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World Cup 2022: Israeli forces crack down on Palestinians celebrating Morocco victory

Sun, 12/11/2022 - 12:52
World Cup 2022: Israeli forces crack down on Palestinians celebrating Morocco victory
Police on horseback beat and drag Palestinians at Jerusalem's Damascus Gate during act of Arab solidarity
MEE staff Sun, 12/11/2022 - 12:52
Palestinians celebrate Morocco's win at Jerusalem's Damascus Gate (Reuters)

Israeli police violently cracked down on Palestinians in Jerusalem celebrating Morocco's historic World Cup quarter-final victory against Portugal on Saturday evening.

Footage online showed Israeli forces armed with batons beating and dragging Palestinians celebrating the win outside the Old City's walls.

Officers on horseback could also be seen aggressively dispersing Palestinians, including children. 

Israeli forces have attacked Palestinian fans in Jerusalem who were celebrating Morocco’s win over Portugal. pic.twitter.com/58GBt3NLaN

— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) December 10, 2022

Hundreds of Palestinians had gathered at the Old City's Damascus Gate to celebrate Morocco's 1-0 win in an act of Arab solidarity. The Damascus Gate is a traditional gathering spot for Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem, but Israeli authorities have been restricting their ability to gather there to socialise in recent months.

Palestinians held up Morocco flags, chanting "raise your hand and dance with us" while dancing dabke. One Moroccan flag was raised at the top of the historic gate.

Similar scenes were seen in Palestinian communities in Israel, the occupied West Bank and Gaza.


Palestine takes centre stage

Palestine took centre stage once again as Morocco players celebrated their victory in the World Cup in Doha with a Palestinian flag.

The win makes Morocco the first African and Arab side to reach a World Cup semi-final, but many have named Palestine the real winner, as its cause continues to take prominence in Qatar.

Not long after leaving the pitch, midfielder Abdelhamid Sabiri posted a photo on Instagram of himself with the Palestinian flag tied around his shoulders accompanied by a one-word caption: "Freedom". Later he gave interviews to broadcasters at the game still wearing the flag. 

With the Qatar World Cup the first to be held in an Arab country, Morocco has been backed by fans from Iraq to Algeria, who have cheered their progress into the semis.

Palestine, which did not qualify for the finals, has also seen notable support throughout the competition, especially among those from other Arab countries.

The grassroots support is juxtaposed against the normalisation deals recently signed with Israel by Morocco, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan.

Israeli forces crack down on Palestinians celebrating Morocco World Cup win

Far-right MP says Israel 'too merciful' to Palestinians

Sun, 12/11/2022 - 11:38
Far-right MP says Israel 'too merciful' to Palestinians
Zvika Fogel says 'the concept of proportionality must cease to exist'
MEE staff Sun, 12/11/2022 - 11:38
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Fogel served as a brigadier general for the Israeli army reserves before becoming a member of the Jewish Power political party (social media)

A far-right Israeli MP whose party will be a major player in the new government has expressed his desire to end any form of proportionality when dealing with Palestinians.

In an interview with the UK's Channel 4 News that aired on Friday, Zvika Fogel said Israel had been "too merciful" towards the Palestinians.

"Anyone who wants to harm me, I will harm him back. And as far as I'm concerned, the concept of proportionality must cease to exist," said Fogel. 

"So I will tell you something that is very unpleasant to say. If it is one Israeli mother crying, or a thousand Palestinian mothers crying, then a thousand Palestinian mothers will cry."

When asked by the presenter if this policy was racist, Fogel said: "We are too merciful. It's time for us to stop being so. It has nothing to do with racism."

Ben Gvir, Smotrich and the end of the peace process
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Fogel is a member of Itamar Ben Gvir's far-right ultra-nationalist Jewish Power party. Ben-Gvir, an openly racist Jewish supremacist, is set to become public security minister following government-formation negotiations with incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Jewish Power leader was previously convicted of incitement to racism and supporting a terrorist organisation.

Religious Zionism, an alliance of far-right parties including Jewish Power, came third in November's elections. Fogel is unlikely to be given a ministerial post, but his faction will nonetheless have an important say in the government's direction.

Israel's allies in the West and Gulf, as well as the Israeli military establishment, have reportedly expressed concern over Netanyahu's incoming far-right coalition partners.

On Thursday, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, CEO of T’ruah, an organisation representing over 2,300 rabbis and cantors in North America, warned: "Israel's new government is a stark display of rising fascism and racism."

"Netanyahu's coalition government gives power to violent, right-wing extremists who seek to incite political violence and who will put lives at risk… from the top down. Netanyahu and his new coalition endanger both Israelis and Palestinians," Jacobs said.

This year, 217 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, including 52 in the Gaza Strip and 165 in the West Bank, making it one of the deadliest years on record for Palestinians since 2005.

Meanwhile, 29 Israelis, including soldiers, have been killed by Palestinians in the same period, the highest number since 2008.

Fogel previously headed the regional council in the Galilee village of Tuba-Zangariyye, a role he exited in 2011 after a wave of violence and vandalism.

He also served as a brigadier general in the Israeli army reserves and headed its southern command before spending nearly a decade running the southern command's fire control unit.

Inside Dubai's cut-throat luxury watch industry

Sun, 12/11/2022 - 10:43
Inside Dubai's cut-throat luxury watch industry
Even in the flashy emirate where anything goes, securing high-end timepieces can only be done through years of reputation and relationship building - or huge amounts of cash
Ali M Latifi Sun, 12/11/2022 - 10:43
An exhibitor displays a Patek Philippe 18k yellow gold automatic wrist watch in Dubai (Reuters)

On a breezy early December evening, a group of young men in their 20s and 30s sit at an Iraqi restaurant in Dubai's Palm Jumeria island. Though it has a perfect view of the Atlantis, one of the men isn't looking towards the towering resort, or even the World Cup match playing on a large screen.

Instead, he's fixated on the screen of a phone belonging to a middle-aged man seated at a table directly in front of them.

"He's looking at Chrono," the young man says to his shisha-smoking friends, referring to online marketplace Chrono24, where premium and luxury watches are sold to people all over the world.

"I wonder if I should tell him he can have my watch?"

The young man's watch is a Rolex Daytona Steel, which retails for around $12,000, but can go for anywhere between $20,000 and $25,000 on the secondary market.

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

For a certain class of moneyed men in the United Arab Emirates, the content on Chrono24 is a constant topic of conversation and an integral part of their daily online routine. For these men, Chrono24 is a mix of Pinterest, Wikipedia and Instagram - a source of inspiration, information and, of course, aspiration.

A picture shows a view of the Dubai skyline, including Burj Khalifa the world’s tallest building, in the United Arab Emirates (AFP)
A picture shows a view of the Dubai skyline, including Burj Khalifa the world’s tallest building, in the United Arab Emirates (AFP)

The UAE has a reputation as a place where money and goods flow freely and easily. But connoisseurs of luxury timepieces will tell you that even here, getting a hold of one of these watches requires much more than the tap of a credit card or even a wad of dirhams.

Several young men - businessmen, startup founders, crypto investors and corporate workers - Middle East Eye spoke to in Dubai said even with access to large sums of money, being able to buy a watch from top brands like Rolex, Audemars Pigeut, Patek Philipe and Richard Mille directly requires research, numerous visits to the stores and countless hours spent meeting with and messaging sales representatives.

Even then, there's no guarantee you will be able to get the model you want due to the sheer amount of competition.

Over three months, MEE spoke to collectors, retail workers and secondary market sellers who described a fiercely competitive industry bordering on obsession. They all asked for anonymity fearing compromising their "profiles" in the local market, which is highly sensitive about how customers treat not only the watches, but the arduous process that will give them a chance to purchase a watch that can cost anywhere from tens of thousands to millions of dollars.

Gauging the customer

Inside the store of a top watch brand, a sales representative brings out a list of dozens of people's names that spans several pages. It's a waiting list.

Flipping through the pages, he says: "If I get a shipment, whether it's one watch or 30, I have to choose from all of these names."

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This is why he says it's so important to know how to gauge a customer.

That evaluation goes beyond the usual status symbols like clothing. Customers can be clad in anything from Under Armour athleisure to Gucci and Fendi. Similarly, when many Dubai residents pull up in Uber taxis, cars can't be relied upon to signal wealth.

The salesman says he looks at the whole package.

"If I see them having a tea outside, I notice which hand they hold their cup with. Is it the one with the watch, so everyone can see it?"

It's also about diligence and dedication. Because watches can go for twice or even three times the retail price on the secondary markets, the salesman says he wants to be sure the buyer will hold on to the watch and not just flip it.

'If I see someone having a tea outside, I notice which hand they hold their cup with. Is it the one with the watch, so everyone can see it?'

- Luxury watch salesman

"If I see someone wearing the same watch over two, three years, then I know they really value it."

He turns to a 30-year-old customer of his who splits his time between Dubai, the US and South Asia, saying: "Look at him, he comes in and checks on me every time he's in the mall. He messages me asking how I am, but also if we have anything new. So, I would rather give it to him than someone I know who will turn around and sell it."

And those tactics work. The customer says he only got an Audemars Pigeut Royal Oak Offshore that retails for $46,000 after two years of developing ties with the salesman.

Other customers will buy up several lower-cost watches they may not even want, or even women's watches, which are in much less demand than their male counterparts, simply to raise their profiles in hopes of finally securing the piece they actually desire.

Others are much more dubious of what they call the retail "game".

A 26-year-old Emirati corporate worker says it's simply not worth it. He'd rather just test his luck each time he walks into a store. "You spend all that time going to visit someone and messaging them and for what? The chance to buy something? No way, I'd rather just hope I get lucky."

That's not to say that he hasn't slowly amassed a small collection of watches, but he insists he's willing to play the long game because he sees them as investments.

An Egyptian friend of his, who has used his family's pre-existing profile to help boost his chances of getting the watches he desires, agrees. Because they know if they need to, they can turn around sell most pieces at a sizable profit.

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"Yes, I appreciate the mechanisms and the complications and the dials, the make. All of it. But when it comes down to it, I know that this is an investment. I can liquidate this much more easily than I could a car," says the Egyptian, who works for the UAE government.

'The game'

All of the men that MEE spoke to admitted to being both frustrated by the effort it takes to buy a watch, and drawn by it too. One reason they play "the game" is sheer statistics.

AP produces around 35,000 watches annually. Richard Mille is a fraction of that, making only 5,000, meaning the company can charge upwards of $2m for a single piece. The primary reason why these brands can limit their supply so much is the fact that none of the top four brands are actually publicly or privately-held companies, with each operating as an NGO - meaning they are under no obligation to answer to shareholders or move as many units as possible.

Though they do not release public figures, it is reported that Rolex produces approximately one million watches per year, but even then, their products remain elusive, in large part due to the brand's place in the market as the most universally known luxury watch brand.

"Rolex is the entry-point. Everyone's first watch is a Rolex. Then they get to know more and then they move on to AP, Patek or Richard Mille. But everyone starts at Rolex," says the retail seller.

By contrast, Patek Philippe claims it has made fewer than a million watches since 1839.

This scarcity and the recent influx of crypto money created a massive boom in the global watch market over the last two years, something not even Covid-19 could derail.

How Dubai is winning big at the 2022 Qatar World Cup
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"The crypto boys are the easiest to sell to, they just spend and spend," says a jeweller and watch reseller, who owns a shop on Sheikh Zayed Road. The 36-year-old says that until about a year ago, 90 percent of the purchases in his store were made with crypto.

His store, which has been visited by big-name rappers and athletes, is an example of the paradoxes of the global watch market. Retail buyers have to spend months, even years, trying to finesse their way into the possibility of making a purchase, whereas in the secondary market, a buyer really can walk in with money and walk out with a watch.

However, that convenience comes at a price for the consumer and a risk for the business. The purchaser can end up paying up to three times the retail price for the instant gratification.

Stores that resell, meanwhile, have to be careful that their suppliers, who bought the timepieces at retail, are not flagged as flippers and blocked from the market.

"Protecting our suppliers is extremely important to us and we go to great lengths to make sure their profiles aren't affected," says the reseller. As with the retail salesman, he ensures this by knowing exactly who he's dealing with.

Because the reseller has a pre-existing family jewellery business, he already had an existing list of clients he trusts to not only pay up but to handle their timepiece with discretion, so as not to negatively affect the supplier's retail reputation.

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If the reseller is not careful and sells a watch registered under a different name to a customer who then takes the piece to a store for service, repairs or appraisal, the supplier, whose name is recorded with the retailer, could come under suspicion of being a flipper. And this, in turn, will make the supplier less trusting of the reseller, who relies on the suppliers for his stock.

The reseller on Sheikh Zayed Road has customers from around the Gulf, the EU, the UK and even as far as the US.

He says the UAE's location and Dubai's reputation for luxury has made the city the epicentre of the global watch market. "Any watch you want, you can find here," he says, so long as you're willing to pay the premium.

Life of luxury

It's not just the wealth and volume that makes Dubai the ultimate watch market. Both the retail worker and the reseller admit that many of their clients only feel comfortable wearing their pieces inside the UAE, even if they are jet-setters. Luxury is just part of everyday life here.

The reseller points to a customer who will leave his store and head to a gym on the Palm. "Look at him. That watch he's wearing costs tens of thousands of dollars, but he can take it off at his gym and be completely confident that an hour later it will still be where he left it. You can't do that in Europe or the US."

At the supermarket in Dubai, a luxury watch aficionado can spot pieces worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

That confidence goes beyond physical security. In the UAE, luxury watches are also a much more common sight on the wrists of boys as young as 14 and men well into their golden years.

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All of the sources that MEE spoke to said that when they travel abroad, they either wear much less expensive brands - like D1 Milano and Swatch, which retail for only a couple of hundred dollars - or no watch at all. That's because almost none of them actually use their luxury timepieces for their primary function: checking the time.

"On those occasions when the time on my watch is correct, I actually laugh," says the reseller, flashing the $161,000 Richard Mille on his wrist.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

World Cup 2022: Morocco make history by beating Portugal to reach semis

Sat, 12/10/2022 - 16:46
World Cup 2022: Morocco make history by beating Portugal to reach semis
Youssef En-Nesyri's first-half header sends the Portuguese home, with Cristiano Ronaldo storming down the tunnel in tears
MEE staff Sat, 12/10/2022 - 16:46
Morocco's players celebrate after beating Portugal to progress to the World Cup semi-finals at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, on 10 December 2022 (AFP)

Morocco sealed a stunning win over Portugal at the Qatar World Cup on Saturday, becoming the first African and Arab side to ever reach a World Cup semi-final.

Youssef En-Nesyri got the only goal in the 43rd minute with an impeccably timed leap to send a thumping header home. 

Morocco came close to a second goal four minutes into the second half as Jawad El Yamiq got a touch to Hakim Ziyech's in-swinging free kick but goalkeeper Diogo Costa was in place this time to block.

Not even the 51st minute introduction of Cristiano Ronaldo could inspire a Portugal comeback, with the Atlas Lions holding firm as Bruno Fernandes hit the crossbar while Goncalo Ramos and Bernardo Silva also missed the target.

World Cup 2022: Moroccans celebrate historic win against Portugal
Read More »

Morocco's Walid Cheddira was sent off in stoppage time, after receiving two yellow cards in quick succession, but to the delight of the raucous support, the Atlas Lions held out for a famous victory.

Portugal will see it as a missed opportunity against the lowest-ranked side left in the tournament and a disappointing curtain call for the 37-year-old Ronaldo, who walked down the tunnel at the end of the game in tears.

"We're here to change a mentality - no more inferiority," said their man of the match goalkeeper, Yassine Bounou, also known as Bono.

Manager Walid Regragui delivered an even more compelling line: "We are the Rocky Balboa of this World Cup."

Unlike Rocky, though, Morocco haven't been knocked down.

"We are the team that everyone loves in this World Cup because we are showing the world you can succeed even if you don't have as much talent and money," Regragui added.

"It is no miracle. Many of you will say it is, especially in Europe, but we have beaten Belgium, Spain and Portugal without conceding. We have made our people proud and our continent and so many people around, when you watch Rocky you want to support Rocky Balboa."

Why shouldn't we dream?

Over the course of their five World Cup matches, the only goal Morocco have conceded was an own goal against Canada.

In addition to the wins against Portugal, Belgium and Spain, the Atlas Lions kept a clean sheet against fellow semi-finalist Croatia.

The team have won over won over plenty of plaudits for their energetic displays, magnificent defending and attacking flair.

World Cup 2022: Morocco's Atlas Lions unite fans with roar for Palestinian cause
Read More »

The team have also won praise for displaying their Islamic beliefs, such as reciting passages of the Quran in their huddle before their success on penalties over Spain in the previous round, and their bowing down for prostration in front of their fans after their victory over Portugal.

"We're a believing people. We prayed for this win, we expected it, and we deserve it," Fatima Zahra Harimi, a social assistant based in Rabat told Middle East Eye.

"God willing, we'll win the next match too. This is a victory for Moroccans, Muslims, Arabs, and Africans."

Speaking after the match, an optimistic Regragui said there's no reason for Morocco's World Cup dream to end in the last four.

"What's important for future generations is we've shown that it is possible for an African team to get to the semifinals of the World Cup. Or even the final, why not?" he said.

"In one press conference three or four matches ago, I was asked we could win the World Cup. And I said, 'Why not?' We can dream. Why shouldn't we dream? If you don't dream, you don't get anywhere. It doesn't cost you anything."

Morocco's World Cup fairy tale continues with Portugal win

A call for Emirati sandwich makers sparks an investigation and outrage in UAE

Sat, 12/10/2022 - 14:26
A call for Emirati sandwich makers sparks an investigation and outrage in UAE
Public Prosecution launches probe into the ‘contentious’ job ad as an effort to Emiratise the workforce goes awry
Areeb Ullah Sat, 12/10/2022 - 14:26
The Kamal Jamjoom Group said it put the ad out on behalf of Subway (Reuters)

When a business in the United Arab Emirates put out an ad inviting Emiratis to apply for a job as a "sandwich maker" it bit off more than it could chew.

Now the UAE has opened an investigation into the "contentious" advert, after Emiratis reacted to the suggestion that they could fill such a role with unbridled fury.

The UAE Public Prosecution announced on Saturday that it planned to interrogate the "CEO of the business" without specifying which company put out the advert. 

But a statement from the Kamal Jamjoom Group conglomerate said it advertised the role on behalf of the Subway fast food chain to support the UAE's drive to "localise jobs" by hiring Emiratis. 

The Public Prosecution, however, claimed the ad broke Emiratisation regulations and media content standards because it included "contentious" content. It did not clarify what exactly about the ad was "contentious".

The Kamal Jamjoom Group ad came ahead of a deadline that required private UAE employers with more than 50 employees to ensure that two percent of their staff are Emirati nationals or face fines. 

Businesses that fail to comply could face a fine of up to 6,000 dirhams ($1,633) for each role they cannot fill with an Emirati national. 

'Mockery' and 'insult'

According to the International Labour Organisation, expatriates make up more than 90 percent of the UAE's private sector labour force, with most Emiratis employed in the country's public sector. 

By the reaction of many Emiratis on social media, a role as a "sandwich maker" was clearly deemed below them. Some described it as a "mockery" and an “insult” to Emiratis. 

Former Emirati government official Sultan Almoathen claimed the advert "was an attack on locals". 

"Offering such jobs (showing contempt and mocking citizens) is evidence of some expats' hatred and envy against us," Almoathen tweeted. 

"Our country has been good to them, but unfortunately, we always witness an attack on our nation and leaders… these jobs are considered an attack on locals."

Meanwhile, Emirati social commentator and photographer Al Suwaidi said Emiratis should be prioritised for senior roles before they are offered "insulting jobs" like a sandwich maker. 

Uyghurs in Turkey mourn Urumqi fire fatalities

Sat, 12/10/2022 - 13:25
Uyghurs in Turkey mourn Urumqi fire fatalities
Muhammed Memetali lost his mother and four siblings in the fire. With his father disappeared, he cannot return to China for the funeral
Yusuf Selman Inanc Sat, 12/10/2022 - 13:25
Protesters gather at a vigil in honour of the victims of a fire in a Uyghur-majority neighbourhood of Urumqi, western China (AFP)

“I can’t describe the pain I felt when I saw the photo,” Muhammed Memetali said. “I looked again and again. There were my mother and siblings, lying lifelessly.” 

On 25 November a fire broke out on the 15th floor of a 21-storey apartment block in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang region in China’s far west. The building was subject to tight Covid-19 measures and its gates, including the fire exit, were locked. 

Officially, ten people were killed. Among them were Memetali’s mother and four siblings. Yet some have claimed the death toll is in fact higher, and questions have been asked whether the strict Covid-19 measures prevented emergency services from getting to the victims in time. Some have also claimed that doors of the building were locked, which authorities deny.

“My mother and siblings would have been alive if the doors were not locked,” Memetali, who is from Xinjiang’s native Uyghur Muslim population, told Middle East Eye.  

Memetali was speaking to MEE in an Istanbul suburb in a building that houses a Uyghur organisation called the Association of East Turkestan Scholars (East Turkestan is the name the Muslim population most often gives to the western regions of China that encompass Xinjiang).

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Outside, the Kucukcekmece district is full of Uyghur restaurants and shops. Inside, books from the region line the wall. 

Mohammed Memetali
Muhammed Memetali lost his mother and four siblings in the Urumqi fire (MEE/Yusuf Selman Inanc)

Memetali was 16 when he came to Turkey in 2016. Aged 22 now, his sister Serafat, who also lives in Istanbul, was unable to come to the interview after seeing the photos of her mother and siblings lying dead back home in Urumqi. 

The deadly fire is believed to have been sparked by a power strip in a bedroom on the 15th floor of the building. 

“Our apartment is a few hundred metres away from a fire centre and one kilometre away from a hospital,” Memetali said. “How is it possible that they failed to come in time to rescue people?”

Videos shared on Chinese social media showed fire trucks arriving after the fire had engulfed the upper floors, with roads reportedly blocked because of China’s fiercely debated Covid-19 measures.

The mayor of Urumqi apologised and announced that an investigation into the incident would take place. 

“I am not sure whether they would be late if the residents were not Uyghur,” Memetali said, showing his distrust of the Chinese authorities. 

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The plight of the Uyghurs 

The north-western regions known to some as East Turkestan and their Muslim inhabitants have been subjected to an array of human rights violations since the Chinese captured them in 1949. 

The suppression of religion, mass surveillance, forced conversions and the banning of the Uyghur language have all been reported under the pretext of combatting terrorism and modernising society. China has called the accusations “groundless”

'My mother and siblings would have been alive if the doors were not locked'

Muhammed Memetali, bereaved family member

In September, a group of UN experts who visited the region concluded that “the extent of arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minorities… may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.” 

These crimes include torture, ill-treatment, rape, violence, arbitrary detention, experimental medical treatment, gynecological exams, forced abortion, and oppression of religious freedom. 

China hit back, maintaining that “counter-terrorism and deradicalisation efforts in Xinjiang have been all along conducted on the track of the rule of law”. 

Yet Beijing's definition of terrorism is vague and potentially includes causing social panic, wearing a costume or symbol advocating terrorism, and endangering public property.

Life under surveillance 

What is not up for debate is how Memetali and other Uyghurs living in exile are experiencing all this, particularly in light of incidents like the Urumqi fire. The 22-year-old Uyghur is in no doubt about the level of surveillance taking place back in China. 

“When I came to Turkey in 2016, I tried once to talk to my father,” he told MEE. The result was the detention of his father and older brother. “I don’t know where they are. I don’t know who will bury my mother and siblings in their absence. I don’t know if my father knows that his wife died.”

Abdurresid Eminhaci, general secretary of the Turkey-based Association of International East Turkestan NGOs, has suffered the same experience. His father was detained in 2017 without reason.

China: UN Uyghur report met with silence in Middle East
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“We just know that he was given a five-year prison sentence but we don’t know his whereabouts,” Eminhaci told MEE.

“I am yearning to hear their voices but I know that if I try to, I’ll be harming them,” Memetali said of his surviving family back in Xinjiang. 

“They are using our people as slaves not only in the camps but also in other construction projects,” Eminhaci claimed.

“For instance, they raid a house and choose men to be sent to inner cities to work on the Belt and Road project,” he said, referring to China’s global infrastructure plan.

Eminhaci believes China’s “goal is to destroy the Turkic and Muslim identity of Uyghurs”. Uyghur is a Turkic ethnicity, and its language is very similar to Turkish.

The Uyghur activist reeled off a long list of repressive Chinese tactics, including not allowing people to speak Uyghur, forcing them to abandon their religion, not letting them travel without a “valid reason”, banning social media and not allowing people to go to a mosque and pray. 

Life in Turkey

In Turkey, exiles from China’s far west felt that they had found some space to vent their frustrations. The country has been a prominent destination for Uyghurs - a Turkish law allows issuing residence permits for people of Turkic descent. 

Last week, a group of Uyghurs gathered in front of the Chinese consulate in Istanbul. 

But the police reaction was unexpectedly severe, with the chief of police threatening those present with deportation. 

Later that day, Turkey’s interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, issued a written statement in which he apologised and said that an “investigation was launched” into the police response. Soylu underlined the ethnic and religious ties between Turkey and the East Turkestan region.

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“Everybody considers us as a brother here,” Memetali said. 

Still, the 22-year-old implored the Turkish government to take further action and put pressure on its Chinese counterpart. 

“I don’t understand why everybody turns a blind eye to East Turkestan while people are killed, detained, raped,” Memetali told MEE.
“Are we not humans? What is the crime that we committed? Why can’t I talk to my father? Why can’t I even attend my mother’s funeral? Why is everybody silent?” 

Istanbul, Turkey
'I can't go to my mother's funeral': Uyghurs in Turkey mourn Urumqi fire fatalities

World Cup 2022: Morocco coach says 'impossible' top clubs would hire Arab and African managers

Sat, 12/10/2022 - 10:41
World Cup 2022: Morocco coach says 'impossible' top clubs would hire Arab and African managers
Walid Regragui says he hopes to change history and perception of Arab and African coaches by beating Portugal on Saturday
MEE staff Sat, 12/10/2022 - 10:41
If Morocco beats Portugal, the team will make history and face either France or England in the World Cup semi-finals (AFP)

Morocco coach Walid Regragui said it has felt "impossible" to see a top European club hire an Arab or African manager but hoped to change history by beating Portugal in the World Cup quarter-finals. 

The 45-year-old previously managed clubs in Morocco and Qatar before taking the Moroccan national team job.

Reflecting on his coaching career, Regragui spoke of how he often felt overlooked for top coaching jobs. 

"Ten years I am a coach, nobody looked at me," Regragui said at a news conference on Friday. 

"'No, it is impossible, he does not have the experience. Let's look at somebody else'. I'm in the quarter-final. Explain this miracle," the Moroccan added.

"When people talk about experience, experience doesn't matter, it's skills. It doesn't matter about your background, religiously or culturally speaking, where you're from. It's about skills. If you're not worthy, you don't have the skills, you can leave."

Morocco became the first North African and Arab team to reach the World Cup quarter-finals in the competition's history after beating Spain on penalties on Tuesday. 

'Why don't they hire Arab coaches? Maybe it's a cultural question, maybe it's a mentality'

- Walid Regragui, Morocco coach

Under his leadership, Morocco has remained undefeated at this year's World Cup as the Atlas Lions beat the likes of Spain, Belgium and Canada to reach the final knockout stages.

But despite his team's successful run, Regragui still believes there is a long way to go before European clubs consider Arab and African managers for top coaching jobs.

"Why don't they hire Arab coaches? Maybe it's a cultural question, maybe it's a mentality," said Regragui, when asked by journalists. 

"Today, I think it's impossible that Manchester City or Barcelona will hire an Arab coach. They don't even think about it, as if we're not worthy, or ignorant or incapable of such a task.

"However, there's moments in history that make people change their mind. But it's on us as African and Arab people to change history. At a certain point, this could happen."

The Atlas Lions will face Portugal on Saturday. If they win, Morocco will face either France or England in the semi-finals.

Morocco coach says 'impossible' top European clubs would hire Arab and African managers

After deadly unrest in Sweida, Syria asks: Is there more to come?

Sat, 12/10/2022 - 09:57
After deadly unrest in Sweida, Syria asks: Is there more to come?
Fuel scarcities are so bad that the Syrian government has declared a two-day holiday
Danny Makki Sat, 12/10/2022 - 09:57
Smoke rises at the governorate building as people take part in a protest in Sweida, Syria (Reuters)

The southern province of Sweida has proven itself an exception in Syria over the past decade. Largely spared fighting, its Druze-majority residents have even occasionally staged furious protests against authorities in Damascus without severe reprisals.

Yet as flames licked up the walls of its governorate building on al-Mashnaqa (Gallows) Square on Sunday, and news broke of a protester and a policeman killed, Syrians of Sweida sensed that these latest demonstrations over the rapidly deteriorating economic situation were "unprecedented".

Sweida enjoys semi-autonomous rule where Druze militiamen known as Rijal al-Karameh (men of dignity) are largely responsible for its security.

People gather as they take part in a protest in Sweida on 4 December (Reuters)
People gather as they take part in a protest in Sweida on 4 December (Reuters)

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The province maintains a tense and somewhat transactional relationship with the Syrian authorities. Clashes and standoffs are common. However, the latest incident exploded suddenly as austerity measures across the country were announced.

Dwindling fuel supplies, augmented by a sharp increase in prices, has brought the whole of Syria to a gradual standstill, with the decline in services a catalyst for protests. This may only be the beginning.

Conflicting reports

As the rest of Syria watched on, demonstrators in Sweida surrounded the government headquarters in the city before entering, tearing down pictures of President Bashar al-Assad and chanting anti-government slogans.

The Syrian interior ministry described the perpetrators as "a group of outlaws, some of them carrying individual weapons, blocking the road next to al-Mashnaqa roundabout with burning tires, before firing shots indiscriminately".

"They entered the building by force of arms, broke the office furniture and stole from the building's contents, including official documents, and set the building on fire," the ministry added.

However, accounts seem to differ as Rayyan Maarouf of opposition media page Sweida24 told MEE: "The protests were centred near the governorate building. The situation was very edgy between the protesters and the security forces. The demonstrators retaliated to provocation from the security forces by storming the building. It was spontaneous. One protester was killed and 18 were wounded. One policeman was killed too."

Maarouf said many factors led to this new wave of protests. "What the city is witnessing is unprecedented. There is a complete collapse in living conditions and the economic situation is a disaster."

'What the city is witnessing is unprecedented. There is a complete collapse in living conditions and the economic situation is a disaster'

- Rayyan Maarouf, Sweida24

He lays the blame on Damascus. "We attribute this to the neglect of responsibilities by the Syrian state. It failed to offer services for its civilians," he said.

"It could not facilitate the circumstances for people to have heating, electricity, water. It's a crippled country. We get electricity [in Sweida] for one hour a day and there is no fuel, no energy."

Reaction has been mixed. Pro-government journalist Haidar Mustapha accused the protesters of instigating violence in a Facebook post: "If a protest is expressed in the form of targeting government sites, such as the governorate building or the police station, and this is done by burning and crushing in a barbaric and uncivilised manner, then how can it be right?"

However, others refused to be drawn into an escalating situation. Media activist Nasser Dayoub viewed the situation as a caution sign for Damascus: "What happened in Sweida is a dangerous warning, like a fire alarm telling us there is a major crisis in society and it must be resolved. It is urgent to hold the negligent and corrupt accountable and improve the conditions of electricity, heating, fuel, salaries and prices."

Druze are a small minority in Syria - around three percent of the population pre-war - but they form a fundamental part of Syrian society and politics.

Religious Druze elders were quick to de-escalate. Sheikh Hammoud al-Hinnawi told Syrian State TV: "The country is in crisis and the conditions are harsh for everyone, and we must confront them with patience, prudence and cooperation with everyone."

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

Mounting economic woes

The delay of oil shipments from Iran to Syria has led to a dire fuel shortage, so bad that the authorities have announced a compulsory holiday to reduce the usage of resources.

State agencies will close for two days in December as public transportation has been badly affected, giving employees a prolonged holiday. Work overtime has already been banned.

This comes on the back of a budget that included a reduction in flour and wheat subsidies, but allowed extra Botox imports. That juxtaposition did not go down well when the budget was announced.

The state of affairs is so bad that even the Syrian Football Federation has announced the postponement of the Syrian Premier League until 2023, as fuel scarcities mean clubs can't sort out transportation.

Syria’s new budget is in and the big winner is Botox
Read More »

The internal trade ministry has controversially raised the price of diesel and gasoline too, leading to black market fuel doubling in price over the past week. Where non-subsidised petrol costs around 125,000 Syrian lira ($22) per 20 litres, it is now being purchased upwards of 250,000 lira on the black market.

Hassan Hazouri, an economics professor at the University of Aleppo, told the state-backed al-Watan newspaper that the extra two-day holiday would divert crucial resources to places that need it.

"Suspending certain public agencies is a positive decision that will save money and cut operating costs for public and joint-sector government institutions. This will allow more fuel for staff transportation, but this doesn't optimally solve the problem," he said.

As the deterioration of the Syrian economy continues and a crippling winter awaits, the protests in Sweida are just the beginning of a crisis that will rumble on for some time.

Timour Nour al-Deen, an activist who took part in the latest Sweida protests, told MEE that this unrest is not an isolated scenario.

"Sweida has always been neutral, it didn't pledge allegiance to the government or stand against it. This was a decision made by the elders as we see [the war] as a free-for-all massacre in the country from multiple sides and won't participate," Nour al-Deen said.

"However, this situation will continue to escalate as the services are collapsing. Now it is in Sweida, in the future who knows where. All of Syria is suffering economically today."

World Cup 2022: Morocco's Atlas Lions unite fans with roar for Palestinian cause

Sat, 12/10/2022 - 09:26
World Cup 2022: Morocco's Atlas Lions unite fans with roar for Palestinian cause
Players and supporters have used the tournament to elevate the Palestinian cause and express solidarity
Austin Bodetti Sat, 12/10/2022 - 09:26
Morocco players hold the Palestinian flag while celebrating their World Cup victory over Spain at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Doha on 6 December 2022 (Associated Press)

Mahmoud Hassan was at the Education City Stadium in Qatar when Morocco booked their place in the World Cup quarter-finals after their sensational penalty shoot-out win against Spain.

Standing on his chair at one of the cheaper sections of the stadium, he raised his arms, began chanting in Arabic and within a few minutes had spurred the entire section to join in.

As he and a few other Moroccans led the chorus, fans from Qatar, Lebanon and Egypt all joined in.

"Oh my beloved Palestine,
Where are the Arabs? They are asleep.
The most beautiful country resists.
May God protect you," he and other fans bellowed at the top of their voices.

The chant is usually sung by fans of Morocco's most successful football team Raja Casablanca, but the lyrics, and others which have absolutely nothing to do with football, have become the unofficial anthems of the first ever World Cup to be held in the Middle East.

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

Meanwhile, on the pitch, as the team huddled for a photograph to capture the moment, the players unveiled a flag - but it wasn't Morocco's emblem of the five-pointed green star swimming in a sea of red.

'The popular support and sentiments towards Palestine reveal the real gap between Arab regimes and their people regarding Palestine'

- Khalil al-Anani, Doha Institute of Graduate Studies

Stretched out so it could be displayed in all its glory was the Palestinian flag.

In their moment of triumph, the Moroccan players stopped to draw attention to a place, and a cause, that unites Arab fans and citizens from across the region.

Hours later, midfielder Abdelhamid Sabiri posted a story on Instagram of himself kneeling behind a Palestinian flag with the caption: "For the people without voice."

These moments have proved all the more striking in light of Morocco's controversial decision to normalise relations with Israel, an unpopular step among ordinary Moroccans and one that only a handful of other countries in the region have taken.

The Palestinian activist Muna el-Kurd attended the match and held aloft a Moroccan flag following the surprise win. A Filipino-Palestinian influencer then shared a video of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip celebrating the Atlas Lions' message of solidarity, commenting: "The bond is real."

Tareq Sawalmeh, an English teacher in the Moroccan capital of Rabat, could hardly agree more. While his mother's family hails from Morocco's north, Sawalmeh's father, a Palestinian, grew up in the Far'a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. Sawalmeh himself has made several trips to Palestine over the years.

"When the first thing a Moroccan player does after he wins is to raise the Palestinian flag, this act alone speaks volumes," Sawalmeh told Middle East Eye.

"Moroccans have made us Palestinians nothing but proud during the World Cup."

Morocco's Abdelhamid Sabiri celebrates near the Palestinian flag after the Atlas Lions' World Cup victory over Spain at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Doha on 6 December 2022 (Associated Press)
Morocco's Abdelhamid Sabiri celebrates near the Palestinian flag after the Atlas Lions' World Cup victory over Spain (Associated Press)

'Celebrating our win as one'

For Sawalmeh, cheering the Moroccan national team and supporting Palestine go hand in hand.

"Even though I didn't grow up in Palestine, the Palestinian cause has always been part of who I am," he said. "I'm always in contact with my father's family, all while being a Moroccan citizen and a Moroccan patriot."

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

Even Atlas Lions fans without Sawalmeh's familial links see championing Palestinians as part and parcel of Moroccan national identity.

"As an ethnically diverse country, our nationalism and sense of belonging is widely based on ideals - in this case religious and human, rather than racial," said Zahra Bahjawi, a financial analyst in the Moroccan university town of Ifrane.

"Therefore, we incorporated the Palestinian fight as our own, especially as it paralleled Morocco's decolonisation and the people’s frustrations with the stifled freedom of expression that followed."

World Cup 2022: For Morocco's football fans, nationality is a fluid concept
Read More »

Bahjawi recalled seeing students and professors in Ifrane sporting Palestinian-style keffiyehs while watching the game between Canada and Morocco, though such displays of solidarity predate this iteration of the World Cup.

El Watan News reported in 2018 that Moroccan fans chanted pro-Palestinian slogans and held Moroccan and Palestinian flags outside a stadium at the World Cup in Russia.

The following year, Moroccan fans sang in support of Palestine and waved Palestinian flags at a game between Raja Casablanca and its Palestinian opponent Hilal Al-Quds in Casablanca, Morocco's largest city.

"Moroccans have a very tight relationship with their country, but most of them consider Palestine their second country," said Majda El Hadna, an interior architect in Casablanca.

El Hadna has a personal connection to Palestine. She has a Palestinian grandmother and visited Gaza as a child, well before Israel imposed its debilitating blockade on the Palestinian enclave.

Even so, she sees Palestine as a national cause, not an individual one.

"One of my favourite things to see after every Moroccan win in the World Cup is the Palestinian flags, because it shows the love we have for Palestine," she told MEE. "We're celebrating our win as one country."

The Challenges of Politics

Moroccan fans' displays of solidarity with Palestine at the World Cup hint at a wider undercurrent: widespread opposition to Morocco's normalisation of relations with Israel.

In October 2020, some two months before Morocco announced diplomatic recognition of Israel, the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies released the results of a poll indicating that 88 percent of Moroccans opposed normalisation, with 70 percent agreeing that "the Palestinian cause concerns all Arabs and not the Palestinian people alone".

The numbers shifted somewhat over the following year, in part because of what Morocco received in exchange for consummating ties with Israel: the United States' diplomatic recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara, a cause not only central to the kingdom's foreign policy but also dear to many Moroccans.

'The people are with the Palestinian cause'

- Danyel Reiche, Georgetown University in Qatar

The findings of a survey published in October 2021 by the Arab Barometer, a research group, found that 41 percent of Moroccans backed normalisation with Israel, a jump in support attributed to enthusiasm for Morocco's diplomatic gains on the Western Sahara.

Still, the survey indicated that a majority of Moroccans stood against diplomatic recognition of Israel.

"No matter how good normalisation was, I could only think of the blood shed for Israel to be named a country," said El Hadna. "I couldn't stand such hypocrisy."

When Moroccans want to demonstrate opposition to their government, football offers a key venue, as their government closes other avenues for freedom of expression. During a 2019 match in the northern city of Tangier, Moroccan fans chanted the song entitled "This is a land of humiliation" to criticise political corruption.

Atlas Lions fans' expressions of Palestinian solidarity follow the same model.

World Cup 2022: Morocco finds support in several places but not Western Sahara
Read More »

Danyel Reiche, a visiting associate professor of international relations at Georgetown University in Qatar, noted pro-Palestinian sentiment was one of the few forms of activism allowed by World Cup organisers.

"It shows that normalisation is an elite project, as before in all other countries that normalised relations with Israel," he told MEE. "The people are with the Palestinian cause."

This implicit criticism of normalisation culminated with the Atlas Lions themselves brandishing the Palestinian flag. 

"The Moroccan team accepted the responsibility that comes with this much soft power and chose to break from the biggest form of oppression in sports: silence," said Bahjawi, the fan from Ifrane.

"Especially in Morocco, the more recent suppression of media is evocative of the sore past of the Years of Lead," Bahjawi said, in reference to the decades of King Hassan II's rule over Morocco, which was marked with state violence and political repression. 

"When silence is imposed, pictures speak a thousand words."

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

'Moroccans and Palestinians brought closer'

However, some Atlas Lions fans would prefer to keep politics off the field.

Marya Kriem, a student in Rabat who described herself as "neutral" on Israel and Palestine, questioned the utility of fellow fans' pro-Palestinian activism.

"Honestly, the Palestine-Israel conflict has lasted so long that we've become a little used to the situation," she said. "Shouting and raising flags and labels hardly changes anything. The proof is that since 1948 the situation has not changed enormously. People still live in misery."

'Seeing the ongoing support for Palestine among the players and spectators has made me extremely proud as a Moroccan-Palestinian'

Tareq Sawalmeh, Moroccan-Palestinian football fan

Kriem counts herself among the still-sizeable minority of Moroccans who view normalisation as advancing Morocco’s national interests. This group also includes some Moroccan World Cup attendees.

Mohamed Beydoun, a fan who flew from Casablanca to Doha to catch Tuesday's match between Morocco and Spain, called the Palestinian issue "a manufactured crisis to keep tensions in the Middle East and give Iran more legitimacy".

In the moments after the game, he paid more attention to the implications of the Atlas Lions' historic win than to the players' unfurling of the Palestinian flag.

"They're free to support the cause," he told MEE. "It's their point of view and it must be respected. But it shouldn't be taken as a provocation because they're not the country or representative of the country's position."

But the number of Moroccans who share this view appears to be shrinking fast. The most recent poll from the Arab Barometer, released in July, found that only 31 percent of Moroccans supported diplomatic recognition of Israel, a 10 percent dip from October 2021.

"The popular support and sentiments towards Palestine that have been shown in the World Cup in Qatar reveal the real gap between Arab regimes and their people regarding Palestine," said Khalil al-Anani, an associate professor of political science at the Doha Institute of Graduate Studies.

World Cup 2022: Mum's the word as Morocco's success credited to players' mothers
Read More »

"In that regard, Morocco is not an exception. Indeed, if anything, it proves that normalisation between Morocco and Israel will remain as cold as the one with Egypt and Jordan, which normalised relations with Israel decades ago."

The kingdom's leadership, perhaps wary of its foreign policy's divergence from public opinion, has highlighted its pro-Palestinian credentials during the World Cup.

On the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People - November 29, two days after Morocco's decisive victory over Belgium - King Mohammed VI released a statement emphasising his "country's clear and firm position regarding the justness of the Palestinian cause and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people".

The king focused on his chairmanship of the al-Quds Committee, an arm of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation dedicated to safeguarding Jerusalem's cultural heritage.

His statement concluded with a reiteration of Morocco's "sincere, continuous commitment" to Palestine, an echo of Moroccan World Cup fans' and footballers' frequent shows of solidarity with Palestinians.

"Seeing the ongoing support for Palestine among the players and spectators has made me extremely proud as a Moroccan-Palestinian," said Sawalmeh, the teacher in Rabat.

"If anything, the World Cup has brought Moroccans and Palestinians closer together."

Morocco's Atlas Lions unite fans with roar for Palestinian cause

Saudi crown prince made 'personal intervention' to secure Griner's release but US denies Gulf mediation

Fri, 12/09/2022 - 21:12
Saudi crown prince made 'personal intervention' to secure Griner's release but US denies Gulf mediation
White House denies Saudi Arabia and UAE played a mediation role in helping get WBNA star Brittney Griner released
MEE staff Fri, 12/09/2022 - 21:12
US-Saudi relations have been tense under the Biden administration, most notably after an October decision by the Saudi Arabia-led Opec+ to cut oil production by two million barrels a day.
US-Saudi relations have been tense under the Biden administration, most notably after an October decision by the Saudi Arabia-led Opec+ to cut oil production by two million barrels a day (AFP/File photo)

Saudi Arabia has said that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman extended "personal mediation efforts" to facilitate the release of American basketball star Brittney Griner in a Russia-US prisoner swap, even though the US has denied that Riyadh played any mediation role.

"I am aware of his highness's personal efforts in relation to the basketball player and his engagement and personal intervention to facilitate this release," Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud told reporters in Riyadh on Thursday.

"As for what others say, I cannot comment on that."

Washington has denied any mediation by either Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, saying the talks were between the United States and Russia after a joint Saudi-UAE statement that said the UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and the Saudi crown prince led mediation efforts.

Griner was released following a prisoner swap for Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer, who was serving a 25-year sentence in the United States. Bout, 55, was one of the world's most wanted men, selling weapons to rebel groups and warlords internationally, before his arrest in 2012. 

The swap involving Griner and Russian citizen Bout took place at an airport in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi.

Biden had thanked the UAE "for helping us facilitate Brittney’s return, because that’s where she landed" on her way back to the US.

US-Saudi relations have been tense under the Biden administration, most notably after an October decision by the Saudi Arabia-led Opec+ to cut oil production by two million barrels a day. The US condemned the decision and said that it would review its relationship with Riyadh.

Despite vowing consequences for Saudi Arabia's actions regarding Opec+, which the US said was a move that aligned with Russian interests, the Biden administration has not undergone a change in its relationship with the kingdom.

Officials told NBC News that since gas prices have not skyrocketed as they had feared they would, the White House's initial bitterness about the decision subsided.

"There is a recognition that as goes Saudi, so goes the Gulf," a US official told NBC. "We need the security partnership."

'Someone has to blink:' Turkey's standoff with insurers triggers tanker logjam

Fri, 12/09/2022 - 20:25
'Someone has to blink:' Turkey's standoff with insurers triggers tanker logjam
Rise of uninsured Russian shadow fleet alarms Ankara, while western officials look to ease concerns about sanctions
Sean Mathews Fri, 12/09/2022 - 20:25
The Panama-flagged bulk carrier Navi Star carrying tons of grain from Ukraine sails along the Bosphorus strait past Istanbul, on 7 August 2022 (AFP)

A standoff between Turkey and maritime insurers showed no sign of easing on Friday, as a logjam of oil tankers in the Black Sea continued to grow, increasing the risk of disruptions in the global energy market.

“It’s clear we are in a standoff,” Neil Roberts, head of marine and aviation with the Lloyd's Market Association, told Middle East Eye. “The Turks want guarantees from the insurance industry that simply can’t be provided.”

“Someone is going have to blink,” he added. “I don’t think it’s going to be the insurers.”

On Monday, the G7, along with the European Union and Australia, imposed a cap on the price of Russian oil at $60 a barrel. The move is designed to allow the continued flow of Russian oil while limiting Moscow’s ability to profit from the sales.

Shippers will only be able to access insurance and other maritime services if the oil they carry is priced at or below the cap. The West believes it can pass the price ceiling onto Russian customers because most insurers are located in the EU and other G7 countries.

'Russia could look to disguise its crude as Kazakh crude'

- Svetlana Lobaciova, Gibson shipbrokers

Turkey is concerned the cap risks uninsured vessels transiting its waters.

Starting on 2 December, Ankara demanded that insurers prove vessels have full coverage in the case of a crash or oil spill, even if they are in breach of the price cap.

The type of coverage is known as protection and indemnity insurance, or P&I, and is a critical element in the regular transit of oil tankers across global seaways.

But the International Group of P&I Clubs, which provides insurance to 90 percent of the world’s shipping industry, has said it cannot comply, saying it goes “well beyond” the standard industry practice.

“Issuing a confirmatory letter under these circumstances would expose the Club to a breach of sanctions under EU, UK, and US law.”

Roberts said it is “absolutely not standard practice" for insurers to provide such a blanket guarantee. “What the Turks are effectively asking insurers to do, is cover ships even if they break the price cap.”

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“Insurers can’t give unconditional promises of coverage. It is a precedent they don't want to set,” he added.

As a result, ships without a confirmation letter are prevented from entering the straits.

Oil Tanker Russia
An oil tanker is moored at the Sheskharis complex in Novorossiysk, Russia, on 11 October 2022 (AP/File photo)

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Turkish officials say about 15 million barrels of crude are waiting in the Black Sea, but shipping data compiled by Bloomberg predicts the number is much higher - about 25 million barrels.

Meanwhile, transit times for tankers to cross the Turkish straits from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean are at the highest in a year, hitting 10 days on 7 December, compared to three days at the start of the month, according to S&P Global Commodity Insights.

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

Shadow tankers

Turkey’s concerns, however, may not be unfounded, Svetlana Lobaciova, a senior market analyst at Gibson shipbrokers, told MEE

“Since spring, we have seen a huge increase in activity of sales and purchase of aging tankers. We believe a lot of those vessels are destined to trade Russian crude,” Lobaciova said.

"Insures can’t give an unconditional promises of coverage," 

- Neil Roberts, Lloyd's Market Association

Russia has likely assembled a shadow fleet of aging tankers to carry its crude outside of the western maritime system. Lobaciova says more tankers are going dark, a practice where vessels turn off their radio transmitter to avoid detection.

“Turkey is concerned about the shadow vessels that will ship Russian oil because they won’t have western world insurance. Russia has said it is not going to trade under the oil price cap,” Lobaciova said

“Sooner or later, this could lead to a disaster,” she said. “Tankers going dark with no one knowing what kind of insurance they have?”

Turkey is allowing some ships through. They just happen to be those covered by Russian insurers who have been willing to provide the blanket guarantee Ankara is demanding.

Kazakh or Russian oil?

More frustrating for western officials, the majority of ships blocked by Turkey are carrying oil from Kazakhstan, where western oil firms like Chevron, Exxon Mobil and Total are involved in operations.

Kazakh oil is exempt from the western price cap and sanctions. US officials have tried to ease their Turkish counterparts' concerns about insurance coverage.

On Wednesday, the US Treasury Deputy Secretary told Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal that the price cap did not “necessitate additional checks on ships passing through Turkish territorial waters”, according to a statement from the Treasury.

Kazakh oil is shipped to Russia via the CPC pipeline owned by the Caspian Pipeline Consortium. It is then loaded on tankers at the Russian port of Novorossiysk.

While there is some mixing between Kazakh and Russian oil, each country’s crude receives its own certificate of origin. However, analysts say Russia’s control of Novorossiysk port could help it evade sanctions.

'Trading places': Moscow muscles in on Saudi Arabia's oil sales to Asia
Read More »

In November, Russia’s state-owned Lukoil said it would stop exports from its Caspian oil fields via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline and divert them to the CPC line.

“Potentially, Russia could look to disguise its crude as Kazakh crude. There could be a lot of funny things happening at Novorossiysk,” Lobaciova said. “This is just one more thing that adds to the uncertainty.”

One positive for western countries is that the Turkish traffic jam has yet to impact crude prices. The international oil benchmark Brent traded at $76.77 a barrel on Friday,  one of its lowest levels in 2022.

The logjam also underscores Turkey’s pivotal role in the Ukraine war. On Thursday, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Washington didn’t believe Russia was involved in Turkey's decision to block the vessels.

Turkey has sought to leverage its position in Nato to extract foreign policy wins. Ankara is blocking the Nato ascension bids of Sweden and Finland over what it says is their support for Kurdish militant groups. It also hopes to acquire new US-F-16 fighter jets.

While Ankara has supplied armed drones to Ukraine, it has also deepened economic ties with Moscow, buying more Russian crude.

US announces programme to resettle Rohingya refugees

Fri, 12/09/2022 - 19:33
US announces programme to resettle Rohingya refugees
Sixty-two Rohingya have been approved to travel to the US so far, according to Bangladeshi news reports
MEE staff Fri, 12/09/2022 - 19:33
Rohingya refugees walk back home after collecting relief material in Ukhia, Bangladesh on 6 October 2022.
Rohingya refugees walk back home after collecting relief material in Ukhia, Bangladesh, on 6 October 2022 (AFP)

The United States has announced a new programme to resettle "the most vulnerable Rohingya refugees", and the first group of these refugees has already started the journey to the US.

" The US government is very pleased to establish, in coordination with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other resettlement countries, a resettlement program for the most vulnerable Rohingya refugees," US Assistant Secretary of State Julieta Valls Noyes said on Thursday.

Noyes also touted US support for the Rohingya, saying that Washington has given more than $1.9bn to "affected populations in Burma, Bangladesh, and elsewhere in the region, for Rohingya and their host communities". 

Rohingya refugees sue Facebook for $150 billion
Read More »

The announcement by the US would pave the way for further resettlement of members of the persecuted community to other countries.

Rohingya Muslims have been fleeing Myanmar en masse since 2017, at the start of the country's most recent army crackdown against the minority group.

In August 2017, Myanmar's military forced 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh, in a campaign the UN described as "genocidal".

The details of the resettlement programme, however, are unclear. Middle East Eye reached out to the State Department and the Office for Refugee Resettlement for further clarification, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Bangladeshi news reports state that 62 Rohingya have been approved to be resettled in the US so far, according to the country's foreign minister, AK Abdul Momen. Momen added that 62 was "a drop in the ocean" but that 300 to 800 Rohingya would be repatriated annually.

Momen said he requested that Washington resettle at least 100,000 Rohingya, according to the report.

The US announcement was welcomed by Refugees International, who said that "the significance of a door opening cannot be underestimated".

"The US announcement of a resettlement program for Rohingya from Bangladesh is a welcome and highly significant step toward addressing the Rohingya crisis," Daniel Sullivan, a director of Refugees International, said in a statement.

It is also unclear which other countries will work alongside the UN and the US to resettle the refugee population. Canada was the first country to begin resettling Rohingya from Bangladesh in 2007.

The Rohingya in Canada Centre, based in Kitchener, Ontario, has said that about 1,000 Rohingya have come to Canada since 2006.

Many Rohingya refugees also travelled to Saudi Arabia on passports obtained via fake documents from several South Asian countries - including Bangladesh; Bhutan; India; Nepal; and Pakistan - to flee persecution in Myanmar. Most entered Saudi Arabia on Umrah pilgrimage visas several years ago.

In 2018, Middle East Eye reported that hundreds of Rohingya men, women and children were being held indefinitely without charge inside a detention centre in Saudi Arabia.

In the months following this, Riyadh deported scores of Rohingya to Bangladesh where they became refugees.

Arabic press review: Kuwait in the grip of a medicine crisis

Fri, 12/09/2022 - 17:00
Arabic press review: Kuwait in the grip of a medicine crisis
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia releases detained US citizen, UAE-Egypt deportation on cards and Syria paralysed by fuel crisis
Mohammad Ayesh Fri, 12/09/2022 - 17:00
A Kuwaiti boy receives a Covid-19 vaccine. The country is in the midst of a medicine crisis (AFP)

Kuwait’s medicine crisis

Kuwait is in the midst of a medicine crisis, with dozens of treatments unavailable and other shortages expected to cause a political crisis in the next few days, according to the Kuwaiti Al Qabas newspaper.

The Gulf state’s parliament, the National Assembly, has scheduled a session next Tuesday to discuss the shortage crisis, said Al Qabas. 

Kuwaiti MP Jenan Boushehri, who is a doctor, sent a message to parliament in which she confirmed that "despite the assurances by officials in the Ministry of Health that there are sufficient medicines stocks for the community, many types of medicines are not available for dispensing, which puts the public health situation on the brink of collapse".

In a previous statement, MP Hassan Jawhar confirmed that more than 2,000 types of vital medicines are not available.

Al Qabas quoted health sector sources as saying: "The shortage of medicines has expanded to include many vital medicines, which are prescribed to a wide category of patients on a daily basis." 

The sources confirmed that the shortage of medicines requires increasing the current budget from $651m to $814m to permanently solve the crisis.

Saudi Arabia releases US citizen

The Saudi Arabian authorities have released a US detainee of Yemeni origin, who was arrested over a month ago in Mecca while performing Umrah.

Mohammed Salem, a 63-year-old Michigan resident, was released following pressure from the US State Department,  Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper reported

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"The family was losing hope with each passing day," said Abdullah Mughni, an attorney from Dearborn, Michigan.

"We had no way of knowing the charges brought against my client, and what is the evidence against him; all we heard was that my client made alleged comments to a security member in Saudi Arabia," Mughni is reported as saying. 

Mughni resorted to the US government and Michigan congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who said that the real problem was the lack of transparency. 

Tlaib added that she had asked the State Department to communicate with Salem, who is diabetic, according to his lawyers. 

US urged to prevent UAE-Egypt deportation 

Radha Stirling, founder of the Detained in Dubai organisation, has called for urgent US intervention to prevent the deportation back to Egypt of American citizen and former Egyptian Air Force officer Sherif Othman, who is currently detained in the UAE.

"Our latest information confirms that Othman is still detained in the UAE, while officials are completing the necessary handing over documents, which means that they already intend to hand him over to Egypt, where we fear his life may be in imminent danger," Stirling told Arabi21.

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The British human rights activist noted that the organisation "is in contact with the US embassy in Abu Dhabi, consular staff, as well as senators and Sherif Othman's representatives in Congress, and we hope that diplomatic efforts will succeed in releasing him”.

Othman, a fierce critic of the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, was arrested in Dubai two days after arriving there from the US. He was banned from travelling without justification.  

Two men in civilian clothes spoke to him before asking him to get into a car without a number plate, according to his fiancee, who was with him at the time.

Syria paralysed by fuel crisis

The fuel crisis affecting areas controlled by the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad has paralysed the work of its institutions, while bakeries and shops have closed, according to a report in Al-Araby al-Jadeed. 

On Thursday, the Damascus governorate announced the suspension of works in the main citizens' service centre building for the remaining Saturdays in December. 

The education ministry has stopped work in all open education programmes at several Syrian universities on Fridays and Saturdays for the next four weeks.

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Similar suspensions are taking place in the football and basketball federations and overtime work is being cancelled as the fuel crisis affects transportation.

The Syrian government has also decided to move to a four-day week, with Friday now the beginning of a three-day holiday. 

Media activist Abu Youssef Jablawi confirmed that since the beginning of this week, the streets of Latakia governorate have witnessed a serious absence of transport due to the fuel crisis. 

The supply of electricity has also been reduced sharply on the Syrian coast, to just an hour or an hour and a half a day, with Jablawi saying that the “regime areas are drowning in complete darkness”.

The Syrian government says the reason for the recent crisis is "the economic blockade imposed by the West and the shortage of oil supplies from Iran”.

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'Gulf country' suspected of fraud in European parliament probe

Fri, 12/09/2022 - 15:12
'Gulf country' suspected of fraud in European parliament probe
Belgian daily Le Soir says Qatar under investigation for attempting to influence EU parliament decisions
MEE staff Fri, 12/09/2022 - 15:12
A woman walks near the entrance of the European Parliament in Brussels on 9 December 2022 (AFP)

Belgium detained four people, including a former member of the European Parliament, as part of a criminal investigation into suspected corruption by "a Gulf country", the prosecutor's office said on Friday.

The Belgian persecutor didn't name a specific Gulf country, but Belgian daily Le Soir said Qatari officials attempted to corrupt an Italian Socialist who was a member of the European Parliament from 2004 to 2019.

The Qatari mission to the EU did not reply to Middle East Eye's request for comment by the time of publication.

The police carried out 16 raids in the Belgian capital, seizing more than $600,000 in cash, IT equipment, and mobile phones.

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In a statement, the Belgian prosecutor said they suspect "a Gulf country of trying to influence economic and political decisions of the European Parliament", by "paying large sums of money or offering substantial gifts to third parties with a significant political and/or strategic position within the European Parliament".

The highly sensitive investigation has been carried out in secret since July, with authorities looking into "corruption" and "money laundering".

According to Le Soir, the authorities arrested four Italians on Friday: Pier-Antonio Panzeri, a former MEP; Luca Visentini, the current head of the International Trade Union Confederation, the head of an NGO, and an EU parliamentary assistant.

The federal prosecutor's office said the four arrested individuals were "born in 1955, 1969, 1971, and 1987" and are likely to face a judge within the next 48 hours.

All are presumed innocent.

UAE-Ukraine trade talks seek to 'balance' ties with US

Fri, 12/09/2022 - 13:57
UAE-Ukraine trade talks seek to 'balance' ties with US
Analyst says trade ties could develop into dynamic relationship where the UAE provides energy and Ukraine provides food
Elis Gjevori Fri, 12/09/2022 - 13:57
Turkish-flagged ship Polarnet carrying tons of grain from Ukraine sails along the Bosphorus Strait after inspection on 7 August 2022 (AFP)

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreed to begin bilateral trade talks with Ukraine earlier this week, as it seeks to balance its relationship with Russia and the United States, despite pressure from western capitals. 

UAE minister of state for foreign trade Thani Al Zeyoudi and Ukrainian Economy Minister Yulia Svyrydenko on Monday signed a joint statement on negotiations towards a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), which are expected to conclude by the middle of next year. 

'The UAE sees the Ukraine war  as a border war in far-off Eastern Europe that provides no reason to reassess all of their foreign and security policies'

- Hussein Ibish, analyst

"I think the UAE has been trying from the outset of the war [in Ukraine] to balance between maintaining ties with Russia and being supportive of Kyiv in ways that are in sync with overall UAE policies," said Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. 

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has decimated the latter's economy, which officials hope to restore through a trade agreement, particularly in foodstuffs. 

"For the past few years, the UAE has been trying to use trade and investment as tools of statecraft and de-escalation in numerous conflicts and areas of international contention," Ibish told Middle East Eye, adding "it's also profitable".

The talks also come as the UAE comes under increased scrutiny in the west for not toeing the line and imposing sanctions on Russia. 

Independent foreign policy

For its part, the UAE maintains that it abides by all international sanctions emanating from the United Nations (UN), meaning that it is in no hurry to accept unilateral western sanctions. 

This should come as no surprise, Ibish believes, and is consistent with the UAE's approach of "balancing and using trade to promote national and international goals".

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The Gulf monarchy said the trade talks are an effort to "help reinvigorate the national economy of Ukraine".

The UAE's approach represents a more pragmatic evaluation of the conflict and how it impacts global politics. 

"Like almost all states in Asia and Africa, the UAE doesn't share the western view that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a game-changing, macro-historical event that is reshaping and redefining international relations for the coming decade or longer, at least," said Ibish. 

On 25 February, the UAE abstained from voting on the UN Security Council resolution condemning Russia. 

Some in the west read this as tacit approval of Russia, however, according to experts, this vote came about after the UAE's representative to the UN consulted with Arab and Asian nations. 

The UAE sees the war in Ukraine as a "border war in far-off Eastern Europe that provides no reason to reassess and restructure all of their foreign and security policies," said Ibish.

A state visit by the UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ) to Russia in October underlined the country's willingness to speak to all sides of the conflict. 

Saudi Arabia and Israel

The UAE is not the only regional country to take a balanced approach to Russia.

Saudi Arabia and Israel have similarly avoided taking a harsh stance toward Moscow.

"Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE see themselves as emerging middle-level powers, akin to the BRICs," said Ibish, in reference to the five leading emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa

"Insofar as that's true, this heavy attention to their stance towards Moscow and Kyiv is the downside of that emergence."

A trade deal with Ukraine fits into that wider strategy.

"Obviously, it could develop into a serious relationship, with the UAE a provider of energy and Ukraine a provider of food," Ibish said.

Morocco vs Portugal: A turbulent history of conquest and slain kings

Fri, 12/09/2022 - 11:58
Morocco vs Portugal: A turbulent history of conquest and slain kings
From Moroccan-based rule of Iberia to a Portuguese fortress in the Maghreb, the two former foes share a bloody past
Rayhan Uddin Fri, 12/09/2022 - 11:58
A Morocco supporter poses during the Qatar 2022 World Cup round of 16 football match against Spain in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha on 6 December 2022 (AFP)
A Morocco supporter at the Qatar 2022 World Cup match against Spain in Al-Rayyan, on 6 December 2022 (AFP)

After a sensational victory over Spain in the last 16, Morocco will take on Portugal in the World Cup quarter-final on Saturday. 

The match against the Spanish, which the Atlas Lions won in a penalty shootout, was layered with historical and political context

Centuries of tensions and conflict between the two countries, spanning the Islamic conquest of Andalusia, launched from Moroccan shores, to 20th-century Spanish colonialism in North Africa, added edge to the contest. 

The quarter-final tie is no different: Portuguese-Moroccan relations have - for over a millennium - involved similar conflict and turbulence. 

From Moroccan-based Muslim rule over Portugal, to a Portuguese-built Unesco World Heritage Site in Morocco, to three kings dying in the same battle between the erstwhile foes, Middle East Eye takes a look at the tumultuous history between the two nations.

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

Islamic conquest of Portugal

In 711 CE, Tariq ibn Ziyad, an Amazigh convert to Islam who governed Tangier, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar with 7,000 soldiers and started a period of eight centuries of Muslim rule over varying parts of the Iberian peninsula. 

While much of the conquered area was made up of modern-day Spain, its western neighbour, Portugal, also fell under Islamic rule. 

By 718, virtually all of Portugal was controlled by Muslims, which they referred to as Gharb al-Andalus (west of Al-Andalus), or simply, al-Gharb - from which the Algarve region of Portugal derives its name. 

After Umayyad rule over al-Andalus collapsed in the mid-11th century, the region, including parts of Portugal, was divided into several independent Muslim principalities. 

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It was then that the Almoravids, followed later by the Almohads, both Amazigh dynasties with Marrakech as their capital, took over most of the Muslim-controlled territory in Iberia, including parts of southern Portugal. 

But both Morocco-based empires struggled to hold off Christian advances, which were backed by the papacy and attracted crusader knights from across Europe, as part of the reconquista.

The Kingdom of Portugal gained control of the current capital city during the Siege of Lisbon in 1147, and of the Faro region in 1249, thus bringing an end to Gharb al-Andalus. 

In 1496, four years after the fall of Granada, which brought a complete end to Islamic Spain, the Kingdom of Portugal followed its Iberian neighbour by forcing its Jewish and Muslim minorities to either convert to Christianity or leave the country. 

Many chose the latter option, settling in Morocco and other parts of North Africa. 

Muslim rule over Portugal left a lasting cultural impact, from poetry to minaret-shaped chimneys, to 19,000 Portuguese words and expressions with Arabic origins.

The Portuguese writer Adalberto Alves was awarded the Unesco-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture in 2008 for documenting these influences. 

Portuguese occupation in Morocco

The Portuguese empire's expansion into Morocco began in 1415 with the conquest of the port town of Ceuta, and would last across different regions for another three and a half centuries. 

Colonialism in Morocco was initially justified on religious grounds: Portuguese kings between 1341 and 1377 received five successive papal bulls authorising crusades against Muslims in North Africa or Granada. 

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

By 1520 the Portuguese were occupying significant parts of the Moroccan coast, including Ceuta, Tangier, Asilah, Essaouira, Agadir, Azemmour and Ksar es-Seghir. 

King Afonso V, who conquered much of this territory in the mid-15th century, was nicknamed “the African” for his exploits across the Strait of Gibraltar. 

el jedida mazagan fortress unesco heritage site morocco portugal
Mazagan (El Jadida), a Portuguese fortress on the Moroccan coast, is a Unesco World Heritage Site (Wikimedia)

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

The European occupiers built several forts across the Moroccan towns they controlled, including on the small island of Graciosa, at Castelo Real in the city of Mogador (now known as Essaouira) and Mazagan, the modern-day El Jadida. 

El Jadida, 90km southwest of Casablanca, was registered as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2004, as “an outstanding example of the interchange of influences between European and Moroccan cultures, well reflected in architecture, technology and town planning”. 

It is the best-preserved Portuguese fortification in Morocco, with surviving buildings from the period including the cistern and the Church of the Assumption. 

Moroccans regain control

In the mid-16th century, Mohammed al-Shaykh, the first sultan of Morocco’s Saadian dynasty, led the pushback against the Portuguese. 

Under his command, the Maghrebis expelled the Iberians from most of their fortresses along the Atlantic coast, including the key trading city of Agadir in 1541. 

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

At the Battle of Ksar el-Kebir in 1578, often referred to as the Battle of the Three Kings, Portugal suffered one of the worst military defeats in its colonial era.

With the help of deposed Moroccan sultan Abu Abdallah Mohammed II, King Sebastian of Portugal landed at Tangier with 20,000 men to face off against new sultan, Abd al-Malik, and his 50,000-strong forces. 

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The Muslim soldiers roundly defeated the Europeans, and both Sebastian and Mohammed were killed during the fighting. Malik died as a result of the fighting, too, hence the name of the battle. 

The death of Sebastian, who had no heir, caused a dynastic crisis in Portugal, and the kingdom was subsequently brought under Spanish control for the next 60 years. Over that period, the Portuguese empire declined internationally. 

Tangier was later handed over to England in 1661 and Ceuta to Spain in 1668. The latter has been under Spanish control ever since - a point of major contention for Moroccans to this day. 

The final Portuguese stronghold, Mazagan, was handed over to the Moroccans in 1769, and a peace agreement between the two countries was signed five years later. 

Unlike its turbulent relationship with Spain, Morocco does not have any present-day territorial disputes with Portugal, and the two have maintained cordial ties over the past two and a half centuries. 

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

Morocco vs Portugal: A turbulent history of conquest and slain kings

Palestinian teenager shot dead by Israeli troops

Fri, 12/09/2022 - 08:26
Palestinian teenager shot dead by Israeli troops
Four Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops in the last 24 hours, as operations in the occupied territories escalate
MEE staff Fri, 12/09/2022 - 08:26
Diaa Muhammad Shafiq al-Rimawi, 17, was killed on Thursday evening (Social Media)

Israeli forces killed a Palestinian teenager on Thursday evening. 

The killing of 17-year-old Diaa Muhammad Shafiq al-Rimawi occurred just hours after Israeli troops killed three Palestinians during an early morning raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin. 

The Palestinian Ministry of Health said in a statement that Israeli soldiers opened fire on several young Palestinians near Ramallah, which serves as Palestine's de facto administrative capital. 

The statement added that two other Palestinians were wounded and hospitalised. 

The three other Palestinians killed were identified as Atta Shalabi, 46, Sidqi Zakarneh, 29, and Tariq Damej, 29.

Following the latest deaths, the number of Palestinians killed since the beginning of this year has risen to 217, including 52 in the Gaza Strip, and 165 in the West Bank, making it one of the deadliest years on record for Palestinians since 2005.

Near nightly raids

Israeli authorities have recently been conducting raid-and-arrest operations across the West Bank on a near-nightly basis, often leading to the wounding or killing of Palestinians. 

The operations have resulted in more 2,500 arrests, according to Israeli authorities. 

Many of the deadly clashes have occurred in the Jenin and Nablus area, where Israeli forces have repeatedly conducted operations.

Thursday's deaths come amid a spike in Israeli violence against Palestinians in the West Bank this year and a resurgence of Palestinian armed resistance.   

Israel's "shoot-to-kill policy" has been widely criticised as the number of Palestinian deaths at the hands of its forces increases.

A further 49 Palestinians were killed during an Israeli bombardment of Gaza in August.

Meanwhile, 29 Israelis, including soldiers, have been killed by Palestinians in the same period, the highest number since 2008.

World Cup 2022: Why do some British Muslims find it difficult to support England?

Fri, 12/09/2022 - 07:56
World Cup 2022: Why do some British Muslims find it difficult to support England?
Racism, the history of colonialism, and Islamophobia are cited as some of the reasons why some young fans won't be cheering on the Three Lions
Saoud Khalaf Fri, 12/09/2022 - 07:56
A fan wraps the England flag around their face at an England match at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar on 25 November 2022 (Associated Press)

"It's coming home."

These iconic words are being chanted at bars, pubs, playgrounds and cafes all across England as the Three Lions aim to score big at the Qatar World Cup in Saturday's quarter final.

The words, which capture the dreams, memories, stress, pride and pain of England fans, feel like a rallying cry, as the nation looks to end 56 years of hurt and bring the trophy "home".

'The Moroccan team just resonates with me more on a cultural level'

Mehdi Saif, British Moroccan

Late at night on the tube, there's normally a steady trickle of locals making their way home after a long day of work. Instead, there's now a steady stream of red and white - with some belting out the catchy Lightning Seeds' song at the top of their voice - a marker of football fever gripping the country.

St George's flags, England shirts; the colour and atmosphere is something to behold. 

Despite the tournament being held thousands of miles away, England seems to have embraced the World Cup in Qatar.

But while the country as a whole may be rooting for Gareth Southgate's boys, there are several communities that have a myriad of reasons for not openly expressing their support for the Three Lions.

Several fans told Middle East Eye that while football is known as the beautiful game, minorities had often seen its ugly side on the terraces, most notably racism, misogyny and Islamophobia.

Abdulrahman Salih, who is of Iraqi and Irish heritage, said he had a difficult relationship when it came to supporting the England football team. 

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While ordinary English people fly the St George's flag on St George's Day, he said the flag had been co-opted by racist and right-wing groups who pushed an aggressive anti-immigrant agenda.

"I've never owned a St George's flag, or a Union Jack. That's not to say I don't have an affinity or a connection to this place or the people that often represent those flags. But I find it difficult to embrace big picture institutions that don't love me back," he told MEE.

He said the Euro 2020 tournament and the racist abuse young black players Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho were subject to left a bitter taste in his mouth.

Before that tournament, when asked how he felt about the possibility of England winning, he would say: "I'd love it for the lads, but hate it for the nation."

'Fractured identity'

It's not just the players who are the target of racist abuse during matches; the fans are very much in the firing line too.

A YouGov study from 2021 revealed that a third of ethnic minority fans have directly experienced racism at football stadiums.

Arooj Khan, a doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham, told MEE that while the England team was rich in diversity, she couldn't shrug off the racism her family was subject to while growing up near West Ham's former stadium Upton Park in east London.

'The racism I have experienced has left me with a fractured identity; one that yearns to belong purely for peace of mind and one that knows that belonging is out of reach'

- Arooj Khan

"It was traumatising and chronically stressful. We stayed in during match days. My dad had plenty of stories of him being beaten up upon leaving the house on match day," she said.

"The racism that I have experienced has left me with a fractured identity; one that yearns to belong purely for peace of mind and one that knows that belonging is out of reach."

Like Khan, other young British Muslims have grown up under the shadow of the "war on terror". Many have faced hostility and surveillance, mistrust and suspicion, questions about their Muslim faith and doubts over their loyalties.

According to a study by the University of Birmingham, Muslims are the second "least-liked" group in the UK, underscoring the shocking extent of Islamophobia in the country.

The study found that roughly one in four Britons hold negative views of Muslims and Islam - the highest of any group apart from Romani people (widely known by the exonym Gypsies) and Irish travellers.

Mehdi Saif, who was born and raised in West London to Moroccan heritage, said he would be supporting his parent's national team at the tournament but wouldn't go out of his way not to support England.

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"The Moroccan team just resonates with me more on a cultural level," he said at a cafe on Portobello Road, in the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which boasts one of the UK's largest Moroccan communities.

"During the Euros everyone was outside and supporting England. At times like these it's natural to be part of the crowd and celebrate the wins together. It gives you a proper community feeling."

For Matt Robinson, who is a white English convert, the Three Lions are the team of his heritage. "I'm an England fan because I'm English, you know, I was born in England."

In regards to the UK's grave colonial history, he said: "Obviously I didn't know Churchill starved three million Bengalis in 1943; you don’t study these things at school."

He references the 1943 Bengal famine in British India, in which the UK prioritised the distribution of vital supplies such as rice to the military, civil servants and other "priority classes".

Colonial legacy

Mohammed Saada, a British Palestinian based in London, said the UK's role in the partition of Palestine and the Balfour Declaration were primary reasons why he couldn't support the England team.

The Balfour Declaration was a pledge by Britain in 1917 to establish "a national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine. The statement came in the form of a letter from Britain’s then-foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, to Lionel Walter Rothschild, a figurehead of the British Jewish community.

"The support for Zionism in this country is a reason that I can never support the England football team," he said.

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For British Palestinians, the historical context and the actions of the two main political parties in stifling and silencing the Palestinian cause have triggered this lack of support for the England national team.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has personally recognised Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as their historic capital, as the capital city of Israel, while the leader of the opposition, Labour's Keir Starmer, has said he "supports Zionism without qualification".

Accompanying the perceived anti-Palestine bias is the failure to see British Muslim athletes break into the top tiers of domestic football and represent the national side.

In a recent online survey, 50 British Muslims were asked if they were able to name a single Muslim player who's represented England at international level.

Only two were mentioned, Easah Suliman and Hamza Choudhury, originally from Pakistan and Bangladesh/Grenada respectively. Both have not received a full cap and only featured at a youth level.

With growing antagonism towards refugees and economic migrants, embracing the children of immigrants as represented in the England squad for four weeks during the World Cup wasn't good enough, Saada said.

Why do some British Muslims find it difficult to support the England team?

US sanctions Erdogan associate over ties to Islamic Revolutionary Guard

Thu, 12/08/2022 - 20:24
US sanctions Erdogan associate over ties to Islamic Revolutionary Guard
US Treasury says the prominent Turkish businessman funnelled tens of millions in oil revenue to IRGC commanders
MEE staff Thu, 12/08/2022 - 20:24
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani leave a press conference in Ankara with their Russian counterpart following a trilateral meeting about Syria, on 16 September 2019 (AFP)

The Biden administration has slapped sanctions on a prominent Turkish businessman and close associate of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for allegedly operating a trading network that handled hundreds of millions of dollars worth of oil for Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps.

On Thursday, sanctions were placed on Sitki Ayan, his son, and a top lieutenant, freezing any assets they have under US jurisdiction and inhibiting their access to global financial and trading markets.

“Ayan’s companies have established international sales contracts for Iranian oil with foreign purchasers, arranged shipments of oil, and helped launder the proceeds, obscuring the oil’s Iranian origin and the (Guard’s) interest in the sales,” the US Treasury said in a statement.

'Head of Quds force finance' 

A Politico report says Ayan helped Tehran generate about $1bn in oil revenue since 2020 by using a network of companies around the globe to disguise the true origin of Iranian oil, using front companies and banks in India, Russia, and the UAE.

The report says that in one case, Ayan used his company's bank in Istanbul to transfer at least $80m to accounts controlled by Behnam Shahriyari, a senior commander in Iran’s Quds force, the elite foreign arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

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“Sitki Ayan serves currently as the head of Quds Force’s largest financial network in Turkey and possibly the entire world,” an unnamed western official told Politico.

The US frequently targets businesspeople and entities that help Iran evade sanctions. The Biden administration has been ramping up sanctions on Iran in recent months, with prospects for a nuclear deal all but gone and tensions over Iran’s military support for Russia.

The new sanctions could complicate ties between the US and Turkey.

Ayan is chairman of the Istanbul-based ASB Group, an international energy conglomerate, and enjoys close ties with Erdogan. They attended the same high school.

Recently, the US has sought to balance differences with Turkey in hotspots like the Eastern Mediterranean and Syria, as it looks for its Nato ally’s support in the Ukraine war.

US spy chief 'strongly opposes' Turkey's bombing campaign in Syria

Thu, 12/08/2022 - 18:44
US spy chief 'strongly opposes' Turkey's bombing campaign in Syria
CIA director Bill Burns called Turkish counterpart after a drone attack launched by Turkey's intelligence service nearly hit US troops
MEE staff Thu, 12/08/2022 - 18:44
CIA director William Burns arrives at the US Capitol, on 14 June 2022 in Washington, DC (AFP)

CIA director Bill Burns strongly opposed Turkey’s bombing campaign against the Kurds in northern Syria during a call held with Turkish spy chief Hakan Fidan.

The call, according to Axios, was prompted by a Turkish drone attack on a base shared by the US and its Kurdish allies in Hasakah, Syria, which came within 300 metres of American troops.

Burns told his Turkish counterpart that the strike, believed to be carried out by Turkey’s intelligence service, put US troops in danger. He also repeated public warnings from other senior US officials against Ankara launching a ground invasion, according to two unnamed sources quoted by Axios.

Turkey has been threatening a new ground offensive in Syria for months, but its artillery and air campaign in the region accelerated after a bombing in Istanbul killed six people and wounded dozens more in November.

Turkey's looming invasion of Syria tests US-Kurdish ties
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Turkey has targeted the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-majority militia that the US has partnered with to fight the Islamic State (IS) militant group.

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

This week the US resumed patrols in northeastern Syria against IS, after Turkey’s bombing campaign prompted a halt to operations.

Despite statements from the US, analysts caution Turkey may not hold back on launching a new assault. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is entering a fraught election period and may hope to see a boost in the polls from a new incursion.

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

“Right now it’s Russia that has more influence to dissuade Turkey on whether an incursion goes forward [rather] than the US,” Sam Heller, a Syria expert at Century International based in Beirut, told Middle East Eye in an earlier interview.