but having delivered only 185 tanks, Britain refused to deliver the remaining equipment when the shah was deposed.

The international court of arbitration in The Hague ordered Britain to pay the debt in 2001, a ruling upheld in 2009.

However, the two governments were locked in a prolonged legal battle in the British courts over the exact sum owed and whether or not the UK should pay interest on it.

Rights groups have repeatedly accused the Islamic Republic of trying to win concessions from other countries through arrests on trumped up security charges. Tehran denies arresting people for political reasons.

Biden administration ramps up Iran sanctions as nuclear talks falter

Wed, 07/06/2022 - 17:57
Biden administration ramps up Iran sanctions as nuclear talks falter
Treasury Department imposes fresh sanctions on Gulf-based network which it claims helps facilitate trade of Iranian petroleum and petrochemicals
MEE staff Wed, 07/06/2022 - 18:57
An Iranian technician stands at an oil facility in the Khark Island, on the shore of the Gulf, on 23 February 2016.
An Iranian technician stands at an oil facility in the Khark Island, on the shore of the Gulf, on 23 February 2016 (AFP/File photo)

The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on a network of people and entities it accused of helping to deliver and sell Iranian petroleum and petrochemical products to East Asia, as negotiations between Washington and Tehran over reviving the 2015 nuclear deal have hit a stalemate.

The Treasury Department said in a statement that the network used a web of front companies based in the Gulf to facilitate the delivery and sale of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of products from Iranian companies to East Asia.

Among those designated was Iran-based Jam Petrochemical Company, which the Treasury accused of exporting petrochemical products worth hundreds of millions of dollars to companies throughout East Asia, many of which the Treasury said were sold to Iran Petrochemical Commercial Company for shipment to China.

How four years of US sanctions have devastated Iran's economy
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It also included a number of entities from the United Arab Emirates, including Petrokick LLC based out of Sharjah.

"While the United States is committed to achieving an agreement with Iran that seeks a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, we will continue to use all our authorities to enforce sanctions on the sale of Iranian petroleum and petrochemicals," Brian Nelson, the Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in the statement.

Last month, the US similarly imposed sanctions on a number of Chinese and Emirati companies for helping Iran sell petrochemical products.

Iran's deputy foreign minister for economic diplomacy, however, dismissed those sanctions as ineffective.

"Our petrochemical industry and its products have long been under sanctions, but our sales have continued through various channels and shall continue to do so," Mehdi Safari told Iranian state television in June.

Despite being under US sanctions, Iran's oil prices shot up earlier this year, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. During the first three months of 2022, Iran's exports rose to 870,000 barrels a day, up 30 percent from an average of 668,000 barrels a day in all of 2021. 

Nuclear negotiations at an impasse

The new sanctions come amid what appears to be a continued stall in progress between Iran and the US over the return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

In Qatar last week, indirect talks between Tehran and Washington ended without a breakthrough over how to salvage the accord.

The push in Doha came as US officials indicated they are preparing a "no-deal scenario". The US envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, cautioned in May that the odds of striking a nuclear deal with Tehran were "at best, tenuous".

Sources told Middle East Eye last month that Iran had dropped one of its last sticking points in the negotiations - the delisting of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Instead, it has called for the lifting of sanctions imposed by the US against Khatam-al Anbiya Construction Headquarters, an economic arm of the IRGC, and a few other entities.

However, the new proposal has yet to result in any breakthrough in negotiations.

Washington

Father of slain US Muslim soldier who taunted Trump to receive highest civilian honour

Wed, 07/06/2022 - 16:18
Father of slain US Muslim soldier who taunted Trump to receive highest civilian honour
Khizr Khan made headlines in 2016, asking Donald Trump if he had read the Constitution. 'I will gladly lend you my copy,' he said
MEE staff Wed, 07/06/2022 - 17:18
Khizr Khan, accompanied by his wife Ghazala Khan, holds up a copy of the US Constitution at the Democratic National Convention on 28 July, 2016 (AFP)

Khizr Khan, the father of a fallen soldier who admonished Donald Trump in 2016, is set to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Thursday, alongside several other recipients. 

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honour in the United States, and is presented to people who have made "exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavours".

"These seventeen Americans demonstrate the power of possibilities and embody the soul of the nation - hard work, perseverance, and faith," the White House wrote. 

"They have overcome significant obstacles to achieve impressive accomplishments in the arts and sciences, dedicated their lives to advocating for the most vulnerable among us, and acted with bravery to drive change in their communities - and across the world - while blazing trails for generations to come."

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Khan, who is Pakistani-American and Muslim, will be presented with the medal by President Joe Biden on Thursday 7 July. His son, US Army Captain Humayun Khan, was killed in 2004 during the Iraq War. 

In 2021, Khan senior served on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom under Biden. He is also the founder of the Constitution Literacy and National Unity Center.

Khan made headlines at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in 2016 when he called out Trump - then the Republican presidential candidate - for supporting the Muslim Ban.

"Tonight we are honoured to stand here as parents of Captain Humayun Khan and as patriotic American Muslims with undivided loyalty to the country," he said in front of the world's cameras. "If it was up to Donald Trump, he never would have been in America. Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims.

"You," he said, addressing Trump directly, "have sacrificed nothing and no one."

Khan didn't stop there in his infamous remarks. "Donald Trump, you are asking Americans to trust you with their future. Let me ask you - have you even read the United States Constitution?" he said, brandishing a copy to loud cheers. "I will gladly lend you my copy!" Khan said.

Trump later responded, saying: "I work very, very hard. I've created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I've had tremendous success. I think I've done a lot."

Tunisia: Court freezes bank accounts of Ghannouchi and eight other Saied opponents

Wed, 07/06/2022 - 14:59
Tunisia: Court freezes bank accounts of Ghannouchi and eight other Saied opponents
Critics accuse the Tunisian president of going after dissenting voices in a bid to consolidate his 'authoritarian system'
MEE correspondent Wed, 07/06/2022 - 15:59
Rached Ghannouchi is a leading critic of President Kais Saied's move towards a one-man rule (AFP)

Tunisian court has frozen the financial assets of several opponents of President Kais Saied, including the former speaker of the dissolved parliament, Rached Ghannouchi, and nine others.

The order issued on Wednesday also listed Ghannouchi's son, Moadh, former prime minister Hamadi Jebali and former foreign minister Rafik Abdessalem, all leading figures in the Ennahda party.

"There is an order from the anti-terrorism judge to freeze the bank accounts of those people and the Financial Analysis Committee asked the banks to implement the judicial decision," said an official on the Financial Analysis Committee, which is headed by the central bank governor.

Ghannouchi, who is Tunisia's main opposition leader, has become an outspoken critic of Saied since his power grab last year, in which he dismissed parliament and gave himself wide-ranging powers. 

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Last month there were reports that Ghannouchi was "officially charged with belonging to a terrorist organisation".

Ennahda confirmed that a judge has summoned their leader to answer questions about the allegations, which they have described as "distortion and fabrications".

Legal experts have raised questions about the independence of Tunisia's judiciary under Saied. Said Benarbia, director at the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists, told Middle East Eye that Saied has "subordinated the judiciary to his political will" in a series of measures enacted since last summer, including the dissolution of the Supreme Judicial Council and a purge on judges. Last month, Saied fired 57 judges to "purify" the judiciary, accusing them of protecting "terrorists".

"By purging the judiciary from some of the very judges and prosecutors who refused to comply with his unlawful decrees and orders, President Saied has sent a chilling message to other judges who should act as a check on his abuses of power," said Benarbia.

"Under the current framework, the public will have little confidence that the judicial decisions targeting the president's opponents are based on the law and evidence, instead of political considerations," Benarbia added. 

'Autocratic project'

In June, the former prime minister Hamadi Jebali, another of Saied's key rivals, was arrested on suspicion of money laundering and held for four days. Ennahda said his arrest was part of a campaign targeting government opponents.

It came just weeks before the Saied-endorsed constitution referendum, slated for 25 July, the first anniversary of Saied's power grab manoeuvres. The new constitution is seen as an attempt to reshape and consolidate the country under the "one-man rule". 

"Only a small proportion of the society is supportive of the constitution," said Mohamed-Dhia Hammami, a Tunisian doctoral student in political science at the Maxwell School, Syracuse University.

"Saied is overselling it by claiming that it will fix all kinds of problems. Most people don't buy into his narrative," Hammami told MEE. 

He added that the Tunisian president had embarked on an "autocratic project, with an unconventional form of popular representation he calls 'construction from the bottom'," which wouldn't succeed.

The country's powerful labour union, the UGTT, also recently warned that the draft constitution could threaten democracy, although it said its one million members can vote as they see fit. 

'Saied knows that his proposed referendum and new constitution are very unpopular, so he's trying to divert attention and pretend he's fighting corruption'

- Radwan Masmoudi, Tunisia analyst

Saied's latest move against what was the largest party in parliament may also distract people from increasing economic woes and the lack of appetite for a new constitution, said Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy in Washington DC.

"Kais Saied knows that his proposed referendum and new constitution are very unpopular, so he's trying to divert attention and pretend he's fighting corruption, while at the same time going after the biggest opposition party in the country," Masmoudi told MEE. 

"It is clear that Kais Saied is destroying the democratic experiment and institutions in Tunisia," said Masmoudi, adding that he wants to build an "authoritarian system where the president holds 80 to 90 percent of the levers of power.

"If he succeeds, Tunisia will see some very difficult and dark days, months and perhaps years ahead, especially in terms of human rights and freedom of expression and freedom of organisation," said Masmoudi.

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

Tunisian court freezes bank accounts of Ghannouchi and eight other Saied opponents

Egypt: Army-owned company asking government for $212m to rent offices

Wed, 07/06/2022 - 14:58
Egypt: Army-owned company asking government for $212m to rent offices
Sisi approves payment to ACUD, on basis it is not the only business to rent properties to the Egyptian government
MEE staff Wed, 07/06/2022 - 15:58
A workman at a building site at Egypt's New Administrative Capital project, on 7 March 2021 (AFP)

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said on Wednesday that the military-owned company building the country's new administrative capital wants to rent the government a district which would house the ministerial offices, for $212m a year.

Sisi said during the inauguration of the Digital Egypt national project that "People ask us 'From where are you getting these monies?', while the new capital is from the government's funds.

"We are transparent and honest, our resources were only the idea, and the capital company did the building and is asking us a yearly money as a rent, as it did pay its own money in the project," Sisi said.

Sisi also told the minister of finance to pay the money, explaining that the military-owned Administrative Capital for Urban Development (ACUD) is not the only entity to rent properties to the Egyptian government. He added that the company had more than 40 billion Egyptian pounds in the banks.

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The ACUD was founded in 2016 to embark on a large-scale project of building neighbourhoods and government districts housing the parliament and all the ministerial offices, almost 45 km east of the current capital, Cairo.

However, the new capital is yet to be completed, with a price tag exceeding $50bn and suffering from funding shortfalls.

Sisi had also said that Egypt is planning to transform its bureaucratic system into a paperless, digital one.

"We are working on it now, and part of the work will be carried through artificial intelligence," he said.

Firms owned by the Egyptian army have flourished since Sisi rose to power in 2014. Almost 51 percent of ACUD is owned by the military, which also owns the country's biggest cement plant, besides fish farms, holiday resorts and other projects.

Army-owned company asks Egyptian government for $212m to rent offices

Egypt uses ‘life-destroying’ travel bans to silence peaceful activism

Wed, 07/06/2022 - 11:38
Egypt uses ‘life-destroying’ travel bans to silence peaceful activism
Authorities use legal vacuum to enforce the arbitrary bans against civil society workers, leaving a huge social and psychological toll on those targeted
MEE staff Wed, 07/06/2022 - 12:38
Karim Ennarah, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, has been banned from travel and unable to be reunited with his British wife since 2020 (Twitter)

Egypt is imposing travel bans against civil society workers without a legal basis, shattering the lives of those affected, according to two reports by human rights watchdogs.

A joint report by FairSquare and Human Rights Watch published on Wednesday investigated the cases of 15 Egyptians who have been banned from travel for periods of up to six years. 

The bans are usually arbitrary and are imposed without prior notification and are only discovered when  individuals subject to the ban attempt to travel abroad. 

'Travel bans enable authorities to impose a life-altering system of punishment that is barely visible to anyone except those whose lives they are destroying'

- James Lynch, FairSquare

Another report by the Freedom Initiative and the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy published on Tuesday found that there are no laws currently regulating the enforcement of travel bans, creating a legal vacuum that is exploited by judicial and security services.

They also found that a Ministry of Interior decree, No. 2214 of 1994, and its 2012, 2013, and 2014 amendments, empowers judicial and security authorities to request the imposition of three-year travel bans from the Passport Authority, and gives them the discretion to extend the ban indefinitely. Meanwhile, attempts to overturn the ban usually fail due to the absence of legal means to challenge them in courts. 

“Arbitrary and open-ended travel bans enable the Egyptian authorities to impose a life-altering system of punishment that is barely visible to anyone except those whose lives they are destroying,” said James Lynch, director of FairSquare.

“The bans have allowed Egypt to silently pummel its critics without fear of attracting the ire of its donors and supporters in London, Paris, and Washington, DC. Egypt needs to end these arbitrary abusive practices immediately.”

Nasser Amin was unable to represent Darfur victims at the ICC, a "lifelong dream", in April this year because of his ban. He and his wife Hoda Abdelwahab, of the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession, are both barred from travel. (7/) pic.twitter.com/MKIQQPGnl2

— FairSquare (@fairsqprojects) July 6, 2022

The travel ban is in many cases accompanied by asset freezes that lock the victims out of the banking system, HRW and FairSquare said.

“The long-term personal toll of these travel bans and asset freezes has been devastating. Nearly everyone interviewed described losing work opportunities and income.

Many said the psychological impact of not knowing when these arbitrary restrictions would end has taken a serious toll on their mental health,” the groups reported, adding that the bans have a “chilling effect” on human rights advocacy as they serve as a deterrent against criticising the government.

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The reports come as President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declared 2022 as the “Year of Civil Society,” with his government due to host COP27, the global climate summit, in November.

HRW said in a previous report that the choice of Egypt as the host was unwise due to the restrictions on civil society in the country and the laws criminalising peaceful assembly, a crucial part of the summit.

Sisi's administration, in power since he ousted his democratically elected predecessor Mohamed Morsi in a coup in 2013, has been accused by HRW of overseeing “the worst human rights crisis in the country's modern history”.

An estimated 65,000 Sisi critics languish in Egyptian jails, while many have died in custody due to medical negligence, including Morsi. 

'Depressed and isolated'

The rights groups said the travel bans have hindered the work of civil society workers whose jobs involve travel abroad and contact with US, EU and UN officials.

They cited the case of Mohamed Zaree, the Egypt director for the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, who has been banned from travel since 2016, as well as human rights lawyer Mahienour el-Masry, whose passport was confiscated in 2018.

Since November 2020, staff at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), including then-director Gasser Abdel Razek, and his colleagues Karim Ennarah and Mohammed Basheer, have been banned from travel even after their release from brief detention. None of them have been able to appeal the travel bans.

EIPR’s founder and current director Hossam Bahgat has also been subject to a travel ban and asset freezes since 2016.

'It doesn’t generate headlines like photographs of people in handcuffs and in cages and there’s no outrage after a travel ban'

- Hossam Bahgat, EIPR

“It doesn’t generate headlines like photographs of people in handcuffs and in cages and there’s no outrage after a travel ban,” Bahgat told FairSquare and HRW. 

Ennarah’s personal life has been deeply affected by the ban because he had been planning to move to London to join his British wife, filmmaker Jess Kelly, prior to the ban. They have been forced to live in a long-distance relationship since the ban.

He said the restrictions have left him feeling “lonely because of the separation but also guilty most of the time”.

The asset freeze against him has also meant he is blocked from accessing the banking system.

“There are periods when I feel really depressed and isolated. Being unable to work is completely debilitating. It’s a perpetual state of legal and financial limbo.

"I’ve been approached for a few jobs but they always withdraw the offer when they find out I’ve got a bank freeze,” he said.

Gamal Eid, the award-winning activist and founder of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, is among those banned from travel since 2016. He announced in January that the group was shutting down its operations due to the impossibility of carrying out human rights work under the country’s restrictive NGO laws.

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Similar to Ennarah, the ban has shattered Eid’s personal life. His wife is a US citizen and she moved with his daughter to New York in 2017. Due to the ban, he has not been able to visit them since then.

His US green card has also expired and he lost much of his income due to an asset freeze against him.

“There’s been a lot of opportunities, but I can’t work,” he said.

Likewise, Azza Soliman, the prominent lawyer and founder of the Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance, has been banned from travel and her assets have been frozen since 2016.

Her financial circumstances have since been severely affected as she could no longer work for the United Nations after losing her access to the banking system, and could not even sell her car that was part of the asset freeze.

Six years after the ban, Soliman's ban was finally lifted and she has been able to travel since February 2022. But her assets remain frozen, according to the Freedom Initiative.

Ben & Jerry's sues Unilever to block sale of Israeli business

Tue, 07/05/2022 - 21:08
Ben & Jerry's sues Unilever to block sale of Israeli business
The ice cream maker is suing its parent company over control of its business interests in Israel, after Ben & Jerry's decision last year to stop selling in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank
MEE staff Tue, 07/05/2022 - 22:08
Last week, Unilever announced that it would be selling Ben & Jerry's business interests in Israel to Avi Zinger's American Quality Products, the current Israeli licencee of the ice cream brand.
Last week, Unilever announced it would be selling Ben & Jerry's business interests in Israel to Avi Zinger's American Quality Products, the current Israeli licensee of the ice cream brand (AFP/File photo)

Ben & Jerry's on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against its parent company, Unilever, to block the sale of the ice cream maker's business interests in Israel to an Israeli company.

The complaint, filed in the US District Court of Manhattan, said the sale threatened to undermine Ben & Jerry's brand integrity. The ice cream maker's board had maintained independence to protect its interests when the Unilever conglomerate acquired it in 2000.

"Ben & Jerry’s is an American institution. An institution that is known for the principled, progressive stances it takes on various societal issues, both domestically and internationally," the company said in its court filing.

"This social integrity is as important to Ben & Jerry’s as the ice cream it makes, which it began producing in 1978." 

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Last week, Unilever announced that it would be selling Ben & Jerry's business interests in Israel to Avi Zinger's American Quality Products, the current Israeli licensee of the ice cream brand. The sale would effectively reverse a decision made by the company to stop selling its ice cream in Israeli settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Following Unilever's announcement last week, Ben & Jerry's released a statement saying that it does "not agree with it".

"We continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry's values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory."

Ben & Jerry's has long sought to portray itself as a supporter of liberal causes and has issued statements supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and other progressive movements on social media.

However, it went silent in May 2021 after Israel launched air strikes on the Gaza Strip. Then in July 2021, the company released a statement saying it believed it was "inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory", but added that it would "stay in Israel through a different arrangement".

The announcement was received with praise and further questions from pro-Palestinian activists and advocates, but Israeli leaders met the news with scorn. Several US states also moved to divest from Unilever as a result of Ben & Jerry's decision.

More than half of 'suspicious activity reports' targeted Arabs and Muslims in Chicago

Tue, 07/05/2022 - 19:30
More than half of 'suspicious activity reports' targeted Arabs and Muslims in Chicago
In reports from the Chicago Police Department from 2016-2020, 53.6 percent of "suspects" were described as people of Arab descent
MEE staff Tue, 07/05/2022 - 20:30
Muslim women protest against US President Donald Trump in Chicago, Illinois, on 19 February 2017 (AFP)

The Arab community is demanding an end to racial profiling after it was revealed that over 50 percent of "suspects" reported to the police, primarily for doing mundane things like texting or taking photos, were described as people of Arab descent in Chicago.

A few years ago, members of the Arab American Action Network (AAAN) started talking with members of the Chicago community about their experiences with law enforcement in the suburbs and in the city of Chicago. They began to collect stories and found that everyone had one to share: the mother of Muhammad Sankari, the lead organizer at AAAN, had been harassed. Sankari’s father's store was visited by law enforcement. And the stories went on.

So, AAAN obtained 235 “Suspicious Activity Reports” (SARs) through the Freedom of Information Act. The reports were made between 2016 and 2020 by the Chicago Police Department and Illinois State Police. 

SARs are the documents produced by, “If You See Something, Say Something” - a campaign by the Department of Homeland Security that encourages people to report suspicious activity to their local law enforcement.

In the reports obtained by AAAN, 50 percent of SARs from the Chicago Police Department and 67 perecnt of SARs from the Statewide Terrorism Intelligence Center (STIC) with the Illinois State Police, included racial, ethnic or religious descriptions of the suspects. 

Of the reports from the Chicago Police Department, 76.8 percent of the suspects were described as people of colour, including 53.6 percent who were described as “Arab”,  “Muslim”, “Middle Eastern”, or “olive-skinned”. 

“It's not very surprising at all. We know just based on the reality of policing in this country, the role that police play in targeting communities of colour. It wasn't surprising to us that they were targeting Arabs and Middle Eastern people, people perceived to be Muslim,” Sankari told MEE. 

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The reports included various incidents, including one that took place in September of 2016 during the Major League Baseball playoffs. A man allegedly reported a “suspicious male individual, possibly Middle Eastern”, at the train station across from the baseball field. The suspect “appeared out of place while taking various photographs” and was “typing or texting, possibly in Arabic”.

In 2019, a school resource officer contacted STIC to report a 16-year-old Arab-American high school student who went to see his school guidance counsellor because he was upset that he’d never see his grandparents again.

The counsellor allegedly reported that the student claimed his grandparents were political Islamists living in Syria. The counsellor spoke with the boy’s father who confirmed that the grandparents were in Syria. The counsellor and school reported the student and father to STIC. 

And so, the Campaign to End Racial Profiling was launched, with five demands by AAAN, including the immediate end to the use of SARs by all local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, particularly the Chicago Police Department.

The organisation is also demanding the closure of Illinois fusion centres and the immediate end of all data sharing between the police department, state police, and federal immigration and national security agencies.

Additionally, they want an end to federal, state and local Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programmes, including all current manifestations; community control of the Chicago Police Department; and legalisation and citizenship for all undocumented and documented immigrants in the US. 

“On the government side, the impact is this massive dragnet that they're pulling hundreds and hundreds of people into, and just creating these files and reports in the FBI database and other databases because of it,” Sankari said.

“That can lead to investigations, that can lead to arrests. That can lead to deportations and can have a whole host of negative effects on people's lives.”

Families of US detainees in Saudi Arabia, Egypt voice anger after left out of call with Blinken

Tue, 07/05/2022 - 19:16
Families of US detainees in Saudi Arabia, Egypt voice anger after left out of call with Blinken
The US secretary of state held a call with relatives of US nationals detained in Russia, Venezuela and Rwanda. But Americans detained by Riyadh and Cairo were not included, according to The Guardian
MEE staff Tue, 07/05/2022 - 20:16
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department in Washington on 17 June 2022.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department in Washington, on 17 June 2022 (AFP)

Relatives of US nationals detained in Saudi Arabia and Egypt were not invited to attend a recent call with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, according to a report by The Guardian, raising concerns they are being sidelined ahead of President Joe Biden's trip to the Middle East later this month.

Blinken held a call on 22 June with relatives of US nationals who are hostages or otherwise wrongfully detained in Russia, Venezuela, Rwanda and other countries, according to the report. However, Americans detained by Riyadh and Cairo were left out of the call.

One family member of a detainee in Rwanda said that she believed the call was meant for families of individuals who have formally been designated as hostages or wrongfully detained under the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act, which is meant to give the US government more tools to support the families of hostages.

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The call did not include the families of Salah Soltan, an academic and legal US permanent resident and the father of rights activist Mohamed Soltan; or Hosam Khalaf, who are both being held in Egypt.

It also did not include the families of Walid Fitaihi, an American doctor who is under a travel ban in Saudi Arabia; the family of US-Saudi journalist Badr Ibrahim; or the families of Salah al-Haidar and his mother Aziza al-Yousef, a US national and women's rights activist, who are all barred from leaving Saudi.

Some family members said being left out of the call made them feel that a political decision was being made to shift focus away from their own families' plights because of Biden's upcoming trip.

"The intentional and hypocritical cherry-picking of which ‘wrongful detention’ cases to raise or meet with is infuriating and discriminatory," one individual, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Guardian.

"The willingness of the US to expend its political capital in resolving wrongful detention cases is not consistent and is based on some arbitrary criteria: is your wrongfully detained family member detained in a country that is a foe or ally? Is it a picture-perfect case that is ripe for resolution?"

The apparent snub was made just weeks before US President Joe Biden's scheduled trip to the Middle East, where Biden is expected to meet Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Biden will embark on a four-day trip, from 13 to 16 July. 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 Arabian port city of Jeddah.

The trip is a marked change in Biden's approach to Saudi Arabia. In 2020 the then-presidential candidate condemned the country as a "pariah" over the killing of Washington Post and Middle East Eye columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Biden's decision to visit the Saudi kingdom has been seen as a betrayal of his promise by Saudi Arabian activists who say Biden is unlikely to make any concessions in favour of Washington.

A State Department spokesperson told MEE that it reviews cases of US nationals detained abroad under the Levinson Act "to determine if they are 'wrongful'."

"We also continue to advocate for the immediate lifting of coercive travel restrictions for U.S. nationals. We take our responsibility to assist all U.S. nationals seriously, and we press for fair and transparent treatment in all cases," the spokesperson said.

"It is vital for the Department to continue to partner with families through regular and transparent communication."

However, the State Department declined to provide details about the participants of the call it held.

Twitter sues Indian government, challenging orders to remove content

Tue, 07/05/2022 - 17:23
Twitter sues Indian government, challenging orders to remove content
Lawsuit is a part of broader battle between tech giants and governments around the world, including the Middle East
MEE staff Tue, 07/05/2022 - 18:23
Social media companies including Twitter are at the front and centre of the discussion over government censorship around the world.
Social media companies including Twitter are at the centre of discussions over government censorship around the world (AFP/File photo)

Twitter on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the Indian government, pushing back against orders to censor content on its platform.

The lawsuit, filed in the Karnataka High Court in Bangalore against the Union Government of India, is part of a broadening battle between tech giants and governments around the world, including in the Middle East, where activists and journalists have raised serious concerns over the issue of censorship.

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Tuesday's filing comes after India's information and technology ministry had asked Twitter to take down multiple accounts and tweets that were non-compliant with its new IT laws that allow the government to block access to content in the interest of national security, among other reasons.

The government recently demanded the US company to take down tweets from Indian journalist Rana Ayyub, a critic of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu-nationalist government; and Indian journalist Mohammed Zubair, who was recently arrested over his tweets. Zubair is a prominent journalist known for debunking fake news, monitoring hate speech and exposing Islamophobia.

Opponents of Modi's government have meanwhile accused his government of using the country's laws to clamp down on dissent and criticism.

Middle East censorship

Around the Middle East, activists, journalists and rights groups have raised alarm bells over the use of government-linked propaganda campaigns and censorship by governments to suppress dissent. Social media companies including Twitter are at the centre of many of these cases.

Twitter has removed thousands of accounts that have been linked to propaganda campaigns by governments, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt. 

However, at the same time, companies including Twitter have been accused of suppressing content critical of Middle East governments.

For years, Palestinians have highlighted how social media companies censor their content and have accused the social media giant of having bias towards Israel.

Activists and rights groups have accused Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, of censoring Palestinians and their allies, following the removal of pro-Palestinian posts. 

Nearly 200 Facebook staff members also accused its systems of unfairly taking down or down-ranking pro-Palestine content before and during Israel's offensive on Gaza in May 2021.

In 2020, Twitter suspended dozens of Palestinian and pro-Palestine accounts, a day after an Israeli ministry report was released on "phony" online profiles that criticised Israel.

Egypt re-arrests Alexandria activist as 'national dialogue' kicks off

Tue, 07/05/2022 - 15:21
Egypt re-arrests Alexandria activist as 'national dialogue' kicks off
Aya Kamal el-Din was detained from her home on Sunday and appeared at a Cairo police station days later, Egyptian lawyer says
MEE staff Tue, 07/05/2022 - 16:21
Egyptian graduate Aya Kamel El-Din was reportedly arrested on Sunday for the third time from her home in Alexandria (Social media)

Egyptian authorities have re-arrested a young activist for the third time, calling into question the government’s newly launched "national dialogue" political initiative. 

Aya Kamal el-Din was initially arrested in 2013 among a group known as “The girls of seven in the morning” and give a seven-year suspended jail sentence for participating in a protest in support of Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected president of Egypt who was ousted in a military coup.

She was arrested again in 2020 following a Facebook post criticising the military for its handling of personal protective equipment during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Egyptian lawyer Mahienour El-Massry confirmed that el-Din was arrested for a third time on Sunday from her home in Alexandria.

“[Aya] was released from prison about a year and a half ago due to her deteriorating health condition. She suffers from severe asthma,” Massry said on Twitter

"Let the sick girl continue her life in peace."

The lawyer later said that Kamal el-Din appeared at a police station in Cairo on Tuesday. 

'Room for all of us'

The arrest comes as the government launched its national dialogue initiative on Tuesday, in an apparent attempt to bring the country together and ensure that different regions, social classes and political opinions are represented. 

“There is room for all of us in the nation… differences in opinion do not corrupt the nation’s cause,” President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said last month during the announcement of the initiative. 

Egypt: Rights groups and activists sceptical of Sisi prisoner release plan
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Since Sisi ousted Morsi in a military coup in 2013, more than 60,000 political detainees have been imprisoned across Egypt, including former MPs, journalists and activists. 

Reacting to the detainment of Kamal el-Din, Egyptian journalist Rasha Azab tweeted: “Arrests continue before the planned national dialogue.” 

Another Egyptian social media user sarcastically tweeted that Kamal el-Din’s re-arrest was “clearing the way for the national dialogue”. 

The new initiative is being coordinated by Diaa Rashwan, head of the Egyptian Journalists' Syndicate, and will include some opposition parties and youth groups. 

Critics have dismissed the dialogue as an attempt to mitigate western criticism of Egypt’s human rights record, with little detail about what tangible steps would be taken to end political repression. 

Kamal El-Din's arrest followed news that three detainees in Egypt's prisons had died in since 1 July, highlighting the harsh conditions inside the country’s detention centres, according to advocacy organisation Committee for Justice (CFJ) on Tuesday.

Yemen awaiting 'disaster of dramatic magnitude' if Red Sea oil spill not averted

Tue, 07/05/2022 - 15:02
Yemen awaiting 'disaster of dramatic magnitude' if Red Sea oil spill not averted
Time to offload a million barrels of oil from a tanker off the coast of Yemen is running out, with experts warning that it could result in a 'widespread famine' should it break apart
MEE staff Tue, 07/05/2022 - 16:02
The FSO Safer tanker is beyond repair and is moored off Yemen’s Red Sea coast containing more than a million barrels of oil
A million barrels of crude oil need to be rescued from the decaying FSO Safer tanker moored off Yemen’s Red Sea coast (UNRCO Yemen)

The world is quickly running out of time to stave off a "disaster of dramatic magnitude" in the Red Sea, the International Crisis Group (ICG) has warned, as a million barrels of crude oil from a decaying supertanker languish off the coast of Yemen

Experts have cautioned that the large tanker-turned-floating storage and offloading vessel, the FSO Safer, could explode or break apart at any moment.

'Ports will be closed to all imports due to the spill, and the fishing industry will collapse'

-  Joost Hiltermann, MENA director at ICG

"The humanitarian impact, in Yemen alone, will be a further slide into widespread famine," Joost Hiltermann, the MENA director at ICG, told Middle East Eye. 

"Ports will be closed to all imports due to the spill, and the fishing industry will collapse," he added. 

However, the work to repair the rusting ship has been delayed in part due to funding shortages and, to a greater extent, international neglect, he pointed out.

In a last-ditch attempt to raise the remaining $20m, in addition to the already secured $60m, the United Nations has turned to crowdfunding to secure the remaining amount

Even Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio weighed in on the issue, earlier this month, in a bid to raise awareness.

Hiltermann, however, is worried that any spill could widen the spectre of the conflict, bringing other international actors into the already fragile region.

"Given the Red Sea's strategic nature as a vital transport route; this can only further internationalise the Yemen war, which already became more complex due to outside involvement," added Hiltermann.

In Yemen, the warring parties, currently observing a tentative peace, could quickly turn on each other blaming each other for the disaster, which may very well result in "an intensified struggle over very scarce resources", said Hiltermann. 

Hiltermann also blames the "sluggish response" of international stakeholders due to the "fact that governments tend to have small or no budgets for disaster prevention outside their borders", with national parliaments sceptical about whether any funds would end up making a difference. 

Bargaining chip

The decaying 45-year-old oil tanker may not wait long for international governments. 

Controlled by the Houthi group, abandoned and unserviced since maintenance operations were suspended in 2015, the oil tanker close to the Yemeni port of Hodeidah, has become, according to experts, a ticking timebomb.

Hannah Porter, a Yemen analyst at DT Global, an international development firm, said the issue should never have been politicised.

Yemen: Three months in, new leadership achieves little amid rising anger
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"The ship is a threat to all Yemenis, regardless of political affiliation," said Porter speaking to MEE, adding that "it's in everyone's interest for this threat to be neutralised immediately".

Environmentalists have warned the cost of the salvage operation, around $80m, would be a fraction of the estimated $20bn it would cost to clean up a spill. 

Despite this, "the question of who owns the oil - who has the right to sell it, and where should that money go" has prevented the different Yemeni factions and their backers from agreeing to a common plan for resolving the situation, Porter said.

Meanwhile, tensions between the internationally recognised government and the Houthi group preclude an immediate resolution to this. 

The UN has outlined a solution where the oil is simply offloaded onto another, more secure ship, therefore bypassing the need to immediately sell the oil.

Porter is concerned that even if the UN raises the money it needs, there is significant scope for the sides to pull out of a final arrangement. 

"The FSO Safer has been a useful bargaining chip for the Houthis, and they were reluctant to give that up," said Porter. "I also suspect that the volatile nature of the Safer has somewhat acted as a deterrent for any coalition-supported military operations to retake Hodeidah port from the Houthis - again, something the Houthis would not want to sacrifice," she added.

Environmentally and economically, "there is no reason not to do everything possible to resolve this issue," says Porter, adding that "from a political perspective, some parties may see it as advantageous to let this issue fester, as it allows them to blame the other side for not solving it."

"This approach is a gamble, of course, because everyone will suffer when the ship ultimately leaks," she concluded.

Nayera Ashraf: Egyptian lawyer who defended Mubarak to represent convicted murderer

Tue, 07/05/2022 - 14:51
Nayera Ashraf: Egyptian lawyer who defended Mubarak to represent convicted murderer
Farid al-Deeb says he will defend a 'person accused of a crime' and not the crime itself
MEE staff Tue, 07/05/2022 - 15:51
Nayera Ashra had previously reported the perpetrator to the authorities, fearing that he would attack her, according to her father and witnesses (Screengrab/Twitter)

An Egyptian veteran lawyer, who defended former president Hosni Mubarak during his trial in 2011, said that he would be the defence attorney in the murder case of university student Nayera Ashraf that rocked the country last month.

Farid al-Deeb said on Tuesday that he accepted to defend Mohamed Adel, the convicted killer who confessed and was sentenced to death last week for killing the student.

A final hearing is scheduled on Wednesday in the Mansoura Criminal Court after the case was sent to the grand mufti to issue a non-binding opinion on the ruling.

Ashraf was beaten and stabbed multiple times in broad daylight on 20 June in front of shocked onlookers by Adel, whose marriage proposal she had rejected. 

'I am not defending a crime, but rather a person accused of a crime, and there is a big difference between the two,'

- Farid al-Deeb, Egyptian lawyer

Since then, Ashraf's family have received messages from people on social media offering millions of Egyptian pounds in return for pardoning Adel, according to local media. However, the victim's family refused, and her father said that "millions of pounds are not worth the price of a single drop of his [Ashraf's] blood."

Deeb said that he received phone calls from people outside Egypt to step in and defend Adel.

Ahmed Mahran, a controversial lawyer who started a fundraising initiative to pardon Adel, told media that "the death sentence scheduled for Wednesday morning will be overturned," without elaborating on the details. 

Deeb also said that the judge's verdict last week had convicted Adel "before the court issued a unanimous verdict condemning him," adding that he will study the case and push back in defence.

"I am not defending a crime, but rather a person accused of a crime, and there is a big difference between the two," he said.

'Loopholes'

Adel's family expressed relief when hearing of Deeb's acceptance to legally defend their son.

His sister, Nada, told media that the case had "legal loopholes" and claimed that her brother's statements were not taken into account during the investigations by the police and by the court.

The trial began on 26 June, days after a video went viral appearing to show the 21-year-old victim being stabbed outside Mansoura University.

Footage of the incident showed Adel later being restrained by bystanders and arrested by the police.

Ashraf had previously reported the alleged perpetrator to the authorities, fearing that he would attack her following repeated threats that he had made, according to her father and witnesses.

The maximum penalty for murder is death in Egypt, which carried out the third-highest number of executions in the world in 2021, according to Amnesty International.

Nearly eight million Egyptian women were victims of violence committed by their partners or relatives, or by strangers in public spaces, according to a United Nations survey conducted in 2015.

Egyptian lawyer who defended Mubarak to represent Nayera Ashraf's convicted murderer

Khashoggi: What Biden’s prior legal interventions tell us about immunity for MBS

Tue, 07/05/2022 - 14:30
Khashoggi: What Biden’s prior legal interventions tell us about immunity for MBS
As a judge pressures Biden to weigh in on Khashoggi case, MEE looks at previous cases where the administration intervened in lawsuits with implications for Washington's Middle East allies
Umar A Farooq Tue, 07/05/2022 - 15:30
US President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia later this month.
US President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia later this month (AFP/File photo)

A US judge has given President Joe Biden's administration until 1 August to weigh in and say whether or not it believes that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman be given immunity from a lawsuit, which was filed by the fiancee of murdered Washington Post and Middle East Eye columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The order by the judge, placed on Friday, places pressure on Biden to decide whether or not to intervene in a court case that could implicate the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, a long-time strategic ally of the US in the Middle East.

Khashoggi: Saudi crown prince still 'a murderer' says fiancee, as MBS visits Turkey
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"In the Court's view, some of the grounds for dismissal advanced by defendants might implicate the interests of the United States; moreover, the Court’s resolution of defendants' motions might be aided by knowledge of the United States' views," the order said.

And it comes just weeks ahead of Biden's first trip as president to Saudi Arabia, where the administration will look to reset the Saudi-US relationship after a strenuous several months.

The lawsuit was filed by Hatice Cengiz and Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn), the US-based advocacy group that Khashoggi established and ran before his death. Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018, in a murder that shocked the world and which continues to have global ramifications.

The judge has yet to rule whether or not the court has jurisdiction. If it does, the lawsuit could open what one source described to Middle East Eye as a "pandora's box" of information, with the court potentially demanding that the crown prince gives evidence in person.

In looking closer at the Khashoggi court case, in which the judge has asked the Biden administration to weigh in, MEE looks into how the administration has previously intervened in US legal cases with implications for its Middle East allies.

Mohamed Soltan v Hazem el-Beblawi

In June 2020, Egyptian-American rights activist Mohamed Soltan filed a lawsuit against former Egyptian prime minister Hazem el-Beblawi, accusing him of being responsible for his torture while Soltan was in a Cairo prison.

Soltan, who spent 643 days in prison in Egypt after being arrested in July 2013, accused Beblawi of direct responsibility for his treatment, which included being shot, beaten and tortured.

He sued Beblawi under the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVTP), a 1991 US law that allows victims of torture to sue for compensation from their tormenters if the accused are in the US and no longer head of state.

US court dismisses torture lawsuit against former Egyptian prime minister
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Beblawi, who was trained as an economist at the Sorbonne in Paris, was living in McLean, Virginia, and was on the executive board of the International Monetary Fund in Washington at the time the suit was filed.

The lawsuit stated that while in jail, Soltan was burnt with cigarettes, had his ribs broken and was held in solitary confinement. He was also denied urgent medical attention for a bullet wound.

Ultimately, however, the Biden administration issued a court filing asserting that "Beblawi held diplomatic status at the time when the suit was commenced" and because of this the court should dismiss claims falling within "the scope of his immunity".

Following the Biden administration's move, the judge dismissed the case, using the argument of Beblawi's immunity.

The case offers potential precedent for the administration to decide if the crown prince has immunity in the case against him. However, it brings up the question of whether the Saudi royal would be given "head of state immunity", given that Biden has repeatedly said that his counterpart in Saudi Arabia is King Salman and not Mohammed bin Salman, who is also known as MBS.

Saad al-Jabri v Saudi state-run companies

Saad al-Jabri, Saudi Arabia's former spy chief, and Mohammed bin Salman are currently enmeshed in a legal battle in the US, in which Jabri has accused the crown prince of sending a hit squad to assassinate him in Canada.

After Jabri filed a lawsuit against Mohammed bin Salman in Washington, a group of Saudi state-run companies led by Sakab Saudi Holding responded with a lawsuit against Jabri filed in Massachusetts.

Sakab accused Jabri of embezzling state funds while working under former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who in 2017 was ousted, placed under house arrest and replaced by his cousin, Mohammed bin Salman. Jabri has denied these allegations.

Then in September 2021, Avril Haines, the US director of national intelligence, invoked a rarely used state secrets legal privilege to prevent the release of classified information in the case.

Haines said the information that was due to be released as evidence in Sakab's lawsuit against Jabri could potentially cause "exceptionally grave" harm to US national security. As a result, the judge dismissed the case.

Former Saudi spy chief wins evidence order in US court battle
Read More »

While the Biden administration's intervention in this case was seen as a blow to the Saudi government, it does show precedent that the US government does intervene in court cases for the sake of self-preservation, whether it be for state secrets or Washington's ties with foreign allies.

Biden has less than a month to issue its assessment of the legal case filed against the Saudi crown prince. Meanwhile, rights groups have viewed his upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia as a "betrayal", given the US president's promise to hold Riyadh accountable for human rights abuses, including the murder of Khashoggi.

Abdullah Alaoudh, the Gulf director for Dawn, told The Guardian that if Biden were to rule that Mohammed bin Salman should have immunity in the lawsuit, it would be "the final nail in the coffin for attempts to hold Khashoggi’s murderers accountable".

"It would be so shameful if on top of every broken [Biden] promise to hold MBS accountable for the murder of #JamalKhashoggi he intervenes to block our organization [Dawn]'s lawsuit to at least get judicial justice," Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Dawn, said on Twitter.

Washington

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