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Syria: One dead during rare US operation in government-controlled area

Thu, 10/06/2022 - 09:35
Syria: One dead during rare US operation in government-controlled area
The airdrop raid in the northeast of the country targeted Islamic State members, the US military says
MEE staff Thu, 10/06/2022 - 10:35
A US soldier stands near a Bradley Fighting Vehicle during a joint military exercise in Syria's northeastern Hasakah province, 7 September 2022 (AFP)

A rare American helicopter raid in northeast Syria left one person dead on Thursday and placed two others under arrest, the US military said in a statement.

US forces raided the government-held Muluk Saray village, which lies 17km south of Qamishli, deploying several helicopters. The raid targeted Rakkan Wahid al-Shammri, who Washington says is an Islamic State (IS) group official that oversaw the smuggling of weapons and fighters.

US Central Command (Centcom), the military command responsible for the Middle East, said Shammri was killed in the raid, and two additional associates were detained by American forces.

"No US forces were injured or killed during the operation, no civilians were killed or wounded, and there was no loss or damage to US equipment," Centcom said in a statement.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based NGO, said a raid in regions held by the Syrian government was unusual.

Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper reported that four US helicopters were deployed in an overnight raid and that US forces ordered residents of Muluk Saray, through loudspeakers, to stay in their houses.

A person reportedly named Abu Hail, who is accused of collaborating with IS, was killed after refusing to surrender to US forces. Several people in Muluk Saray were also arrested.

"Abu Hail is a person who hails from outside the village. He came and lived here several years ago. He used to frequent a farm near the archaeological hill of Gul Barat near the village," a source told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

Residents of Muluk Saray said they heard several bursts of individual weapons launched from Syrian government checkpoints on the outskirts of the village during the raid.

The US-led Operation Inherent Resolve is a task force battling IS in Syria. In July, the Pentagon said it had killed Syria's top IS militant - "one of the top five" leaders of Islamic State overall - in a drone strike in the north of the country, and US forces had carried out several airborne operations to kill or capture IS militants in Raqqa, Hasaka and Deir ez-Zor.

One dead in rare US operation in government-controlled Syrian village

Israel: Netanyahu hospitalised with chest pains during Yom Kippur prayers

Thu, 10/06/2022 - 06:49
Israel: Netanyahu hospitalised with chest pains during Yom Kippur prayers
Ex-premier, who spent the night in hospital for observation after undergoing tests, was released on Thursday morning
MEE staff Thu, 10/06/2022 - 07:49
Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 73, is running for re-election next month (AFP)

The former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was taken to Shaare Zedek Medical Centre in Jerusalem on Wednesday after suffering chest pains during Yom Kippur prayers at his synagogue.

Netanyahu, who spent the night in hospital for observation after undergoing tests, was released on Thursday morning and has resumed his schedule.

"He underwent a series of tests there which were normal. Now, he is feeling well," Netanyahu's office said in a statement. 

Netanyahu, 73, is running for re-election next month and Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Twitter wished his rival in the polls a "full and speedy recovery".

Israel's 1 November election will be its fifth vote in less than four years.

It could oust Lapid and see the return of Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving premier, who is on trial over corruption charges that he denies.

Lapid was the architect of a alliance that ended Netanyahu's record 12 consecutive years in power in 2021.

The latest opinion polls put Netanyahu's Likud party in front and set to take more than 30 seats in the 120-member parliament.

The polls suggest his right-wing bloc, which includes allies from ultra-Orthodox parties and the extreme right, is near the 61 seats needed for a majority.

Netanyahu hospitalised with chest pains during Yom Kippur prayers

Obama characterised Netanyahu as a 'Putinism' subscriber, transcript says

Wed, 10/05/2022 - 19:38
Obama characterised Netanyahu as a 'Putinism' subscriber, transcript says
The former US president included Netanyahu in a list of leaders he felt were on the opposing side to the US in 'the war of ideas'
MEE staff Wed, 10/05/2022 - 20:38
Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely pose for a selfie on election night on 10 April 2019 (AFP)

US President Barack Obama accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of subscribing to what he called "Putinism" in his final days in office, according to newly declassified documents. 

A transcript from the Department of Justice, first published by Bloomberg, details Obama's off-the-record discussion with reporters three days before leaving office.

"But what I worry about most is, there is a war right now of ideas, more than any hot war, and it is between Putinism - which, by the way, is subscribed to, at some level, by [Turkish President Reccep Tayyip] Erdogan or Netanyahu or [then-Philippine President Rodrigo] Duterte and [then-President-elect Donald] Trump," Obama said, according to the transcript.

He described the idea of "Putinism" as an opposing force to "a vision of a liberal market-based democracy" which, even with its flaws, was "responsible for most of the human progress we've seen over the last 50, 75 years".

The document was obtained by Bloomberg's Jason Leopold in a response to a five-year-old Freedom of Information Act request to the DOJ. It highlights a broad range of issues Obama addressed with reporters just days before Trump assumed office.

He primed his statement on Putinism with a credit to the degree to which the US needed to "underwrite the world order". 

"If we don't initiate a conversation around human rights or women's rights, or LGBT rights, or climate change, or open government, or anti-corruption initiatives, whatever cause you believe in, it doesn't happen," Obama said, according to the transcript. 

"Almost everything - every multilateral initiative function, norm, policy that is out there - it's underwritten by us."

A history of murky relations

Netanyahu and Obama harboured a strained relationship during the US president's time in office. Years of tension were further marred by issues including Russia's 2014 entry into Syria's civil war in support of Bashar al-Assad - while the US supported opposition groups - and Russia's 2012 granting of political asylum to Edward Snowden.

Netanyahu, then prime minister, boasted of friendly relations with Russia's president, even using their general warmth as a campaigning point leading up to Israel's 2019 elections. His multiple visits to Moscow to meet with Putin were understood as a sign of amiability.

Trump's presidency brought closer ties with Netanyahu - demonstrated by staunch support of the Abraham Accords normalisation deals - as well as with Putin, whom Trump regarded as "highly respected".

Obama's comments reaffirm the known tumult of his relationship with the Russian president - a legacy that has taken on greater significance during Joe Biden's tenure as president and the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Turkey slams 'ugly' Swedish satire mocking Erdogan

Wed, 10/05/2022 - 18:57
Turkey slams 'ugly' Swedish satire mocking Erdogan
Feud over satirical TV show comes as Turkey renews threat to block the Nordic country's Nato accession
MEE staff Wed, 10/05/2022 - 19:57
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during his party’s group meeting at the Turkish Grand National Assembly in Ankara, on 5 October 2022 (AFP)

Turkey has lodged a formal complaint with Sweden over an “ugly” satire TV show that aired "insulting content" about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The weekly satirical show, Swedish News, which regularly makes fun of Swedish and international politicians, hosted Kadir Meral, a Swedish-Kurdish satirist who gave a two-minute performance in Kurdish mocking Erdogan.

The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Sweden's ambassador to Turkey, Staffan Herrstrom, and lodged a formal complaint, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency.

The comedian makes fun of Erdogan for going bald while he leads a country that is famous for hair transplants. It also portrayed a recent gas leak in the Baltic Sea being caused by Erdogan passing gas from eating too many kebabs.

The show pictured mock-up images of a bare-chested Erdogan wearing swim trunks and enmeshed in a Kurdish flag. Another image showed Erdogan wearing a hijab.

Inside the meeting that broke Sweden and Finland's Nato deadlock with Turkey
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The incident comes at a sensitive time in the bilateral relationship. Finland and Sweden have scrambled to become Nato members after Russia invaded Ukraine and Erdogan threatened to block their bids seeking concessions.

Finland, Sweden and Turkey struck a deal in June, which included provisions on extraditions and sharing of information, clearing the way for Nato to formally invite the two nations to join the western military alliance.

Erdogan on Saturday renewed his threat to block their application until the two nations "kept" the promises they made to Ankara.

He has repeatedly accused both countries of being havens for Kurdish militants, specifically highlighting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), and for promoting "terrorism".

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson played down the importance of the satirical TV show over which Ankara protested, and said she did not think it would harm Sweden's chances to join Nato.

"I think what is important for Turkey is, of course, that we live up to the agreement that we have made," she told a news conference.

Biden urged to press Saudi coalition to end Yemen blockade

Wed, 10/05/2022 - 18:14
Biden urged to press Saudi coalition to end Yemen blockade
Nearly 40 members of Congress say they will 'not hesitate' in ending 'US participation in any renewed airstrikes or other military action inside of Yemen'
MEE staff Wed, 10/05/2022 - 19:14
Fighters loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed government take part in a military parade in the Marib province on 26 September 2022.
Fighters loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed government take part in a military parade in the Marib province on 26 September 2022 (AFP)

A group of 38 members of US Congress has sent a letter to the Biden administration, urging Washington to press Saudi Arabia and its allies to lift a blockade on Yemen, as the negotiated truce expired and led to fears of a return to fighting in the years-long conflict.

The letter, led by Congresswoman Debbie Dingell and Congressman Mark Pocan, was sent on 30 September, several days before the United Nations-backed ceasefire expired without an extension.

The UN special envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, said efforts to extend and expand the ceasefire for a further six months had not been successful ahead of Sunday's deadline.

US lawmakers renew push to end Washington's role in Yemen war
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The congressional letter stated that "progress towards an expanded truce agreement is increasingly urgent", however, its ultimate focus was on ending the blockade imposed by US ally Saudi Arabia.

"We respectfully request that you use US leverage and relationships with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Yemen's PLC to fully lift the blockade," the lawmakers wrote, adding they wanted the US to help "maintain unity that will best support efforts towards an expanded truce, and ultimately, the end to the Saudi-led war in Yemen".

Yemen descended into civil war in 2014, when Houthi rebels seized the capital, Sanaa, forcing the internationally recognised government to flee to Saudi Arabia. Riyadh and a coalition of regional allies, chiefly the UAE, intervened in March 2015 to push the Houthis back.

Seven years of fighting has failed to dislodge the Iran-aligned Houthis, who control northern Yemen and about 80 percent of the country’s population, along with major urban centres.

The April truce came after one of the most intense periods of fighting in the conflict, as the Houthis attempted to take the strategic city of Marib. Forces loyal to the Saudi-led coalition held them off and reorganised its forces to go on the offensive in Shabwah, where it dealt the Houthis a rare defeat.

After being renewed twice, the deal expired on Sunday as the warring parties could not agree to the terms of an expanded ceasefire.

US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking on Wednesday called on the Houthi group to show more flexibility over the UN-proposed truce, saying the group had "imposed maximalist and impossible demands" over a proposed mechanism to pay public sector wages.

Blockade could amount to torture

Since entering the conflict in 2015, Saudi Arabia and its allies have imposed a blockade on Yemen, blocking ships and planes from entering and leaving the country.

Several reports, including from the World Bank, have stated that the blockade has contributed to rising food prices and hampered access to clean drinking water, humanitarian aid, and life-saving medical services.

The truce had helped alleviate some of the impacts of the blockade, with the Saudi-led coalition allowing the entry of nearly one million metric tonnes of fuel in the first four and a half months, according to Grundberg.

'The Saudi imposed blockade is the main contributor to the spread of starvation and diseases and is considered a war crime'

- Aisha Jumaan, Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation

The truce also permitted the use of Sanaa International Airport for commercial flights for the first time since 2016. The UN said 41 flights and more than 20,000 Yemenis had been able to fly in and out of the nation's capital, which is currently held by the Houthis.

But the members of Congress said efforts had fallen short of a full lifting of the blockade, and with the ceasefire having expired, any progress was in danger of being reversed.

"These early steps to mitigate the worst excesses of the Saudi-led coalition's blockade remain woefully inadequate in the face of the world's worst humanitarian crisis," the lawmakers said in their letter.

A report published last month by the World Organisation Against Torture also found the blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition "can be considered torture" for the humanitarian toll it has had on Yemen.

"The Saudi imposed blockade is the main contributor to the spread of starvation and diseases and is considered a war crime. The Yemeni people should not be held hostage to peace negotiations or the truce. The blockade should be lifted unconditionally," Aisha Jumaan, president of the Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation, said in a statement sent to MEE.

Invoking war powers resolution

Congress has introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at ending US support for the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen.

The most recent came in June when a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers introduced a new Yemen War Powers Resolution, which would bring an end to all remaining support for the war and strengthen US President Joe Biden's pledge last year to end assistance.

The resolution, introduced in the House and accompanied by a companion bill in the Senate, would end US military participation in offensive air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition, including ending intelligence-sharing and logistical support such as maintenance and provision of spare parts.

The bills are currently sitting in both the House and Senate, awaiting a vote.

Weeks after entering office in 2021, Biden announced Washington would end support for offensive operations in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, marking a major foreign policy shift from the Trump administration.

The announcement was initially received in a positive light by progressives and peace advocates. However, questions soon emerged as to what "offensive support" constituted, and what would happen to key aspects of the coalition's air strike operations such as aircraft maintenance, which the US provided.

Democratic lawmakers DeFazio and Ro Khanna, who signed the 30 September letter, criticised the administration's vague language in an interview with MEE in January.

In their letter to the administration, the lawmakers told Biden to convey a threat to the Saudi-led coalition, saying they would "not hesitate" to end "US participation in any renewed airstrikes or other military action inside of Yemen".

"This important letter shows that Members of Congress are rightly standing firm against the use of collective punishment of tens of millions of Yemenis as a bargaining chip in negotiations," Erik Sperling, executive director of the advocacy group Just Foreign Policy, said in a statement sent to MEE.

"If the administration green-lights renewed Saudi bombing, Congress will act swiftly to cut that support through a bipartisan, bicameral War Powers Resolution."

Washington

Iran: Clashes leave two Revolutionary Guard officers killed in southeastern province

Sat, 10/01/2022 - 11:00
Iran: Clashes leave two Revolutionary Guard officers killed in southeastern province
Violence in which 20 people died erupted on Friday after a demonstration outside a police station in Sistan and Baluchestan
MEE staff Sat, 10/01/2022 - 12:00
Iran's flag is pictured at the Milak border crossing between Iran and Afghanistan in the Sistan and Baluchestan Province on 8 September 2021 (Reuters)
Iran's flag flies at the Milak border crossing between Iran and Afghanistan in the Sistan and Baluchestan Province on 8 September 2021 (Reuters)

A second officer from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) died from wounds he sustained during clashes on Friday, state media said on Saturday. 

At least 20 people were killed in an exchange of fire in the city of Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province, as protests continued to sweep the country over the death of Mahsa Amini.

The incident happened after worshippers from the southeastern province left Friday prayer and joined anti-government demonstrations. Official media and opposition figures provided different versions of how the violence erupted. 

The US public broadcaster Voice of America cited Dubai-based Iranian dissident Habibollah Sarbazi as saying that police opened fire at protesters who had gathered near a police station in the city and threw rocks at it. 

The violence erupted after a "terrorist raid on military forces", the official Iranian news agency IRNA said.

Iran’s crisis is homegrown and the solution to this uprising will be too
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The provincial governor of Sistan and Baluchestan, Hossein Khiabani, said on Friday that 19 were killed and some 20 others were wounded, including police officers and Colonel Ali Mousavi, a provincial intelligence officer in the IRGC. 

Another officer of the elite military unit, commander Hamid-Reza Hashemi, died from his wounds on Saturday morning, according to IRNA. 

On Saturday, the semi-official Tasnim news agency said an armed rebel group named Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice) has claimed responsibility for the attack near the police station in Zahedan.

Poverty-stricken Sistan and Baluchestan, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, is a flashpoint for clashes with drug smuggling gangs as well as with rebels from the Baluchi minority.

Nationwide anger 

The protests on Friday came against the backdrop of nationwide demonstrations over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini apparently at the hands of Iran's so-called "morality police". 

According to the local media, anger in Zahedan on Friday was partly fuelled by a case involving the alleged sexual harassment of a teenage girl by a police officer in the neighbouring port city of Chabahar. 

Angry protesters set ablaze public properties, banks and police cars in the city after reports of the gunfights, according to Anadolu Agency.

"Several chain stores were looted and set on fire, and several banks and government centres were also damaged," Khiabani told state TV. 

The deadly incident came amid a harsh government crackdown on protesters denouncing the death of Amini. At least 52 people have been killed since protests began in mid-September and hundreds more injured, according to Amnesty International. 

The London-based rights group said on Friday that Iran's highest military body instructed the commanders of armed forces to "severely confront" protesters, according to leaked documents it obtained. 

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Wednesday that the death of Amini had "saddened" everyone in the Islamic Republic, but warned that "chaos" would not be accepted amid spreading protests.

Clashes leave two IRGC officers killed in southeastern Iranian province

Brazil elections: What is at stake for Israel and Palestine?

Fri, 09/30/2022 - 20:17
Brazil elections: What is at stake for Israel and Palestine?
Incumbent right-wing leader Jair Bolsonaro is trailing leftist politician Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Within their battle is a divide over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
MEE staff Fri, 09/30/2022 - 21:17
View of towels with the image of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (L) and Brazilian former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 27 September 2022.
Towels bear the image of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (L) and former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 27 September 2022 (AFP)

This Sunday, Brazil is set to hold the first round of a presidential election that will be the culmination of a battle between two ideological polar opposites, and the results will hold tremendous consequences for the future of Latin America's most populous country.

Incumbent Jair Bolsanaro, a right-wing nationalist and former paratrooper, is facing a serious challenge from former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, one of the country's most revered leftists.

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Da Silva is currently polling ahead of Bolsonaro, and a win would be a remarkable political comeback for the 76-year-old. During his tenure, leading the country from 2003 to 2010, he helped lift millions out of poverty through an expansion of welfare programmes, and at the same time led Brazil through an era of economic growth.

However, in 2017, he was caught in a corruption investigation, dubbed Operation Car Wash, and imprisoned. He maintains his innocence and was released in 2019, his conviction annulled.

Within the two leaders' politics is also a divide in Brazil's approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And with Brazil being home to roughly half of Latin America's population, its leanings towards the issue may influence the rest of the continent.

Bolsonaro and Bibi

Like many other Latin American countries, Brazil has historically sided with the Palestinians at the United Nations, but since coming to power, Bolsonaro has reversed that course after finding common ground with the right-wing government of former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Bolsonaro's political career has been defined by a number of pro-Israel stances, and he has close ties to Israeli officials.

His connection to Israel in part stems from his strong support from Brazil's evangelical movement, and his baptism ceremony, which took place in the Jordan River in Israel, helped to cement himself among this base.

After coming to power in 2019, Bolsanaro said he had plans to move the country's embassy to Jerusalem and recognise Israel's claim over the city. And while he later backtracked on the embassy move, he did open a trade mission in Jerusalem, which angered many Palestinians.

During a visit to Israel, Netanyahu referred to Bolsonaro as "a good friend". 

His government has also stated its opposition to a probe by the International Criminal Court into potential war crimes committed by Israel against Palestinians, and has been opposed to several resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council critical of Israel.

Lula's pro-Palestine stances

Da Silva, commonly known in Brazil as "Lula", has previously taken steps to recognise Palestine, in 2010 recognising the state of Palestine within the 1967 borders. 

The following year, he made the first-ever trip by a serving or former Brazilian head of state to the occupied Palestinian territories. He also reserved a plot of land near the Brazilian presidential palace for the future Palestinian embassy.

During Israel's offensive on the Gaza Strip in 2014, in which more than 2,000 Palestinians were killed, Da Silva's government recalled its ambassador from Israel and condemned "the disproportionate use of force by Israel from which large numbers of civilian casualties, including women and children, resulted".

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Earlier this year, he met with members of the Palestinian community in Brazil, wearing a keffiyeh - a black-and-white chequered piece of cloth that has become a symbol of Palestinian nationalism made famous in the 1960s by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

During the meeting, he stressed that the Palestinian people have the right to live in a "free and sovereign state", adding that he would work to re-establish the leading role of Brazilian foreign policy in the mediation of conflicts and of peoples' right to defend themselves.

The most recent polls by Datafolha, a Sao Paolo-based research company, show da Silva ahead of Bolsonaro by about 15 points.

He has maintained a consistent advantage in the polls, with his lead widening over the past week. To win in the first round, he would need to get more than 50 percent of votes on Sunday. If not, a runoff will be held on 30 October.

The leftist politician's victory would be a turning point for Brazil after four years of Bolsonaro's authoritarian leadership.

A victory by da Silva could also mean a return to a pre-Bolsanaro position on Israel and Palestine. However, the right-wing president has already threatened not to recognise the election results, saying that if he doesn't win, it will be because of voter fraud.

What's behind the US-Russia tussle over a Red Sea naval base in Sudan?

Fri, 09/30/2022 - 17:22
What's behind the US-Russia tussle over a Red Sea naval base in Sudan?
Russia has long eyed Sudan as a gateway to Africa's gold, as well as a stake in a global power play over a key strategic waterway
MEE staff Fri, 09/30/2022 - 18:22
Anti-government demonstrators in Port Sudan protest against a peace deal signed between the government and rebel groups, on 17 October 2021 (AFP)

The US has reiterated its concerns over an agreement that would allow Russia to build a naval base on Sudan's Red Sea coast, potentially giving the Kremlin a foothold along the strategic waterway at a time of heightened tensions with the West over the war in Ukraine.

On Tuesday, John Godfrey, the US ambassador to Sudan, raised the issue in an interview with the Sudanese newspaper Al-Tayar, saying: "If the government of Sudan decides to proceed with the establishment of this facility, or to renegotiate it, it will be harmful to Sudan's interest."

Sudan signed the agreement allowing Moscow to build the base, capable of hosting nuclear-powered ships, during the administration of president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who was removed from power in 2019.

Russia is set to lease the site for 25 years and could extend the deal for another 10 years, giving it access to the Red Sea's warm waters and the international trade chokepoint of Bab el-Mandeb.

Bases

Global powers have long coveted bases on the Red Sea to project power and protect trade interests. Djibouti, to the south of Sudan, is home to military bases from China, France, Italy and Japan. In 2016, China opened its first overseas military outpost in Djibouti.

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The region is also a playground for Gulf states. Saudi Arabia and Egypt already have access to the Red Sea from their coastlines, but Turkey, Qatar and the UAE are also competing for influence in the region.

Turkey operates a training base for Somali troops in Mogadishu. In 2017, it signed an agreement with Sudan for the restoration of Suakin island, a former Ottoman possession on the Red Sea coast.

The UAE established a base at the Eritrean port of Assab in 2015. It has used the facility as a launching point for naval and air attacks against Iran-aligned Houthi forces in Yemen.

Not to be outdone, Tehran has also been able to carve out a perch on the Red Sea, raising alarm in the US about maritime threats potentially posed by bomb-laden drone boats. 

Gold

Washington's warning about Russia comes amid revelations of a massive effort by the Kremlin to extract gold from the African country. US officials say this could prop up the Kremlin's war chest as it faces slumping oil prices and western sanctions.

If a Russian naval base is built in Sudan, it would represent a significant move in the two countries' bilateral relationship.

So far, Russia's involvement in Sudan has been spearheaded by Wagner, a shadowy network of mercenaries who have reportedly fought in conflicts from Libya to Syria with links to the Kremlin. According to the New York Times, the group has led gold smuggling operations in Sudan.

Russian mercenaries near Sudan accused of killing hundreds as African gold rush intensifies
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In April, Middle East Eye spoke with eyewitnesses who told of a spate of attacks purportedly carried out by Russian armed groups in a gold-mining area of Central African Republic, leaving hundreds dead and sending thousands more fleeing over the border into Sudan

According to one eyewitness, the Russians used heavy weapons, including attack helicopters, tanks and armed four-wheel-drive vehicles in the attack.

"What we saw was very brutal and bloody. They used these aggressive forces and weapons against the civilians, including slaughtering the traders and miners, as well as looting the gold and money," 35-year-old Adam Zakaria, a survivor of the attack, told MEE.

‘Brutal and bloody’

Russia was a major player in Africa during the Cold War, but its influence waned after the collapse of the Soviet Union. A 2017 meeting in Sochi between Vladimir Putin and then- president Bashir opened the way for Moscow's re-entry into the continent, with Bashir pledging Sudan could be Russia's "key to Africa".

The Kremlin has since expanded its footprint across the continent. Wagner mercenaries have been reportedly deployed to Mozambique, the Central African Republic, and most recently Mali, where they have filled the power void left by departing French troops. Wagner has been accused of carrying out atrocities against civilians in many of these areas.

Russia has turned to Africa for partners as it finds itself more isolated in the West over its invasion of Ukraine. In July, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sought to leverage ties with regional states on a tour across the continent, during which he blamed the West for rising food prices.

Russia has seen some success from its outreach. When the United Nations held a vote in March to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine, 25 African countries voted either to abstain or did not vote at all, and just 28 African states voted in favour of the resolution.

'Consequences'

It's unclear whether the Kremlin will be able to follow through on its plans for a Red Sea naval base. Sudan's economic crisis has worsened since the military ousted the country's transitional government in October last year.

The US has already frozen $700m in economic assistance. The World Bank suspended aid disbursements to Sudan. The International Monetary Fund has also held up its programme of nearly $50bn in debt relief for the country until the restoration of the civilian-led government. 

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In his interview on Tuesday, Godfrey, the US ambassador, warned Sudan of consequences should it follow through on its agreement with Russia.

"All countries have a sovereign right to decide which other countries to partner with, but these choices have consequences, of course."

The ambassador added that any such base on the Red Sea would "lead to further isolation of Sudan at a time when most Sudanese want to become closer to the international community".

Russian air strikes in Syria reported to have decreased since Ukraine war

Fri, 09/30/2022 - 14:01
Russian air strikes in Syria reported to have decreased since Ukraine war
Deaths from Russian air strikes in the past year at their lowest since Russia intervened in Syria in September 2015, says activist group
MEE staff Fri, 09/30/2022 - 15:01
Russia has maintained a military presence at its Hmeimim air base, near the city of Latakia, since it intervened in Syria's civil war in 2015 (AFP)

Russian air strikes in Syria have decreased since it invaded Ukraine in February, resulting in fewer deaths, a UK-based activist group said on Friday.

A total of 241 people have been killed by Russian strikes in Syria during the past year. Most of these were Islamic State (IS) fighters, but the figure also includes 28 civilians, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, seven years to the day since Russia began its intervention in Syria. 

This marks the lowest annual death toll since Russia started its air strikes in Syria in support of the government of President Bashar al-Assad on 30 September 2015.

"Russia's role has generally declined in Syria since the start of the war on Ukraine," said the Observatory, which relies on a network of sources on the ground in Syria.

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This has led to a "significant decline in its strikes on the Syrian desert", where Russia has been targeting IS fighters.

Moscow has been among the top political, economic and military backers of the government in Damascus since the start of the conflict in Syria in March 2011.

Russia has maintained a military presence at its Hmeimim air base, near the city of Latakia, since it entered the civil war.

Its military intervention was crucial in turning the tide for Assad and giving him the upper hand in the conflict after his forces had lost large areas of territory to rebel and militant groups.

The Observatory has put the total death toll from the Russian air strikes in Syria at more than 21,000, including 8,697 civilians, a quarter of whom were children.

Almost half a million people have been killed in the civil war, with millions more displaced and large parts of the country devastated.

Russian air strikes in Syria reported to have decreased since Ukraine war

Yusuf Qaradawi and Islam: How the late Egyptian scholar is remembered in India

Fri, 09/30/2022 - 13:52
Yusuf Qaradawi and Islam: How the late Egyptian scholar is remembered in India
The Egyptian cleric and influential thinker had followers across the globe. In the Indian state of Kerala, he is hailed as an icon of 'Islamic moderation'
AP Muhammed Afsal Fri, 09/30/2022 - 14:52
Yusuf Qaradawi died in Qatar on 26 September 2022 at the age of 96 (AFP/file photo)

When Abul A'la al-Maududi, the most prominent Islamic figure in the Indian subcontinent died in 1979, it was the late Egyptian scholar and cleric Yusuf Qaradawi who led his funeral prayer, attended by thousands. 

Photos of the prayer were shared widely on social media after the death of Qaradawi on Monday in Doha at the age of 96. The fact that Qaradawi led the prayer for Maududi was seen as highly symbolic of his influence and status among Islamic intellectuals, transcending the boundaries of his country of birth, Egypt, and his place of residence in the Gulf state of Qatar

Middle East Eye spoke to some of Qaradawi’s students and followers in the south Indian state of Kerala, where thousands have been deeply influenced by his thoughts on Islamic jurisprudence, and where more than a dozen of his works were translated into Malayalam, the local language.

“I don’t remember any other contemporary Arab scholar as influential as him in Kerala,” said Ilyas Moulavi, a former assistant and student of Qaradawi between 1994-1999. 

india map arab world

In the early 1970s, many students from Kerala came to Qatar on a government scholarship and enrolled in Al Ma’had al-Dini (The Religious Institute), a high school for boys headed by Qaradawi at the time. 

In 1983, Islamic Publishing House, the publication wing of the Kerala state unit of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), published the translation of Qaradawi’s book The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam, said Kottathodika Hussain, the current assistant director at the publishing house.

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Later IPH published over 15 books by Qaradawi, which included two volumes of his four-volume Contemporary Fatwas, he added.

Hussain said IPH didn’t publish the translation of Fiqh Al-Zakat (The Jurisprudence of Zakat), Qaradawi’s expanded doctoral thesis, but all the subsequent IPH publications on the topic heavily drew from the book.

A scholar of ‘moderation’

Not all of his supporters in Kerala were subscribers to the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian political Islamic movement which inspired Qaradawi’s early life and activism and which now considers him one of its main ideologues. He was respected by intellectuals from across the Islamic spectrum. 

Social scientist Sadik Mampad said the rhetoric of Islamic revivalism and islah (reform) existed in Kerala long before Qaradawi. 

“Kerala’s Islamic revivalist movement, a section of which later aligned with Salafism, has been influenced by the thoughts of Rashid Rida, Muhammad Abduh, and the Egyptian revivalist magazine Al-Manar since the 1920s,” Mampad told MEE. “So when Qaradawi came, he was understood and accepted.” 

“He did, however, bring the concept of wasaṭiyya [moderation] to the fore of Islamic movements,” Mampad said.

Qaradawi maududi funeral
A photo of Qaradawi leading the funeral of Indian Islamic leader Abu A'la al-Maududi in 1979 (al-qaradawi.net)

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Mampad said that Qaradawi was among the first to use the internet to disseminate his ideas, including by issuing fatwas through the English-language website Islamonline. 

“He used contemporary language to disseminate his thoughts. Many Islamic scholars, who otherwise interpreted fiqh liberally, were still strict about music and movies. But Qaradawi had fatwas in favour of creative arts and entertainment,” Mampad said. 

Though his Fiqh al-Aqalliyyat (Jurisprudence of Minorities) was originally meant for European Muslims, Indian Muslims too found it relevant, Mampad said. 

“Some Islamic jurisprudence councils in India considered Qaradawi as a reference point. He also taught Islamists how to be involved in the democratic process and asked them to speak in the language of citizenship,” he said.

Likewise, Faiz Babu, a social activist in Kerala, said that “Qaradawi viewed jurisprudence as a problem-solving tool rather than the baggage of tradition”.

While most of his Indian students hailed from Kerala, MEE spoke to an Indian scholar known for studying Qaradawi’s life and works who came from farther north.

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Masood Alam Falahi, from the Uttar Pradesh state, lived in Qatar from 2007-2009 and wrote multiple books on him, alongside a PhD dissertation on Qaradawi’s works. 

Falahi’s works cover Qaradawi’s thoughts, jurisprudence and literature, especially on the jurisprudence of minorities (fiqh al-aqalliyyat) and the jurisprudence of priorities (fiqh al-awlawiyyat).

“His approach was moderation,” he said. “He was against fanaticism and extremism, religious or sectarian, in thought, jurisprudence, and behaviour. 

"His books Fiqh al Lahw w al-Tarweeh (Jurisprudence of Entertainment and Recreation) and Fiqh al Ghena w al-Mausiqi (Jurisprudence of Singing and Music) seek a middle path between excess and negligence. He wanted to make issues easy for Muslims.”

As for Qaradawi’s influence in India, Falahi said he had close contact with all Islamic groups. “He visited Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama in Lucknow, Jamiatul Falah and Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy in Azamgarh, and Jamia Nizamia in Hyderabad.” These institutions broadly represent Salafi, Sufi and Islamist ideologies.

When Qaradawi left Egypt in 1961, he was based in the Gulf region, predominated by the Hanbali school, which is rigidly textual. “Still, he did not provoke them,” said Sadic K Mohamed, another former student at the Doha-based Religious Institute.

“Qaradawi was gentle in dealing with the Hanbali hardliners. He debated with them with respect.”

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Beyond the Islamist circle

Qaradawi’s acceptance in India crossed the boundaries of Islamism and JIH. 

“He respected Indian scholar Abul Hasan Ali Hasani Nadwi very much, stayed for days in Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama, an Islamic seminary in Lucknow in northern India, and lectured there,” said Moulavi.

“Nadwis were staunch opponents of JIH and Islamism, but still they loved him very much because of his Fiqh al Taysir, whose motto was ‘simplify and do not complicate it’.”

qaradawi receiving indian scholars
A photo of Qaradawi with a number of visiting Indian scholars in his home in Doha, Qatar (al-qaradawi.net)

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Qaradawi’s works were also praised by progressive Muslim scholars, said Arif Zain, principal of Sullamussalam Arabic College in Malappuram.

“My father, AP Abdul Qader Maulavi, frequently consulted Fiqh al-Zakat, saying that Qaradawi beautifully analysed and organised everything scattered across different traditions related to Islam’s obligatory donation in one volume.”

Zain and his late father have always disagreed with Qaradawi’s political views.

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Ashraf Kadakkal, head of the Department of Islamic and West Asian Studies at the University of Kerala, pointed out that Qaradawi was not liked by those on the far right or far left.

“While studying at Al-Azhar, I came across a man from Chad who hated Qaradawi for permitting shorter beards and handshakes between male and female strangers. On the other end of the spectrum, the secularists demonise him for his political views. The fact remains that he believed in democratic values.” 

Doha

Somalia: Turkey's Bayraktar TB2 drones join offensive against al-Shabab

Fri, 09/30/2022 - 13:32
Somalia: Turkey's Bayraktar TB2 drones join offensive against al-Shabab
Ankara's move to increase its foothold in the Horn of Africa seen as 'significant' in Mogadishu's fight against insurgent group
Bashir Mohamed Caato Fri, 09/30/2022 - 14:32
The Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone is pictured on 16 December 2019 at Gecitkale military airbase near Famagusta in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (AFP)
A Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone at Gecitkale military airbase, near Famagusta, in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus on 16 December 2019 (AFP)

The much-coveted Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone has joined Somalia's offensive against the insurgent group al-Shabab, in an escalation seen by Somali analysts as highly significant to the war's trajectory.

Somalia's federal government last week confirmed reports that the armed drones produced by Turkish company Baykar, which has ties to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's family, are now active in Somalia, where US drones have been carrying out strikes against al-Shabab for years.

'If Turkish drones are fully involved, I think it would change the war'

- Abdisalam Guleyd, security analyst

Speaking in a town hall discussion, Somalia's newly appointed interior minister, Ahmed Malim Fiqi, said Turkey's drones are providing aerial combat and military reconnaissance to neutralise one of Africa's deadliest militant groups amid a clan uprising against al-Shabab in central Somalia.

"The US government is leading, and we really appreciate that they are providing air support and carrying [out] air strikes against the terror group... but the Turkish government has also joined the offensive and is providing air support. Many other countries are also providing intelligence-gathering support," Fiqi said.

The minister said Turkish drone operators are closely coordinating with Somali commanders, who are providing them with target coordinates.

Middle East Eye has reached out to Turkey's defence ministry and Somali government officials for comment but has not received a response.

Significant involvement

Somalia has shared deep-rooted military cooperation with Turkey for the past 10 years. According to analysts, the new move by Ankara is seen as hugely significant for Somalia's war on al-Shabab. 

"Turkey has been hugely involved in Somalia security and humanitarian affairs, but the [introduction of combat] drones is new," Abdisalam Guleyd, a security analyst and former Somalia deputy spy chief, told Middle East Eye.

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"My understanding is that surveillance drones have been in the country for a while, but during his visit to Ankara, [newly elected] President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud asked the Turkish government to support his efforts against the militants militarily, but differently this time, and that could be the reason," he said, adding that he believes the Turkish involvement will be more significant than that of the US given Ankara's strong military presence in the country.

Mohamud, who was elected president in May this year, paid a two-day official visit to Turkey in early July.

Turkey has trained thousands of Somali troops, mainly special forces, but has not been actively involved in the fight against al-Shabab, until now.

Mohamud has vowed to defeat the group militarily, ideologically and financially, and the uprising led by clans against the militant has immensely contributed to his strategy. But Guleyd sees Turkey's involvement as a major game-changer, but more so, timely.

He highlighted the Bayraktar TB2 drones' proven track record in conflicts in LibyaSyria and Nagorno-Karabakh, and most recently in the Russia-Ukraine war, where they have been deployed by Ukrainian forces.

"If you look at the limited US air strike in Somalia, it has significantly reduced the group's military activities over the years, but, if Turkish drones are fully involved, I think it would change the war, given the nature of Turkey's military strategy in other conflicts in recent years."

Guleyd believes that the combination of several factors supports the view that Turkey's commitments to the Somali's security sector could potentially turn out to be a full-scale involvement.

Mogadishu hosts Turkey's largest overseas base, Turksom, which also serves as a military training academy for Somali soldiers, one in three of whom are trained by Turkish armed forces, according to state news agency Anadolu.

Turkey has also been providing special commando training to Somali soldiers in its southwestern province of Isparta under a military cooperation agreement between the two countries.

Last August, Turkey's ambassador to Somalia, Mehmet Yilmaz, told Anadolu that Turkey is on course to training one-third of Somalia's military forces, numbering around 15,000-16,000 personnel.

Turkey's move to provide air support to Somalia's war has not come as a surprise, given Ankara's immense military presence in the country and its efforts to increase its foothold in the Horn of Africa.

"Its role in Somalia, West Africa and, more recently, its military engagement in Libya clearly shows that Turkey wants to expand its influence across the continent," Ibrahim Bachir Abdoulaye, a researcher on Turkey-Africa relations at the German University of Bayreuth, told MEE in October 2021.

The new offensive

Al-Shabab was formed in 2006 and has since been fighting against the Somali national army and African Union forces to overthrow the internationally recognised government and impose its understanding of Islamic Sharia.

The al-Qaeda-affiliated group is now facing the biggest offensive in recent years, which gained momentum early in September after it killed at least 20 people, mostly from the same clan, in the central region of Hiran, sparking anger and revolt.

Al-Shabab has lost ground in the Galgaduud, Gedo and Bay regions to the joint forces, according to the government.

The offensive is quickly becoming a popular armed uprising against the militants, who control large areas of land, with even clan leaders turning against the group. 

In early September, Abdi Ali, one of the clan elders who took up arms in the Hiran region, said he preferred dying in a combat zone than idly waiting for the group to execute him in his home. 

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He said he is not alone and that other elders have joined him, even though, like himself, they do not have basic military training.

"I'm the first clan leader to have worn military fatigues, and I was forced to do so because they assassinated my people, set fire to villages with over 200 homes, and destroyed water points, food and vehicles," Ali, one of the Hawadle clan's elders, told MEE on the phone from the front line.

"We are forced to defend our lives and liberate our land, and we are fighting against this terror group."

According to government officials and clan fighters, more than 100 al-Shabab fighters have been killed over the past three weeks. The group has denied the reports.

"Al-Shabab hasn't shown us humanity at a time when the situation is difficult amid a severe drought, and people are struggling to survive, but I am glad that we have liberated 90 percent of our region," Ali said.

Turkey's Bayraktar TB2 drones join Somalia's offensive against al-Shabab

Qatar World Cup 2022: Alcohol to be allowed 19 hours a day at festival venue

Fri, 09/30/2022 - 11:22
Qatar World Cup 2022: Alcohol to be allowed 19 hours a day at festival venue
Football fans can buy alcohol from 10am to 5am every day at the month-long Arcadia Spectacular electronic music festival
MEE staff Fri, 09/30/2022 - 12:22
The Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, one of the main venues for the Qatar World Cup, on 29 September 2022 (Reuters)

Qatar will allow spectators at the World Cup 2022 to drink alcohol for up to 19 hours a day, but only at a venue that will be hosting a month-long music festival.

This year's World Cup is the first to be held in a Muslim-majority country, with strict controls on alcohol presenting unique challenges for organisers of an event sponsored by major beer brand Budweiser and often associated with beer-drinking fans.

Organisers have previously confirmed that alcohol will be served in select areas within stadiums, starting three hours before kick-off and one hour after the final whistle, but not during matches, and at the official Fifa fan zone from 6:30pm to 1am.

At previous World Cup tournaments, beer was served in fan zones all day long.

Fans will, however, be allowed to consume alcohol from 10am to 5am every day at the Arcadia Spectacular electronic music festival, which will feature an enormous fire-breathing spider at centre stage, The Athletic reported Thursday.

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The event, which has a capacity for around 15,000, will host internationally renowned artists and DJs, with World Cup organisers expecting it to draw some 200,000 fans.

While Qatar is not a "dry" state like neighbouring Saudi Arabia, consuming alcohol in public places is illegal.

Alcohol can be bought at a number of licensed hotels and clubs, where a pint of beer can cost $18.

The price of beer inside the fan zones and close to the stadium has not yet been agreed, but a source told Reuters in July that alcohol prices will be capped in the fan zones.

As Qatar gets ready to host more than one million football fans from around the world, authorities are also preparing to show flexibility for fans committing minor offences such as drunkenness and public disorder, Reuters reported, quoting a western diplomat.

However, Doha has not yet released an official announcement of the plan, and what minor infringements would receive leniency. 

The World Cup kicks off on 20 November, with Qatar playing Ecuador in the opening match.

Alcohol to be allowed 19 hours a day at World Cup festival venue

US calls for probe into seven-year-old Palestinian boy's death

Fri, 09/30/2022 - 10:11
US calls for probe into seven-year-old Palestinian boy's death
Rayyan Yaser Suleiman's father says his son died of heart failure while being chased by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank
MEE and agencies Fri, 09/30/2022 - 11:11
'He was a completely healthy boy filled with happiness, and within minutes we lost him,' said Rayyan's uncle Mohammed (Wafa)

The United States called for a "thorough and immediate" investigation into the death of a seven-year-old Palestinian boy on Thursday, after his father said he had died of heart failure while being chased by Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank.

Rayyan Yaser Suleiman was coming home from school with other pupils in the village of Tuqu when troops gave chase, and he "died on the spot from fear," his father Yasser said, in an account disputed by the Israeli army.

Mohammed, the boy's uncle, said: "He was a completely healthy boy filled with happiness, and within minutes we lost him."

Earlier, Palestinian health officials said Rayyan had died on Thursday after falling from a significant height while running away from Israeli soldiers.

However, a medical official who inspected the boy's body told Reuters that it bore no sign of physical trauma and that the death appeared consistent with heart failure.

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Asked in a press briefing about Rayyan's death, deputy US State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said: "The US is heartbroken to learn of the death of an innocent Palestinian child.

"We support a thorough and immediate investigation into the circumstances surrounding the child's death" alongside an Israeli military probe, he added.

Patel also repeated a plea for calm in the West Bank made by Washington on Wednesday, before the raid that reportedly led to the boy's death.

Israeli forces have carried out dozens of violent raids in the occupied West Bank in recent months, killing more than 80 Palestinians so far this year, and injuring hundreds.

An Israeli military spokesman said troops were in the vicinity at the time to search for Palestinians suspected of fleeing into the village after having thrown rocks at motorists.

"An initial inquiry shows no connection between the searches conducted by the Israel Defence Forces (Israeli army) in the area and the tragic death of the child," the spokesman said.

Residents said there was no stone-throwing at the time and the Palestinian foreign ministry condemned the incident as "an ugly crime" by Israel.

The Israeli military spokesman added that "the details of the incident are under review".

Iran eyes petrochemical expansion amid Russian price war and US sanctions

Fri, 09/30/2022 - 10:00
Iran eyes petrochemical expansion amid Russian price war and US sanctions
Collapse of nuclear deal talks could push Iran away from upstream oil and gas and into refined products
Sean Mathews Fri, 09/30/2022 - 11:00
Nouri Petrochemical facilities at the South Pars gas field in the southern Iranian port of Assaluyeh, on 27 January 2011 (AFP)

A new round of US sanctions unveiled against Iran on Thursday took aim at one of Tehran's most profitable and fastest growing industries yet one that largely flies under the radar: petrochemicals.

Refined polymers and compounds are found in everything from fertilisers and plastics to laundry detergents, paper and clothing. While many people may not be as familiar with petrochemicals as the oil and gas from which they are derived, for the Islamic Republic they are crucial.

"Petrochemicals have been a major source of revenues and non-oil exports for Iran," Rachel Ziemba, a sanctions expert at the Center for a New American Security, told Middle East Eye.

'It's a value-added product. If oil is selling at $100 per barrel, petrochemicals start at $800 to $900'

- Sarmad Afarinesh, CEO of Aarax Consulting, Tehran

In July, Iran said it would increase petrochemical production by 54 percent over the next four years. The industry already accounts for one-third of Iran's non-oil exports. In 2020, Iran sold about $20bn worth of petrochemicals, twice the value of its crude exports.

Although Iran has been developing its petrochemical (petchem) sector for years, traders and analysts say those efforts accelerated after the US unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal.

"Since 2018, the [Iranian] petrochemical industry has expanded its capacities, especially with a focus on generating export revenues," Bijan Khajepour, managing partner of the Vienna-based consulting firm, Eunepa, which advises companies on investing in Iran, told MEE.

Ziemba said petrochemical sales were buttressing Iran's flagging economy with "a combo of sanctions evasion and sanctions resilience", while helping it move up the manufacturing value chain.  

Iran already sits atop the world's fourth-largest oil reserves and second-largest gas reserves but has been pushing private and state-owned companies away from simply extracting raw commodities and into refining products.

'Like whack-a-mole'

Traders and analysts say petchem offers several advantages to Iran as it looks to combat western sanctions.

"When you have petrochemicals you can easily change the certificate of origin," Sarmad Afarinesh, CEO of Aarax Consulting in Tehran and a petrochemical exporter, told MEE. Unrefined crude oil is easier to track and often must be sent to specific refineries designed to process it. 

In addition, pipelines or tankers are required to ship crude, but petrochemicals can be sent by truck and rail. Because of US sanctions prohibiting trade with Iran, much of Iran's business is facilitated by overland borders.

"It's like whack-a-mole trying to stop trucks full of petchem," Kevjn Lim, an Iran expert at S&P Global, told MEE.

Between 2018 and 2019, Iran exported $1.5bn in petrochemicals to Iraq and about $1bn each to India and Turkey, according to data published by the Iran Customs Organization.

'It will be easier to export petrochemicals and petroleum products to neighbouring markets compared to crude and condensate to global markets'

- Bijan Khajepour, Eunepa 

Iran also gets more bang for its buck with petrochemicals. "It's a value-added product," Afarinesh added. "If oil is selling at $100 per barrel, petrochemicals start at $800 to $900."

As with sales of crude oil, China is Iran's main market. Beijing imported $5.6bn in petrochemical products between 2018 and 2019. The UAE, second globally, imported $2bn.

On Thursday, the US sanctioned five companies based in China for their alleged involvement in trading petroleum and petrochemicals with Iran. A network of companies in the United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong and India was also sanctioned.

The Biden administration has ramped up sanctions on Iran over the summer as prospects for a nuclear deal fade.

Chances of an immediate return to the agreement appeared to recede further in the past two weeks after Iran violently cracked down on protests over the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by Iran's "morality police" for allegedly violating the country's law requiring women to cover their hair with a hijab, or headscarf.

'Deal or no deal'

Khajepour said that if nuclear talks fail, Iran's strategy will be to reduce the vulnerability of its exports to US sanctions by moving away from crude oil and condensate sales, further driving Tehran's shift to petrochemicals.

"The realisation is that it will be easier to export petrochemicals and petroleum products to neighbouring markets compared to crude and condensate to global markets," he said.

Lim, at S&P, said those moves would be in keeping with Tehran's plan to reduce its reliance on oil and gas revenues: "In the next five to 10 years, petrochemicals will see a bigger growth differential than upstream oil and gas."

"The growth of Iran's petrochemical industry is a result of an expectation that - deal or no deal - upstream oil and gas is not going to be coming back in the nature that you think it would," Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior researcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington DC-based think-tank, told MEE. 

'It's like whack-a-mole trying to stop trucks full of petchem'

- Kevjn Lim, Iran expert at S&P Global

The country is already coming under pressure. Oil prices have tumbled 30 percent from their highs earlier this year on the back of a slowing global economy and recession fears.

Iran is also facing competition from Russia. The expectations of many business and political leaders in Tehran that Iran would benefit from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with a rise in oil and commodity prices, hasn't materialised. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Cut off from Europe because of sanctions, Russia has been forced to slash prices for its goods and is now competing with Iran in its traditional markets such as China and Central Asia, even as it looks to Tehran for military assistance in Ukraine. 

Petrochemicals haven't been unaffected.

"I definitely feel the competition with the Russians in the regional countries," Afarinesh said. "It's a price war."

Palestinian experts fear increased violence may lead to new war with Israel

Thu, 09/29/2022 - 19:14
Palestinian experts fear increased violence may lead to new war with Israel
"The 2021 war might happen again in the coming days," said Omar Shaban, director of a Gaza-based think tank
MEE staff Thu, 09/29/2022 - 20:14
Israeli soldiers stand during a military operation to arrest wanted persons from the Balata camp near the West Bank city of Nablus on 17 August 2022
Israeli soldiers during a military operation in the Balata camp near the West Bank city of Nablus on 17 August 2022 (AFP)

The recent peak in violence against Palestinians across the occupied West Bank is creating serious fears that a new war will break out with Israel, Palestinian experts have warned.

Speaking during a panel hosted by the Middle East Institute on Thursday, Omar Shaban, director of the Gaza-based think tank Pal-Think For Strategic Studies, said that the situation in the besieged strip is tense and filled with worry that the attacks in the occupied West Bank will spill over to Gaza, and a war could break out.

"It will be difficult for Hamas to keep silent [sic] if things get worse in Jerusalem," Shaban said.

"The international community needs to understand the 2021 war might happen again in the coming days."

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The occupied West Bank has witnessed a rise in Palestinian armed attacks against Israeli targets this year.

Tensions come as Israeli forces intensify their near-daily raid-and-arrest operations in various parts of the West Bank, which often lead to the wounding or killing of Palestinians.

More than 150 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire this year, including 49 killed in the Gaza Strip and at least 100 in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem - making it the deadliest year in the Palestinian territory since 2015.

Last month, unknown gunmen shot at an Israeli bus carrying settlers in Silwad, near Ramallah, but no casualties were reported.

Then, earlier this month, a shooting at an Israeli bus in the occupied West Bank left at least six soldiers and one civilian driver wounded, according to the Israeli army.

Israeli forces arrested two Palestinians in connection with the incident.

Last year, following repeated Israeli incursions into the al-Aqsa Mosque complex, as well as Israeli settler attacks on Palestinian families in the West Bank including in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Hamas responded by launching rockets at Israeli targets.

What followed was an 11-day Israeli war on Gaza. Around 250 Palestinians, including dozens of women and children, were killed in the 2021 conflict.

Shaban said the current situation reminds him of the moments leading up to last year's war. He said that the sky over the Gaza Strip is filled with Israeli drones monitoring the besieged strip.

"I can tell you now, we are in Gaza, we are very worried. Everything is monitored. And if things in Jerusalem get worse, I'm very scared, too, that things will go and deteriorate."

No hope for young Palestinians

Suheir Freitekh, a Palestinian expert and former consultant for the International Crisis Group, said that the current tensions in the occupied West Bank stem from the political and financial situation that most Palestinians living there now find themselves in.

Peace talks aimed at a two-state solution collapsed in 2014, and over the past few years illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank have been popping up at an increasing rate.

"There's the impasse of peace process. No negotiations, no hope for a Palestinian independent state," she said during the panel on Thursday.

The rise of Jenin's armed resistance
Read More »

Meanwhile, there is growing discontent towards the Palestinian Authority, the governing body in the West Bank.

Insiders and observers told Middle East Eye last year that the PA's fragility has been visible for months, beginning in April 2021 with the postponement of elections and then in May when the PA was sidelined during the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

Meanwhile, the city of Jenin has witnessed a resurgence of armed resistance since last year. Israel, in coordination with the PA, has been trying for months to arrest dozens of Palestinian suspects known to them.

"The resistance continues and is getting stronger and stronger in Jenin camp and extends to the city and its countryside," Atta Abu Rumaila, a Fatah movement leader in Jenin camp, previously told MEE.

"The Israeli occupation possesses all the military capabilities, but it does not possess the will of Jenin camp and its people. The camp was not defeated in the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2022, it has not been defeated today either."

Freitekh said the Palestinians that have taken up arms against Israeli forces in recent years are doing so because of the lack of hope in the West Bank, and the increased crackdown by Israeli forces is only incentivising armed resistance.

"​​These militants in the West Bank, they are mostly kids, born in [or after] 2000 and they have no hope. They are individuals and they are not from a faction, like what is published in the media," she said.

"When the Israeli army enters the Jenin camp, they just want a wanted guy. But when they leave," Freitek said, the army gives another 20 people the desire to retaliate, "feeling that they want to take revenge from what had happened that night."

Washington

Qatar World Cup 2022: Negative Covid tests required, but vaccination not mandatory

Thu, 09/29/2022 - 19:06
Qatar World Cup 2022: Negative Covid tests required, but vaccination not mandatory
Visitors to Qatar will be required to present a negative PCR or antigen test, while those 18 and over will also be required to download a government-run contact tracing app
MEE staff Thu, 09/29/2022 - 20:06
Lusail Stadium will host the FIFA World Cup final in December 2022
Lusail Stadium, the 80,000-capacity venue which will host the FIFA World Cup final in December 2022, on the outskirts of Qatar's capital Doha (AFP)

Spectators at the World Cup 2022 in Qatar will not be required to be vaccinated against Covid-19, but will have to present a negative test to fly to the country, the government and the Supreme Organizing Committee announced on Thursday.

"People arriving in Qatar are not required to quarantine, regardless of their vaccination status or their country of origin," the organisers added.

At the check-in counter of their departure airport, any visitor aged six years and over must present a negative PCR test result less than 48 hours before departure. A negative antigen test can be presented less than 24 hours before departure.

It will not be necessary to carry out a new test on arrival.

Wearing a mask will be compulsory for everyone on public transport and in health establishments.

Anyone who tests positive during the tournament will be required to self-isolate for five days and then wear a mask for a further five days.

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Fans over the age of 18 will also be required to download a government-run contact tracing phone app named Ehteraz.

"A green Ehteraz status (showing the user does not have a confirmed case of COVID-19) is required to enter any public closed indoor spaces," the statement added.

Additional information on the use of Ehteraz during the tournament, particularly in stadia, "will be communicated in due course", the organisers told AFP.

Qatar, the first Muslim-majority country to host the tournament, expects 1.2 million visitors for the November 20 - December 18 event and has been rolling out announcements in recent weeks.

In September, sources with knowledge of the planning told Reuters that ticketed fans would be permitted to buy alcoholic drinks at football matches from three hours before kick-off and for one hour after the final whistle. The sale of alcohol is strictly limited in Qatar and is largely confined to high-end hotels.

Where can Turkey buy fighter jets if US F-16 deal falls through?

Thu, 09/29/2022 - 19:04
Where can Turkey buy fighter jets if US F-16 deal falls through?
Ankara says it has several options outside the US but all are fraught with diplomatic and strategic hurdles
Paul Iddon Thu, 09/29/2022 - 20:04
Solo Turk, the aerobatic team of the Turkish Air Force, fly their F-16 Fighters over Istanbul's new airport on 20 September 2018, in Istanbul (AFP)

Turkey and the United States are still in negotiations over a multi-billion dollar sale of F-16 Viper fighter jets which are crucial to Turkey's efforts to upgrade and modernise its air force. While US President Joe Biden is in favour of the deal, there remains strong opposition in Washington. 

In July, the House of Representatives approved legislation prohibiting the administration from selling the F-16s, unless Ankara could prove the deal was vital for US national security. Further complicating things, Turkey must not use them for unauthorised overflights of Greece - but officials have declared they would not abide by any such restrictions. 

If the sale is ultimately cancelled, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is confident that his country has other options.

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"The US is not the only one selling warplanes in the world. The UK, France and Russia sell them as well," he said on 9 September. "It's possible to procure them from other places, and others are sending us signals."

In another interview on 19 September, Erdogan once again broached the issue. 

"If we can't get the results out of the United States about the F-16s, what are we going to do? Of course, we're going to take care of our own selves," he said, without elaborating. 

Then on 23 September, Erdogan's spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin confirmed Turkey was negotiating with Europe regarding its Eurofighter Typhoon jet, adding, "Turkey will never be without alternatives".

The following day, the head of Turkey's Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB), Ismail Demir, suggested Ankara could acquire Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E fighters from Russia. In 2019, reports indicated Russia was offering Turkey 36 Su-35s. At that time, Demir said Turkey was evaluating the offer. 

Modernisation

In 2019, the US banned Turkey from buying the fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter shortly after Ankara received its first delivery of the advanced Russian S-400 air defence missile systems. Turkey's plan was to buy up to 100 F-35s to modernise its air force. 

"Ankara is desperately in need of modernising and boosting its air force capabilities," Suleyman Ozeren, a professorial lecturer at the American University and senior fellow at the Orion Policy Institute, told Middle East Eye. 

'Ankara is desperately in need of modernising and boosting its air force capabilities'

- Suleyman Ozeren, Orion Policy Institute

"For example, while Turkey was pushed out of the F-35 fighter jet programme, Greece requested to purchase several F-35s," he said. "Greece also purchased French Rafales, which improved Greece's air force capabilities significantly."

The bulk of Turkey's fighter fleet consists of F-16s, however, many are old models and need significant upgrades. That is why, last October, Turkey pushed the deal for 40 brand new Block 70/72 F-16s, the most advanced variant of the aircraft, along with 80 modernisation kits for its existing fleet. 

Without acquiring modernised F-16s, or another 4.5-generation fighter, the Turkish Air Force could become seriously outdated by the end of this decade. 

Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the F-16, is already upgrading 83 of Greece's F-16s to the Block 72 configuration, making them the most advanced F-16s in Europe. Athens received the first two of these upgraded jets on September 12. 

If Turkey's F-16 deal is not approved, Greece will have a far more advanced F-16 fleet and a significant number of cutting-edge F-35s and Rafales by the second half of the 2020s. 

In his recent remarks, Erdogan suggested Turkey had viable alternative options for fighters from Russia and Europe, but is this really the case?

Russian fighter jets a 'non starter'

"Under the current circumstances, Erdogan's claim that Turkey would purchase [Russian] Sukhois is a non-starter, which will trigger severe sanctions by the United States and maybe other Western countries against Turkey," Ozeren said. 

"More importantly, this option would make no contribution to Turkey's immediate needs."

Emily Hawthorne, a senior Middle East and North Africa analyst with the RANE risk intelligence company, echoed the notion that acquiring jets from Russia is a diplomatic minefield: 

"It would only increase the sanctions pressure that Turkey is already facing from the US and the diplomatic furore it is facing from other Nato countries," she told MEE. 

Hawthorne added that, as long as the war in Ukraine continues, Turkey will likely avoid pursuing major military purchases from Russia - due largely to the optics.

"Russia is always an option, but it is an option that would invite diplomatic pressure, sanctions risk, and a likely chill on obtaining high-tech equipment from companies in Nato countries," she added.

European options

"The potential vendors for Turkey have not changed. It is Russia and Europe," Aaron Stein, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told MEE. 

If the F-16 sale is blocked, Stein believes Ankara would most likely opt for buying the Eurofighter, as has already been signalled in Turkey's state-run press.

In June, MEE also revealed that Turkey might be interested in the Eurofighter if the F-16 deal were not to not progress. 

"However, a purchase of the Eurofighter would require a significant shift in logistics and maintenance operations, and I would argue, increase the overall hit to the budget in the near-to-medium term," Stein said. 

"While Turkey is opaque and we do not know much about how money is spent, there is obviously some sort of limit, and they will have to decide how to allocate a finite amount of resources."

'While Turkey is opaque and we do not know much about how money is spent, there is obviously some sort of limit'

Aaron Stein, Foreign Policy Research Institute 

Aside from the Eurofighter, the other two advanced 4.5-generation fighters available on the European market are France's Rafale and the Swedish Saab JAS 39 Gripen.

Ozeren believes the Eurofighter and the Gripen are the two best options for Turkey, both in terms of operability and feasibility.

"However, Rafales could also boost Turkey's air force capabilities," he said. "The problem with the Rafales option is that Greece has already purchased these fighter jets, and given the current tensions between Turkey-Greece and France's position, Rafales would not be a feasible option." 

While Swedish Gripens could provide Turkey with capabilities comparable to the Rafale, Ozeren said Ankara's "position vis-a-vis the Swedish Nato membership process could put both countries in a peculiar situation". 

Consequently, he argued the Eurofighter would be the best of the three European options, "given the British desire to deepen its military cooperation with Turkey". 

"The UK could facilitate the sale and navigate through German objections," he said. 

Hawthorne anticipates that tensions between Turkey and countries including Germany and France will continue regardless of the situation in Ukraine, which will continue to complicate Turkey's ability to procure everything it wants.

"Turkey has been recently vocal about seeking European options, including the Eurofighter Typhoon, which is used by the British, German, Spanish and Italian air forces, and it does remain an option," she said. 

"The upcoming government shift in Sweden is likely to help ease the tension between Stockholm and Ankara, which could help herald an overall softer tone toward Turkey's procurement efforts across Europe," she added. 

Ozeren believes the proposed F-16 sale remains the most realistic and more practical option for Ankara, for now. 

"The problem with this option is that Turkey has to make fundamental policy changes in several areas, such as tensions with Greece, a military operation in Syria, evading sanctions against Russia, and Swedish and Finnish Nato membership," he said.

Khashoggi: Expert panel advised Biden to declassify full intelligence report on murder

Thu, 09/29/2022 - 15:42
Khashoggi: Expert panel advised Biden to declassify full intelligence report on murder
A government panel recommended Biden fully release the report concluding Saudi crown prince ordered Khashoggi's killing, The Wall Street Journal reports
MEE staff Thu, 09/29/2022 - 16:42
US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the Jeddah Security and Development Summit at a hotel in Jeddah on 16 July 2022.
US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the Jeddah Security and Development Summit at a hotel in Jeddah on 16 July 2022 (AFP)

US President Biden was advised by a government panel of experts to declassify the full US intelligence report on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday citing documents and people familiar with the matter.

The recommendations submitted by the Public Interest Declassification Board, a panel of experts selected by presidents and congressional leaders to advocate for more transparency around national security information, were delivered to the White House in June - just a few weeks before the president travelled to Saudi Arabia and met with the kingdom's leadership including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

During his visit to Saudi Arabia in July, Biden said he confronted the crown prince about the killing, but the visit, in general, was seen as a softening of the administration's stance towards the kingdom.

Khashoggi, a Middle East Eye and Washington Post columnist, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018, in a murder that shocked the world and which continues to have diplomatic and political ramifications.

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In February 2021, the White House cleared the release of a long-delayed intelligence report that concluded the crown prince ordered the operation that led to Khashoggi’s death in 2018. 

It is not clear what information is contained in the full intelligence report that has not already been made public.

The US subsequently placed sanctions and travel bans on a number of Saudi security officials, however, stopped short of sanctioning the crown prince himself.

The potential to sanction Mohammed bin Salman may be even more difficult now, after his elevation to the position of prime minister of Saudi Arabia earlier this week. The role of prime minister is traditionally reserved for the king of Saudi Arabia.

The government panel consists of nine members, five of whom are presidentially appointed while the remaining four are selected by majority and minority leaders of each chamber of Congress. It was unanimous in its recommendations, sources familiar with the matter told the newspaper.

"Fixing the classification and declassification system so it better supports our 21st-century national security missions and our democracy is an urgent and non-partisan issue," Ezra Cohen, chair of the board, said in a statement.

The panel's review of the Khashoggi report came after Senator Chris Murphy made a request in September 2020, along with a request for the board to review other documents including ones on foreign election interference.

The panel accepted Murphy's request in October, but the review did not take place until November due to delays brought on the by Covid-19 pandemic, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Between the time of Murphy's request and the review, the Biden administration publicly released declassified versions of its intelligence assessments concerning Khashoggi's killing.

In its letter, seen by The Wall Street Journal, the panel told Murphy that it had completed the review of the Khashoggi report and recommended the file be "declassified in its entirety".

The White House did not respond to Middle East Eye's request for comment by the time of publication.

Washington

Mahsa Amini: Afghan women see own struggle for rights in Iran protests

Thu, 09/29/2022 - 15:23
Mahsa Amini: Afghan women see own struggle for rights in Iran protests
Afghans say they are 'moved' by the Iranian demonstrations but warn there's a long road ahead before they can follow in their footsteps
Ali M Latifi Thu, 09/29/2022 - 16:23
Afghan women in Kabul on 13 August demanding the right to work study, and participate in politics (Reuters)

Karima Katayon first heard the name Mahsa Amini on the radio in Kabul. She was in a car with a friend, another young woman in her 20s, and both were moved by the reports of thousands of men and women across Iran taking to the streets to protest against the death of the 22-year-old while in police detention on charges of not adhering to the Islamic Republic’s dress code.  

The 26-year-old entrepreneur was not alone. Afghans inside and outside the country started to follow the reports of protests that eventually grew into a movement calling for reform, or even the downfall of the ruling clerics.

'If the men of Afghanistan stood by their women, no group, not the Taliban, not the Islamic State, no one could force such rules on us'

- Karima Katayon, Afghan entrepreneur

As she followed the reports, Katayon says she was both moved and disappointed, “I thought to myself, ‘Good for the people of Iran, men and women are standing up for their rights together.’”

But as hopeful as she was for the people of Iran, Katayon felt a deep sadness for the Afghan people, who have been subject to the Taliban’s so-called Islamic Emirate for the past year.

 “I wasn’t sad to be an Afghan on 15 August, but over these [past] weeks, listening to reports of Iranian men and women standing up together, it was the first time I was disappointed by my own people,” she says, referring to the day in 2021 when former President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and the Taliban returned to power after a 20-year insurgency.

Katayon says watching videos of Iranian men cutting their hair in solidarity with women who had done the same in an act of resistance to the government’s guidelines on women’s dress, she wished more Afghan men would take to the streets in defence of their women and girls.

'Where are the men?'

Since the Taliban returned to power last August, teenage girls in 32 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces have been unable to attend high school. Additionally, most women have been barred from returning to their government jobs, aside from a handful of ministries and directorates that have allowed their return.

There have been small protests by women across several cities over the last year, but they have been exclusively female and have repeatedly come under attack by Taliban authorities.

Mobile phone footage captured at the site of several protests has shown the Taliban firing into the air and chasing away both the demonstrators and journalists covering the gatherings. Female protesters have also accused Taliban forces of lobbing tear gas at them.

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“Where are the men?” Katayon says before answering her own question. 

“The truth is, our problems didn’t start with the Taliban,” Katayon says of life as a single, educated young woman who has been living in the capital since 2018.

 “Look, 50, maybe 60 percent of my fear is with the Taliban, but the rest is with the people themselves. Believe me, if the men of Afghanistan stood by their women, no group, not the Taliban, not the Islamic State, no one could force such rules on us.”

Afghan men have tried to defend their daughters’ rights to education. 

Last month, men in the southeastern province of Paktia took to the streets after the Taliban reclosed five girls' high schools they had managed to briefly reopen.

Within days, elders in Kandahar, where the Taliban’s leadership is based, also called on girls' secondary schools to reopen in the southern province. Similar calls have also been made by officials in Parwan province, just north of Kabul.

But female activists say more needs to be done, that Afghan men need to make their presence felt more.

Zholia Parsi has partaken in several protests calling on the Taliban to give back the rights to education and work for all girls and women across Afghanistan. She laments that men have yet to stand side by side with women in demanding their “basic” rights, but she says the situation in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is very different from Iran.

Taliban fighters walk as they fire into the air to disperse Afghan women protesters in Kabul on 13 August 2022 (AFP)
Taliban fighters walk as they fire into the air to disperse Afghan women protesters in Kabul on 13 August 2022 (AFP)

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

“The women of Afghanistan are currently busy asking for basic things. The right to education for teenage girls. The right to work for all women. The right to travel without fear. We have a long way to go before we can do what the women of Iran are doing,” Parsi says.

On Thursday, around 25 Afghan women protested in front of the Iranian embassy in Kabul in support of protests in Iran, chanting "Women, life, freedom", the mantra used by Iranians, before Taliban forces fired into the air and dispersed them.

When men and women have protested in Afghanistan, they faced imprisonment, abuse and torture at the hands of the Taliban. Last August, within days of the Taliban’s return to power, three young men in the eastern city of Jalalabad were killed when they tried to raise the traditional tri-color flag in place of the Taliban’s black-and-white one. 

Because of this, Parsi and Katayon say the Afghan people have found their own way to protest the Taliban’s limitations on daily life – by returning to a semblance of their normal lives. 

'I won't change for them'

When the Taliban announced that all women must cover their faces and wear either the all-encompassing black Arab-style niqab or the local blue chadari, or burqa, last May, Parsi initially joined in a women’s protest that was quickly broken up by the Taliban. But she wouldn’t let the Taliban’s brute force stop her from expressing herself.

“I went back on the streets dressed as I always did, I even took out my phone and went live to show everyone that Afghan women cannot be told what a hijab is or is not by others,” Parsi says of the increasing numbers of men and women who have tried to return to their normal style of dress in the nation’s urban centres.

“Just by going out dressed as we always have is a form of protest. We want the Taliban to know that they either have to change themselves, or they have to accept Afghanistan as it is, there is no other choice,” Parsi says.

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

Katayon agrees. 

She has made it a point to travel across the country and post pictures and videos showing her living her life as normally as possible to her 15,000 Instagram followers.

'When we protested, we didn’t protest the hijab. We protested the requirement of a chadari or a niqab, we know what Islam is. We know how to dress'

- Zholia Parsi

“Fear of the Taliban can’t send us into hiding, I’ve worked, I’ve studied. I can’t stop living my life because of them,” Katayon says of what gives her the courage to go out dressed as she usually would in a city where Taliban authorities have plastered signs dictating what women can and cannot wear.

Parsi says Afghan women, who are by and large Muslim, do not want their religion dictated to them by strange men.

“When we protested, we didn’t protest the hijab. We protested the requirement of a chadari or a niqab, we know what Islam is. We know how to dress,” she says.

Parsi admits that she has been stopped by Taliban forces, but has so far not faced physical harm.

“They’ve stopped me and called me names. They have insulted me for what I wear, but I won’t change who I am for them. They must know that I am an Afghan. I am a Muslim. This is how I dress,” she says.

 A female teacher in Kabul, who did not wish to be named, agrees with Parsi’s assessment. She says that unlike in Iran, Afghan women are not against the hijab, they just want their fundamental rights.

“Whatever they’ve done to us, taken our girls’ education, our right to work, the women of Afghanistan have never said they don’t want the hijab,” the teacher says.

“We are Muslim, we have no issue with the hijab. We never will. Our issue is what is rightfully ours, our ability to be part of our society without restriction.” 

Kabul
Afghan women see own struggle for rights in Iran protests

Egyptian gecko invasion forces Israel to declare emergency

Thu, 09/29/2022 - 14:00
Egyptian gecko invasion forces Israel to declare emergency
An invasion of Egyptian geckos has devoured crops and threatened the ecological balance in the Wadi Araba region
Mohammad Saleh Thu, 09/29/2022 - 15:00
Egyptian gecko screen grab
The Egyptian gecko has a fearsome reputation (Social media/Simon Jamison)

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) says it is seeking help from residents of Wadi Araba following an invasion of Egyptian geckos, which have spread across the Dead Sea basin region and are multiplying at an alarming rate. 

The geckos - a type of lizard - are considered to be disruptive to the local ecosystem and have been seen devouring crops. Israeli authorities are hoping locals will be able to locate the creatures.

“If you have areas with street lights or any other type of light that attracts insects, or areas where you might see an Egyptian gecko, please photograph it with your phone and share it with us,” Israel’s environment protection ministry said in a statement.

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The Egyptian gecko is often characterised as being particularly fearsome for a gecko. It has, on occasion, been known to eat small birds. 

"The Egyptian gecko can eat anything it is able to overcome. In North Africa, it was recorded eating a gerbil. It also eats other geckos and arthropods and is a potential danger to anything that lives in its habitat and is smaller than it," said Shai Meiri, a zoologist at Tel Aviv University.

Al Jazeera questioned the Israeli environment ministry's statement, referring to the gecko as a "small reptile" and asking if it really looked capable of "devouring a gerbil".

"Israeli news reports sparked ridicule on social media, after warning of the spread of the Egyptian gecko and its danger to the ecosystem," the report read.

Israeli authorities have reportedly been unable to determine how the species travelled to Wadi Araba, which has led to them seeking help from locals. 

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

Egyptian gecko invasion forces Israel to declare emergency

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