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Hier — 27 octobre 2020Middle East Eye

Israel arrests Palestinian journalist in West Bank

Par MEE staff
Israel arrests Palestinian journalist in West Bank
Filmmaker Abdelrahman al-Thaher one of more than 20 Palestinian journalists reportedly currently detained by Israel
MEE staff Tue, 10/27/2020 - 12:48
Abdelrahman al-Thaher, 38, is Palestinian journalist and filmmaker from Nablus (Screengrab)

Israeli forces on Tuesday arrested Palestinian journalist and filmmaker Abdelrahman al-Thaher at his home in the city of Nablus in the northern occupied West Bank. 

Rasha al-Sayeh, Thaher’s wife, told Middle East Eye that the family woke up to the sounds of military jeeps and then heavy knocks on the doors of nearby houses at 2am, before soldiers arrived at their house and Thaher opened the door.

PA accused of being 'a police state' over its detention of Palestinian film director
Read More »

"The Israeli officer asked [Thaher] if he was ‘the famous journalist’," Sayeh said. "He then requested to search the study and his personal belongings.”

Thaher's arrest by Israeli forces came shortly after the 38-year-old filmmaker had been detained by the Palestinian Authority's (PA) preventive security apparatus on 19 August, as he was leaving his workplace at the An-Najah media centre in Nablus, where he produces and presents a number of TV programmes.

PA security forces had raided his home the following day at 1am and confiscated his equipment, laptop and files. Thaher was charged with “insulting the authority”, based on the PA's Electronic Crimes Law, after posting on social media. He was ordered to pay 5,000 Jordanian dinars ($7,050), before his release on 21 September.

The PA faced a widespread backlash after the Electronic Crimes Law had been passed by executive decree in 2017, with critics accusing the West Bank-based administration of seeking to stem opposition voices and criticism of its political and economic policies, including its ongoing security coordination with Israel.

Arrest condemned

The charges behind Thaher's arrest by Israeli forces had yet to be made public. 

Sayed said the couple's eight-year-old son woke up and was surprised by the Israeli soldiers inside the house who terrified him. “[He was] crying the whole time and demanding the return of his father,” she said.

'We condemn the arrest of journalists, we affirm the freedom of journalists to do their work'

- Palestine International Forum for Information and Communication

"This is the first time that Abdelrahman has been arrested [by Israel], he is not engaged in any political activities, and we are unable to guess why he was arrested and prosecuted. Even his journalistic work does not constitute a reason to pursue him," Sayed added.

The Palestine International Forum for Information and Communication condemned Thaher’s arrest in a statement, adding that more than 20 Palestinian journalists were currently detained by Israel.

“We condemn the arrest of journalists, we affirm the freedom of journalists to do their work and we call on the (Israeli) occupying forces to immediately release Abdelrahman and all fellow journalists,” the statement said.

The film director holds a BA in architecture, yet has long worked in the media and arts field as a journalist and presenter, with programmes on channels including the Jordanian Roya TV, local Wattan TV and UK-based Al Araby TV.

Thaher has also produced a number of documentaries and satirical shows.

  • 27 octobre 2020 à 13:48

UK renewal of arms sales to Saudi Arabia to face another legal challenge

Par Rayhan Uddin
UK renewal of arms sales to Saudi Arabia to face another legal challenge
Campaign Against Arms Trade to launch judicial review after UK government claimed international law violations in Yemen were 'isolated incidents'
Rayhan Uddin Tue, 10/27/2020 - 12:08
Schools are among several non-military sites which have been attacked by air strikes since the war in Yemen broke out in 2015 (AFP/File photo)

The UK government’s decision to resume selling arms to Saudi Arabia, following a one-year pause, is set to face another legal challenge. 

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) announced on Tuesday that it had launched a judicial review application into the UK’s decision to renew selling arms to the Saudi-led coalition involved in Yemen. 

In June 2019, all new British arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain and Kuwait were suspended after a lengthy legal battle. The Court of Appeal ruled that the UK government had failed to make an assessment of whether there was a risk that the weapons could be used to breach international humanitarian law in Yemen.

Britain has since resumed arms sales to the coalition, after International Trade Secretary Liz Truss told MPs in July that there were no patterns or trends of violations of international law by Saudi forces in Yemen, and any breaches were “isolated incidents”. 

CAAT has accused the government of providing little information on how it came to this conclusion and of prologing the conflict through arms sales.

"Tens of thousands of people have been killed in this brutal bombardment, yet arms companies have profited every step of the way," Andrew Smith, a spokesperson from Campaign Against Arms Trade, said. 

"Last year the Court of Appeal found that the government had acted illegally, and nothing that we have seen since suggests otherwise.

“The government may think that the widespread destruction of schools, hospitals and homes can be dismissed as 'isolated incidents' but we do not. These arms sales are immoral, and we are confident that the court will confirm that the decision to renew them was illegal.”

Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in Yemen’s civil war in March 2015, and have since carried out more than 20,000 air strikes in an effort to roll back the Houthi rebels, who seized the capital Sanaa in late 2014. One-third of those strikes have been on non-military sites, including schools, factories and hospitals, according to the Yemen Data Project.

Rosa Curling, from the law firm Leigh Day, which represents CAAT, said that every international body that had investigated violations of international human rights law by Saudi Arabia in Yemen had found repeated violations. 

“Despite this, our government has determined it appropriate to continue to arm the coalition, a decision which our client considers unlawful and a decision we hope the court will overturn as a matter of priority,” Curling said. 

In August, a British soldier born in Yemen was arrested after he publicly protested against UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia. 

Ahmed al-Batati, a 21-year-old lance corporal from Sheffield, stood outside Whitehall in his military uniform, and reportedly blew a whistle every 10 minutes for nine and a half hours to symbolically mark how often a child dies in Yemen.

"We are soldiers that serve the government, so why should I continue my service to a government that continues to prioritise money over the victims of Yemen," Batati told MEE at the time. "My message is clear: I refuse to serve them until they make the right decisions to end the unlawful arms trade with Saudi Arabia."

New figures released by the UK government just this month revealed that Saudi Arabia were by far the world’s biggest defence spenders over the past decade, having purchased $116bn in arms - twice as much as any other country.  

  • 27 octobre 2020 à 13:08

Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul begins new hunger strike

Par Nadda Osman
Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul begins new hunger strike
Jailed women's rights campaigner protesting against restrictions on contact with her family, her sisters say
Nadda Osman Tue, 10/27/2020 - 11:57
Al-Hathloul's family have expressed concern for her as she starts a hunger strike for a second time (Reuters)

Jailed Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul has gone on hunger strike, her family said.

According to Hathloul's sisters Lina and Alia, who broke the news on Twitter, the activist launched her hunger strike on Monday at 7pm, in protest against the al-Hair prison administration depriving her of contact with her family.

Hathloul's parents visited her in prison on Monday, when she revealed the news she was emarking on the protest.

"Yesterday during the visit Loujain told (our parents) she is exhausted of being mistreated and deprived from hearing her family’s voices. She told them she will start a hunger strike starting yesterday evening until they allow her regular calls again," Lina said in a tweet on Tuesday.

My parents had a visit with Loujain today - it was not a good meeting. Loujain needs our support as she is going on a hunger strike. We will be releasing an action to support Loujain ASAP. Please watch this space #FreeLoujain

— Lina Alhathloul لينا الهذلول (@LinaAlhathloul) October 26, 2020

Earlier this year, Bloomberg News reported that Saudi authorities were severing contact between some of the kingdom’s most well-known detainees and their families during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul's health 'deteriorating' amid hunger strike
Read More »

Typically, detainees were able to make frequent, sometimes weekly, calls to their family. However, according to the report, many of those imprisoned have not contacted their families in months.

Last month, Hathloul’s family visited the activist in prison after three months without contact, and noted that her health had deteriorated after she had carried out a six-day hunger strike in August.

Hathloul's case is a lightening rod for women's rights activists and supporters of human rights worldwide.

A number of human rights organisations have reported that Saudi interrogators have tortured Hathloul, including with electric shocks, whipping and sexual harassment.  She has been denied a proper trial and was held for 10 months before learning the charges she faced.

A petition was started by activists last week calling for her immediate and unconditional release. Meanwhile, many are also raising awareness of her protest by using the hashtag #إضراب_لجين_الهذلول (Al-Hathloul’s strike). 

The hashtag was trending in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, with over 1,300 people using it. 

كفلسطيني أعرف جيدًا معنى الإضراب عن الطعام، خاضه الأسرى في سجون الاحتلال، معركة حاسمة، عدة الأسير فيها لحمه ودمه وصحته وعافيته، يضحي بآخر ما يملك من أجل أغلى ما يملك، الحرية والحرية فقط، حمى الله لجين#إضراب_لجين_الهذلول#FreeLoujain

— Mo Shoukry | محمد شكري (@mo_shkry) October 26, 2020

Translation: As a Palestinian, I know very well what it means to go on hunger strike, which prisoners have gone on during the occupation. It is a decisive battle, which impacts your flesh, blood, health, wellness and you sacrifice the last of what you possess for the sake of your most precious posession, your freedom and freedom only. May God protect Loujain. 

حبسها و تعذيبها و منعها من التواصل مع اهلها قبل صدور حكم نهائي لقضيتها منافي لحقوق الانسان .. كيف تحبس "متهم" و تعاقبه بدون ثبوت الاتهام؟ القانون و القضاء السعودي خربوطي و على مزاج المسؤول مايستند الى نصوص واضحة #اضراب_لجين_الهذلول

— Maya ~ 1114 (@Free_Energy85) October 27, 2020

Translation: Her imprisonment, torture and prevention of communicating with her family before a final ruling is issued for her case is contrary to human rights. How do you detain a "suspect" and punish them without evidence of the accusation? Saudi law and the judiciary are down to the mood of certain officials rather than on clear texts and laws. 

Hathloul, 31, is one of Saudi Arabia's most prominent activists. She rose to prominance campaigning for women's right to drive and against the kingdom's laws on male guardianship.

UN experts call for release of Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul
Read More »

She was arrested in the United Arab Emirates and deported to Saudi Arabia in May 2018 at a time that Riyadh was granting the rights to women for which she had campagined.

Hathloul's protest comes at the same time as Saudi Arabia is holding the B-20 summit, a forum for business leaders to present policy recommendations ahead of the G-20 meeting of world leaders in November. 

Amnesty International has called the event a "cynical PR campaign", citing a number of women’s rights activists, including Hathloul, who have been imprisoned for their campaigning for women’s rights. 

Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty international’s deputy regional director for the MENA region, descibed the event as "shameless hypocrisy" in a statement. 

“Since assuming the G20 presidency, Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in rebranding its image, throwing out slogans about women’s equality and insisting it is ready for change. But Saudi Arabia’s real changemakers are behind bars,” she said. 

“B20 leaders must not be fooled by this shameless hypocrisy and we call on them to show they care about human rights as well as business opportunity.”

  • 27 octobre 2020 à 12:57

Israeli rights group says shelving West Bank annexation plans mean little

Par MEE and agencies
Israeli rights group says shelving West Bank annexation plans mean little
B'tselem said continued construction and seizing of land meant 'de-facto' annexation already exists in West Bank
MEE and agencies Tue, 10/27/2020 - 11:57
Palestinian villagers scuffle with Israeli security forces as an Israeli bulldozer demolishes a Palestinian farm in the village of al-Fikheet within area C in the occupied West Bank (AFP)

An Israeli monitoring group has said that the dropping of plans to annex the occupied West Bank will have little effect on the lives of Palestinians who already live under a "de facto" annexation.

In a new report titled The Annexation That Was and Still Is, B'tselem said the Israeli government has continued to expand control over the occupied Palestinian territories with little or no consequences from the international community.

It said that Israel's actions indicated that the occupation was far from "temporary" and were aimed at increasing the construction of illegal settlements and seizing more territory from an area that has long been seen as needed for a future Palestinian state.

More than 400,000 Israelis now live in nearly 250 settlements built in the West Bank, the report said, while the construction of roads and infrastructure to service these settlements - which cut across Palestinian territory - made the "fact that settlers live on occupied land not formally annexed to Israel practically meaningless".

An agreement made between US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - the so-called "Deal of the Century" - in January, gave Israel the green light to formally annex much of the West Bank, which has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 war.

Since the signing of normalisation deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain last month, however, Israel has said it would delay the planned annexation to a later date.

"The possibility of formal annexation shook the international community, which took the rare step of threatening consideration of concrete measures against Israel. Now it seems we are back to 'business as usual' - the intolerable reality euphemistically known as 'the status quo'," said the B'tselem report.

"Israel has chosen to take formal annexation off the table for the time being, in return for a let off of international pressure. The global community has welcomed Israel back with open arms - legitimising its continued policy of dispossession with no price."

Hebron construction

The B'tselem report comes as Israel is set to approve construction of Jewish settler homes in a flashpoint area of the West Bank city of Hebron for the first time since 2002.

Peace Now, which tracks settlement construction in the occupied territory, said Israeli military authorities had given the green light to the construction of 31 settler housing units "in the heart of Hebron".

Hebron is considered a West Bank powder-keg where around 800 Jewish settlers live under hefty Israeli army security, surrounded by around 200,000 Palestinians.

Social media's erasure of Palestinians is a grim warning for our future
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The city includes the site known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque and to Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs, which is revered by both faiths.

The anti-occupation group Peace Now on Tuesday said the Israeli government was trying to "squeeze in" the approvals before next week's US presidential election when Donald Trump faces Democratic challenger Joe Biden, who views such settlements as illegal.

Peace Now linked the timing of the approvals to next week's US presidential election.

Trump has not criticised Israel's settlement construction in the West Bank. 

Biden was the vice president in the Barack Obama administration that considered settlement building in the West Bank illegal, a position in line with international consensus.

B'tselem said it was time for the international community to step up and not allow the status quo in the occupied territories to reassert itself.

"Once again, polite requests and statements of concern have proven ineffective compared to real leverage. That is why temporarily shelving the idea of formal annexation must not become a licence to carry on as usual," it said.

"The international community must recognise its responsibility, power and capacity to take steps right now against the occupation and de facto annexation - to create a future of liberty and equality for everyone living between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river."

  • 27 octobre 2020 à 12:57

Macron's anti-Islam remarks give rise to France boycott campaign in Egypt

Par Amr Emam
Macron's anti-Islam remarks give rise to France boycott campaign in Egypt
Calls for boycotting French goods find support and opposition in Egypt, one of France's main strategic allies in the region
Amr Emam Tue, 10/27/2020 - 11:44
Workers at an Egyptian supermarket chain remove French products from shelves, 24 October 2020 (Facebook)

A major supermarket chain in Egypt has taken French goods off its shelves in response to anti-Islam comments made recently by French President Emmanuel Macron, possibly setting off similar moves by other commercial outlets in the Muslim-majority country.

The 4 Shopping Mall in Sadat City, 94km northwest of the Egyptian capital Cairo, said on Sunday that it was removing French goods, including different types of cheese and other foodstuffs, from public sight in response to Macron's comments.

'Those who offended our prophet have to know that the prophet is much more important to us than buying and selling,'

- Qadri Abdel Qadir, manager of the Sofra mall

"We know the decision will cause us some losses until we find alternatives to the goods taken down," Mohamed Hadi, the mall manager, told MEE. "We are doing this for the satisfaction of God and in retaliation for offences against our religion." 

Macron publicly backed the right to publish satirical caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad and accused Islam of being a "religion in crisis". The president made the remarks while paying tribute to a French school teacher, Samuel Paty, beheaded by a Muslim radical on 16 October after he had shown caricatures of the prophet to his school pupils.

Paty's gruesome murder has drawn angry reactions from Islamic institutions in Egypt, including from al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in the Sunni world. Al-Azhar's grand imam, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, denounced the crime, but said insulting religions in the name of free speech was an "invitation to hatred". 

The same insults were stirring up a major wave of anger in Egypt, where ordinary people were giving vent to their feelings through numerous invitations to boycott French products. 

Many social media users had replaced their profile photos with phrases glorifying the prophet. Some people had also published lists of French brand names and asked consumers to boycott them to avenge Islam for what they described as an "Islam-hating" French president.

Products removed from shelves

Some commercial outlets were heeding such calls and removing French goods from their shelves. 

The 4 Shopping Mall published photos on 24 October of its workers removing French foodstuffs from its shelves. 

Campaign launched on social media to boycott French goods across MENA
Read More »

Under the photos, the mall administration wrote that it had decided to take the French goods off its shelves in response to the humiliation of Islam by Macron. The photos received an avalanche of welcoming comments, including by people who had expressed hopes that other commercial outlets would do the same. 

The mall removed the same photos a day later.

Nonetheless, other commercial outlets were considering similar moves. The manager of a major supermarket chain in Cairo said the management of the chain was thinking of removing French goods from its shelves.

"The workers of the chain have already addressed the management and called for boycotting French goods," the manager, who asked to remain anonymous, said. 

A kitchenware store in the southern Cairo district of Mokattam said it would move French products to its warehouse and stop selling them. 

Qadri Abdel Qadir, manager of the Sofra shopping mall in Cairo, called on housewives to stop buying French goods.

"There are 1.5 billion Muslims around the world," Abdel Qadir said in a video he posted on the Facebook page of his store. "Those who offended our prophet have to know that the prophet is much more important to us than buying and selling." 

Opposition to boycott

The campaign to boycott French goods was still in its initial stages in Egypt and nobody could predict how far it would go. 

Some people expected the campaign to assume national proportions in the coming period, given the high wave of public anger after Macron's remarks. 

However, the same campaign was opposed by the mainstream media and some pro-state preachers who said that boycotting French goods would only harm Egypt and Egyptians, not the French.

Samuel Paty murder: The right to offend Muslims is being weaponised
Myriam Francois
Read More »

Renowned preacher Khaled al-Guindi advised consumers not to participate in the campaign. 

"Be rational," Guindi advised viewers of the local television channel DMC, where he presents a religious programme, on 25 October. "If you want to gratify Prophet Muhammad, mimic his manners and let us see this."

TV host Amr Adeeb, who presents a daily talk show on the Saudi television channel MBC, said Muslims had the right to get angry at the remarks made by the French president.

"This is very provocative," Adeeb said of the remarks. "Why should French freedom of speech come at the cost of Muslims?"

Nonetheless, he advised consumers to differentiate between goods manufactured in France and others manufactured in Egypt.

"Most of the goods on the shelves in the supermarkets here are made in Egypt, even as the mother companies can be in France," he said on Sunday. 

Egypt-France ties

The fledgling boycott campaign against French goods came at a time when Egyptian-French economic relations were thriving. 

In 2019, trade between the two countries had reached $3.5bn. France had invested around $6bn in Egypt in total. There were around 165 French companies operating in the country of nearly 100 million people, employing 38,000 Egyptians.

Macron says France is in existential fight against 'Islamist terrorism'
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This makes France a leading trading and investment partner for Egypt. French companies operate in the Egypt's industrial and agricultural sectors and in the manufacturing of electrical equipment. They are also active in the pharmaceutical, retail, tourism and infrastructure sectors.

In 2019, Egyptian imports from France totaled $1.77bn. 

However, the Egyptian private sector, economists said, could easily do without French goods if the boycott campaign widened in scope.

"The private sector will have to stop importing French goods if consumers abstain from buying these goods," Alia al-Mahdi, a professor of economics at Cairo University, told MEE. 

Since 2004, an Association Agreement has been in force between Egypt, on one hand, and European Union States, including France, on the other. The agreement created a free trade area between the two parties by removing tariffs on industrial products and making agricultural products easier to trade.  

Despite the lack of official support for a boycott of French goods, some economists believed that a boycott could benefit the Egyptian economy, as people would spend more on domestic products. 

Mutual interests

Underpinning the lack of official Egyptian support for a boycott of French goods are the shared political and geostrategic interests of the two nations: both countries on the Mediterranean which have been united in recent years by developments in the region - especially by events in Libya and the struggle over resources in the Eastern Mediterranean, analysts said. 

'Of course this public move causes embarrassment to the government. However, the authorities cannot force the public to buy or not buy French products'
- Said Sadek, professor in political sociology

"Egypt and France are real allies that have strong relations in all economic and political fields," Akram Badreddine, a professor in political science at Cairo University, told MEE.

"This is why I say the developing public boycott of French goods is only an expression of public anger against the remarks of the French president, not a reflection of an official position towards France." 

The two countries backed the same party in Libya, namely the Libyan National Army of Khalifa Haftar, who controls most of eastern and southern Libya. France and Egypt are also united with Greece and Cyprus against archrival Turkey.  

But the public boycott campaign against French goods puts the Egyptian government on the spot, even if Cairo ultimately did not alter its policy toward Paris because of this campaign, observers said.

"Of course this public move causes embarrassment to the government," Said Sadek, professor in political sociology at the American University in Cairo, told MEE. "However, the authorities cannot force the public to buy or not buy French products."

  • 27 octobre 2020 à 12:44

Saudi Arabia condemns conflation of 'Islam with terrorism' amid regional anti-France protests

Par MEE and agencies
Saudi Arabia condemns conflation of 'Islam with terrorism' amid regional anti-France protests
Riyadh did not comment on growing calls for a boycott of French goods in the Middle East after Paris had defended caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad
MEE and agencies Tue, 10/27/2020 - 10:45
Palestinians burn a picture of French President Emmanuel Macron in Gaza City during a protest on 27 October 2020 (Reuters)

Saudi Arabia has rejected attempts to link Islam with terrorism, as calls for a boycott of French goods heightened in many Muslim-majority countries over Paris's defence of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in the wake of a deadly attack. 

Is France's response to Samuel Paty murder deepening divisions?
Read More »

A Riyadh foreign ministry official told local state media on Tuesday that it supported "freedom of expression" but rejected "practices and acts which generated hatred, violence and extremism and are contrary to the values of coexistence".

Riyadh also used its statement to condemn all acts of terrorism, in an apparent reference to the beheading in a Paris suburb on 16 October of a French teacher, Samuel Paty, who had shown cartoons of the prophet in a class on the freedom of speech. 

Saudi daily Arab News on Tuesday quoted the head of the Saudi-based Muslim World League, Mohammed al-Issa, as saying that an overreaction "that is negative and goes beyond what is acceptable" would only benefit "haters".

This latest announcement came as France warned its citizens in several Muslim-majority countries to take extra security precautions. 

Paris said on Monday that it was deploying its diplomats across the Muslim-world to ease tensions as anger mounted towards French President Emmanuel Macron and his defence of the cartoons. 

Calls for boycott

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for a boycott of French goods, with Pakistan passing a resolution to recall its envoy to Paris. 

Protests have also erupted in Iraq, Turkey and the besieged Gaza Strip, with demonstrators in Baghdad burning the French flag and stepping on images of Macron. 

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people in Dhaka, Bangladesh called for a boycott of French products. Several trade associations in the Arab world have also called for a boycott, with some supermarkets in Kuwait taking down French goods from their shelves. 

In Saudi Arabia, calls for a boycott of French supermarket chain Carrefour were trending on social media, but a company representative in France said it had yet to feel the impact.

United Arab Emirates-based group Majid Al Futtaim, which operates Carrefour supermarkets across the Middle East, said the chain supported regional economies by sourcing most items from local suppliers and employing thousands of people.

  • 27 octobre 2020 à 11:45

Yemen: Houthi minister of youth ‘assassinated’ in Sanaa

Par MEE and agencies
Yemen: Houthi minister of youth ‘assassinated’ in Sanaa
The Houthis denounce the attack as 'a criminal act' by the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen
MEE and agencies Tue, 10/27/2020 - 10:38
Yemeni politician Hassan Mohamed Zaid, 66, was killed in the capital Sanaa on Tuesday (Twitter)

Yemen’s Houthi movement announced on Tuesday that Hassan Zaid, its minister of youth and sports affairs, was gunned down in the capital Sanaa by unidentified gunmen.

“The minister of Youth and Sports Mr Hassan Zaid has been martyred after an assassination carried out by criminal elements affiliated to the enemy [Saudi-led coalition],” the ministry of interior said in a statement

Two sources close to his family told Reuters that Zaid died in the hospital from his wounds after gunmen opened fire on his car in an area of the capital that houses embassies.

According to the interior ministry, Zaid - who was the secretary general of the pro-Houthi Al-Haq Party - was shot in his car on Tuesday morning. His daughter, who was driving the car during the attack, has been seriously wounded, the statement added.

“The assassination of minister Hassan Zaid is a criminal act that comes within the context of planned attacks to target national figures,” it said.

Zaid, 66, was a leading opposition figure during the reign of the toppled regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh. 

He joined the Houthi administration in 2014 after his appointment as a minister of state following the movement's capture of Sanaa, then was later appointed as youth minister for the Houthi-run government.

Last year, a senior Houthi official and brother of the movement's leader was killed in Sanaa. 

The group blamed "treacherous hands" associated with the coalition, while the alliance said his death was caused by infighting.

In 2018, coalition air strikes on Hodeidah on Yemen's west coast killed the president of the Houthi-backed political body that runs most of northern Yemen.

Yemen has endured years of deadly conflict since the Houthis seized Sanaa in late 2014 and ousted former president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from power.

Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in the country's civil war in March 2015 to reinstate Hadi, whose internationally recognised government is now based in Aden. The coalition has since carried out more than 20,000 air strikes in an effort to roll back the Houthis, with one-third striking non-military sites, including schools, factories and hospitals, according to the Yemen Data Project.

The protracted conflict has triggered what the UN calls the "world's worst humanitarian crisis", with roughly 24 million people forced to rely on aid while 10 million are on the brink of famine.

  • 27 octobre 2020 à 11:38

Child malnutrition reaches new highs in parts of Yemen: UN survey

Par MEE and agencies
Child malnutrition reaches new highs in parts of Yemen: UN survey
Programmes keeping millions from starvation and disease are gradually closing amid an acute funding shortage
MEE and agencies Tue, 10/27/2020 - 07:54
The UN said it needs $50m urgently to boost nutrition programmes (AFP)

Parts of Yemen are seeing their highest levels of acute malnutrition in children, heightening warnings that the country is approaching a dire food security crisis, a UN report said on Tuesday.

Drivers of malnutrition in Yemen worsened in 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic, economic decline, floods, escalating conflict and significant underfunding of this year's aid response have compounded an already bleak hunger situation after almost six years of war.

"We've been warning since July that Yemen is on the brink of a catastrophic food security crisis," said Lise Grande, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen.

Yemen's Houthis slam World Food Programme's Nobel Peace Prize win
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"If the war doesn't end now, we are nearing an irreversible situation and risk losing an entire generation of Yemen's young children." 

According to a UN Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) malnutrition analysis of south Yemen, acute malnutrition cases in children under five increased by about 10 percent in 2020, to more than half a million.

Cases of children with severe acute malnutrition rose 15.5 percent, and at least a quarter-million pregnant or breastfeeding women also need malnutrition treatment.

About 1.4 million children under five live in south Yemen, which is under the control of the internationally recognised government of Yemen. 

IPC data for north Yemen, where most Yemenis live and which is controlled by Houthi rebels, is not yet available, Reuters reported.

Food programmes closing down

Famine has never been officially declared in Yemen. The UN says the country is the world's largest humanitarian crisis, with 80 percent of the population reliant on humanitarian aid.

Nutrition and other services that keep millions from starvation and disease are gradually closing across Yemen amid an acute funding shortage this year.

The UN says it had by mid-October received only $1.43bn of the $3.2bn needed for the entire 2020 Yemen humanitarian response. Programmes have started to close and scale down.

The organisation said it needs $50m urgently to boost nutrition programmes.

A Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to restore the Yemeni government ousted from power in the capital Sanaa by the Houthi movement in late 2014. The Houthis say they are fighting corruption.

  • 27 octobre 2020 à 08:54

US lawmakers urge Pompeo to speak out against allies restoring Syria ties

Par MEE staff
US lawmakers urge Pompeo to speak out against allies restoring Syria ties
More than 30 legislators, across both major parties, have warned against the trend of establishing relations with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad
MEE staff Mon, 10/26/2020 - 20:40
People wave Syrian national flags and pictures of President Bashar al-Assad
People wave Syrian national flags and pictures of President Bashar al-Assad as they protest against US sanctions on the country, at Umayyad Square in central Damascus on 11 June (AFP/File photo)

A bipartisan group of US politicians have called on the State Department to make it clear to allies and partners that attempts to normalise relationships with the Syrian government are opposed by the United States. 

In a letter signed by more than 30 House Representatives, the lawmakers expressed "deep concern" over countries taking steps to renew formal diplomatic ties with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, despite his "ongoing and unrepentant brutality". 

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"Given the regime's continued deplorable crimes against its own people, we urge the Department of State to continue to make clear - publicly and privately - to our allies and partners that the US opposes any efforts to renew diplomatic ties with or extend formal diplomatic recognition to the Assad regime," the lawmakers wrote. 

Some Arab states, including Oman, the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait have sought reconciliation with Damascus after decisive gains by pro-government forces in the conflict, aiming to expand their clout in Syria at the expense of non-Arab Turkey, which supports the opposition, and Iran, which backs Assad.

The Caesar Act, a law passed in 2019 that aims to sanction any person who assists the Syrian government or contributes to the country's reconstruction, came into force this year. 

Laying out criteria

Monday's letter was led by the outgoing chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Eliot L Engel, and ranking member Michael T McCaul. 

The lawmakers highlighted the Assad regime's bombing of civilians, continued detention of political prisoners, and blocking of the safe and voluntary return of refugees and displaced persons, among other issues. 

"The regime and its allies, Russia and Iran, are guilty of barbaric violence against the Syrian people. International organizations and human rights groups have documented the use of chemical weapons against civilians, indiscriminate bombing of civilian infrastructure, deliberate use of siege tactics, and mass torture," the letter warned. 

Excellent bipartisan letter from @RepEliotEngel @RepMcCaul @RepTedDeutch @RepTedYoho & others, calling on @SecPompeo to prevent U.S. allies in the #MiddleEast from renewing ties to #Syria’s #Assad regime.

— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) October 26, 2020

They said before the Syrian government could be considered for renewed diplomatic relations, it would have to cease such actions and disavow groups described as terrorist organisations by the US. 

The lawmakers also said Damascus would need to stop its research, development and acquisition of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and ballistic missile technology, and allow full access into Syria for United Nations experts and other international observers.  

"None of these criteria have been met," the lawmakers said. 

Last week it was revealed that Kash Patel, a deputy assistant to President Donald Trump and the top White House counterterrorism official, had travelled to Damascus earlier this year for secret meetings with the Syrian government seeking the release of at least two US citizens thought to be held there. 

It is believed to have been the first time such a high-level US official had met in Syria with the isolated government of Syrian President Assad in more than a decade.

Syria erupted into civil war in 2011 after Assad began a brutal crackdown on protesters who had been calling for an end to his family's rule.

  • 26 octobre 2020 à 21:40

Iran's Zarif accuses France's Macron of fuelling 'extremism'

Par MEE staff
Iran's Zarif accuses France's Macron of fuelling 'extremism'
Foreign minister said insulting Muslims over 'abhorrent crimes of extremists is an opportunistic abuse of freedom of speech'
MEE staff Mon, 10/26/2020 - 20:04
Several Iranian officials and politicians have condemned Macron for
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and several other Iranian officials and politicians, accused Macron of Islamophobia (Reuters/File photo)

Iran's foreign minister has accused France of fanning the flames of "extremism" after French President Emmanuel Macron defended the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

"Muslims are the primary victims of the 'cult of hatred' - empowered by colonial regimes & exported by their own clients," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on Monday.

"Insulting 1.9B Muslims - & their sanctities - for the abhorrent crimes of such extremists is an opportunistic abuse of freedom of speech. It only fuels extremism."

Muslims are the primary victims of the "cult of hatred"—empowered by colonial regimes & exported by their own clients.

Insulting 1.9B Muslims—& their sanctities—for the abhorrent crimes of such extremists is an opportunistic abuse of freedom of speech.

It only fuels extremism.

— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) October 26, 2020

Zarif's comments come amid an escalating dispute over Paris' support for the right to caricature the Prophet Muhammad.

Last week, Macron praised Samuel Paty, a French schoolteacher who was killed for showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his students.

"[Paty was killed] because he embodied the Republic which comes alive every day in classrooms, the freedom that is conveyed and perpetuated in schools," Macron said. "Samuel Paty was killed because Islamists want our future and because they know that with quiet heroes like him, they will never have it."

Muslims believe any depiction of the prophet is blasphemous. On Friday, the cartoons were projected onto government buildings in France.

Macron had defended the "right to blaspheme" in September, and earlier this month pledged to fight what he termed "Islamist separatism".

Boycotts and protests against France

On Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the French president needed "mental treatment" for his statements, and blasted Europe over what he described as "rising Islamophobia".

"What problem does this person called Macron have with Muslims and Islam? Macron needs treatment on a mental level," Erdogan said in a speech at a provincial congress of his AK party.

"What else can be said to a head of state who does not understand freedom of belief and who behaves in this way to millions of people living in his country who are members of a different faith?" 

The row deepened on Monday, with Erdogan calling on the Turkish people to avoid buying French goods.

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In many Muslim-majority countries, activists and trade groups have created a boycott campaign, circulating a list of products to avoid including companies such as Lancôme, Yves Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Givenchy.

Iran's religious leaders have not called for a boycott, but several Iranian officials have accused Macron of "Islamophobia", according to Iranian state media.

Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said Macron's "irrational behaviour" displayed his "crudeness in politics".

In a Twitter post, Shamkhani said Macron's comments showed "his lack of experience in politics, otherwise he would not have dared insult Islam".

The secretary suggested the French leader "read more history" and not rely on the "support of a declining America and deteriorating" Israel.

Parliament speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf slammed France's "foolish enmity" with the Prophet Muhammed, and said his sayings and "light cannot be put out with such blind, futile and anti-human acts".

Macron's comments also triggered protests in some Muslim-majority countries with people in Syria burning pictures of the French president, and others setting fire to French flags in Libya.

  • 26 octobre 2020 à 21:04

Israeli museum postpones auction of rare Middle Eastern artifacts after outrage

Par MEE and agencies
Israeli museum postpones auction of rare Middle Eastern artifacts after outrage
The museum's primary donor said it hoped postponement will 'make it possible to reach agreements that will also be acceptable' to government officials
MEE and agencies Mon, 10/26/2020 - 18:19
A pocket watch made for French Queen Marie Antoinette by famous watchmaker Abraham Louis Breguet
A pocket watch made for French Queen Marie Antoinette by famous watchmaker Abraham Louis Breguet at the Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem on 21 July 2009 (AFP/File photo)

A museum in Israel has postponed its plans to sell scores of rare Islamic artifacts at public auction this week after sparking widespread outrage. 

The LA Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem had planned to put 190 pieces on the block at Sotheby's auction house in London this week, but in a statement released on Monday, the museum said it was putting the auction on hold after discussions with Israel’s culture ministry and in response to a personal appeal from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

'They are selling items that are very important, very unique, and the moment they sell them the public will have lost them. If a private collector buys them, you won't see them again'

- Michael Sebbane, director at the Israel Antiquities Authority

The collection includes centuries-old carpets, armaments and ceramics from across the Middle East, as well as more than 60 rare timepieces that were expected to fetch several million dollars.

Israel's Culture Ministry had condemned the sale, saying it would try to prevent it.

Earlier on Monday, President Rivlin had also said he had been following the issue with "concern", calling on authorities to prevent the sale of such cultural assets, the Associated Press reported before the postponement. 

In a statement on Monday, the Hermann de Stern Foundation, the museum's primary donor, stressed the collection was privately owned and that the sale was permitted under the law.

"The foundation's management hopes that the postponement will make it possible to reach agreements that will also be acceptable to the culture ministry in the coming weeks," it said.

While the museum has been closed for much of this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is widely believed to be financially stable and has reportedly planned the sale of the Middle Eastern pieces for more than two years.

'It's a very bad thing'

One central purpose of museums is to bring valuable artifacts out of private collections to preserve them and display them to the public.

Nava Kessler, the chair of the Israeli Association of Museums, told AP news that it was unethical and unheard of for a museum to sell items to private collectors. 

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"It's a very bad thing," Kessler said. "I was so ashamed that it happened in Israel."

The Israeli association is affiliated with the Paris-based International Council of Museums, which sets professional and ethical standards.

Kessler told the agency that if the museum had been suffering under financial constraints, the ethical response would have been to find a buyer among other museums or cultural institutions, a standard process, but one that takes time. 

Instead, antiquities authorities only learned of the planned sale in recent weeks.

The Israel Antiquities Authority was able to prevent two artifacts from going to auction because they had been discovered in Israel, but the remaining items have already been shipped to London.

'You won't see them again'

Michael Sebbane, the authority's director of national treasures, said officials were "in shock" when they learned about the auction plans, which he said showed a "lack of professionalism".

"This is a collection that is so important," he told AP news. "It is a museum that we would never dream would do something like this. This is not just any museum."

He expected private collectors to quickly snatch up all the pieces, both because they are rare and because their authenticity is practically guaranteed since they come from a respected museum.

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"They are selling items that are very important, very unique, and the moment they sell them the public will have lost them," he told the agency. "If a private collector buys them, you won't see them again." 

Israeli Culture Minister Hili Tropper said authorities were surprised to learn in recent weeks that such a "valuable and unprecedented" sale was in the works. 

"We will use every legal and public means to prevent the sale of these inalienable assets of the Islamic Museum in Jerusalem," he said in a statement, adding that the pieces have "great historical and artistic value."

Included among the pieces due to be sold off was a 15th-century helmet designed to be worn over a turban and decorated with inlaid silver calligraphy, a 12th-century bowl depicting a Persian prince, and intricate antique carpets from Egypt and what is now Turkey. 

The museum was established in the 1960s by Vera Salomons, the scion of a British-Jewish aristocratic family, and named for Leo Arie Mayer, a prominent scholar of the Middle East. It houses thousands of Islamic artifacts dating from the 7th to the 19th centuries. 

The watch auction was set to place on Wednesday, and would have included three watches designed by the famed Parisian horologist Abraham-Louis Breguet, whose timepieces adorned European royalty in the 17th and 18th centuries, including Marie Antoinette.

  • 26 octobre 2020 à 19:19

Pompeo under investigation for delivering RNC speech from Jerusalem

Par MEE staff
Pompeo under investigation for delivering RNC speech from Jerusalem
The Secretary of State defended his August address, saying it was performed in a personal capacity and did not use State Department resources
MEE staff Mon, 10/26/2020 - 16:54
Pompeo praised Trump's foreign policy record in a speech recorded in Jerusalem on 26 August during a trip to Israel
Pompeo praised Trump's foreign policy record in a speech recorded in Jerusalem on 26 August during a trip to Israel (AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is under investigation for a potential abuse of office after he delivered a speech from Jerusalem to the Republican National Convention (RNC) in August, two top Democratic members of Congress announced on Monday.

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an independent federal agency that has the capacity to probe officials in a presidential administration, has launched the investigation into Pompeo under the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal offices and resources from being used for campaign and election purposes.

"Our offices have confirmed that the Office of Special Counsel has launched a probe into potential Hatch Act violations tied to Secretary Pompeo's speech to the Republican National Convention," Eliot Engel, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Nita Lowey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.

Pompeo, who was appointed to his position by President Donald Trump, praised the Republican president's foreign policy record in a speech recorded in Jerusalem on 26 August during a trip to Israel. The four-minute speech was aired at the convention, which nominated Trump for re-election and lauded him for withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.

Pompeo, the first chief diplomat in recent memory to address a political convention, defended his speech by saying he was doing it in a personal capacity and did not use State Department tax dollars, resources, or personnel.

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A State Department official told a reporter travelling with Pompeo at the time that the secretary was appearing in his personal capacity and no State Department personnel or resources were involved in his speech, Reuters reported.

While Democrats began to attack the secretary back in August, now with the Special Counsel launching an investigation, they are attempting to pin the issue on the misuse of government money.

"Mike Pompeo has grown even more brazen in misusing the State Department and the taxpayer dollars that fund it as vehicles for the Administration's, and his own, political ambitions," the two Congress members said.

"So we're grateful to OSC - whom Mr Pompeo can't fire as he did the Inspector General - for looking into this matter," they said.

Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro, vice-chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, previously sent a letter in August to Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun demanding an investigation into the RNC speech.

Since the RNC remarks, top officials have delivered speeches for Trump on the campaign, including Pompeo and National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, who delivered political speeches for the president in Wisconsin and Iowa last month.

Experts have said that those speeches, too, are in violation of the Hatch Act.

  • 26 octobre 2020 à 17:54

Samuel Paty murder: France’s Muslim community first to bear brunt of iron-handed measures

Par Jules Cretois
Samuel Paty murder: France’s Muslim community first to bear brunt of iron-handed measures
In its fight against terrorism and ‘radicalisation’ after teacher's death, France’s tough response directly impacts on Muslim citizens and could affect other marginalised groups
Jules Cretois Mon, 10/26/2020 - 15:54
Between 2012 and 2017, at least nine anti-terrorism laws were added to France’s criminal and administrative arsenal (AFP)

The response was swift. Following the brutal murder of teacher Samuel Paty on 16 October, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced his intention to shut down the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) as well as BarakaCity, a Muslim humanitarian non-profit organisation.

Former MP Barbara Romagnan reacted on Twitter: “Until proven otherwise, the CCIF has nothing to do with this. Shutting down an organisation that gives a voice to those who feel discriminated against does not fight terrorism…”

Only a handful of political figures have dared point out that the nation’s highly charged emotions could seriously jeopardise civil liberties. Since the beginning of October, Islamic spaces have fallen prey to an increasing number of police searches across France, including the Omar mosque in Paris, on 3 October; shortly thereafter, two schools and a funeral home.

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It was enough to worry France’s Muslim leadership. Around 30 Muslim religious leaders from the greater Paris region sent an open letter to the French president to “express [their] concerns about the increasingly harmful treatment of Islam and Muslims in our country”.

A young mother from the Paris suburbs, contacted by Middle East Eye via phone, sighed. She witnessed one such police search in 2018, at a community centre in the Val-de-Marne department.

“We were with our kids when about 20 police agents arrived. They separated us and asked us questions," she said. "They wanted us to say that it was a secret school, which it was not. We just met there from time to time, among mothers. Some of us homeschool our children.”

When the police search turned up nothing, the centre continued its various charity activities - but stopped working with children. “[The police search] left a bad taste, a feeling of stigma, and the children are afraid,” she said.

The French government is pushing for the adoption of a bill to fight radicalisation, the outlines of which are still unclear. The draft bill, which stipulates increased inspections of organisations offering Arabic lessons or tutoring, will be presented to the Council of Ministers in December.

What is clear is that the bill targets “Islamist separatism” in particular, to quote President Emmanuel Macron. The topic has been a main focus of media attention since the start of the school year.

Resorting to ‘ruse’

“There is no denying that we are afraid,” Sihem Zine of Action for the Rights of Muslims (ADM) told MEE.

The new bill aims to expand a set of repressive measures that have already been used extensively in recent years. Between 2012 and 2017, at least nine additional anti-terrorism laws reinforced France’s criminal and administrative arsenal.

'There is no denying that we are afraid'

- Sihem Zine, Action for the Rights of Muslims

At the end of 2017, provisions previously reserved exclusively for the state of emergency put in place following the November 2015 attacks in Paris, which expired in November 2017, were incorporated into ordinary law. On the grounds of mere suspicion, police chiefs and the minister of interior can now order house arrests, administrative searches and closures of places of worship.

November 2019 marked a further development when the Ministry of the Interior issued a circular urging the use of administrative measures to repress questionable places and organisations. 

Then-Interior Minister Christophe Castaner sent a clear message to police chiefs.

“The moment you have doubts about a place or an organisation, I ask you not to hesitate to carry out inspections and checks," Castaner said. "And if any problems are identified, carry out administrative closures without hesitation.”

According to lawyer William Bourdon, “it’s a diversion: they’re using administrative measures, ostensibly in the fight against radicalisation, while in fact pursuing their own objectives, such as ensuring compliance with the rules of ‘hygiene’”.

A French police officer stops Muslim women for an identity check on 22 September 2012 near the police station of Lille in the North of France (AFP)
A French police officer stops Muslim women for an identity check on 22 September 2012 near a police station in Lille in the north of France (AFP)

A case in point: the police raid on the Omar mosque in Paris on 3 October involved at least 15 police agents “to note simple breaches of fire safety standards”, tweeted MP Alexis Corbiere.

Zine sees this as an attack on the principles of law. “Authorities go through administrative channels to bypass the judiciary, which allows them to better defend themselves,” she said.

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The Minister Delegate to the Minister of the Interior Marlene Schiappa made no secret of this approach on the airwaves. “The state must resort to ruse,” in its fight against separatism, she said on 2 October.

According to Schiappa, no fewer than 210 bars, 15 places of worship, 12 cultural and community centres and four schools have been closed through administrative measures over the past two years.  

Since 2015, between the state of emergency, the adoption of the 2017 law extending some of its measures and the issuance of the Castaner circular, thousands of citizens and organisations have been the targets of home arrests, police searches and seizures of documents.

Were these acts warranted? In 2017, the French Council of State found that nearly 40 percent of the repressive measures taken in the context of the state of emergency that were contested before an administrative court were deemed illegal.

“But often, the damage is done,” explained lawyer Besma Maghrebi to MEE. “When the police visit a community centre, a restaurant, or a mosque, the establishment’s reputation will inevitably suffer. Likewise, a citizen under house arrest is necessarily marginalised.”

A system based on suspicion

Public prosecution is now guided in large part, it seems, by suspicions, says Maghrebi, who works as a defence attorney representing individuals, including imams, as well as non-profit organisations.

“Various anti-terrorism laws and circulars have resulted in the widespread application of administrative and judicial measures on the basis of mere suspicion,' she explained. "This poses a very clear legal problem.”

Suspicions of radicalisation often stem from the intelligence services, whose role has become central.

'In the space of just a few months, without any credible facts, they flag you as radicalised. But then it takes years to prove the contrary'

- 'F', a Muslim civil servant

“The ‘white notes’ of the DGSI [General Directorate for Internal Security], which are documents often lacking even a date, header or signature, are the basis of a large number of recent actions taken by the authorities,” said Zine.

In a 2020 memo, the National Consultative Commission for Human Rights (CNCDH) agreed. “These measures, which are particularly restrictive of fundamental freedoms, are in fact based on suspicions backed to varying degrees by the information provided by the [white notes of the] DGSI,” it said.

“There is a very real danger in police action based on evidence supposedly meeting the definition of a ‘radicalised Muslim’: many citizens may find themselves in this category,” said Maghrebi.

As a result, dozens of citizens in France are paying the price of hasty flagging based on what is sometimes weak and stigmatising evidence.

One such citizen, a Muslim civil servant named F, is exhausted. “I try to be positive, but at one point in my life, I couldn't take it anymore. I was at the end of my rope, I was thinking the worst,” he told MEE.

His life turned upside down in 2015, when his management summoned him. The reason cited was his beard. “It wasn’t so different from the beards of other fashionable colleagues,” he said.

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It was the start of an unbelievable ordeal. Although F had passed the national tax agent exam, he was denied work; a document, whose authors were kept from him, stated that he was radicalised. A perfectly law-abiding citizen discovered that he had been flagged with an “S file” - an indicator used by French law enforcement to highlight individuals considered to pose a serious threat to national security. 

F’s name has since been cleared in court, but his career advancement remains stalled all the same.

He told MEE that “in the space of just a few months, without any credible facts, they flag you as radicalised. But then it takes years to prove the contrary”.

In the meantime, his life has changed: “You’re surrounded by suspicion, people become distant. And you have to pay the legal fees… .”

Undefined ‘radicalisation’

F condemned the “atmosphere of inquisition” and comments on the prevailing political discourse from the perspective of his personal situation. “I was counted among those ‘dangerous individuals’ in the figures presented every night on TV," he said. "I was included among those ‘radicalised civil servants’ even though I am nothing of the kind. It's unbearable.”

In his book, Enemies of the State, the lawyer Raphael Kempf analysed the mechanism in which, “through a chain of procedures, the judicialisation of a mere suspicion is sufficient to establish a crime”.

In recent years, French citizens have been sent behind bars for non-compliance with various administrative obligations ordered by the Ministry of the Interior, such as checking in at a police station.

The notion of “radicalisation” itself is still very unclear, despite the fact that it informs decisions to prosecute.

Yasser Louati, a member of the Justice and Freedoms Committee for All (CJL), remarked that “the term has not been defined”. 

“A 2017 Senate report pointed out that even local elected officials questioned the concept,” he said. “There is widespread lack of clarity on the matter, even as very real action is being taken on the basis of this term.”

The CNCDH warned in 2017 that “the matter of ‘radicalisation’, which has become a primary objective in public policy […], is an elusive concept, neither solid nor proven”.

According to French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, pictured here the anti-separatism bill could also target “sectarian abuses”, “parts of the ultra-left”, and “white supremacists” (AFP)
According to French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, pictured, the anti-separatism bill could also target 'sectarian abuses', 'parts of the ultra-left' and 'white supremacists' (AFP)

Under the pretence of searching for signs of radicalisation, is the Ministry of the Interior cracking down on mere religious affiliation? It has already cited the presence of classical religious texts seized during searches as justification for the closure of places of worship.

The Gardens of the Righteous, a collection of hadiths compiled by Imam al-Nawawi in the 12th century, was cited to help justify the closures of at least two mosques, in the towns of Haumont and Sartrouville, due to passages of the book devoted to jihad - which can refer to the personal struggle of a believer against evil and persecution, or a holy war by Muslims in defence of the Islamic faith.

“You can’t help but notice that these ‘white notes’ sometimes cite religious practices that are in fact quite common,” explained a lawyer with experience in such cases, speaking to MEE on the condition of anonymity.

Since 2014, there has also been a harsher crackdown on the offence of “incitement to terrorism”.

NGOs such as Amnesty International have expressed growing concern since 2015 about the increase in court appearances for “incitement”, “an offence whose definition remains vague” and which could “be used to criminalise remarks made without the requirement of proving intent, a necessary criterion in defining an offence”.

Beyond the Muslim community

“These arrests create a high risk for free speech violations,” warned Amnesty International. In addition to jailing teenagers, intoxicated individuals, or those appearing to suffer from psychiatric disorders, the “incitement” offence runs the clear risk of criminalising opinions.

As he recounts in his book, Kempf defended a Parisian father, accused in 2015 of having displayed an Islamic State (IS) flag on his windows. It was in fact a religious symbol, a protective talisman. This man narrowly avoided incarceration, was placed under judicial supervision and “was unable to prove his innocence until after nearly two years of proceedings”.

From East to West, war on the hijab reveals gendered Islamophobia
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In attacking the Muslim community and its faith-based organisations, the state is chipping away at public freedoms. On 10 June 2019, French bank BNP closed the bank account of organisation Action for the Rights of Muslims (ADM). The bank's lawyers acknowledged the involvement of a third party. It was “probably the intelligence services”, according to the Observatory of Associative Freedoms.

Many intellectuals, political movements and NGOs have pointed out the increasing authoritarianism within French democracy. In light of the increased restrictions on freedom of association and the growing repression of social movements, voices from the Muslim community are sounding the alarm. According to ADM, “at the beginning, these administrative measures focused only on Muslims, but today they extend naturally to the rest of society”.

In August, Darmanin, the interior minister, explained that the anti-separatism bill would target not only Muslims, but also “sectarian abuses” as well as “parts of the ultra-left” and “white supremacists”.

Sociologist Hamza Esmili studies counterterrorism strategies. If public action is fueled by an Islamophobic approach, then “it is difficult to imagine the state preventing itself from drawing on its repressive arsenal to target other opponents, such as environmentalists", he told MEE.

In September, a young engineer from the National Centre for Space Studies was fired on the basis of two lines of text in another “white note” memo from the DGSI, according to which he had been in contact with the ultra-left. An all-too familiar situation for many Muslim families.

This article is an edited translation of a story originally published on Middle East Eye's French website

France’s Muslim community first to bear brunt of iron-handed measures after Samuel Paty murder
  • 26 octobre 2020 à 16:54

Ex-CIA head slams Trump for suggesting MBS could be invited to White House

Par MEE staff
Ex-CIA head slams Trump for suggesting MBS could be invited to White House
John Brennan called Trump's suggested invitation to a 'big beautiful' White House party 'outrageous', given the Saudi crown prince's suspected involvement in Khashoggi murder
MEE staff Mon, 10/26/2020 - 14:53
Protesters outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul on 25 October 2018
Protesters outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul on 25 October 2018 (AFP/File photo)

The former head of the CIA has slammed President Donald Trump for suggesting that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could be invited to the White House. 

John Brennan, an Obama appointee, said the idea that the kingdom's de-facto ruler, known by his initials MBS, would be invited to the White House was "outrageous", given the Saudi ruler's alleged involvement in the 2018 murder of journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi

Khashoggi's fiancee sues Saudi crown prince over journalist's murder
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Trump made the suggestion on Friday in the Oval Office during meetings to mark Sudan and Israel's just-announced normalisation agreement to establish diplomatic ties for the first time. 

"If he's going to allow Mohammed bin Salman to come to this country, and be feted and hosted by a president of the United States, after what his own intelligence community, the CIA, has reportedly said about MBS' responsibility for the murder and dismemberment of a US resident, I just find that very telling [about] Donald Trump, obviously," Brennan said during an interview with a Yahoo News podcast over the weekend.

The president said the White House would throw a "big beautiful party" to mark a proposed Saudi-Israel agreement, for which he would invite Saudi King Salman and his son, MBS.

The Trump administration has been eager for Saudi Arabia to make a similar agreement, despite its public refusal. 

'They're not going to deal with MBS'

Brennan said the Trump administration should have moved to censure MBS, after several US intelligence agencies linked the ruler to the killing and dismemberment of Khashoggi inside Saudi Arabia's Turkish consulate two years ago. 

"There are very demonstrable things that they could do," Brennan said, regarding holding the Saudi ruler accountable. 

"But Trump has not done any of that. They can make sure that they're not going to deal with MBS. And really make him a pariah, in many respects, in the bilateral relationship," he suggested.

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of DAWN, a MENA-focused human rights group founded by Khashoggi before his death, also slammed Trump's remarks, sarcastically posting on Twitter an Arabic phrase of welcome before telling MBS she would "LOVE for you to come to Washington, and see you in court!". 

Ahlan wa sahlan ya #Saudi Crown Prince #MBS - would LOVE for you to come to Washington, and see you in court!

— Sarah Leah Whitson (@sarahleah1) October 26, 2020

Earlier this month, presidential nominee Joe Biden said that if he were elected in November, he would "reassess" the US relationship with Saudi Arabia. 

What does justice for Jamal Khashoggi look like?
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"Two years ago, Saudi operatives, reportedly acting at the direction of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, murdered and dismembered Saudi dissident, journalist, and US resident Jamal Khashoggi," Biden said in a statement.

"His offence - for which he paid with his life - was criticising the policies of his government. 

"Under a Biden-Harris administration, we will reassess our relationship with the kingdom, end US support for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, and make sure America does not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil."

On Tuesday, Khashoggi's fiance, Hatice Cengiz, filed a civil lawsuit against MBS as well as other officials, seeking to hold them liable for the journalist's brutal murder.

  • 26 octobre 2020 à 15:53

Saddam Hussein's right-hand man dead, announces Iraq's Baath Party

Par Alex MacDonald
Saddam Hussein's right-hand man dead, announces Iraq's Baath Party
After evading capture for 17 years, circumstances of Ezzat Ibrahim al-Douri's death remain unknown
Alex MacDonald Mon, 10/26/2020 - 14:30
Ezzat Ibrahim al-Douri
Ezzat Ibrahim al-Douri reviews a military honour guard during a ceremony marking Martyrs' Day in Baghdad, December 1999 (AFP)

One of the last surviving senior figures in the government of former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein has died, according to an announcement by the Iraqi Baath Party.

Ezzat Ibrahim al-Douri, arguably the most high-profile Saddam Hussein-era officials to evade capture in the wake of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, had made infrequent public appearences in recent years. The exact circumstances of his death remain unknown.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein  and the vice president of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council, Ezzat Ibrahim al-Douri, attend a military parade in Iraq (AFP)
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the vice-president of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council, Ezzat Ibrahim al-Douri, attend a military parade at Baghdad's Victory Square, 31 December 2000 (AFP)

In a statement released on Facebook, the now-banned Iraqi Arab Socialist Baath Party described Douri as "the knight of the Baath and the Iraqi national resistance" and said he had joined Hussein and other fallen Baathists in the afterlife.

"In the face of this momentous event, we are confident, fellow militant comrades, that you will follow the will of our late comrade who called us all, may God have mercy on him, to abide by principles, to be patient and calm, and to adhere to the principles of the Baath, its ethics, organisational traditions and values, to continue, perpetuate and enhance the momentum of our struggle for our people," said the statement.

The statement did not disclose any details about the circumstances of Douri's death.

'The Iceman'

Born near Tikrit to humble beginnings, Douri - nicknamed "The Iceman" due to his previous profession delivering ice - first became a government minister in 1968 under Hussein's predecessor, President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, following the 17 July coup that brought the Baath Party to power.

Over the next 35 years, as a government official and vice-chairman of the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council, Douri became one of Hussein's most loyal henchmen, and played major roles in the wars with Iran and Kuwait.

He was also one of the architects of the Anfal campaign, which saw hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds killed between 1986 and 1989 in what many branded as genocide.

Douri's main legacy, if any, is the state-approved introduction of Islamic fundamentalism into Iraqi society, something to which historians point as a major factor in the rise of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and, later, the Islamic State group.

In the 1990s, the erstwhile largely secular Baathist government began to introduce Islamic-inspired laws and religious symbolism into public life, as part of its Return to Faith campaign.

The campaign, largely seen as a cynical move to undermine the growing popularity of Islamist movements in the country, was overseen by Douri and introduced harsher punishments - such as beheadings or amputations - for crimes such as theft and prostitution, and placed a greater emphasis on Islam in the education system.

In 2000, Hussein unveiled a copy of the Quran he had commissioned, with the words reportedly inked in his own blood.

During this period, Douri was able to build support in Iraq for the Naqshbandi Order, a sufi organisation to which he belonged.

'Saying that the members of [IS] are officers from the Iraqi army is unacceptable because it is intended as an insult primarily to the Baath Party and then the great Iraqi Army and the national regime'

- Ezzat Ibrahim al-Douri

Following the overthrow of Hussein in 2003, Douri managed to avoid capture and become one of the most-wanted figures in the former administration, hunted by the US-led coalition.

In 2006, following Hussein's execution, he was proclaimed the new leader of the Baath Party. Around the same time, the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order emerged as an armed group -  thought to be led by Douri - espousing a mixture of Islamic and Baathist ideology in opposition to the occupation forces.

Comprised of former Baathists and military personnel, the group in part played a role in defending Naqshbandi sufi members from attacks from militant groups - but it would eventually become more notorious for forming an alliance with IS and aiding them in capturing the city of Mosul in 2014.

Islamic State alliance

Analysts long maintained that IS was also heavily comprised of former Baathists and that the alliance with the Naqshbandi Army stemmed from this. However, ideologically they were far apart - with commentator Michael Knights noting the Baathists' tastes for the distinctly un-IS vices of nationalism and whisky - and the two groups later fell to fighting.

Douri's whereabouts between 2003 and 2020 had never been confirmed, and he was believed to have frequently moved between Tikrit, Mosul, Diyala and other regions.

He was reported killed in 2015 by Iraqi militias, but later appeared alive on video.

In a 2017 interview with Tunisian newspaper Acharaa al-Maghrebi, he appeared to deny allegations that former Baathists had made up the primary bulk of IS and Al-Qaeda.

"Saying that the members of [IS] are officers from the Iraqi army is unacceptable because it is intended as an insult primarily to the Baath Party and then the great Iraqi Army and the national regime," he told the newspaper.

Anfal: A dark chapter of Kurdish history haunts survivors
Read More »

He also decried the spread of Iran's influence across the Middle East, saying that Syria's ruling Baath Party - which split from Iraq's Baath Party in the 1960s - had "handed over Syria's land and people to the Persians".

The last appearance of Douri was in a video in April 2019, in which he apologised for Iraq's 1991 invasion of Kuwait.

"Kuwait is not part of Iraq," he said, in contrast to the beliefs of many Iraqi nationalists.

"Iraq and Kuwait are part of the Peninsula, which is part of the larger Arab nation."

The announcement of his death on Monday will likely still be viewed with scepticism by some due to the many previous false alarms about his demise - although the fact it was announced by the Baath Party would seem to add legitimacy this time.

As late as this month, Iraqi politicians had claimed Douri was preparing a coup in Iraq. The fear and hatred - as well as, in some corners, admiration - that the Baath Party and Hussein's administration still evoke in Iraq has meant they have remained a popular political trope.

But it still largely remains a mystery how much real influence Douri and his allies have actually managed to maintain since their decades-long rule ended in 2003.

  • 26 octobre 2020 à 15:30

UK government refuses to publish evidence behind Eid lockdown measures

Par Rayhan Uddin
UK government refuses to publish evidence behind Eid lockdown measures
Government's own Islamophobia adviser pressed for data to support lockdown in Muslim-populated areas in July
Rayhan Uddin Mon, 10/26/2020 - 13:16
UK mosques re-opened in July with strict social distancing in place, after four months of closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic (AFP/File photo)

The British government has refused to publish evidence behind its decision to impose a coronavirus lockdown in the north of England just hours before the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, according to a report by The Guardian on Monday.

On 30 July, UK health secretary Matt Hancock announced on Twitter that, effective immediately, households in Manchester and surrounding areas could not meet other families indoors. He cited an increasing rate of coronavirus transmission in the area, and said it was “largely due to households meeting and not abiding to social distancing”.  

The tweet was posted at 9pm - just three hours before the start of Eid. 

Several of the towns and cities placed under lockdown at the time, including Oldham, Bolton and Bradford, have high proportions of Muslims according to the most recent UK census. 

The timing and location of the lockdown led many to accuse the government of unfairly targeting Muslims. 

'I smell Islamophobia': British Muslims decry lockdown imposed hours before Eid
Read More »

The Department of Health and Social Care said that it held the evidence to support Hancock’s claim but refused to publish it, claiming the data would jeopardise “the internal deliberative process as it relates to policy making”.

The decision not to publish the data has been criticised by the UK government’s own Islamophobia adviser. 

Qari Asim, the deputy chair of a government taskforce on anti-Muslim hatred, said Hancock’s announcement at the time made it look like that Muslim communities were not abiding by government guidelines. 

"Therefore it’s only right that full data is made public to make things clearer,” Asim said. 

“We saw a rise of Islamophobia online and the Muslim communities were seen as the cause of another lockdown. Some people definitely felt that the timing of the announcement was very poor. The way it was made showed disregard to a faith community.”

“We don’t want to give rise to hateful narratives and it’s really important that the authorities ensure that such hateful narratives are not supported.”

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, conspiracy theories and misinformation spread online in the UK, blaming Muslims for the outbreak of the disease. The media has also been criticised for feeding into this narrative by frequently using images of Muslim women in stories about the virus. 

Muslims in the UK are thought to have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus. 

A government inquiry found that people of Black and Asian origin had higher Covid-19 death rates than other ethnic groups. Those of Bangladeshi background, of which the vast majority are Muslim, were twice as likely to die than those who were white British.

Many Muslims and medics were left outraged earlier this year after Trevor Phillips, who was suspended from the Labour Party over allegations of Islamophobia, was appointed by the UK government to investigate why ethnic minorities were being disproportionately impacted by the virus.

UK government refuses to publish evidence behind measures imposed before Eid
  • 26 octobre 2020 à 14:16

Families demand repatriation of all foreign nationals from Syrian camps

Par Simon Hooper
Families demand repatriation of all foreign nationals from Syrian camps
Western governments facing mounting legal challenges with thousands of young children among those still stranded in Kurdish-controlled camps
Simon Hooper Mon, 10/26/2020 - 13:00
Girls play with a bicycle in a section of al-Hol camp for foreign families in January 2020 (AFP)

Western governments are facing growing pressure to repatriate their own nationals held in dangerous and overcrowded camps and prisons in northeastern Syria after being swept up in fighting between Kurdish-led forces and Islamic State (IS) militants.

A newly formed international network linking together relatives of some of those detained will this week call on countries to take responsibility for thousands of foreign nationals, the majority of them young children, stranded in the region after the collapse of IS early last year.

The network, Families for Repatriation International (FRI), will highlight the “dire and life-threatening conditions” that have already led to hundreds of deaths, and warn that governments' continuing failure to act risks undermining human rights, global security and the rule of law.

The network brings together family members of foreign nationals held in Syria and family support groups and is being backed by human rights organisations and lawyers involved in legal cases on behalf of those in detention.

European families stranded in northeastern Syria must be repatriated
Open letter
Read More »

Family members from five countries - Canada, Belgium, Germany, Australia and the UK - are currently working together in the network, and others in a number of other countries have also been in discussions with the group.

Members of the network told Middle East Eye that they were choosing to remain anonymous at this point in order to protect themselves and their relatives in Syria. 

“It took a lot of courage for many of these family members to join an international coalition,” Letta Tayler, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, which is supporting calls for repatriations, told MEE.

“They fear being harassed or stigmatised because they have relatives detained in northeast Syria. But they rightly understood that remaining silent only makes it easier for their governments to ignore the plight of their citizens held in appalling conditions that get worse with every passing month.”

Academics demand action

The launch of the network comes as more than 150 academics from universities across Europe and the US accused European countries of “outsourcing” responsibility for their own nationals and “creating spaces outside the law”.

In an open letter published by MEE on Monday, the academics said that a “controlled and coordinated repatriation” was the “only sustainable and durable solution”.

More than 65,000 people, mostly from Syria and Iraq, are currently being held in the main al-Hol camp for displaced people and families of suspected IS fighters and the smaller al-Roj camp, which are administered by the Kurdish Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, also known as Rojava.

About 3,000 women and 7,000 children in the camps are foreign nationals, while about 2,000 foreign men are detained in prisons among suspected IS fighters, according to Kurdish authorities.

Detained in northeastern Syria: A country-by-country breakdown

+ Show - Hide

Most Western governments have refused to repatriate their nationals on the grounds that they do not have consular services in Syria and citing security concerns. Some have called for foreign nationals accused of links to IS to be tried locally.

Campaigners say governments are not being candid about the extent of their contacts with Kurdish authorities. They point to the ad hoc repatriation of orphans, the presence on the ground of NGOs and journalists, and visits to the region by Western envoys as proof that they have the capacity - but not the political will - to bring their nationals home.

Some countries have said they will take children but nor adult detainees. Kurdish authorities have refused these requests and campaigners say that separating children from their primary carers would breach their human rights. Some children have been repatriated with their mother's consent.

The following figures are estimates based on official figures, data provided by campaign groups and MEE's own research.

Australia: Eight orphans repatriated in June 2019. About 20 women and 48 children remain in the camps, and 12 men in prisons.

Belgium: Six orphans repatriated in June 2019. Up to 15 men, 13 women, and 35 children still detained

Canada: One orphan repatriated in October 2020. Eight men, 13 women, 26 children still detained

Denmark: Two orphans repatriated. 12 Danish nationals and 30 children still detained. Dual nationals in Syria stripped of Danish citizenship

France: 28 children repatriated. About 450 French nationals, including about 270 children still detained. Several French citizens sent to Iraq and sentenced to death.

Germany: Four children repatriated in August 2019, and a mother and three children repatriated in November 2019. About 50 men, 50 women and 150 children still detained

Netherlands: Two orphans repatriated. Dutch Supreme Court ruled in June that government is not obliged to repatriate 23 women and 56 children still detained. At least 13 Dutch men also detained

Sweden: Seven orphaned siblings repatriated in May 2019. About 40 adults and 50 children still detained

UK: At least four children repatriated. About 26 men and women and 60 children still detained. Many dual nationals in Syria stripped of British citizenship

US: Washington has called for the repatriation of all foreign nationals and has offered to help countries to take back their own citizens. All 27 Americans known to have been in Kurdish custody have been repatriated

A few countries, including Russia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina, have so far repatriated significant numbers of their own nationals.

But most Western nations, including European Union member states, Canada and Australia, have repeatedly rejected calls to do so, with the exception of a few cases in which mostly orphaned children have been evacuated from the camps on humanitarian grounds.

A group of foreign orphans pictured at al-Hol camp prior to their transfer to al-Roj in January 2020 (AFP)

“Western governments have been allowed to get away with blatant disregard for international law for too long,” a Canadian mother involved in the network told MEE, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“By forming FRI - an international network of affected families who are advocating for justice, compassion and the rule of law - citizens across several countries are having to do the work that their governments should be doing.”

Legal challenges

Many governments, including in the UK, Belgium, Germany and Canada, are facing mounting legal challenges and increasing scrutiny of their inaction by human rights monitors.

They include the next round in the case of Shamima Begum, a London-born woman who absconded to IS-controlled Syria as a schoolgirl in 2015 and is among dozens of British nationals in Syria stripped of their citizenship.

Shamima Begum: UK must allow return to fight for citizenship, judges rule
Read More »

In July, the Court of Appeal ruled that Begum could not effectively contest that decision while detained in al-Hol and should be allowed to return to the UK to pursue an appeal. The government is set to challenge that judgement in the Supreme Court next month.

A current case at the European Court of Human Rights brought against the French government by the parents of a French woman with young children being held in the camps could have repercussions for similar complaints being brought against governments elsewhere in Europe.

In a joint submission to the court, two United Nations special rapporteurs said that the case offered judges an opportunity to “set international best practice for compliance with human rights standards”, and reiterated that the urgent repatriation of all foreign nationals was the “only international law-compliant response”.

A spokesperson for Belgian families, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “It will absolutely serve as jurisprudence for all European countries and hopefully beyond. Europe is seen as a reference [on human rights] for many other countries in the rest of the world.”

The Belgian government is currently appealing against a Brussels court judgement issued last December ordering it to repatriate 10 children born in Syria to Belgian IS fighters, and fining it 5,000 euros ($5,900) per child for each day that it fails to provide them with assistance.

The spokesperson for the Belgian families said they would look to the ECHR if the Belgian government's appeal was upheld.

US military offers help

Meanwhile, the United States, which has consistently called on other countries to repatriate their nationals, appears to be losing patience with the reluctance of other Western members of the international coalition against IS.

US vetoes UN resolution citing failure to repatriate foreign Islamic State fighters
Read More »

Earlier this month, the US said it had repatriated the last of 27 Americans known to have been in Kurdish custody in Syria. Ten of those have subsequently been charged or convicted of terrorism-related offences. The other 17 are either minors or were minors when they travelled into IS-controlled territory with their families.

Nathan Sales, State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism, said the US was “leading by example” by repatriating American citizens: “We call on other nations, particularly in Western Europe, to take responsibility for their citizens.”  

The head of the US military in the Middle East has also said he is ready to repatriate foreign nationals on other countries' behalf.

“The Department of State is aggressively engaging on this,” US Central Command chief General Kenneth F. McKenzie said in August, warning that a failure to address the issue of the detainees risked creating the conditions for an IS resurgence.

“I'm happy to provide the resources to move them when we are directed to do that, and I can move them anywhere in the world very quickly and in a safe and transparent manner.”

Kurdish authorities have delivered mixed messages on the issue of repatriation. Officials have long called for countries to take responsibility for their nationals, while also suggesting that adult detainees suspected of links to IS should be tried locally.

Man released from prison in Qamishli
A man is greeted by family members upon his release from the Kurdish-run Alaya prison in Qamishli on 15 October (AFP)

Earlier this month, Kurdish officials announced plans to remove Syrian detainees from the camps, which they said had become a “heavy burden” that the authorities could no longer afford to manage.

“Those who remain in the camp will not be the responsibility of the self-administration,” said Ilham Ahmed, president of the executive committee of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC).

Kurdish-led forces release hundreds of prisoners in northeast Syria
Read More »

Authorities subsequently freed hundreds of Syrian men imprisoned for suspected links to IS as well as releasing 289 women and children held at al-Hol into the care of tribal elders in Deir Ezzor.

In a further move, Kurdish officials last week suggested that thousands of suspected IS members could soon be put on trial locally in proceedings monitored by Swedish observers, following meetings with a visiting Swedish delegation.

However, Sweden's foreign ministry declined to confirm details of the report. Contacted by MEE, a spokesperson said: “We are following this closely but are keen to get more details about the initiative before we comment further.”

Judicial black hole

Legal experts say that the prospect of holding trials for foreign nationals locally is problematic because detainees have been held in a judicial black hole, with no due process rights, and because the Kurdish authorities are a non-state actor that is not internationally recognised.

Regional security issues, including the threat of further incursions into the Kurdish enclave by Turkish forces, a breakdown of a Russia-brokered pact between the Kurds and the Syrian government, or the prospect of an American military withdrawal from the region, could also undermine the viability of local trials.

Western government officials admit privately that there is little appetite for repatriation among elected leaders who fear that popular opposition to the return of people suspected of links to IS and portrayed as a potential security threat will cost them votes and support.

They cite the example of Norway, where a coalition government collapsed in January after the right-wing populist Progress Party withdrew its support over a decision to allow a woman and her two children to return from al-Hol so her five-year-old son could receive medical treatment.

In Canada, the government shelved plans to repatriate its citizens in 2018 following a public backlash after the broadcasting of a New York Times podcast series, Caliphate, in which a Canadian man living in Toronto purportedly confessed to his involvement in IS atrocities.

Last month, the subject of the podcast was arrested and charged with “hoax-terrorist activity”, accused by police of making up his story and raising “public safety concerns amongst Canadians”.

But campaigners believe that bigger issues are at stake, particularly in democratic societies that have traditionally promoted themselves as advocates for humanitarian values and human rights.

“We are all concerned. At the end of the day, it's not only about the families who have members over there,” the spokesperson for the Belgian families told MEE.

“The situation in the camps, the arbitrary detention, the wiping out of the rule of law, for me they feel and look like the first steps towards the wrecking of democracies.”

  • 26 octobre 2020 à 14:00

Turkey's Erdogan calls on citizens to boycott French goods

Par MEE and agencies
Turkey's Erdogan calls on citizens to boycott French goods
Turkey's leader continues sharp criticism of French President Emmanuel Macron over his attitude towards Muslims
MEE and agencies Mon, 10/26/2020 - 12:31
Turkey and France have been at odds over issues including Syria and Libya, maritime jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Monday for Turks never to buy French goods, as he continued his sharp criticism of his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron over his attitude towards Muslims.

Erdogan renews call for Macron to undergo mental checks over his comments on Islam
Read More »

Erdogan said on Saturday that Macron had a problem with Muslims and needed mental checks - a rebuke that caused France to recall its ambassador from Ankara. 

He made similar comments the next day and again on Monday in a speech in Ankara.

"Just like they say 'Don't buy goods with Turkish brands' in France, I am calling on all my citizens from here to never help French brands or buy them," Erdogan said.

France is the 10th biggest source of imports into Turkey and the seventh biggest market for Turkey's exports, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute. 

French cars are among the best-selling vehicles in Turkey.

French goods have already been removed from supermarket shelves in Qatar and Kuwait, among other Gulf states. In Syria, people have burned pictures of Macron and French flags have been set on fire in the Libyan capital Tripoli.

'Will not give up cartoons'

Macron has pledged to fight "Islamist separatism", saying that it was threatening to take over some Muslim communities in France. 

The country has been shaken by the beheading of a teacher by an 18-year-old, Abdullakh Anzorov, who said he was avenging the use of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a class on freedom of expression.

Turkey on Monday condemned the "monstrous murder" of Samuel Paty after France had expressed disappointment over the lack of an official condemnation by Ankara.

"We strongly condemn the monstrous murder of Samuel Paty in France and we reject this barbarism. There is nothing legitimate about this murder," Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin tweeted.

Depictions of the prophet are seen as offensive by many Muslims, but in France such cartoons are seen as part of a proud anticlerical tradition dating back to the Revolution.

In the aftermath of Paty's murder, Macron issued a passionate defence of free speech and France's secular values, vowing that the country "will not give up cartoons".

'Anti-Islam' agenda

European leaders must put an end to Macron's "anti-Islam" agenda, Erdogan said in a speech at the start of a week of activities in Turkey to commemorate the birthday of the prophet.

Macron says France is in existential fight against 'Islamist terrorism'
Read More »

The Turkish president also said Muslims in Europe were subjected to a "lynch campaign" like Jews before World War Two and accused some western leaders of championing Islamophobia, calling them "fascists".

"You are in a real sense fascists. You are in a real sense the links in the chain of Nazism," said Erdogan, without giving any names. 

"Muslims are now subjected to a lynch campaign similar to that against Jews in Europe before World War Two."

Turkey and France are both members of the Nato military alliance, but have been at odds over issues including Syria and Libya, maritime jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean, and the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

European leaders back Macron

German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned Erdogan's "defamatory" remarks about the French leader.

President Erdogan’s words addressing President @EmmanuelMacron are unacceptable. The Netherlands stands firmly with France and for the collective values of the European Union. For the freedom of speech and against extremism and radicalism.

— Mark Rutte (@MinPres) October 26, 2020

The prime ministers of the Netherlands and Greece also expressed support for France, as did European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

"President Erdogan's words addressing President @EmmanuelMacron are unacceptable," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte tweeted, adding that the Netherlands stood "for the freedom of speech and against extremism and radicalism".

  • 26 octobre 2020 à 13:31

Iraq's Kurdish region says it foiled PKK plot to attack foreign diplomats

Par MEE and agencies
Iraq's Kurdish region says it foiled PKK plot to attack foreign diplomats
The statement from KRG intelligence service comes a year after the killing of a Turkish diplomat in Erbil
MEE and agencies Mon, 10/26/2020 - 12:31
A picture shows a general view of Erbil, the capital of the northern Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region on 20 October 2020 (AFP)

Authorities in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region said they foiled a plan by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to attack foreign diplomats.

The announcement comes more than a year after the killing of a Turkish consular official in the Kurdish capital Erbil, an attack which was attributed to the PKK.

In a statement, the Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) top security agency said attackers linked to the PKK had planned to kill diplomats in Erbil, but it did not say from which country.

The announcement comes as the PKK is under unprecedented pressure from a Turkish military assault on its bases in northern Iraq and from Iraqi and Kurdish authorities that want to eject them from areas along the Syrian border.

"The group was observed and then intercepted by the security forces in an operation lasting four months," it added.

An official from a Kurdish political group linked to the PKK denied it was involved in any planned attacks.

The PKK faces one of Turkey's fiercest military assaults for years against its bases in Iraqi territory.

Iranian-Turkish deal to fight PKK risks harming stability of Iraq's Kurdish region
Read More »

It is also the target of a security and reconstruction agreement between Erbil and Baghdad that aims to eject all PKK affiliates from the town of Sinjar on the Syrian border.

Northern Iraq is split between the control of different Iraqi and Kurdish forces, Shia militias and smaller armed groups.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party dominates Erbil and shares with Turkey a common enemy in the PKK. The Erbil government relies on Turkish pipelines to export oil.

The PKK has waged its insurgency in Turkey from bases in mountainous areas of northern Iraq, and in recent years has made a base in northeastern Syria through its affiliate the YPG.

It has come under regular assault from Turkey in both areas, although this year's Turkish incursion into Iraq is one of the biggest Ankara has waged against the group there.

The assault is part of Turkey's efforts to assert itself militarily across the region with little opposition from Iraq or the Kurdistan region despite the deaths in August of at least two Iraqi border guards in a Turkish drone strike.

A gunman shot a Turkish diplomat dead in an Erbil restaurant in July last year, just weeks after Turkey launched another incursion into Iraq against the PKK. Kurdish officials privately blamed that killing on the PKK, which they say seeks to carry out similar attacks in the Kurdistan region.

  • 26 octobre 2020 à 13:31

Campaign launched on social media to boycott French goods across MENA

Par Yasmina Allouche
Campaign launched on social media to boycott French goods across MENA
The French Foreign Ministry has declared that 'calls for a boycott are baseless' and demanded it end 'immediately'
Yasmina Allouche Mon, 10/26/2020 - 12:09
A list of French brands to boycott was circulated on Twitter, with users encouraged to avoid buying products like Lancôme, Yves Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Givenchy (Twitter)

A social media campaign has been launched calling for the boycott of French products from supermarkets across the Middle East and North Africa in protest at President Emmanuel Macron’s recent comments on Islam and his backing of satirical outlets publishing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

Earlier this month, Macron said Islam is a religion “in crisis all over the world today”, and pledged to fight “Islamist separatism” that is a threat to some Muslim communities around France. He also voiced his support of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s right to print cartoons of the prophet, which has drawn widespread anger and outrage across the Muslim world.

Activists and several Arab trade groups have since announced their boycott of French products, launching a number of social media campaigns using viral hashtags like #BoycottFrance #Boycott_French_Products and #ProphetMuhammad. 

As the French government and elites continue to treat Muslims like second-class citizens who can be demonized for political points, consider speaking against them with your money by boycotting French products. #BoycottFrance

— european tareq (@ibnabitareq) October 26, 2020

If you think #BoycottFrance will have no effect,you’re truly mistaken

Widespread consumer based boycotts can easily damage the reputation of targeted companies

Better yet national economic policies (which we should lobby our countries to implement) will create tremendous impact

— Ismailoğlu (@IsmailogluF) October 26, 2020

Putting an insulting picture of the Prophet(صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم)in a French building is an unprecedented challenge and an insult to a billion and a half of Muslims around the world
As Muslims, we must boycott #BoycottFrance #boycottfrenchproducts

— Royal S (@zaighamSangra) October 26, 2020

A list of French brands to boycott was circulated on Twitter with users encouraged to avoid buying products like Lancôme, Yves Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Givenchy.

Since Friday, French products have been removed from supermarket shelves in Qatar, where Qatar University also cancelled its French Cultural Week event, Palestine and Jordan, where the head of the Amman Chamber of Commerce, Khalil Haj Tawfeeq, wrote to the French ambassador to Jordan to apologise for the French product removal. 

In Kuwait, the chairman and members of the board of directors of the Al-Naeem Cooperative Society declared their boycott of all French products and their intention to remove them from supermarket shelves.

Similar calls were also made in Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Iran and Morocco. In 2019, French-owned Danone lost more than 50 percent of its market share in milk in Morocco after Moroccan activists launched a consumer boycott campaign against major suppliers of petrol, milk and water in protest of rising prices. 

Calls for protests were also made in the Gaza Strip on Monday and in Amman on Tuesday, which follows rallies that were held in Tunisia and parts of Syria over the weekend.

Macron responded to the boycott campaign with a tweet in Arabic in which he stated: “Nothing makes us hold back, ever. We respect all differences in the spirit of peace. We do not accept hate speech and defend reasonable debate. We will always stand by human dignity and universal values.” 

Macron's comments on Islam came in response to the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty outside his school in a suburb outside Paris earlier this month after he showed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad during a class on free speech. France has since announced a number of  policies in a bid to curb "extremism" in the country, by seeking to strengthen a 1905 law that separates church and state, arresting a number of foreign nationals and targeting Muslim organisations. 

French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot has called for "appeasement", reaffirming that France is not fighting "against French Muslims" but against "Islamism and terrorism". The comments came a day prior to those made by the French Foreign Ministry declaring that "calls for a boycott are baseless and must stop immediately, as must all attacks against our country, exploited by a radical minority."

However, not all French Muslims have voiced their support of the boycott. 

The boycott against France is stupid,
The French government and Macron are stupid,
And the reason why I am making both of these statements have nothing to do with caricatures and everything to do with the wrong motives and arguments of both sides.

— Sahar Amarir (@SaharAmarir) October 25, 2020

The head of the Grand Mosque of Paris Chems-Eddine Hafiz also condemned the boycott calls, accusing it of being rooted in "those who have always used Islam for political purposes". Hafiz also called for "vigilance of all Muslims in the face of this false propaganda aimed at discrediting our country, France".

Shortly after the beheading, French imams visited the school where Paty had taught to pay their respects, and called on Muslims to rally behind freedom of expression.

Hassen Chalghoumi, an imam at Drancy mosque, described the victim as a “martyr” and “wise man” who “taught about tolerance, about civilisation and the respect of others” and spoke of his desire to see Muslims organise together to mourn the teacher with candles.

MENA reactions

In addition to the online campaign, a number of heads of states have been quick to condemn Macron and the increasing hostile environment in France. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose relationship with Paris has been rocky over the last couple of years, called on Turks to boycott French products on Monday. 

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan also accused Macron of "attacking Islam" and has written a letter calling on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to ban Islamophobic content, and Morocco's Foreign Ministry said the kingdom condemns the continued publications of offensive cartoons. 

France's 'crisis' with Islam: A legacy of 200 years of colonial brutality
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On Friday, the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation condemned what it said was France’s continued attack against Muslims by insulting religious symbols. Saudi Arabia's Council of Senior Scholars also released a statement stressing how offending the prophet and other Islamic figures will not harm  them but will serve “those who want to spread the atmosphere of hatred among human societies".

Scholars at Egypt's prestigious Sunni Islamic institution, Al-Azhar, also denounced Macron's remarks. 

"He made false accusations against Islam, that have nothing to do with the true essence of this religion," Al-Azhar's Islamic Research Academy said in statement late Saturday.

Defenders of the caricatures have portrayed the issue as a matter of freedom of speech, but critics have pointed out how it has been used to stir anti-Islamic sentiment in France and its weaponisation against the country's Muslim population which constitute around 6 million.

Last week, two veiled Muslim women were stabbed in Paris near the Eiffel Tower by two women reportedly calling them "dirty Arabs". A few days later, two Jordanian students were attacked in the West of France after they reportedly were overheard speaking Arabic, which has fueled fears of increasing Islamophobia and racism in the country, buoyed by far-right scaremongering and threats.

The attacks come on the same week as criticism from French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin of halal and kosher food aisles in supermarkets contributing to separatism and radicalisation, and accusations from the finance minister that mayors who allow women-only hours at local swimming pools are giving in to “political Islam”, which he believes is the root of terrorism. 

  • 26 octobre 2020 à 13:09

Clashes continue in Iraq on first anniversary of anti-government uprisings

Par Alex MacDonald
Clashes continue in Iraq on first anniversary of anti-government uprisings
Police fire stun grenades and tear gas at protesters on bridge across from fortified Green Zone
Alex MacDonald Mon, 10/26/2020 - 12:05
Iraqi anti-government protesters clash with riot police on al-Jumhuriyah bridge, Baghdad, on 26 October 2020 (AFP)

Dozens of Iraqi protesters again clashed with security forces in Baghdad on Monday, as demonstrations continued to mark the first anniversary of major anti-government protests in Iraq.

Police fired stun grenades and tear gas at protesters, who had been burning tyres and hurling rocks on the strategic al-Jumhuriyah bridge across the Tigris River, leading to the highly fortified Green Zone, an AFP photographer reported

Justice denied: Iraq's anti-government protest movement one year on
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The bridge, barricaded by high concrete walls, separates the Green Zone from Tahrir Square, the centre of the old and new demonstrations.

The Green Zone, where government offices, parliament and the US embassy are located, is off-limits to ordinary Iraqi citizens.

In a repeat of last year's demonstrations, rallies were also held in Shia-dominated southern towns and cities.

Overnight, in the shrine city of Karbala, which had been a focal point for demonstrations last year, protesters skirmished with riot police, who fired live bullets into the air to disperse them.

In al-Diwaniyah, young demonstrators set car tyes on fire, while in Nasiriyah, also in the south, protesters in the main square sung the national anthem amid celebratory fireworks as night fell.

Restraint urged

Thousands of Iraqis had taken to the streets nationwide on Sunday to mark the first anniversary of the 2019 revolt dubbed the "October Revolution", which demanded the removal of the entire ruling class, accused of ineptitude and corruption.

"We will not stop protesting to demand our stolen rights. We are the victims of corrupted governments," Najim Abdullah, a protester standing near Baghdad's al-Jumhuriyah bridge, told Reuters.

'We will not stop protesting to demand our stolen rights. We are the victims of corrupted governments'

- Najim Abdullah, protester

Though the 2019 protests began on 1 October, the 25th marked the high watermark as they resumed after a short break for the religious festival of Arbaeen.

About 600 protesters had been killed and 30,000 wounded in protest-related violence nationwide, before demonstrations eased off and then ended with the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who has been in power for six months, has urged security forces to show restraint when confronting protesters.

In a televised address on Saturday, he pledged to hold early and fair elections - a demand of many pro-democracy activists - and said that security forces would not harm any peaceful protesters.

  • 26 octobre 2020 à 13:05

Russian air strikes kill dozens of Turkey-backed rebels in Syria's Idlib

Par MEE and agencies
Russian air strikes kill dozens of Turkey-backed rebels in Syria's Idlib
Sources told MEE that Idlib hospitals were calling for blood donations, while other fighters were transported to Turkey
MEE and agencies Mon, 10/26/2020 - 11:13
Turkish officials fear Russia is laying the groundwork to overrun Idlib and take control of the last rebel-held area in Syria (AFP)

Russian air strikes killed dozens of fighters from a Turkey-backed rebel group in northwest Syria on Monday, as Turkish officials fear the government, backed by Russia, is preparing to overrun Idlib. 

A high-ranking commander in Failaq al-Sham told Middle East Eye that more than 100 were killed and 150 people wounded after Russia targeted the faction's training camp in Jabal Duwayli area in Idlib province.

But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the Russian attack had killed 78 rebels.

One medical source told MEE that while some of the wounded fighters were taken to Turkey, hospitals in Syria are still under "great pressure" and calling for blood donations. 

The National Liberation Front (NLF), a coalition of Turkey-backed rebels, confirmed to AFP that Russian strikes had targeted one of its facilities but did not give an exact death toll.  

Saif Raad, the director of the media office for Failaq al-Sham and the NLF, refused to verify the number of fighters killed because the number was unclear but said the camp targeted was in the "border area with Turkey" and affiliated to Free Syrian Army factions.

"Reconnaissance planes have not left the sky and are monitoring the whole region," he said.

Last week, Turkish officials told Middle East Eye that it feared Russia could trigger a conflict in Idlib at any moment as they do not want a new arrangement in Idlib that could stabilise the situation for the long term. 

Sources familiar with the situation in northwest Syria also told MEE that the Turkish military planned to leave four observation posts in Idlib. 

Turkey set up 12 ceasefire observation stations in and around Idlib following a 2017 agreement that warded off a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive that threatened to collapse rebel rule in the province and force millions of refugees to the Turkish border.

Local Syrian opposition media has speculated that the Turkish military is readying itself for upcoming clashes by relocating its military stations.

In March, a truce brokered by Russia and Turkey prevented pro-Assad forces from overrunning Idlib, the last remaining rebel-held area in northwest Syria, which holds at least a million Syrian refugees who have been displaced from across the country.

The truce has been largely held with the exception of some bombardment and intermittent air strikes in the area, including a US drone strike that killed 17 militants on Thursday, according to the Observatory. 

  • 26 octobre 2020 à 12:13

Coronavirus: Iran reports one death from Covid-19 every five minutes

Par MEE and agencies
Coronavirus: Iran reports one death from Covid-19 every five minutes
Authorities blame poor social distancing as deputy health minister warns daily death rate could double in coming weeks
MEE and agencies Mon, 10/26/2020 - 11:03
Some experts have doubted the accuracy of Iran’s official coronavirus figures (AFP)

Hospitals in many Iranian provinces are running out of capacity to handle coronavirus cases, health authorities say, with the pandemic now killing around 300 people a day, or one person every five minutes.

Coronavirus: Iran accused of cover up as documents claim death toll three times higher
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Authorities have complained of poor social distancing, and Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi said the pandemic could cause 600 daily deaths in coming weeks if Iranians failed to respect health protocols in the Middle East country hardest hit by the virus.

A caption on state television news said that an Iranian was dying of novel coronavirus every five minutes, a rate that corresponded to the daily death tallies reported by the authorities of just above or below 300 over the past 20 days.

Health ministry spokesman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV on Sunday that 32,616 people had died of the disease and that the number of confirmed cases had reached 568,896.

Some experts have doubted the accuracy of Iran’s official coronavirus tolls. 

A report by the Iranian parliament’s research centre in April suggested that actual coronavirus figures might be almost twice as many as those announced by the health ministry.

The report said that Iran’s official coronavirus figures were based only on the number of deaths in hospitals and those who had already tested positive for the coronavirus.

'Incompetent and deadly governance'

Schools, mosques, shops, restaurants and other public institutions in Tehran have been closed since 3 October. 

Iran records its highest daily death toll from coronavirus
Read More »

As Covid-19 cases and deaths continued to hit record levels, the closure was extended until 20 November, state TV reported.

Officials said "extreme measures and limitations" would be imposed in at least 43 counties across the country for one week, where the infection rates had been alarming. 

State TV reported that 21 out of Iran's 31 provinces were on a coronavirus red alert.

Iran has blamed US sanctions for hampering Tehran's efforts to tackle the outbreak, Reuters reported. 

Washington, accusing Tehran of "incompetent and deadly governance", has refused to lift sanctions that were reimposed after 2018 when US President Donald Trump exited Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers.

Iran reports one death from Covid-19 every five minutes
  • 26 octobre 2020 à 12:03

Lebanon court rejects new migrant worker contract to replace criticised kafala system

Par Areeb Ullah
Lebanon court rejects new migrant worker contract to replace criticised kafala system
Officials said the new standard contract for domestic workers would be the first step needed to abolish the kafala system
Areeb Ullah Mon, 10/26/2020 - 10:36
Ethiopian workers let go because of Lebanon's economic crisis wait outside Ethiopia's embassy in Beirut (AFP)

A court in Lebanon has suspended the implementation of a new contract system for migrant workers that officials said would have paved the way for the abolition of the controversial kafala system.

The state Shura Council ruled in favour of an appeal lodged by the coalition of Domestic Worker Recruitment, who opposed the proposals set out in the new standard unified contract. 

The new contract would have allowed workers to terminate their contract without the consent of their employer, as well as guarantee a weekly rest day, overtime pay, sick pay, annual leave, and the national minimum wage.

Beirut explosion: Kafala system leaves African workers stranded in city in ruins
Read More »

Lebanon's estimated 250,000 migrant domestic workers, who mainly come from Africa and Asia, often work in private homes under the exploitative kafala (sponsorship) system.

Domestic workers are excluded from the country's labour laws that provide protections for minimum wage and overtime pay. 

Aya Majzoub, Lebanon and Bahrain researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the new standard contract had the potential to improve protections for foreign workers. 

"Instead of advancing rights of one of the most marginalised groups in Lebanon, the Shura Council blocked the implementation of a new standard contract for migrant domestic workers," Majzoub told MEE. 

"The new contract would have vastly improved protections for migrant domestic workers and would have been a step towards dismantling the abusive kafala system," she added. "This decision underscores the importance of urgently amending the labour law to include domestic workers and abolishing the exploitative kafala system that traps tens of thousands of workers in highly abusive conditions amounting at worst to modern-day slavery."

Earlier this year, Lebanese caretaker Labour Minister Lamia Yammine said she was launching a new contract system for migrant domestic workers. 

Yammine said she issued a standard unified contract that "enshrines the rights" of the foreign workers, whose plight during Lebanon's economic crisis has sparked outcry. 

The Labour Ministry, however, did not publish its version of the new unified contract. 

Critics, however, have said that abolishing the kafala system would vastly improve the rights of workers in Lebanon.

In August, West African domestic workers desperate to return home since a devastating explosion tore through Beirut told MEE that the kafala system was preventing them from leaving Lebanon. 

Widespread across Lebanon and parts of the Middle East, the kafala system ties the individual worker to a local national employer who controls the movement of their employee. This includes holding on to the worker's passport and controlling whether they can change employers or leave the country. 

Instances of abuse are common, and it has been estimated that two migrant workers die each week in Lebanon, often through suicide or while attempting to escape. Those who are able to flee face imprisonment or heavy fines.

As an economic crisis took hold last year, the value of the Lebanese pound has tumbled, leaving some domestic workers without work, while others continued to labour for free in exchange for accommodation.

  • 26 octobre 2020 à 11:36

Israeli bulldozers and settlers uproot Palestinian olive trees in West Bank

Par MEE staff
Israeli bulldozers and settlers uproot Palestinian olive trees in West Bank
Israeli forces razed almost 60 olive trees in the town of Salfit and also demolished a house in the village of Taybeh
MEE staff Mon, 10/26/2020 - 10:23
Palestinians harvest olives from their land, which lies on the Israeli side of the separation wall in the West Bank, 30 October 2019 (AFP)

Israeli bulldozers demolished a Palestinian house and settlers uprooted dozens of olive trees in the occupied West Bank on Monday, according to Palestinian state news agency Wafa.

Israeli soldiers and bulldozers blocked an area in Taybeh village and demolished a house, which was close to the Israeli separation wall that runs through the village’s land.

Forbidden: The West Bank land Israel locks away from Palestinians
Read More »

In the town of Salfit, north of the West Bank, Israeli bulldozers razed and uprooted almost 60 olive trees on Sunday.

Salfit’s mayor, Abdel-Karim Fattash, told Wafa that the olive crops were owned by a resident from the town. The last days of October are traditionally the season for harvesting olives in Palestine.

Fattash told Wafa that the Israeli forces issued an order to “stop work on a playground for the physically disabled that was being built in the same area".

Salfit and Taybeh are surrounded by several Israeli illegal settlements. 

On Monday, in al-Mugheer, east of the city of Ramallah, Israeli settlers uprooted around 100 olive trees belonging to residents of the village.

Israeli settlers' so-called “price-tag” attacks have become increasingly common in the West Bank.

In addition to slashing car tyres and painting anti-Arab slogans, “price-tag” attacks often include assaults on Palestinians and the cutting down of trees belonging to Palestinian farmers.

  • 26 octobre 2020 à 11:23

'Grossly disturbing': Australia refers invasive search of women at Qatar airport to police

Par MEE and agencies
'Grossly disturbing': Australia refers invasive search of women at Qatar airport to police
Australian women were taken off plane and examined after the discovery of a newborn baby abandoned in the terminal
MEE and agencies Mon, 10/26/2020 - 07:37
Hamad International Airport said the newborn found abandoned on 2 October had not been identified and was receiving medical care (AFP)

An incident at Doha's Hamad airport, where Australian women were taken off a plane and subjected to an invasive search after the discovery of a newborn baby abandoned in the terminal, has been referred to Australian federal police, Canberra says.

Thirteen Australians were among the women on the flight run by state-owned Qatar Airways who were forced to undergo a medical examination in an ambulance after the newborn was found in an airport bathroom, Australian television network Seven News said.

All adult women on the flight, regardless of age, were made to disembark for the examination which occurred earlier this month, two of the women told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

On Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne confirmed the women had contacted the Australian government at the time of the incident, adding that it had taken up the matter with Qatar's ambassador.

The "extraordinary incident" had also been reported to the Australian Federal Police, she said.

"This is a grossly disturbing, offensive, concerning set of events," Payne told media. 

"It is not something I have ever heard of occurring in my life, in any context. We have made our views very clear to the Qatari authorities."

In a statement, the Australian federal police said they were aware of the incident, and were engaging with the department of foreign affairs and trade.

Australia expects report this week

In a statement, Hamad International Airport, which is part of the Qatar Airways Group, said the newborn found abandoned on 2 October had not been identified and was receiving medical care.

"Medical professionals expressed concern to officials about the health and welfare of a mother who had just given birth and requested she be located prior to departing [the airport]," it said.

"Individuals who had access to the specific area of the airport where the newborn infant was found were asked to assist in the query."

Australia expects a report this week from authorities in Qatar, Payne said.

There were significant concerns over the issue of securing consent for the medical examinations, she said, adding, "These are very private and personal matters."

In a statement, the Australian government said reports indicated treatment "beyond circumstances in which the women could give free and informed consent".

The women received medical and psychological support on arrival in Sydney, and began Australia's mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine required for coronavirus border control, a spokesman for health authorities in New South Wales state told Reuters.

  • 26 octobre 2020 à 08:37

Kuwaiti supermarkets pull French products amid cartoon anger

Par MEE and agencies
Kuwaiti supermarkets pull French products amid cartoon anger
France urges governments to stop 'heinous' boycotts proposed by campaigners in Kuwait, Jordan and Qatar
MEE and agencies Sun, 10/25/2020 - 22:13
Kuwaiti co-ops, some the size of hypermarkets, have removed French products (AFP)

France is facing a backlash across the Arab world over the use of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, which have prompted protests and growing calls for the boycott of French products.

About 200 people protested outside the residence of France's ambassador to Israel on Saturday against the cartoons, while on Sunday, retail co-ops in Kuwait pulled French products from their shelves.

In Saudi Arabia, the Arab world's largest economy, a hashtag calling for the boycott of French supermarket retailer Carrefour was the second most trending on Sunday.

It comes as the French government urged Arab governments to prevent boycotts and defended its record, saying it was "in favour of the freedom of conscience."

France recalls ambassador from Turkey after Erdogan jibe at Macron
Read More »

President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday said a French teacher beheaded outside his school in Paris earlier this month "was killed because Islamists want our future."

The teacher, Samuel Paty, was murdered after he had shown cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed during a class he was leading on free speech.

On Sunday, Macron said in a tweet: "We will not give in, ever" to militants.

"We do not accept hate speech and defend reasonable debate," the French leader added.

'Repeated insults'

In Kuwait, the non-governmental Union of Consumer Co-operative Societies, which groups more than 70 establishments, issued the boycott directive on 23 October. Several co-ops visited by Reuters on Sunday had cleared the shelves of items such as hair and beauty products made by French companies.

Union head Fahd Al-Kishti told Reuters that all French products had been removed from all the co-ops in response to "repeated insults" against the Prophet and had been taken independently of Kuwait's government.

The co-ops, some the size of hypermarkets, carry government-subsidised staples and account for a big part of retail in Kuwait, as well as organising some educational courses and recreational activities.

In Israel, hundreds of protestors demonstrated in the largely-Arab district of Jaffa in Tel Aviv, after Muslim evening prayers on Saturday.

'We must respect Moses among the Jews, we must respect Jesus Christ who is our prophet too, and we must respect the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him'

- Amin Bukhari, protestor

Protesters, some of them wearing surgical face masks in keeping with coronavirus regulations, carried banners in Arabic in support of the prophet, AFP journalists at the scene said.

One of the demonstrators, Amin Bukhari, accused Macron of playing the game of "the extreme right".

"The Prophet Mohammed is the most sacred thing in Islam and whoever attacks his honour, attacks an entire people," he told the crowd gathered outside the official residence of French ambassador Eric Danon. 

“We must respect Moses among the Jews, we must respect Jesus Christ who is our prophet too, and we must respect the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him," he added.

Strong reaction

Calls for boycotts of French goods have since come from groups in Jordan, Kuwait and Qatar. Hamas, rulers of the Gaza Strip have also condemned Macron’s comments.

"Insulting religions and prophets is not a matter of freedom of expression, but rather promotes a culture of hatred," Hamas said in a statement, warning of unspecified "consequences".

Meanwhile, Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan on Sunday accused the French president of "encouraging Islamophobia"  and "creating further polarisation and marginalisation."

Protests were also reported in Bangladesh.

The strong reaction has prompted the French foreign ministry to urge countries where boycott calls had been made to stop them and ensure the security of French citizens.

France-Turkey feud: 'French anger is all about losing influence'
Read More »

"Calls for a boycott are groundless and must cease immediately, as must all attacks on our country that have been manipulated by a radical minority," a ministry statement said.

It underscored the danger posed by "calls to demonstrate against France, in terms that are sometimes heinous and spread on social media."

The ministry insisted that France's position was "in favour of the freedom of conscience, of expression and of religion, and a rejection of all calls that incite hatred."

After a Danish paper first published the cartoons in 2005, protests and boycotts on Danish goods swept the Islamic world.

The beheading in a Paris suburb carried echoes of the militant attack in 2015 on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo after it republished the cartoons.

France recalled its ambassador to Turkey on Saturday after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said his counterpart Emmanuel Macron, who this month declared war on "Islamist separatism", needed mental help over his attitude towards Muslims.

  • 25 octobre 2020 à 23:13
À partir d’avant-hierMiddle East Eye

Israel accepts US sale of F-35 warplanes to Qatar could happen

Par MEE and agencies
Israel accepts US sale of F-35 warplanes to Qatar could happen
Speculation in Israeli media that Trump administration will hold out sale of stealth fighter as inducement for Qatar to normalise ties with Israel
MEE and agencies Sun, 10/25/2020 - 16:04
An F-35 fighter jet. 'I have no doubt that if they [Qatar] want it and are willing to pay, sooner or later they will get it,' said Israel's Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz (Reuters)

An Israeli cabinet minister said on Sunday that a US sale of advanced F-35 warplanes to Qatar could be possible, despite Israel's objections to such a deal given the Gulf state's links to Iran and the Palestinian Hamas group.

"I have no doubt that if they [Qatar] want it and are willing to pay, sooner or later they will get it," Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet, told Ynet TV.

"This is a supposition that we must take into account," he said, arguing that the US administration "ultimately looks out for American interests," especially in the face of rival stealth jets on offer from Russia and China.

Israel will oppose Qatar F-35 warplane sale to ensure 'military superiority'
Read More »

Reuters reported on 7 October that Qatar had submitted a formal request to buy the F-35, a plane built by US aerospace firm Lockheed Martin, which had so far been supplied only to Israel in the region.

Israel, with which Washington consults on such sales, said it would be opposed.

Emphasising that this position would not change, a spokesman for Steinitz said in a follow-up statement that should such a sale go ahead, Israel would demand "appropriate compensation" - an apparent reference to US defence assistance.

US officials have been open to selling the F-35 to the United Arab Emirates, after it and Bahrain normalised relations with Israel on 15 September as part of the US-brokered agreement known as the Abraham Accords. But Washington has been tight-lipped on Qatar's bid to buy the jet.

The US and Qatar have close ties. In September, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani in Washington, indicating that the US may be moving forward with naming Qatar as a major non-Nato ally.

The US has helped to arm regional allies, including Qatar, host to the largest American military facility in the Middle East, in the hopes of countering Iranian influence.

Saudi Arabia, Washington's most powerful and closest partner among the Gulf Arab states, is also likely to oppose the US supplying F-35s to Qatar. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt remain locked in a three-year blockade of Qatar that US President Donald Trump's administration has tried to end, without success.

'Matter of law, not a matter of policy'

Successive US administrations have sought to preserve Israeli military superiority in the region.

Qatar makes formal request to US for F-35 jets: Report
Read More »

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post in September, the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, had said that ensuring Israel's military advantage in the region was a "matter of law, not a matter of policy".

"It has been US law since 2008, and US policy a lot longer than that," he said. "Israel has dealt with the QME [qualitative military edge] behind the scenes professionally and successfully for more than a decade; it is going to continue to work this way."

Steinitz noted, however, that there had been past US sales of advanced aircraft to Arab countries over Israeli objections.

Israel initially voiced misgivings about the UAE getting F-35s. The Netanyahu government dropped these on Friday after Defence Minister Benny Gantz returned from Washington with new US security guarantees for Israel.

There has been speculation in Israeli media that the Trump administration could hold out the F-35 as an inducement for Qatar to normalise ties with Israel.

Qatar has ruled out such a diplomatic move without a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  • 25 octobre 2020 à 17:04

Turkey extends seismic survey work in disputed Eastern Mediterranean waters

Par MEE and agencies
Turkey extends seismic survey work in disputed Eastern Mediterranean waters
Greece condemns move as 'illegal,' says Turkey stoking regional tensions by behaving like 'a pariah'
MEE and agencies Sun, 10/25/2020 - 14:17
Turkish survey ship the Oruc Reis. Turkey and Greece are locked in a dispute over conflicting claims to hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean (Reuters)

Turkey announced on Saturday evening that it would be extending until November the seismic survey work of its ship the Oruc Reis in a disputed area of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Greece responded on Sunday by vowing to lodge a complaint over what it called an "illegal move".

US slams Turkey over renewed seismic surveys in Eastern Mediterranean
Read More »

Turkey and Greece, both members of Nato, are locked in a dispute over the extent of their continental shelves and conflicting claims to hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The row first erupted in August, when Turkey sent the Oruc Reis into waters also claimed by Greece and Cyprus, both European Union member states.

According to a Turkish naval maritime notice issued late on Saturday, the Oruc Reis, along with two other ships, the Ataman and the Cengiz Han, would continue work in a location south of the Greek island of Rhodes until 4 November. A previous notice had scheduled survey work in the area until 27 October.

The Greek foreign ministry said it would file a complaint with Ankara, following the new advisory, which Athens said concerned an area within the Greek continental shelf.

It added that the extension of the Oruc Reis's survey was an "illegal move" at odds with efforts to ease tensions and with the recent conclusions of the council of EU heads of government.

Turkey behaving 'like a pariah'

"Greece blatantly condemns this unacceptable behaviour, which is essentially moving even further away from the prospect of a constructive dialogue," the ministry said in a statement, calling for the advisory to be revoked immediately.

Turkey and Greece agree to call off war games: Nato chief
Read More »

It said Turkey was behaving "like a pariah," seeking to destabilise the region, stoke tensions and defy international law.

Ankara withdrew the Oruc Reis last month to allow for diplomacy before an EU summit, at which Cyprus sought sanctions against Turkey. It was sent back this month, prompting an angry reaction from Greece, France and Germany.

After the summit, the EU said it would punish Turkey if it continued its operations in the region, a message Ankara said further strained Turkey-EU relations.

On 13 October, the United States had said it "deplores" Turkey's decision to renew geological survey activity in the disputed area.

In a statement, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus called the move a "calculated provocation" set to inflame tensions within Nato. 

"Turkey's announcement unilaterally raises tensions in the region and deliberately complicates the resumption of crucial exploratory talks between our Nato allies Greece and Turkey," Ortagus said. "Unilateral actions cannot build trust and will not produce enduring solutions."

'Unilateral actions cannot build trust and will not produce enduring solutions'

- Morgan Ortagus, US State Department

Last Friday, Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced that Greece and Turkey had agreed to cancel military exercises scheduled for this week, in a sign many saw as an indication of easing tensions between the two historic rivals.

"Both Greece and Turkey have decided to cancel military exercises which were planned for next week," Stoltenberg told reporters after chairing a virtual meeting of Nato defence ministers, where the two countries made the announcement.

"These are steps in the right direction. They help to reduce the risks of incidents and accidents."

Earlier this month, Turkey's foreign ministry accused Greece of planning military manoeuvres in the Aegean Sea to coincide with Turkey's 29 October national day celebrations. Turkey retaliated by declaring exercises on 28 October - a Greek national holiday.

Turkey has insisted that its seismic survey operations were within its continental shelf.

  • 25 octobre 2020 à 15:17

Family of Palestinian teen accuses Israeli soldiers of beating him to death

Par Akram Al-Waara
Family of Palestinian teen accuses Israeli soldiers of beating him to death
Amer Snobar died on Sunday from blunt-force trauma to the neck, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said
Akram Al-Waara Sun, 10/25/2020 - 14:07
Amer Snobar, 18, from the Nablus-area village of Yatma, was reported dead early Sunday morning (Supplied)

The death of a Palestinian teenager early on Sunday morning, allegedly at the hands of Israeli special forces, is sparking outrage and raising questions across the occupied West Bank, as the family of the teen searches for answers. 

Amer Snobar, 18, from the Nablus-area village of Yatma, was reported dead early on Sunday morning, with the cause of death allegedly from blunt-force trauma to the neck, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said. 

Abdelrahim Snobar, Amer's father, told Middle East Eye that he was awoken by a phone call around 1am from Palestinian security officers in the village of Turmus Ayya, about 15km south of Snobar's home in Yatma, telling him that Israeli soldiers had caught his son and were "beating him".

'They beat him to death and didn't let anyone treat him. Why would anyone do that to a young boy, to a child?'

- Amer Snobar's father

"We rushed out of the house and went to Turmus Ayya in a frenzy, not knowing what was even going on, or why Israeli soldiers were attacking my son," Abdelrahim told MEE. 

When he arrived at the entrance of Turmus Ayya with some relatives, Abdelrahim said, they were stopped by armed Israeli soldiers, who refused to let them reach his son's car, just a few hundred meters away. 

"They held us up at gunpoint and didn't let us pass, no matter how hard we pleaded with them," he said, adding that, as far as he could see, none of the Israeli soldiers were providing medical care to his son. 

"After a while, we saw Palestinian ambulances come and load my son into the ambulance," Abdelrahim said, adding that he was told by the Palestinian medics to follow them to the nearby city of Ramallah. 

SOnbar's car
Amer Snobar's car still parked after the main entrance to the village of Turmus Ayya, 25 October 2020 (Akram al-Waara/MEE)

But by the time the medics arrived at the hospital in Ramallah, Amer was dead. 

"The medics told us that when they arrived the soldiers didn't let them approach my son immediately," Abdelrahim said. "It's like they were waiting for him to die, before letting anyone touch him and try to resuscitate him.

"They beat him to death and didn't let anyone treat him. Why would anyone do that to a young boy, to a child? He's still a child."

Two different stories

The circumstances surrounding Amer's death, even into the late hours of Sunday afternoon, were still fuzzy.

Local Palestinian media, along with Amer's family, claim that Amer and a friend of his were out collecting tin cans and other metal items to sell to local blacksmiths, a job that Amer had been doing for a while after leaving high school. 

It was not unusual, the family said, for him to be out and about in surrounding villages late into the night, so when he wasn't home after midnight his family was not too concerned. 

The only eyewitness to what happened, aside from the Israeli soldiers in question, was Amer's friend, who was in the car with him. 

According to Abdelrahim, the second young man reportedly fled the scene when the Israeli soldiers stopped the boys' car and reported the incident to Palestinian security in the area, who then informed him of the circumstances. 

"The boys were driving an unregistered car, and were chased into Turmus Ayya by Israeli soldiers," Abdelrahim said, recounting the story as it was told to him by his sons" friend, adding that the soldiers in question were reportedly from the Israeli Yamama, a special forces unit of the Israeli border police. 

Abdelrahim, along with local media, reported that an Israeli jeep had been tailing the boys' car for a number of minutes before following them into Turmus Ayya, stopping their car, and beating Amer. 

The Palestinian health ministry, along with officials from Ramallah's Palestine Medical Complex to where Amer was evacuated, reported that he had been beaten to death, citing clear signs of physical trauma to his body consistent with being hit by large blunt objects, like the butt of a rifle. 

The Israeli army, however, relayed a completely different story, saying that Amer tripped and "fell and hit his head" during a foot chase, causing his death, Haaretz reported. 

Rabiha Sonbar
“His mom can’t speak or walk, she can’t believe what is happening,” Rabiha Snobar, Amer’s aunt, said outside the family home on 25 October, 2020 (Akram al-Waara/MEE)

"An Israeli army statement said forces were called to the area after reports of stone-throwing at a civilian car," Haaretz reported, adding that the calls to the area were made by Israeli settlers, who reside in the West Bank illegally. 

"The soldiers identified two suspects and during a foot chase one of the suspects lost consciousness, fell and hit his head," Haaretz said. . 

Further denying their role in Amer's death, the army statement went on to say that the soldiers provided first aid to Amer, a claim that directly conflicts with the eyewitness accounts of Palestinian medics and Amer's family members who were at the scene. 

"This is unbelievable. They murdered him. They beat him to death and refused to give him aid," Abdelrahim said to MEE, adding that he saw his son's body before he was taken in for an autopsy. 

"There were bruises and marks all over his body - on his chest, his neck, his face and head, everywhere. If that's not proof of what they did, I don't know what is," he said. 

"The Israelis aren't giving real answers about what happened," he said. "But even if Amer was doing something wrong, there was no reason to kill him in cold blood."

'This is like a bad dream'

As Amer's family still struggled to piece together the events that lead to their son’s death early Sunday, mourners from around the village of Yatma made their way to the Snobar family home on the edge of the village. 

"His mom is beside herself. She can't speak or walk. She can't believe what is happening," Rabiha Snobar, Amer's aunt told MEE outside the family’s home. 

“She keeps crying and calling for her son, telling him to come home to her, it’s such a devastating sight to see,” Rabiha said. 

No one in the family or in the village can really believe what is happening, she said. "It really feels like a bad dream, and we just want to wake up from it."

A group of Amer's cousins, teenagers around his age, surrounded Amer's 14-year-old brother as he wiped tears from his eyes, crying: "He was my brother, my friend."

"My cousin was the oldest of two sons in his family, and was loved so much by everyone," Juma'a Abu Aliya told MEE. "He wasn't in school, but he worked hard to help his family and to make a life for himself. We can't believe he's gone.

"The Israelis are murderers and killers," Aby Aliya continued. "The way they killed Amer was terrible. Just imagine, being attacked and beaten by soldiers until you die. It's indescribable.

"We as Palestinians don't have any rights, and can't defend ourselves. And on top of that, the Israeli soldiers are never held accountable for their actions, so they do whatever they want. The only one who will judge them is God, but for us, there is no justice here on earth."

Both Amer's aunt and cousin echoed the sentiments of Abdelrahim, as they puzzled over why, under any circumstances, Amer ended up dead. 

"Even if he did something bad, they should have arrested him. Why did they kill him and then deny him care?" Abu Aliya asked. 

Rabia, Amer's aunt asked, as she wiped tears from her face: "We don't know the reason why he was killed, but there is no excuse to kill a young boy like that and beat him to death. What could he have possibly been doing to justify that?

"The way they killed him was so aggressive. It's like an animal, to attack a kid like this, in this way. The people who did this to him are not human, they have no soul or feelings in their hearts."

Occupied West Bank
  • 25 octobre 2020 à 15:07

Senior Labour frontbencher given 'dressing down' over criticism of Israel

Par MEE and agencies
Senior Labour frontbencher given 'dressing down' over criticism of Israel
Labour leader Keir Starmer reportedly angry with pro-Palestinian MP Stephen Kinnock for saying UK should ban products from illegal Israeli settlements
MEE and agencies Sun, 10/25/2020 - 11:28
Keir Starmer has won praise from some UK Jewish groups since he became Labour party leader in April 2020 (AFP)

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer has been embroiled in a new row over his party's position on Israel, after it emerged that one of his senior colleagues used a Commons debate on Palestine and the West Bank to accuse Israel of behaviour "tantamount to profiting from the proceeds of crime".

'The wrong sort of Jew': How Labour pursued complaints against elderly Jewish opponents of Israel
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According to the UK's MailOnline newspaper, Stephen Kinnock, a member of Starmer's frontbench foreign affairs team, made remarks on Israel during the debate in September, which included calling on the UK to "ban all products that originate from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories".

Allies of Kinnock, former chairman of the British-Palestine all-party parliamentary group, stressed that the MP had made it very clear that his anger at the treatment of people in the Occupied Territories was not "about being pro-Israel or pro-Palestine - this is about striving for peace, justice and security for all".

The row comes on the eve of the publication of a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into how the Labour party dealt with accusations of antisemitism under Starmer's predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn.

During Corbyn's time as Labour leader, the party had been accused by many, but not all, Jewish groups of failing to tackle what they said were clear cases of antisemitism among its membership and of lacking a transparent and effective disciplinary process.

'A dressing down'

Jewish groups had also accused the party under Corbyn of repeatedly singling out Israel for criticism while failing to condemn the behaviour of countries such as China or Iran.

Upon taking office in April this year, Starmer won praise from the Jewish community for saying that he would "tear out this poison [of antisemitism] by its roots".

Keir Starmer's 'antisemitism' sacking is a signal that Israel is safe in his hands
Read More »

The latest row came to light after a meeting last week between Labour's Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy - Kinnock's boss - the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council.

According to a source quoted by MailOnline, Nandy told the Jewish leaders that Kinnock, a consistent and long-standing critic of Israel's policy towards the Palestinians, had been given a "dressing down" for his remarks made during the Commons debate.

"Lisa made no secret of the fact she and the leader were angry with Kinnock," the source is quoted as saying. "Especially after all the work that has been done to try and restore Labour's relationship with the Jewish community."

In June, Nandy had said that the UK should ban the import of goods from illegal settlements in the West Bank if the Israeli government pressed ahead with its plans for the unilateral annexation of the occupied territories.

The move would be a “major step” and require “courage that so far ministers have not been willing to show”, she'd told the UK's Observer newspaper. But “such a blatant breach of international law must have consequences”.

“The proposal to unilaterally annex nearly a third of the West Bank is an illegal act which will undermine the prospect of a peaceful two-state solution for Israel and Palestine," she'd continued, "and has serious implications for the stability of the Middle East."

Allies of Kinnock pointed out that he had secured the Commons debate long before he had been appointed to Starmer's front benches.

According to MailOnline, the Labour party declined to comment on the story.

  • 25 octobre 2020 à 12:28

Top al-Qaeda militant killed in Afghanistan

Par MEE and agencies
Top al-Qaeda militant killed in Afghanistan
Egyptian national Abu Muhsin al-Masri targeted by Afghan security forces, as Kabul accuses Taliban of still maintaining close ties with group
MEE and agencies Sun, 10/25/2020 - 09:30
Afghan soldiers on patrol outside the US military base in Bagram, 50km north of Kabul (AFP)

Afghan forces have killed a top al-Qaeda operative wanted by the United States, as Kabul on Sunday accused the Taliban of still maintaining close ties with the militant group.

Abu Muhsin al-Masri, an Egyptian national believed to be the group's second-in-command in the Indian sub-continent, was targeted in eastern Ghazni province, Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security said in a statement. It did not provide further details about the operation or when it was carried out.

Afghanistan: The never-ending war that still haunts the Arab world 
Read More »

Masri's killing was an indication of the relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, Afghanistan's Interior Minister Massoud Andarabi claimed on Sunday, without providing details.

"The killing of one of the key al-Qaeda members, al-Masri, by the National Directorate of Security demonstrates close ties of the Taliban with the terrorist groups that are operating against the Afghan government and its people," he tweeted.

"They still keep close relations with the terrorist groups, and they are lying to different sides."

Masri, who also went by the name Husam Abd-al-Ra'uf, was on the FBI's most wanted terrorists list.

A source at the Afghan intelligence agency, who did not want to be named, said that an aide to Masri, who was "in contact with the Taliban," had also been detained during the operation. 

'Diminishing effectiveness'

A US warrant for Masri's arrest was issued in December 2018, after he had been charged with providing support and resources to a foreign terrorist organisation and plotting to kill US nationals, according to the FBI.

The head of the US National Counter-Terrorism Centre, Chris Miller, confirmed Masri's death in a statement, saying that his "removal from the battlefield is a major setback to a terrorist organisation that is consistently experiencing strategic losses facilitated by the United States and its partners".

'[Masri's] removal from the battlefield is a major setback to a terrorist organisation that is consistently experiencing strategic losses'

- Chris Miller, US National Counter-Terrorism Centre

Al-Qaeda's loss of Masri, Miller continued, "highlights the diminishing effectiveness of the terrorist organisation".

The Taliban government's sheltering of al-Qaeda was the original motivation for the US invasion of Afghanistan after the 11 September 2001 attacks.

In a landmark deal between the US and the Taliban in February, the Taliban agreed not to allow Afghan soil to be used by foreign extremists, including al-Qaeda, in return for Washington withdrawing its troops.

That deal is set to see foreign forces leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counter-terrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula with the Afghan government.

Last week, US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said that the Taliban had agreed to "reset" their commitments under a troop withdrawal deal and reduce the number of casualties in the country.  

Kabul bomb death toll rises

On Sunday the death toll from a bomb blast claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group at a higher education centre in Kabul rose to 24, most of them students. 

Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said another 57 people had been wounded in Saturday's attack at the centre in a western district of the capital.

Students were seen on Sunday morning salvaging books from nearby accommodation, also damaged in the blast

Residents in several districts of western Kabul belong to the minority Shia Hazara community and are often targeted by Sunni IS extremists.

Meanwhile, peace talks continued in Doha, Qatar between the Taliban and the Afghan government in a bid to end the country's long-running war.

  • 25 octobre 2020 à 10:30

'Enough is enough': Iranians frustrated over police drive to enforce hijab-wearing in cars

Par Rohollah Faghihi
'Enough is enough': Iranians frustrated over police drive to enforce hijab-wearing in cars
Morality police have been summoning motorists for not wearing the hijab, causing outrage among people going through a devastating economic crisis
Rohollah Faghihi Fri, 10/23/2020 - 12:50
Iranians sitting in their vehicles attend a drive-in religious ceremony
Iranians attending a drive-in religious ceremony during the holy month of Ramadan amid the coronavirus pandemic, on 30 April 2020 at a parking lot in Tehran (AFP)

Iranian motorists are increasingly being summoned to the offices of the morality police, known as the Hijab Watch, for violating the law that requires women to wear a veil in public. 

The growing trend is also targeting Iranian men who have been seen driving with female passengers not wearing the hijab, or who had their cars used by unveiled female relatives, as the men of the family are also expected to help enforce the law.

From East to West, war on the hijab reveals gendered Islamophobia
Read More »

The initiative has seen mounting frustration among Iranians already under pressure from a crippling economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. It has also been criticised for making mistakes and wasting people's time.

After receiving a text message, the driver or owner of the vehicle has 10 days in which to report to the morality police, and sign a letter committing not to violate hijab rules again. If the driver ignores the text, his or her car can be impounded. Similarly, if those who sign the letter are spotted breaking their commitment, their cars can also be impounded.

Hijab Watch is operated by Iran's police force, whose chief is appointed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 

The car: A private or public space?

While the police force strongly argues the inside a car is not considered "private," and disregarding hijab rules while travelling therefore constitutes a crime, clerics are in disagreement over the issue. 

Mohsen Gharavian, a prominent cleric, said in an interview that, based on the opinions of Islamic scholars, a car is private property - meaning that what happens inside the car is the owner's business and no one else's.

In a separate interview, he argued that the Islamic Republic would not reach any positive outcome by putting more pressure on women. 

However, Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, a former MP and another influential cleric, told Middle East Eye that, in terms of privacy, vehicles were not on the same footing as homes, where residents cannot be seen.

Iranian women
Iranian women wearing face masks in Iran's capital, Tehran, on 19 October 2020 (AFP)

"Therefore, the inside of the car is not considered private, as everyone can see what you are doing, what your outfit is and whether you have observed the hijab or not," he said. 

"While many are able to see you inside the car, if you commit any wrongdoing, that would be seen as promoting immorality and violating the law. 

"Do you know why the liquor stores are closed in Iran? Because they can also promote immorality." 

Faulty system

The police force has yet to be fully successful in implementing its plan, with many surprised to have received summons, as it was not clear how they could have violated the rules. 

'I was surprised, as they have probably confused me with a woman, which is totally ridiculous'

- Ahmad Alimardani

Upon receiving a text from the morality police, cleric Morteza Rohani wrote sarcastically on his Twitter account: "I didn't know that removing the turban is [equivalent to not wearing hijab]." 

Ahmad Alimardani, meanwhile, said he was likely mistaken for a woman because of his long hair.

"I have neither a wife nor a girlfriend, but I do have long hair. That's why when I recently received an SMS from the police, I was surprised, as they have probably confused me with a woman, which is totally ridiculous," he told MEE.

Other people complained they had been accused of violating the rules even at a time when they were either abroad or at home.

Hoda Dolatshahi, who studies in Italy, said that, upon her arrival to Tehran some time after the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, she received a warning from the police, which she found puzzling seeing that her car had been parked at her mother's house for months.

Arian Ehteshami, a school teacher, told MEE that his wife had not moved her car once in the past three months, but she had still received the "silly text message". 

In reaction to the criticism, Tehran police chief Hossein Rahimi said their initiative was being enforced all across the country and a small number of mistakes was inevitable.

Summoned amid a pandemic

Middle East Eye interviewed people who had been frustrated by their visit to the morality police office.

Farhad Nikpour said people were angry they had to appear for something unimportant:

"I asked the officer if he had any proof that I violated the rule, he replied 'no,' and said 'if you have an objection you should go to the judiciary to file a lawsuit'.

"I, therefore, preferred to sign the commitment letter and get out of there." 

Mojgan Saeedi does not wear the hijab and says she does not believe in the rule. But when she went to the police office, in the middle of the pandemic, she had to wait in a long line to sign the commitment letter. A line, she said, that would endanger the lives of people in a country already suffering from the highest rate of coronavirus infection in the region - with more than 556,890 cases and more than 31,980 deaths.  

In addition to signing the letter, those deemed in violation of the rule must attend a one-off class, held by the police, on the values and importance of hijab, said Farnaz Ziaee, an accountant who uses her car to commute to work.

Facial recognition system

Tehran's police chief said in July that a large number of police patrols had been tasked with monitoring and identifying drivers flouting the hijab rule, noting the time and place and information about the car, such as brand and licence plate.

"[They then] submit the information, along with their names and details, to the [morality police] centre. The necessary action would then be immediately taken and the car owner sent a text message," he said.

Iran presidential election: Reformists face an uphill battle
Read More »

The social deputy of Iran's police force also announced that "technological tools, traffic and law enforcement cameras" will be used to crackdown on those who don't wear their hijab "properly". 

While introducing a new coronavirus policy that would fine people for not wearing masks, deputy health minister Alireza Raisi added that the facial recognition system used by the police for its Hijab Watch scheme would also be employed for monitoring the latest mask-wearing policy. 

"Since all information on people is available [in the system], they will be fined," he said.    

However, two weeks later, a conservative Iranian MP, Mahmoud Ahmadi Bighash, said the police did not use a facial recognition system. 

Enough is enough

As the United States applies its "maximum pressure" policy on Iran with wide-ranging economic sanctions, hurting ordinary Iranians, hardliners in Tehran are also tightening the screws on citizens by cracking down on social freedoms. 

Some Iranians feel state authorities are making a mistake by adding more psychological pressure, suggested even it might push them to the brink of revolt, thus playing into the hands of the US administration.

"Are they out of their mind?" asked Maneli Jamshidi, a student of political science who asked MEE to use a false name for safety reasons. 

"[President Donald] Trump is evidently striving to overthrow the Islamic Republic and has resorted to the cruellest tools to push people to the streets... These stupid actions would push people to riot, for they are exhausted - enough is enough."

  • 23 octobre 2020 à 13:50

France recalls ambassador from Turkey after Erdogan jibe at Macron

Par MEE and agencies
France recalls ambassador from Turkey after Erdogan jibe at Macron
Turkey's leader said French president 'needs mental treatment' after comments on Islam
MEE and agencies Sat, 10/24/2020 - 21:24
The two Nato allies find themselves at loggerheads over a range of issues, including Syria and Libya (AFP)

France on Saturday said it was recalling its ambassador to Turkey for consultations after comments by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggesting his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, needed a mental health check-up, which Paris condemned as unacceptable.

France and its Nato ally are at loggerheads over a range of issues, including maritime rights in the eastern Mediterranean, Libya, Syria and the escalating conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.

But Ankara has now been particularly incensed by a campaign championed by Macron to protect France's secular values against radical Islam, a debate given new impetus by the murder this month of a teacher who showed his class a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

'Dictatorial': Turkey slams Macron's new Islamic separatism law
Read More »

"What can one say about a head of state who treats millions of members from different faith groups this way: first of all, have mental checks," Erdogan said in a televised address in the central Anatolian city of Kayseri.

"What's the problem of the individual called Macron with Islam and with the Muslims?" Erdogan asked. 

"Macron needs mental treatment," Erdogan added, while indicating he did not expect the French leader to win a new mandate in 2022 elections.

'No condolences' 

In a highly unusual move, a French presidential official said that the French ambassador to Turkey was being recalled from Ankara for consultations and would meet Macron to discuss the situation in the wake of Erdogan's outburst.

"President Erdogan's comments are unacceptable. Excess and rudeness are not a method. We demand that Erdogan change the course of his policy because it is dangerous in every respect," the official told AFP.

The Elysee official, who asked not to be named, also said that France had noted "the absence of messages of condolence and support" from the Turkish president after the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty outside Paris.

The official also expressed concern over calls by Ankara for a boycott of French goods.

Macron this month described Islam as a religion "in crisis" worldwide and said the government would present a bill in December to strengthen a 1905 law that officially separated church and state in France.

He announced stricter oversight of schooling and better control over foreign funding of mosques.

But the debate over the role of Islam in France has hit a new intensity after the beheading of Paty, which prosecutors say was carried out by an 18-year-old Chechen who had had contact with a jihadist in Syria.

Turkey is a majority Muslim but secular country which is a part of Nato but not the EU, where its membership bid has stalled for decades over a range of disputes.

"You are constantly picking on Erdogan. This will not earn you anything," said the Turkish leader.

"There will be elections [in France]... We will see your [Macron's] fate. I don't think he has a long way to go. Why? He has not achieved anything for France, and he should do for himself."

'Behind the disasters' 

The other new rift between the two leaders is over Nagorno-Karabakh - a majority ethnic Armenian breakaway region inside Azerbaijan, which declared independence as the USSR fell, sparking a war in the early 1990s that claimed 30,000 lives.

Turkey is strongly backing Azerbaijan in the most recent outbreak of fighting there, but has denied allegations by Macron that Ankara has sent hundreds of Syrian militia fighters to help Azerbaijan.

France-Turkey feud: 'French anger is all about losing influence'
Read More »

Erdogan on Saturday accused France - which along with Russia and the United States co-chairs the Minsk Group tasked with resolving the conflict - of "being behind the disasters and the occupations in Azerbaijan".

He also repeated previous claims that France, which has a strong Armenian community, is arming Yerevan. "You think you will restore peace with the arms you are sending to Armenians. You cannot because you are not honest."

But the Elysee official said that Erdogan had two months to reply to the demands for a change in stance and that it ends its "dangerous adventures" in the eastern Mediterranean and "irresponsible conduct" over Karabakh.

"Measures need to be taken by the end of the year," said the official.

  • 24 octobre 2020 à 22:24

Coronavirus: Algeria president to be quarantined after staff test positive

Par MEE staff
Coronavirus: Algeria president to be quarantined after staff test positive
Doctors advise 74-year-old Abdelmadjid Tebboune to start five-day quarantine as a precautionary measure, his office said on Saturday
MEE staff Sat, 10/24/2020 - 13:49
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune (AFP)

Algeria's President Abdelmadjid Tebboune will start a five-day quarantine from Saturday after senior staff tested positive for the highly-infectious coronavirus, according to a statement by his office.

"It has been revealed that several senior officials at the presidency and the prime ministry have showed symptoms of the coronavirus," the president's office said in a statement on Facebook.

"The presidency's medical team has therefore advised the President of the Republic to begin a voluntary five-day quarantine from 24 October 2020," it added.

Algeria has so far reported 55,630 cases of Covid-19 infections and 1,897 deaths. 

Tebboune was elected president in December 2019, with 58 percent of the vote. 

The election was marred by attacks on polling stations and the lowest turnout in the country's history.

The vote was championed by the army as a way of restoring stability almost 10 months into a protest movement that forced the removal of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 82, after two decades in office.

Protesters slammed the election as a charade to keep the ruling elite in power, with all five of the candidates widely rejected as "children of the regime".

  • 24 octobre 2020 à 14:49

Israel normalisation deal finds fury and favour in Sudan

Par Mohammed Amin
Israel normalisation deal finds fury and favour in Sudan
Critics say US-backed deal 'humiliating', 'shameful' for Sudan; supporters welcome country's return to international fold
Mohammed Amin Sat, 10/24/2020 - 11:14
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. Sudan normalised relations with Israel on Friday (AFP)

Sudan on Friday become the third Arab country to normalise ties with Israel this year, following in the footsteps of its Gulf allies the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and creating huge splits among Sudan's political class and its people.

Sudan agrees to normalise relations with Israel, Trump announces
Read More »

Announcement of the normalisation came after Washington had removed Khartoum from the State Department's State Sponsors of Terrorism (SST) list, imposed under the rule of the deposed president Omar Al-Bashir.

The agreement had been sealed in a phone call between US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and the chairman of Sudan's transitional Sovereignty Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, senior US officials said.

It had been speculated that Sudan could make a deal with Israel in exchange for removal from the US terror designation and the major boost for the struggling Sudanese economy from US financial aid that would follow. However, Trump on Monday had said that Khartoum's removal would take place in exchange for a $335m payment to "US terror victims and families".

In a post to Twitter, the Sovereignty Council said the SST delisting marked "a historic day for Sudan and its glorious revolution". It did not immediately comment on its diplomatic agreement with Israel. 

Netanyahu welcomed the agreement with Sudan and what he called a rapidly expanding "circle of peace" and the start of a "new era".

Anger on the streets

On the streets of Khartoum, reactions were not quite as positive. 

Nazar Ahmed, 23, a member of the revolutionary committee in the city's Elgiraif district, told Middle East Eye that the conditions laid down by the US were "humiliating to the Sudanese revolutionists and the acceptance of Sudan's government was shameful".

'[The deal is] humiliating to the Sudanese revolutionists and the acceptance of Sudan's government was shameful'

- Nazar Ahmed, activist

Meanwhile, Hiba Osman, 21, from Khartoum, told MEE: "We have to look to the countries that normalised its ties with Israel and what benefits they got. Normalisation with Israel is a big illusion sold by Trump to our government."

Speaking in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, Palestine Liberation Organisation official Wasel Abu Youssef said that the decision "will not shake the Palestinians' faith in their cause and in continuing their struggle".

"Sudan's joining others who normalised ties with the state of the Israeli occupation represents a new stab in the back of the Palestinian people and a betrayal of the just Palestinian cause," he said.

Khartoum, meanwhile, insisted that the deal was still provisional and needed the approval of the country's transitional parliament, led by Burhan.

Incentives for Sudan

According to a joint statement issued after a conference call between Trump, Netanyahu, Hamdok and Burhan, Israel and Sudan would focus on trade relations, led by the agricultural sector.

How Trump's tweet signalled $335m Sudan payment to end decades of sanctions
Read More »

"The leaders agreed to the normalisation of relations between Sudan and Israel and to end the state of belligerence between their nations," the statement read.

"The leaders agreed to begin economic and trade relations, with an initial focus on agriculture. The leaders also agreed that delegations would meet in the coming weeks to negotiate agreements of cooperation in those areas as well as in agriculture technology, aviation, migration issues and other areas for the benefit of the two peoples."

The statement also outlined other incentives that had been offered to Khartoum in order to encourage it to sign the deal, with a report disclosing that Washington would pay $750m to Sudan to help salvage its collapsed economy and that aid packages would be provided for two years, including fuel, wheat and medicines.

"The United States will take steps to restore Sudan's sovereign immunity and to engage its international partners to reduce Sudan's debt burdens... The United States and Israel also commit to working with their partners to support the people of Sudan in strengthening their democracy, improving food security, countering terrorism and extremism and tapping into their economic potential."

The normalisation agreement sparked fury on social media in Sudan.

Israel-Sudan normalisation: How the world reacted
Read More »

Omar Sidahmad, a Sudanese activist, said the deal would strengthen the military's role in politics.

"This is not normalisation, but rather an increase in the military junta's grip on executive power and a complete elimination of the civil state," he wrote on Facebook.

"Down with the occupation and those who normalise relations with the occupiers," Muzan Alneed, an activist, said

Mohamed Mahmoud, another activist, said the announcement of the deal with Israel was "tantamount to a declaration of war on the core value of all Sudanese revolutions, namely fighting the occupiers and invaders".

Politicians and academics split

Sudan's political parties and academics have been bitterly divided over the normalisation move.

The centre-left Sudanese Congress Party and the Sudanese National Alliance, together with the Sudan Liberation Movement rebel group, welcomed the deal. The moderate Islamic centrist National Umma Party (NUP) and the Sudanese Communist Party strongly rejected it.

'Unless the government revises its position of normalisation with Israel, we will withdraw our political support for it'

- Statement from the National Umma Party

The NUP, led by former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, threatened to stand against Hamdok's government, saying that "unless the government revises its position of normalisation with Israel, we will withdraw our political support for it".

Sudanese scholar Suliman Baldo supported the move, saying that the Sudanese people had a right to be welcomed back into the international community.

"They have been eagerly waiting for this moment following a peaceful mass movement that ousted the brutal Bashir regime," he said. 

"The Sudanese people... suffered from the deposed regime's violent extremist actions that landed their nation on the US terror list. A democratic Sudan could be a bulwark of international peace and security in the region."

Magdi el-Gizouli , an academic at the Rift Valley Institute, strongly denounced the move.

"Khartoum has given a free gift to Trump in his election race, and it is a setback from Sudan's historical position of the 'three noes' from [the Khartoum resolution of] 1967 ['no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it']," he said.

  • 24 octobre 2020 à 12:14

Renaissance Dam: Ethiopia summons US ambassador over Trump's 'incitement of war'

Par MEE and agencies
Renaissance Dam: Ethiopia summons US ambassador over Trump's 'incitement of war'
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed says his country 'will not cave in to aggressions of any kind'
MEE and agencies Sat, 10/24/2020 - 11:54
The Renaissance Dam in Guba, Ethiopia, is at the centre of a dispute between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over shares of the Nile water (AFP/file photo)

Ethiopia on Saturday summoned the US ambassador over what it called an "incitement of war" between Ethiopia and Egypt from President Donald Trump over his comment that Cairo could end up "blowing up" the Renaissance Dam.

Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Minister Gedu Andargachew summoned US Ambassador to Addis Ababa Mike Raynor to seek clarifications on the comments.

"The incitement of war between Ethiopia and Egypt from a sitting U.S. president neither reflects the longstanding partnership and strategic alliance between Ethiopia and the United States nor is acceptable in international law governing interstate relations," Gedu's ministry said in a statement.

Earlier on Saturday, Ethiopia's prime minister said that threats of any kind towards resolving the dispute with its neighbours over the filling and operation of the massive hydropower dam were "misguided, unproductive and clear violations of international law".

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's office made no mention of any person or any country in a statement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which is at the centre of a dispute over Nile water supplies.

But his comment came hours after Trump held a phone call with Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in which they called for an amicable solution between Ethiopia and Egypt.

In the call, held in front of reporters at the White House, Trump said he had also told Egypt the same thing, saying it was a dangerous situation and that Cairo could end up "blowing up that dam".

'These threats and affronts to Ethiopian sovereignty are misguided, unproductive, and clear violations of international law'

- Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed

Trump made the remarks as he announced a normalisation deal between US ally Israel and Sudan, which, like Egypt, fears that Ethiopia will use up scarce water resources.

"It's a very dangerous situation because Egypt is not going to be able to live that way," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office with leaders of Sudan and Israel on speakerphone.

"They'll end up blowing up the dam. And I said it and I say it loud and clear - they'll blow up that dam. And they have to do something," Trump said.

"They should have stopped it long before it started," Trump said, regretting that Egypt was in domestic tumult when the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project began in 2011.

'Belligerent threats'

Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt have been locked in a bitter dispute over the filling and operation of the GERD, which remains unresolved although the reservoir behind the dam began filling in July.

"Occasional statements of belligerent threats to have Ethiopia succumb to unfair terms still abound," Abiy's office said. "These threats and affronts to Ethiopian sovereignty are misguided, unproductive, and clear violations of international law."

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The first phase of filling the dam was completed in August, Abiy's office said.

Egypt says it is dependent on the Nile for more than 90 percent of its scarce fresh water supplies, and fears the dam could have a devastating effect on its economy.

Trump said on Friday he had brokered an agreement to resolve the issue but that Ethiopia had broken the pact, forcing him to cut funds.

Abiy's office said significant progress had been made in resolving the dispute since the African Union took over the negotiations.

"Ethiopia will not cave in to aggressions of any kind, nor do we give recognition to a right that is based on colonial treaties," it said.

  • 24 octobre 2020 à 12:54

Israel-Sudan normalisation: How the world reacted

Par MEE and agencies
Israel-Sudan normalisation: How the world reacted
While Palestinians categorically reject the deal, US allies welcome it as a boost to stability in the Middle East
MEE and agencies Sat, 10/24/2020 - 11:23
Sudan, technically at war with Israel since 1948, has become the fifth Arab country to forge diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv (AFP)

US President Donald Trump said on Friday that Sudan has agreed to normalise diplomatic ties with Israel, a move denounced by Palestinians as a "new stab in the back".

The move was announced on the heels of Washington's decision to remove Khartoum from the State Department's State Sponsors of Terrorism list. 

Sudan, technically at war with Israel since 1948, is now the fifth Arab country to forge diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv.

Israel signed US-brokered diplomatic agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain last month, breaking a longstanding consensus among Arab states that normalisation with Israel must be contingent on a resolution to the Israeli occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

It had been speculated that Sudan could make a deal with Israel in exchange for removal from the US terror designation, but on Monday, Trump said that Khartoum's removal would take place in exchange for a $335m payment to "US terror victims and families".

Below is a sample of international reaction to the Sudan-Israel deal:


Palestinian leaders strongly condemned the deal, echoing their rejection of Israel's normalisation accords with the UAE and Bahrain.  

"The State of Palestine expressed today its condemnation and rejection of the deal to normalise ties with the Israeli occupation country which usurps Palestinian land," the office of President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement.

"No one has the right to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian cause," it said.

Speaking in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on Friday, Palestine Liberation Organisation official Wasel Abu Youssef said the decision "will not shake the Palestinians' faith in their cause and in continuing their struggle".

"Sudan's joining others who normalised ties with the state of the Israeli occupation represents a new stab in the back of the Palestinian people and a betrayal of the just Palestinian cause," Abu Youssef said.

The Palestinian group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said the deal was a "political sin" that benefited only the Israeli premier.

The accord "harms our Palestinian people and their just cause, and even harms the Sudanese national interests," it said in a statement. 

"It benefits only [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu."


Iran, which has been a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and remains on the US blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism, said Sudan had paid a "shameful" price to be removed from the "phony" blacklist.

"Pay enough ransom, close your eyes on the crimes against Palestinians, then you'll be taken off the so-called 'terrorism' blacklist. Obviously the list is as phony as the US fight against terrorism. Shameful!" its foreign ministry said.

United States

"HUGE win today for the United States and for peace in the world," tweeted President Trump, who faces a 3 November election in which he is trailing in the polls. 

"Sudan has agreed to a peace and normalisation agreement with Israel! With the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, that's THREE Arab countries to have done so in only a matter of weeks. More will follow!"


Germany welcomed the deal as a boost to stability in the Middle East and paid tribute to the US role in brokering it.

"Following Israel's normalisation agreements with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, this is another important step towards greater stability and a more peaceful relationship between Israel and its Arab neighbours," the foreign ministry said.

"The US has played a crucial role in mediating these agreements, for which it deserves thanks and recognition."

The United Arab Emirates 

The United Arab Emirates, which signed a normalisation deal with Israel in September, welcomed Sudan's decision to establish relations too as "historic".

"Sudan's decision to initiate relations with the state of Israel is an important step to enhance security, and prosperity in the region," the official WAM news agency said, citing the foreign ministry. 

"This achievement aims to expand the scope of economic, trade, scientific and diplomatic cooperation."


Bahrain, which followed the UAE in striking a normalisation deal with Israel, hailed the agreement between Sudan and Israel.

It underlined the kingdom's support for Sudan's efforts "to exercise an active and constructive role in the international community," a foreign ministry statement said. 


Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a close US ally whose country in 1979 became the first Arab state to make peace with Israel, swiftly hailed the agreement. 

"I welcome the joint efforts by the United States of America, Sudan and Israel regarding the normalisation of relations between Sudan and Israel," Sisi said on Twitter. 

"I value all efforts aimed at achieving regional stability and peace." 

  • 24 octobre 2020 à 12:23

Palestine Cinema Days film festival kicks off despite cash, pandemic challenges

Par Shatha Hammad
Palestine Cinema Days film festival kicks off despite cash, pandemic challenges
Social distancing, international funding curbs on Palestinian cultural institutions fail to deter event's seventh edition
Shatha Hammad Sat, 10/24/2020 - 10:23
Seats sealed off in line with strict Covid-19 social-distancing measures at the Ramallah Cultural Palace on 20 October (MEE/Shatha Hammad)

In the main hall of the Ramallah Cultural Palace, the annual Palestine Cinema Days film festival got underway on 20 October under exceptional circumstances. 

More than half of the seats were sealed off with striped red-and-white tape in line with strict Covid-19 preventive measures to maintain social distancing and safety.

The challenges facing the festival’s seventh edition this year were twofold: the pandemic and recent international funding restrictions on Palestinian institutions, particularly cultural ones. Yet, the organisers of the festival, Ramallah-based Palestinian NGO Filmlab, managed to bring the event to fruition and executed it gracefully against all odds. 

'We made a decision that the festival should be held on schedule to be a message on the importance of culture, and the importance of our persistence to continue our life and work,'

- Hannah Atallah, artistic director

Silence fell among the crowd as the opening film began; it was the first screening in the entire Arab region of the Iranian film There is No Evil. Directed by Mohammad Rasoulof, the 2020 film won the Golden Bear award for Best Film at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival in spring this year.

In the hall that fits 750 people, about 200 individuals attended the opening ceremony in Ramallah.

According to festival spokeswoman Khulood Badawi, this year witnessed a sharp drop in attendance compared to last year’s ceremony, when some 1,000 people attended, forcing the management team to open an additional hall. 

The week-long event will consist of 30 film screenings taking place across a number of Palestinian cities including Gaza, Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Haifa. A diverse selection of local and international films are being shown, including from Afghanistan, Sudan, Lebanon, Italy, Syria and France. 

The Palestine Cinema Days festival, which ranges between six to 10 days, has been held annually in October since its launch in 2014, with the aim of placing Palestine on the global filmmaking industry map, as well as to promote local and international films to contribute to the revival of cinema culture in Palestine. 

The festival is also typically accompanied by panel discussions, filmmaking workshops, and networking opportunities with international filmmakers and producers.

Politically conditioned EU funding

Speaking to Middle East Eye, artistic director of the festival Hanna Atallah highlighted how carrying out the festival, regardless of the pandemic, was already challenging under the Israeli occupation, and with tightening of financial restrictions on Palestinian institutions imposed by foreign governments and international donors amid a bleak political future. 

"The spread of the coronavirus pandemic in Palestine constituted an additional challenge to the array of challenges that we face annually," said Atallah, explaining that a plan was tailored for each city, changing daily based on health and closure developments on the ground. 

The festival comes against the backdrop of insufficient funding, particularly after the European Union imposed conditional funding terms on Palestinian institutions, compelling local organisations to screen their own employees in order to ensure that no beneficiaries of their projects or programmes are affiliated with groups listed on the EU terror organisations list. 

The EU move and conditional funding clause were rejected by 135 Palestinian institutions, which sent a joint letter to Thomas Nicholson, chargé d'affairs of the EU. 

palestine days
The first day at the festival featured the first Arab screening of the Iranian film “There is No Evil” (MEE/Shatha Hammad)

"We made a decision that the festival should be held on schedule to be a message on the importance of culture, and the importance of our persistence to continue our life and work," said Atallah.

He said they adapted to the current dynamic circumstances and made do with what was available. They were able to secure alternative funding this year through local and international friends and supporters, as well as friendly local institutions, said Atallah. 

However, some compromises and components of the festival changed: it received no international guests, and two prizes from the Palestinian Sunbird award were cancelled. The number of films being shown was also reduced, as well as the number of staff. 

According to Badawi, the festival spokesperson, the number of films was halved this year, from 60 screened last year and 80 in the years prior to that.  

Cultural awareness

Palestinian film director and programmer of the festival Laila Abbas told MEE that, despite the limitations, the festival was able to follow through with its purpose: bringing a fine selection of artistic, independent international and local films to the Palestinian public, ones that might not be available to watch without a festival of this kind. 

"The films are diverse in their content, and we brought them from a number of different countries around the world,” said Abbas, explaining that they strive to create a connection between Palestinians and the outside world, and to create cultural awareness.  

'[The] challenges facing us, including scarcity of support, funding and difficult political conditions will not stop us as Palestinians'

- Laila Abbas, film director

She explained that the biggest question faced this year was deciding whether to hold the festival.  

"We felt that Palestinians are hungry for a cultural festival of this kind," she said, adding that the organisers wanted to "send a message that the challenges facing us, including scarcity of support, funding and difficult political conditions will not stop us as Palestinians".

Mohammad Arouri, a 19-year-old university student who attends the festival every year, said he was pleased with the manner in which it was executed this time. 

"I have a passion for watching films, especially those that are not subject to the typical commercial conditions. FilmLab was able to provide this space for us in Palestine by bringing films from all over the world," Arouri told MEE. 

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, he said, cultural spaces and events have taken a hit. "The festival restored this space, implemented preventive measures, and organised this important cultural activity.”

Ramallah, Occupied West Bank
  • 24 octobre 2020 à 11:23

Egyptians set to vote for parliament 'with no real authority'

Par MEE and agencies
Egyptians set to vote for parliament 'with no real authority'
Some 63 million voters are eligible to elect 568 of 596 members in the lower house, widely seen as rubber-stamp body
MEE and agencies Sat, 10/24/2020 - 09:45
A resident makes her vote a polling station in Agouza district in Giza, the twin-city of Egypt's capital, on 24 October, 2020 (AFP)

Voting for Egypt's lower house of parliament began on Saturday, with supporters of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi projected to win a majority amid a relentless crackdown on the opposition. 

Some 63 million voters out of Egypt's more than 100 million people are eligible to elect 568 of the 596 lawmakers in the lower house, widely seen as a rubber-stamp body for executive policies.

'Parliament has become an apparatus attached to the executive authority, with no real legislative authority'

- Hassan Nafaa

The remaining deputies will be appointed by former army general-turned-president Sisi, whose government has over the past six years silenced any serious political opposition to its rule.

"Parliament has become an apparatus attached to the executive authority, with no real legislative authority," said Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University.

"It has almost never questioned any of the government's policies or carried out any of the functions that parliaments normally do," he told AFP.

The elections will be held in two phases, with the first covering 14 provinces on Saturday and Sunday. The second, on 7-8 November, will cover 13 provinces, including the capital, Cairo.  

Giant billboards and banners have sprung up across Cairo and elsewhere, urging people to head to the polls, while some candidates have released online music video clips to draw support.

Many of the candidates also stood for election five years ago in a political landscape marked by the presence of dozens of parties with little weight and influence on the ground.

The outgoing parliament, elected in 2015, was packed with Sisi supporters and featured only a small opposition bloc known as 25/30.

The new parliament will be the second to convene under Sisi, who took office in 2014 after leading a military coup against democratically elected civilian president Mohamed Morsi.

Run-offs will be held in November, and final results are to be announced in December.

More than 4,000 candidates, believed to be mostly pro-government, are competing for 284 of the 568 seats reserved for individuals. Eight party lists are running for the remaining 284 seats.

The Nation's Future Party

Among the top contenders is a political coalition known as the Unified National List, led by the pro-government Mostakbal Watan, or Nation's Future Party. 

The party, which includes top businessmen and public figures, has grown since it was created in 2014 to become one of Egypt's dominant political forces. Nation's Future held 57 seats in the outgoing parliament.

More recently, in the newly recreated Senate, an advisory 300-member upper chamber with 200 elected members, Nation's Future won nearly 75 percent of contested seats in elections in August. Its leader, Abdelwahab Abdelrazek, was named the upper house's head last Sunday.

A new electoral law means 50 percent of 568 contested parliamentary seats, up from 20 percent, will be elected from closed party lists. If a list wins a majority, everyone on it is elected and no candidates from competing lists win seats.

Critics say the change further shrinks the space for political competition.

The goal is "to basically pretend that there is a political process surrounding Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, but what we really have is a one-man rule," said Hisham Kassem, a former newspaper publisher and political activist. "It wasn't even this bad with [former president Hosni] Mubarak or with [former president Gamal Abdel] Nasser."

The parliament vote is the second to be held since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has so far infected more than 105,000 people in Egypt and killed nearly 6,200.

The August Senate elections involved 200 being contested in low-key campaigns marked by low voter turnout of around 14 percent.

The reinstatement of the upper house, which had been abolished after the overthrow of Morsi, was among constitutional amendments that included potentially extending Sisi's rule until 2030.

Other changes were to boost the president's control over the judiciary and granting the army even greater influence in political life.

Sisi's government is accused of holding tens of thousands of political prisoners in notoriously overcrowded jails, including journalists, lawyers and intellectuals from across the political spectrum.

Protests have been effectively banned under a restrictive 2013 law, and a renewable state of emergency has been in place since 2017.

  • 24 octobre 2020 à 10:45

Despite deportations, Iraqi Christians in Michigan are backing Trump

Par Ali Harb
Despite deportations, Iraqi Christians in Michigan are backing Trump
Opposition to abortion and perception of advocacy for Christian 'religious freedom' drives Trump support in Chaldean community
Ali Harb Sat, 10/24/2020 - 00:04
Weam Namou, executive director of Chaldean Cultural Center, says community's story is one of survival (MEE/Ali Harb)

In spite of a deportation campaign that targeted Iraqi Christians during President Donald Trump's first term, ripping families apart and sparking outrage and confusion, the majority of Michigan's Chaldean community appears to be sticking by its support for the incumbent.

Chaldean activists cite Trump's opposition to abortion, lower taxes and embrace of "religious freedom" for Christians as the main drivers for his support among Chaldeans.

Sam Yono, a Chaldean community advocate, said the majority of Iraqi Christians are pro-Trump because of their "conservative values and family norms and morals". 

"This is a guy who has stood up for the faith - no matter what religion you belong to," Yono, a veteran activist who has served on multiple advocacy groups, told MEE.

The consistent support for Trump may have seemed unthinkable two years ago at the height of the deportation campaign.

The case of Jimmy Aldaoud

Last year, Jimmy Aldaoud, crouched on a sidewalk in front of a shuttered store in Baghdad, looked into the camera and complained that he had been deported from Michigan to a country he had never visited.

 "I don’t understand the language. I’m sleeping in the street," Aldaoud said, looking exhausted and disheveled in a video that was posted on social media. 

'Many people also support the president on the economy because the vast majority of Chaldeans are entrepreneurs'

- Martin Manna, Chaldean Chamber of Commerce

"I’m diabetic. I take insulin shots. I’ve been throwing up, sleeping in the street, trying to find something to eat. I’ve got nothing over here."

A few days later, he was found dead.

Aldaoud, 41 at the time of his death, had lived in Michigan since he was six months old. He had struggled with mental illness throughout his life - ailments that prompted minor run-ins with the law, which in turn caused him to lose his legal status before applying for US citizenship.

He and other deported Chaldeans had been living in the US for years, also shielded by Baghdad's refusal to accept deportees sent from America.

Then Trump came to power. Shortly after taking office in 2017, the president cut a deal with Baghdad that removed Iraq from a travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries in exchange for the Iraqi government agreeing to start taking deportees.

As a result, immigration authorities began rounding up hundreds of Iraqis across the country, including dozens of Chaldeans in Michigan. Aldaoud's case appeared to confirm the fears that deporting Iraqi Christians to Iraq was akin to a "death sentence".

Fast forward to 2020, the president is reaching out to Michigan's Iraqi Christians and seeking their votes - and according to community advocates most Chaldeans are backing Trump.

'Man of peace'

Yono described the president as a "man of peace", praising the recent normalisation deals between Israel and Arab countries.

"We are calling more than anything for a peaceful resolution between Israel and Palestine, so we'd have a peaceful Middle East, so we can go back and visit our homeland regardless of where we come from."

Iraqi Christians faced systematic attacks from armed groups after the 2003 US-led invasion, with the Islamic State (IS) group displacing thousands of people and targeting churches across the country.

IS captured swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014, declaring a "caliphate" in which they enforced a brutal interpretation of Islamic law, destroyed churches and launched and inspired attacks around the world.

Many Chaldeans hold the administration of then-President Barack Obama, with Joe Biden serving as vice president, responsible for the rise of IS.

"We are sick and tired of what happened with the previous administration - bringing Daesh into our villages, into our homeland in northern Iraq," Yono said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

Chaldeans and Assyrians are Iraqi Christians native to northern Iraq. The Chaldeans are Catholic, but the Assyrians, as a religious sect, follow the Eastern Orthodox Church.

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Most Chaldean advocates in Michigan do not consider themselves Arab, but rather as a distinct ethnic group. Some community members identify as Assyrian ethnically and Chaldean Catholic religiously.

While they speak a version of Aramaic, most Iraqi-born Chaldeans also speak Arabic, which they also use for written announcements. In the northern Detroit suburb of Sterling Heights, home to a large Iraqi-Christian community, for example, businesses owned by Iraqi Christians display Arabic signs. 

According to the Chalean Chamber of Commerce, Michigan is home to 160,000 Iraqi Christians - one of the largest Chaldean/Assyrian communities in the world. 

In the previous election cycle, Trump won the state by fewer than 11,000 votes. That thin margin highlighted the importance of minority voting blocs, including Chaldeans who had favoured the Republican candidate. 

Early in 2020, Trump promised to protect the state's "wonderful" Chaldean community, but it is not clear how and if that promise has translated into policy. 

Community advocates note that the campaign of arrests had stopped, possibly because everyone at risk has already been detained with cases pending in court. Meanwhile, immigration judges are still looking at the appeals of those whose status is being challenged on a case-to-case basis.

Yono said he is "confident" that the issue of deportations will be addressed in Trump's second term.

"The president promised, he promised, mentioning the word 'Chaldean' and that he will be finding a resolution to this issue."

Embracing Trump

Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce and Chaldean Community Foundation, said Iraqi Christians, like all Americans, are looking at the economy and health care as their top issues this election.

But they also have their own priorities, including the protection of Christians in Iraq and the broader Middle East as well as immigration policy.

Manna lauded the Trump campaign's specific outreach to Iraqi Christians.

"Donald Trump Jr recently met with the community; Eric Trump just last week met with the community. I personally met with Vice President Pence more than once, so they're really involved and engaged in the community," he told MEE.

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"And most of the discussions have been around what transpired as far as the deportations and how we could change their policy on immigration and deportation."

Democrats are also pushing for the Iraqi Christian vote. Earlier this month, the Biden campaign launched a Chaldean advisory council in Michigan with prominent activists and lawyers from the community.

But according to Manna, Democrats will not have an easy time making inroads with Chaldean voters. He said Iraqi Christians felt frustrated by Obama's inability to prioritise religious freedom at home and abroad.

"For that reason, I think many people gravitated towards Donald Trump. Now we're seeing an excellent policy from our perspective as it relates to religious freedom and protecting minorities in the Middle East and the work that they've been doing," Manna said. 

"Many people also support the president on the economy because the vast majority of Chaldeans are entrepreneurs."

Manna said the community also leans Republican because of conservative values, including opposition to abortion. "We are Catholic first; you know. it's all about faith and family within the community."

In a letter to Iraqi Christians early in October, Chaldean Bishop Francis Kalabat urged participation in the election and warned against backing candidates who support women's right to get an abortion.

"In good conscience, we cannot support candidates who do not view human life as sacred. We stand against candidates who support unjust wars, torture, the killing of innocent civilians, terrorism, abortion, infanticide, and assisted suicide," Kalabat wrote.

Ranna Abro, a teacher and humanitarian worker, said that Iraqi Christians had "experienced unspeakable horrors" in their homeland under the administrations of Barack Obama and George W Bush, calling for "effective action" to protect religious minorities.

"Today, what remains of our community in Iraq faces threats from all directions," Abro told MEE. "As Middle Easterners, we know that talk is cheap... Every single time that other people fight in Iraq, Syria or Turkey, it’s our community that becomes marginalised. Our interest in foreign policy is survival."

Trump's outreach

Weam Namou, executive director of the Chaldean Cultural Center, which is home to a museum that celebrates Iraqi Christians' history both in Iraq and the United States, said the community is largely pro-Trump for a myriad of domestic and foreign policy positions. 

Echoing Manna, she cited the perception that Trump was better for Christians in the Middle East, as well as on issues including abortion and the economy. Many Iraqi Christians, Namou added, favour the president's restrictions on Muslim immigration to the US.

"There have been many [Chaldeans], especially since 2014, that automatically associate Islam with extremism," she told MEE.

Namou added that Trump's specific outreach efforts to Chaldeans are effective. She explained that as a Christian Middle Eastern minority, many in the community feel left out of the Democratic push in support of Muslims against Trump's rhetoric.

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She said as a "minority within a minority within a minority", Chaldeans sometimes "feel lost" in the political discourse, so they are excited to be acknowledged by Trump. 

"When the president of the United States comes along, and he is saying our name and repeating it and then sending his son and having him meet with our leaders, all of these are strategic moves. He's really trying to push, knowing the value of Michigan."

Most recently, Trump endorsed Iraqi Christian Republican candidate Eric Esshaki, nodding to his Chaldean heritage in a Twitter post that was shared by many Chaldean-focused social media with cheerful comments. 

Namou said while the Chaldeans came together to push against the deportation campaign, the president's immigration policies did not "sway them on a large scale from supporting Trump", other than perhaps the families directly affected by the crackdown.

The Chaldean/Assyrian story is one of survival, Namou added. Despite their numbers' dwindling in Iraq, they have persevered and built a vibrant community in Michigan.

The Chaldean museum displays ancient artifacts - some replicas and a few originals - from Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilisation. A painting of a lion-like mythical creature from Babylon's Ishtar gate hangs over the museum's entrance. 

Exhibits also walk visitors through Iraqi Christians' journey to the US, where they were attracted to Michigan by the auto industry and the existing Arab community at the turn of the past century, before starting to open their own grocery stores across the state.

Chaldean-Muslim relations

Still, the election highlights the schism between Chaldeans and Muslims in Michigan. In neighbouring Dearborn, Arab Americans who are largely Muslim have overwhelmingly favoured Democrats in recent elections, and are expected to vote for Biden in the presidential race.

In 2014, Chaldean activists led the opposition against a new mosque in Sterling Heights. And this year, as in 2016, Chaldeans are backing Trump, who has espoused anti-Muslim rhetoric.

"We don't ever condone that type of behaviour by the president, nor would we ever support rhetoric against any group, including Muslims," he told MEE. "We've lived side by side for how many hundreds of years? But it goes both ways." 

Manna said despite support for Trump, Chaldeans enjoy good relations with their Arab and Muslim neighbours. Still, he added that it's important to understand that Christians have been "victimised by Muslims in Iraq".

'The Chaldeans are working hard, and the Muslim community is working hard; and they're both working in different directions'

- Weam Namou, Chaldean Cultural Center

Manna said he is always calling for dialogue between the largely Muslim Arab community in Michigan and Chaldeans; moreover, Iraqi Americans of all faiths often work together on their common issues.

"I think there are instigators in both communities, and it's very upsetting. But by far the overwhelming majority of Arabs and Chaldeans in this region get along; they respect each other."

Namou, who is also a published author and currently writing about the election, said Muslims and Chaldeans in Michigan are two voting blocs acting like counterweights to each other.

"The Chaldeans are working hard, and the Muslim community is working hard; and they're both working in different directions," she told MEE. "Even though they're not against each other, they're totally against each other's candidates."

For his part, Yono faulted Arab and Muslim advocates for taking an antagonistic stance against Trump, calling on them to engage the administration, saying that both Arabs and Chaldeans had worked jointly with previous presidents to advance the agendas of their communities.

"This president, his door is wide open to anyone and everyone," Yono said. "He's said he loves the Muslims. But then again whether it's a Muslim or a Christian or a Chaldean, you need to come to the United States in a legal fashion - not to come in here and cause problems, not to come in here and be illegal and be a burden on the government."

'Community within a community'

With early voting already underway, Democrats are still not giving up on the Chaldean vote.

Courtney Gabbara, a lawyer who sits on Biden's Chaldean advisory council, said Iraqi Christian Democrats are building a "community within a community".

While she acknowledged that the majority of Iraqi Christians support Trump, she said it was surprising how many Chaldeans support Biden.

The advisory council was started by local activists before it was recognised by the Biden campaign.

"It inspired us - regardless of what happens - to build off of this momentum, and continue to reach out to Chaldean and Assyrian Democrats not just in Michigan but across the country," Gabbara said.

'I don't know a single Chaldean person who would ever tolerate the kinds of behaviour our current president demonstrates in real life'

- Courtney Gabbara, Biden Chaldean advisory council

She added that many Chaldeans favour Trump for his socially conservative stances as well as the notion that Republican policies are better for small businesses. But she expressed bewilderment at the fact that the president's immigration policies have not turned more Iraqi Christians against him.

"All of our families were vulnerable during that sweep in some way, shape or form," she said.

"You would think that something like this would have felt like a stab in the back for community members who voted for Trump; you would have thought that they would feel betrayed or abandoned."

A consistent topic that many devout Christian Trump supporters cite to push back against criticism of his administration is his opposition to abortion.

Gabbara said while abortion is a difficult subject to approach, Catholocism preaches love and forgiveness.

"How can we make decisions for people who are struggling with real difficult life choices; nobody gets an abortion for fun," she said. 

'They would just be so ashamed'

Gabbara also noted that Christian faith stresses broader values of compassion that are in contradiction with everything that Trump stands for.

"I don't know a single Chaldean person who would ever tolerate the kinds of behaviour our current president demonstrates in real life," Gabbara said. "If it was their son or their daughter behaving like that in front of them or in public, they would just be so ashamed and embarrassed."

Over the years, Trump has bragged about grabbing women's genitals, rebuked immigrants and people of colour, paid off a porn star to conceal an alleged affair, mocked a reporter's disability and vowed to impose a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.

The advisory council has been using social media and hosting virtual events to reach out to voters. 

Jimmy Aldaoud's death confirms worst fears about Trump's deportations
Read More »

On 21 October, the campaign held a webinar titled "Chaldean/Assyrian American Women GOTV Rally" where Iraqi Christian activists addressed issues that matter to the community with top Democratic officials in Michigan, including Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

At the event, Congresswoman Haley Stevens said a Biden administration would lean on the Chaldean community for "leadership and advice" when it comes to entrepreneurship, all while providing more access to capital for small-business owners.

"The business entrepreneurship coming out of this region in southeastern Michigan is really what's going to push us out of some of this economic choppiness," she said.

For her part, Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, who represents parts of Detroit and its northern suburbs addressed a question on abortion.

"I was blessed by God to have two pregnancies, which resulted in two beautiful children," she said. "But I was never a victim of rape; I was never a victim of incest; I never had to look my husband in the eye and say: 'It's my life or the baby.' But if I or any woman had those situations, I feel strongly that she should have the right to make that decision."

Some Chaldeans are also pushing back against the perception that Republican policies are better for the economy.

Longing for stability

Nabil Nona, who owns an insurance company that also provides translation and immigration services, stressed the importance of political and social "stability" to achieve a healthy economy.

He said Trump's presidency has caused turmoil across the country that has affected the Chaldean community and its businesses.

"The key to a successful economy is stability," Nona told MEE. "You can't have a great stock market one day; then it crashes the next day. And then the third day, you don't know what's going on with immigration; the fourth day, you don't know if we are going to war with North Korea or Iran."

Jill Biden to Arab Americans: Your vote could be the difference
Read More »

Nona also cited the effects of Trump's handling of the coronavirus on the country and the community. "Then we have to deal with a pandemic that has cost more than 200,000 American lives in less than 8 months because it was mishandled by the current administration. These are some of the things people were and are experiencing and they're unfortunate."

He added that many in the Chaldean community may be drawn to Trump's showmanship, but his chaotic approach to policy has not benefited anyone - the least of all Iraqi-Christian immigrants who have faced a deportation campaign over the past three years.

"Biden is a good candidate to bring back stability," Nano said. "And then we can actually just go on with our lives without wondering what's going to happen next."

Asked whether his views, which appear to be at odds with most of his fellow Chaldeans, have caused issues in his personal relationships, Nona said the extreme political polarisation has not spared any community.

"This has caused friction in every single family. You can't have a civil discussion anymore," Nona said.

"There are brothers who are against each other now because one supports Trump and one doesn't. It didn't used to be like this. There was always mutual respect where we could disagree but didn't have to hate each other; we didn't have to threaten each other."

"Trump comes into power, and he is just hating on everyone who opposes him, and in turn his supporters do the same."

Sterling Heights, Michigan
  • 24 octobre 2020 à 01:04

Trump says Egypt may 'blow up' Ethiopia dam

Par MEE and agencies
Trump says Egypt may 'blow up' Ethiopia dam
US president made the remarks as he announced normalisation deal between Israel and Sudan
MEE and agencies Fri, 10/23/2020 - 22:24
US President Donald Trump announced on Friday a normalisation deal between Sudan and Israel.
US President Donald Trump announced on Friday a normalisation deal between Sudan and Israel (AFP)

US President Donald Trump voiced anger at Ethiopia over its construction of a huge dam on the Nile River and suggested Egypt may destroy it.

Trump made the remarks as he announced a normalisation deal between US ally Israel and Sudan, which like Egypt fears that Ethiopia will use up scarce water resources.

"It's a very dangerous situation because Egypt is not going to be able to live that way," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office with leaders of Sudan and Israel on speakerphone.

"They'll end up blowing up the dam. And I said it and I say it loud and clear - they'll blow up that dam. And they have to do something," Trump said.

"They should have stopped it long before it started," Trump said, regretting that Egypt was in domestic tumult when the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project began in 2011.

Remarkably bluntly, Trump urges Sudanese leaders to help in resolving the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam impasse, or Egypt “will end up blowing that dam”

— Mohamed Yehia (@yeh1a) October 23, 2020

Trump - a close ally of Egypt's general turned president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi - had agreed to Cairo's pleas to mediate over the dam, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin leading talks.

The State Department said in September that it was cutting off aid to Ethiopia due to its decision to begin filling the dam despite not reaching an agreement with the downstream nations.

Explained: The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
Read More »

"I had a deal done for them and then, unfortunately, Ethiopia broke the deal, which they should not have done. That was a big mistake," Trump said.

"They will never see that money unless they adhere to that agreement," he said.

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have been negotiating for nearly a decade to reach an agreement on outstanding issues related to the impact of the $4.6bn Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on their water security. 

Ethiopia says the project is indispensable for its electrification and development needs and has voiced hope of beginning operations in early 2021.

Egypt depends on the Nile for about 97 percent of its irrigation and drinking water and is concerned that the filling of the dam will exacerbate a water shortage crisis in the event of a prolonged drought. 

Infographic - The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

Sudan, Ethiopia's northern neighbour, has concerns regarding the potential impact of the construction of the dam on its own dams, and for the safety of its population and farmland from flooding that could result from faults in the construction or operation of the GERD. 

Sudan's Prime Minister Abdulla Hamdok, asked by Trump on speakerphone about the dam, voiced appreciation for US diplomacy and said his government wanted an "amicable solution soon" among the three countries.

The speed of the filling of the dam will potentially have an immediate effect on Egypt.

If it takes five years to fill the dam, it will reduce Egypt's water supply by 36 percent and destroy half of Egypt's farmland, according to the Egyptian government.

  • 23 octobre 2020 à 23:24

Turkey and Greece agree to call off war games: Nato chief

Par MEE and agencies
Turkey and Greece agree to call off war games: Nato chief
Standoff over gas exploration in contested waters had seen Nato neighbours plan rival war games and ramp up rhetoric
MEE and agencies Fri, 10/23/2020 - 22:02
Tensions flared in August when Ankara sent the Oruc Reis research vessel into waters also claimed by Greece and Cyprus.
Tensions flared in August when Ankara sent Oruc Reis research vessel into waters also claimed by Greece and Cyprus (AFP/File photo)

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday that Greece and Turkey agreed to cancel military exercises scheduled for next week, in a further sign of easing tensions between the two Nato allies and historic rivals.

"Both Greece and Turkey have decided to cancel military exercises which were planned for next week," Stoltenberg told reporters after chairing a virtual meeting of Nato defence ministers, where the two countries made the announcement.

"These are steps in the right direction. They help to reduce the risks of incidents and accidents."

The neighbours are at loggerheads over energy drilling and maritime rights in the eastern Mediterranean and overlapping views on the extent of their continental shelves. The defence pact has set up a hotline to head off accidental clashes.

US slams Turkey over renewed seismic surveys in Eastern Mediterranean
Read More »

Addressing a news conference after two days of talks on a variety of topics, Stoltenberg confirmed that he had raised the situation with both Ankara and Athens.

"I will say that we had good and constructive talks and allies expressed strong support for the Nato de-confliction mechanism," Stoltenberg said.

"I welcome now the fact that we have been able to see some concrete steps in that direction with the cancellation of the two exercises."

French Defence Minister Florence Parly also hailed the decisions to cancel the military drills, stressing the need to "respect international law and restore stability in the region".

Earlier this month, Turkey's Foreign Ministry accused Greece of planning military manoeuvres in the Aegean Sea to coincide with Turkey's 29 October national day celebrations. Turkey retaliated by declaring exercises on 28 October – a Greek national holiday.

Tensions flared in August when Ankara sent the Oruc Reis research vessel into waters also claimed by Greece and Cyprus.

Ankara withdrew the Oruc Reis last month to "allow for diplomacy" before an EU summit in which Cyprus sought sanctions against Turkey, but sent it back this month, prompting an angry rebuke from Greece, France, Germany and the US.

  • 23 octobre 2020 à 23:02

MBS said he would be killed by his 'own people' if Riyadh normalised ties with Israel: Report

Par MEE staff
MBS said he would be killed by his 'own people' if Riyadh normalised ties with Israel: Report
Billionaire Haim Saban claims crown prince made remarks after UAE and Bahrain's deals with Israel, Haaretz reports
MEE staff Fri, 10/23/2020 - 18:16
Mohammed bin Salman is the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia
US President Donald Trump has suggested Saudi Arabia may recognise Israel (AFP/File photo)

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban he would fear for his life if he struck a normalisation deal with Israel, Haaretz reported.

The Saudi crown prince, also known by his initials MBS, said following in the steps of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain would get him "killed by Iran, by Qatar and my own people", Saban said.

The entertainment mogul made the claim at a pro-Biden online campaign event on Wednesday entitled "Israel's Security and Prosperity in a Biden White House", hosted by Florida for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, Haaretz reported.

The UAE and Bahrain, which closely coordinate their foreign policies with Saudi Arabia, normalised relations with Israel in August, cementing the move with a signing ceremony at the White House last month.

Saban, a billionaire who founded the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, was one of the few Democrats present when the agreements, dubbed the Abraham Accords, were signed on 15 September.

On Friday, US President Donald Trump said he expected Saudi Arabia to also agree to closer ties with Israel in the coming months.

Arab populations continue to oppose normalisation with Israel, survey shows
Read More »

His comments came shortly after Sudan became the third Arab country in recent months to normalise ties with Israel.

Earlier this month, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud said the kingdom would not recognise Israel until there was a return to Israel-Palestine negotiations.

Saban, a longtime donor to the Democratic party, also used his platform at Wednesday's online event to praise presidential hopeful and former Vice President Joe Biden's "47 years of commitment" to Israel.

"All Jews in America that care about the US-Israel alliance know they can sleep peacefully under a Biden presidency," he said.

The normalisation deals have largely been met positively among both Democrats and Republicans.

The billionaire also claimed that President Donald Trump played a minor role in securing the Abraham Accords, while most of the credit should go to his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

"All of the credit should be going to Jared Kushner and [his aide] Avi Berkowitz, who worked really hard on it," said Saban.

Trump has highlighted the Arab normalisation deals with Israel as major achievements as he seeks another term in 3 November elections, with his evangelical Christian base widely supportive of Israel.

Still, the normalisation deals have outraged Palestinians, who have called them "a stab in the back", pointing out that they reward Israel and allow it to continue its illegal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as its siege of Gaza.

A recent survey found that, despite the moves by the UAE and Bahrain, a majority of Arab populations continue to strongly oppose normalisation with Israel.

MBS said he would be killed by 'own people' if Riyadh normalised ties with Israel
  • 23 octobre 2020 à 19:16

Arabic press review: Iraqi bank triggers storm over 'second marriage' loan

Par Mohammad Ayesh
Arabic press review: Iraqi bank triggers storm over 'second marriage' loan
Meanwhile, US diplomat says political solution in sight in Libya, and Palestinian lawyers sue UK over century-old Balfour Declaration
Mohammad Ayesh Fri, 10/23/2020 - 16:48
An Iraqi business owner adjusts a protective mask bearing a wedding invitation
An Iraqi business owner adjusts a protective mask bearing a wedding invitation on a bridal shop mannequin amid the Covid-19 pandemic, in the southern port city of Basra, on 8 August 2020 (AFP)

Palestinian lawyers sue UK over 103-year-old Balfour Declaration

A group of Palestinian lawyers, international law experts and Palestinian historians have filed a lawsuit against the United Kingdom in a court in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus over the Balfour Declaration, issued by London in 1917, which paved the way for the creation of the state of Israel some 30 years later, Arabi21 has reported.

In November 1917, as the British and French were dividing up what had been Ottoman-held territory until the First World War, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour issued a letter that promised Britain's support for "a national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine.

The letter included the caveat "nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine".

In 1948, Britain withdrew from Palestine and the state of Israel was established in its wake.

The lawsuit demands the annulment of the declaration, as well as an official apology from the United Kingdom to the Palestinian people. It also seeks to hold British authorities fully responsible for the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the 1948 Nakba and the subsequent occupation of Palestinian lands, as well as for its "colonial crimes during the period of its military rule in Palestine".

"The Palestinian judiciary has become a specialised body after Palestine obtained the [permanent non-member] observer status in the United Nations," said lawyer Nael al-Houh.

"The general idea was to file a political lawsuit to hold Britain responsible for the outcome of [the Balfour Declaration]," he added. "The Palestinian judiciary's decision to hold Britain accountable validates the right of every Palestinian citizen who was personally harmed by Britain, whether he or she is a victim of genocide or forced displacement, which obligates British authorities to pay compensation for the damage suffered by the victims." 

The head of the National Assembly of Independents (NAI), Munib al-Masri, said in a press conference in Ramallah that "the [British] Mandate indeed was the main cause of the Palestinian people's suffering, and it effectively paved the way for the violation of their rights and the dispossession of their land".

According to Masri, Balfour overlooked "the rights of more than 93 percent of the people [in Mandate-era Palestine], and granted full rights to Jews, who constituted only seven percent of the population at that time. 

Libya heading towards a 'political solution'

In an exclusive interview with Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, US Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland said Libyans were "tired" of war, adding that a "growing consensus" was emerging among Libyan leaders in favour of a "political solution".

Norland referred to "a progress towards a political settlement" in Libya, stressing that "Washington does not support one party at the expense of another".

Norland defended US policy in Libya. "A political settlement between Libyans opens the door to the expulsion of foreign powers from their country, such as mercenaries of the Russian Wagner group, or the Syrians recruited by Turkey through its loyal factions in Syria," the newspaper quoted him as saying.

The US official praised the decision of Fayez al-Sarraj, the prime minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA), to step down, while expressing his wish that Sarraj would stay on until a transfer of power becomes possible.

Iraqi bank faces uproar over 'second marriage' loan

A promotional advertisement for an Iraqi bank has sparked a wave of controversy in the country, after it offered facilitated access to loans for both men and women who intend to marry for the second time, according to London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi

The state-owned Rasheed Bank offered to provide a $7,000 loan to men and women on condition that it would be dedicated to a "second marriage".

The advert triggered widespread anger on social media platforms, with some politicians accusing the bank's ad of being a step towards dismantling Iraqi society.

Ali al-Bayati, a member of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights - an independent institution subject to parliamentary oversight - said "the loan offered by Rasheed Bank to support a second marriage was not properly assessed".

"It is more important to help youths find jobs instead of encouraging them to marry for the second time," Al-Quds Al-Arabi quoted him as saying.

Rasheed Bank clarified the loan was not intended to encourage bigamy, but rather directed to divorcees, widows and people with "peculiar" family circumstances.

A spokeswoman for Rasheed Bank, Amal al-Shuwaili, stated: "We do not have the legal right as a bank to prevent or encourage second marriage, and we are addressing the human and social aspect of this issue within the legal limits."

Polygamy is legal in Iraq, except in the Kurdistan region where it is forbidden - except in specific circumstances.

* Arabic press review is a digest of reports that are not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye

  • 23 octobre 2020 à 17:48

Sudan agrees to normalise relations with Israel, Trump announces

Par MEE staff
Sudan agrees to normalise relations with Israel, Trump announces
Move comes hours after Washington removes Khartoum from State Sponsors of Terrorism list
MEE staff Fri, 10/23/2020 - 15:19
US President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
US President Donald Trump speaks on phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about normalisation of Sudan-Israel relations (AFP)

US President Donald Trump said on Friday that Sudan has agreed to normalise diplomatic ties with Israel, a move denounced by Palestinians as a "new stab in the back".

The move was announced on the heels of Washington's decision to remove Khartoum from the State Department's State Sponsors of Terrorism (SST) list. 

The agreement was sealed in a phone call between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Transitional Council Head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, senior US officials said.

Speaking before reporters in the Oval Office, Trump asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was on speaker phone, if he believed his Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden could have helped broker such a deal.

"Do you think Sleepy Joe could have made this deal Bibi? Somehow I don't think so," Trump asked.

Netanyahu ignored the prompt and answered: "One thing I can tell you is we appreciate the help for peace from anyone in America, and we appreciate what you've done enormously."

Netanyahu also welcomed what he called a rapidly expanding "circle of peace" and the start of a "new era".

Arab populations continue to oppose normalisation with Israel, survey shows
Read More »

The normalisation deal represents a foreign policy win for Trump less than two weeks before the 3 November election. 

Meanwhile, the SST delisting is set to be a major boost for Khartoum's struggling economy and a pivotal step in Sudan's efforts to reintegrate into the international community after last year's uprising toppled longtime leader Omar al-Bashir.

In a post to Twitter, Sudan's Sovereign Council said the SST delisting marked "a historic day for Sudan and its glorious revolution". It did not immediately comment on its diplomatic agreement with Israel. 

Israel signed US-brokered diplomatic agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain last month, breaking a longstanding consensus among Arab states that normalisation with Israel must be contingent on a resolution to the Israeli occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

It had been speculated that Sudan could make a deal with Israel in exchange for removal from the US terror designation, but on Monday, Trump said that Khartoum's removal would take place in exchange for a $335m payment to "US terror victims and families".

During Friday's news conference, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, standing next to Trump, did not say that the two deals were linked.

"They both have one thing in common, they make sense for the Sudanese people," he said.

Speaking in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, Palestine Liberation Organisation official Wasel Abu Youssef said the decision "will not shake the Palestinians' faith in their cause and in continuing their struggle".

"Sudan's joining others who normalised ties with the state of the Israeli occupation represents a new stab in the back of the Palestinian people and a betrayal of the just Palestinian cause," Abu Youssef said.

US push for normalisation with Israel

Both Israeli and US government figures have repeatedly hinted for months that other Arab countries would follow in the footsteps of the UAE and Bahrain, with Sudan being one of the countries at the top of the prospective list.

In February, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in secret with Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the chairman of Sudan's Sovereign Council, in Uganda, and the two leaders reportedly agreed to start the process of normalising ties.

In August, the UAE arranged an unannounced meeting between Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (also known as Hemeti), the vice-chair of the Sovereign Council, and Yossi Cohen, the head of Israel's Mossad spy agency, to discuss prospects for normalisation.

Pompeo also visited Khartoum in August on a regional tour to push further normalisation deals. At the time, Sudan said normalisation with Israel was not within the transitional government's mandate. 

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok had said that the terrorism designation and normalisation with Israel should be viewed as two separate diplomatic processes.

Israel and Sudan had not enjoyed official bilateral relations before Friday's deal, although Israel has had close relations with South Sudan, which split from Sudan in 2011.

Shortly before he was removed from power, Bashir said he was advised to normalise ties with Israel, a request he rejected.

  • 23 octobre 2020 à 16:19

US suspends embassy activity in Turkey after threat against its citizens

Par MEE and agencies
US suspends embassy activity in Turkey after threat against its citizens
Washington has temporarily shut down its embassy in Ankara and consulates across Turkey following threat of attack against US nationals
MEE and agencies Fri, 10/23/2020 - 14:55
A general view of the US Embassy, in Ankara (AFP)

The US State Department has temporarily closed its embassy and consulates in Turkey after it received "credible reports" of potential attacks against US citizens in Istanbul. 

In a statement issued on Friday, the State Department urged its citizens to exercise "heightened caution" and to avoid areas where foreigners are likely to gather. 

"US citizens are advised to exercise heightened caution in locations where Americans or foreigners may gather, including large office buildings or shopping malls," read the statement. 

The State Department also urged US citizens to "stay alert" and to "keep a low profile" following the threats. 

The heightened threat level has led Washington to temporarily close its embassy in Ankara and consulates in Istanbul, Adana and Izmir. 

It remains unclear how long the US intends to suspend operations in Turkey, or from where the threats originated. 

Missile dispute

This latest move comes after Turkish President Erdogan confirmed Turkey had tested the Russian S-400 missile system. 

Last week, Washington condemned Turkey over claims made in local media that it had tested the missiles near the Black Sea. 

The US had threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey if it activated the Russian-bought S-400 missiles. 

Ankara's decision to purchase and test the S-400 could further strain Turkey's relationship with other Nato allies. 

Following the delivery of the first battery of missiles last year, the Trump administration excluded Turkey from an F-35 fighter jet training programme, due to fears that the S-400 could be used to gather data on the capabilities of the F-35, and that the information could end up in Russian hands.

Ankara lamented its exclusion and said Washington was going against the spirit of the Nato alliance. It also described the purchase of the missiles as a matter of national sovereignty.

  • 23 octobre 2020 à 15:55

Algeria: Minister tells people to leave if they disagree with constitutional amendments

Par Yasmina Allouche
Algeria: Minister tells people to leave if they disagree with constitutional amendments
Algerians describe Sid Ali Khaldi's words as 'serious' and 'undermining national unity' ahead of next month's referendum
Yasmina Allouche Fri, 10/23/2020 - 12:20
The hashtag 'I don’t like the situation' began trending following Khaldi's comments
The hashtag 'I don’t like the situation' began trending following Khaldi's comments (YouTube/Screengrab)

The Algerian minister of youth and sport has come under fire for making "unacceptable" remarks during the final week of campaigning ahead of next month's referendum on proposed constitutional amendments. 

"We will build a state in accordance with the declaration of 1 November (the day Algeria began its war of liberation from France); a democratic and social state within the framework of the principles of Islam," Sid Ali Khaldi declared on Thursday. 

"For the first time since independence, we have constitutionalised the declaration of 1 November and whoever is not happy can change countries," he said, twice reiterating the sentiment.

Many Algerians soon took to social media to criticise the minister's speech, describing his words ahead of the 1 November vote as "serious" and "undermining national unity".

The hashtag "I don't like the situation" began trending, in reference to the amendments, which have been presented as a roadmap to steer the country away from authoritarianism and appease popular demands for change. 

The draft amendments will keep in place most of the existing constitution's "general principles", including Islam remaining the religion of the state. 

They will also seek to make small changes to the system of decentralisation, the role of the army and the judiciary - although the president will still retain significant influence over the courts through appointments and the control of specific institutions.

A number of Algerians have said they will boycott next month's vote, believing the reforms proposed will fail to materialise, in much the same way previous constitutional amendments have failed to honour people's democratic demands. 

Je suis encore choqué par ce ministre de merde qui parle de l’Algérie comme d’une propriété privée en nous demandant de quitter le pays si on est pas content. J’en ai des sueurs froide 🤬

— Lyès ⵣ (@AvanciLarriere) October 22, 2020

Translation: I'm still shocked by this shitty minister who talks about Algeria as private property, asking us to leave the country if we're not happy. I've broken out in a cold sweat

Mr.@dz_pm_djerad j’espérer que votre ministre de la jeunesse et des sports sera rappelé à l’ordre et qu’il présentera ses excuses aux #Algerie-ns de quel droit il ose dire à ceux qui ont une opinion différente de la sienne qu’ils doivent quitter le pays?C honteux et irresponsable

— Merwen Benakil (@MWN_BEN) October 22, 2020

Translation: [To Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad] I hope that your Minister for Youth and Sports will be called to order and will apologise to Algerians. What right does he dare have to tell those who have an opinion different from his own that they must leave the country? Shameful and irresponsible

Other internet users expressed their willingness to leave the country if the borders, which have been closed since Algeria reported its first coronavirus case in March, were opened and they could get a visa. 

غالقين الحدود جوا وبحرا وبرا ويقولك بدل البلاد اييه ماعجبنيش الحال افتحو الحدود برك

— Le nom ne peut pas être vide. (@I_llsb) October 22, 2020

Translation: They've closed the borders by air, sea and land and he says change [your] country, yes I don't like the solution - so open the borders 

سهلولنا نروحو برك اقعد فيها وحدك

— BILA (@bila_bina) October 23, 2020

Translation: Make it easy for us to go and stay [here] by yourself 

As the country continues to grapple with a weak economy and high unemployment, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, growing numbers of Algerians are attempting to depart illegally from the country's shores - more than three times the number compared with last year.

This month alone, six boats carrying 73 Algerians were intercepted by authorities in Spain's Murcia region, who reported that Algerians accounted for nearly two-thirds of the numbers attempting to reach the Spanish coastline. 

Khaldi's comments demanding Algerians leave if they reject the state's political roadmap are not the first time the country has been told to accept the take-it-or-leave approach.

Former commerce minister Amara Benyounes famously told the public in 2014 "curse you, if you don't love us", on the eve of the presidential election which saw Abdelaziz Bouteflika secure a fourth term in office. 

School funding criticised

Khaldi's remarks come on the back of another controversy this week which saw a teacher in the western city of Oran humiliated by the city's wali [governor], Messaoud Djari, who dismissed her concerns over conditions at the Benzerdjeb Primary School.

"When we alert [authorities] to our situation, we are told 'we can't do anything, we don't have the budget'," the teacher, Sidia Merabet, told the wali in front of television cameras on Wednesday. 

Merabet went on to describe the situation at the school, where she has taught for 32 years, as "catastrophic", describing the students' desks as dating back to "the [French] colonial era" and adding that the "parents of students studied on these tables".

Djari turned his back on the teacher and left, after taking offence at the teacher's comments, causing an outcry on social media, and sparking anger from national education unions who demanded a public apology.

The wali's office released a statement stating that Djari "followed with great interest the presentation of the professor" but "was forced... to clarify as a representative of the state that this was an inappropriate description, and that it reflected neither the reality, nor the efforts made by the Algerian state since independence in all sectors, and above all the sector of national education".

Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad was quick to react, expressing his "categorical rejection" of "the humiliation of a teacher who defends the future of our children".

"I thank the teacher, Sidia Merabet, of the Benzerdjeb School in Oran, who has unmasked the old practices," the prime minister wrote on his Facebook account, promising to replace the old equipment used in schools across the country.

Regional disparities

Djerad travelled to Batna on Wednesday, as five million primary school students returned to classes following seven months of nationwide school closures as part of measures to contain the spread of the virus. 

To mark the event, the prime minister announced a plan to equip all schools with tablet computers, and for students to wear a school uniform in order to combat "social disparities".

However, the announcement to modernise schools has drawn criticism from education bodies, teachers and unions, who have highlighted how schools across the country often lack the most basic resources for teachers and students, with disparities in educational institutions from region to region. 

Pictures shared online frequently expose the poor transport conditions for students in certain regions, the frugality of meals in school canteens, and unsanitary and overcrowded classrooms - despite the government devoting a significant part of its budget to the education sector. 

Minister tells Algerians to leave country if they disagree with constitutional amendments
  • 23 octobre 2020 à 13:20

Egypt vents anger as Turkey takes centre stage in reconciliation of Palestinian factions

Par Adam Khalil
Egypt vents anger as Turkey takes centre stage in reconciliation of Palestinian factions
Cairo considers the success of talks held in Istanbul as a violation of its historical role in the Palestinian cause
Adam Khalil Fri, 10/23/2020 - 12:10
Following the talks in Istanbul, Fatah and Hamas agreed to present a joint vision on legislative and presidential elections to be held in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem within six months (Reuters)

An agreement between Palestinian factions for a further meeting and the setting of a date for elections has stalled, with fears that anger from Cairo over Turkey's sponsorship of the reconciliation process among rival parties has led to the delays.

Egypt's dissatisfaction with Fatah and Hamas over their decision to hold bilateral meetings towards reconciliation in Istanbul under Turkish sponsorship has delayed the setting of a date for a subsequent meeting of the Palestinian factions' leaders.

Conscious of Cairo's anger at Ankara's influence over the talks, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has delayed issuing a presidential decree setting the date for elections, a major step that was agreed upon between the two movements in Istanbul on 24 September.

At that meeting, the two factions agreed to refer what they had agreed upon to a leadership meeting bringing together the secretary-generals of the two sides, preceded by Abbas announcing the date of the elections to be held within six months.

Palestine politics: Could a unified leadership and elections herald a new era?
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The fact that this has not happened has once again raised questions about pressures being exerted on the protagonists from both regional and wider international parties.

Egypt, which has been the main mediator and traditional host of Palestinian reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas since their breach in 2007, has not issued any official negative response to the results of the Istanbul meeting.

But the reality of the situation indicates that Turkey’s involvement in the reconciliation, Qatar’s increasing influence in Gaza, and the issues of a ceasefire and the exchange of prisoners between Hamas and Israel, does not satisfy Egypt, which considers such moves as violations of its historical role in the Palestinian cause.

'A tyrant'

Egypt's relationship with Turkey became strained in 2013, after the Egyptian army overthrew the democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi, who was affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the move as a coup, and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who led the operation and later became president, as a "tyrant".

An Egyptian journalist close to the government's decision-making circles, who preferred to remain anonymous, confirmed to Middle East Eye that Cairo did not publicly declare its dissatisfaction with the talks in Turkey, but informed Jibril Rajoub, a Fatah Central Committee member and the head of its delegation in Istanbul, of its "annoyance" about the meeting.

The journalist believes that the Egyptian position is based on the successive actions of the Palestinian Authority leadership, towards whom Cairo's anger was more strongly directed compared to Hamas, as the relationship with Hamas was based on "security interests" only.

“Egypt sees in the Istanbul meeting, which came at the official request of President Abbas during a telephone conversation with Erdogan, and before that the meeting of the secretaries of the factions in Beirut, along with the tangible rapprochement in the PA’s relationship with Qatar, as indicating a new 'official direction' by the PA to reformulate its relationship with the region’s axes as a response to the rapprochement between the Gulf states and Israel,” he told MEE.

Until now, Rajoub has always denied the reported anger of Egypt, saying in a statement: "No one has told us that Egypt is angry because of our dialogue in Turkey."

However, in his most recent statement, he implicitly acknowledged Egypt's anger, saying in an interview with a local radio station in Gaza: "We went to all those who blamed us and explained the situation to them and the matter was bypassed."

Rajoub also stressed the continuing existence of Egypt's approval "to host the Palestinian dialogues, in continuation of previous efforts aimed at ending the division and restoring national unity".

However, he did not specify a date for the resumption of any dialogue.

'Protest message'

Abdullah Abdullah, a member of the Revolutionary Council of Fatah, said that Egypt's enthusiasm to sponsor the Palestinian national dialogue had clearly "dimmed" recently, and that this had increased following the PA’s angry stance over the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain's normalisation deals with Israel.

"Egypt has its calculations that determine its policies, but we as Palestinians are interested in good relations with everyone, and we refuse to align with the axes of the region," Abdullah told MEE.

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Egypt was the first to welcome the normalisation accords, despite the PA describing them as a "stab in the back".

Hussam al-Dajani, a professor of political science at the Ummah University in Gaza, believes that Egypt's welcoming of the move, along with the failure of the Arab League and its president, the former Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, to take up a draft Palestinian resolution condemning normalisation, angered the PA to such an extent that it agreed to the Beirut and Istanbul meetings in order to deliver a "protest message" to Cairo.

Dajani told MEE that Fatah and Hamas, no matter how angry they are about Egyptian policies, cannot dispense with Cairo's role, just as Egypt cannot completely abandon its role in the Palestinian issue in favour of its Turkish and Qatari rivals, and that Egypt's anger will have "limits".

Egypt's pro-government media took the "green light" from Cairo by launching attacks on Hamas and resuming previous accusations of terrorism against the movement and its alleged interference in Egyptian affairs for the benefit of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Dajani said the media incitement was a "message" to the Palestinian parties that Cairo was angry at the transfer of the dialogue and reconciliation to other capitals after many years of exclusive Egyptian sponsorship.

'Egypt can never be ignored'

Since 2009, Cairo has brokered five reconciliation agreements between Fatah and Hamas, none of which have been translated into action on the ground, in addition to its sponsorship and hosting of several rounds of bilateral or factional dialogues.

A source in a major Palestinian faction, who preferred to remain anonymous, told MEE that Cairo’s anger at Hamas also included what it believes was the “pulling of the rug” from under its feet regarding mediation in the ceasefire and exchange of prisoners with Israel, and for giving “more space” to Qatar.

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Unilateral Qatari mediation succeeded in the latest truce agreement between Hamas and Israel, a few days after an Egyptian security delegation failed in its usual mission during a visit to Gaza.

Hossam Badran, a member of Hamas' political bureau, did not want to delve into the details of the faction's current relationship with Egypt, but told MEE: "We believe in Hamas, as do all the Palestinian parties, in the importance of Egypt and its role in the Palestinian file and achieving reconciliation, and we also welcome any effort by any party in this direction. It supports our national march."

However, observers believe that the delay in holding the meeting of the Palestinian factions' secretary-generals is related to the Palestinian leadership having not received official Egyptian approval to host the talks in Cairo.

An official source in a Palestinian leftist faction told MEE that Egypt refuses to "reduce" its role from sponsoring to mere hosting, and also wants "we as Palestinians to agree first," criticising what he described as the "slowdown" in implementing the outcome of the meeting of secretary-generals in Beirut.

The Palestinian request to Cairo was that the meeting take place at the headquarters of the Palestinian representative office in the Egyptian capital, and not, as usual, under the hospitality of the Egyptian General Intelligence.

Musa Abu Marzuq, a member of Hamas' political bureau, said during his recent visit to Russia that Moscow was also ready to host the meeting.

Once the date and location is determined, the secretary-generals will discuss the holding of legislative elections 14 years after the last polls in which Hamas won a majority, before its differences with Fatah toppled into bloody fighting that ultimately led to its full control over the enclave in 2007.

Thabet al-Amor, a political analyst close to the Islamic Jihad, ruled out holding the meeting in any capital other than Cairo.

"Egypt can never be ignored, and all Palestinians are keen on the Egyptian presence to continue," Amor told MEE.

Gaza City
  • 23 octobre 2020 à 13:10

Is France's response to Samuel Paty murder deepening divisions?

Par Chloé Benoist
Is France's response to Samuel Paty murder deepening divisions?
Hostile political rhetoric in aftermath of teacher's murder pits Muslims against the rest of French society, advocates warn
Chloé Benoist Fri, 10/23/2020 - 11:32
A French police officer stands next to a portrait of slain French teacher Samuel Paty in the city of Montpellier on 21 October 2020 (AFP)

A week after the gruesome murder of a schoolteacher in a Parisian suburb, France remains in shock and mourning.

Samuel Paty, a 47-year-old history teacher at a middle school in the town of Conflans Saint-Honorine, was decapitated on 16 October by 18-year old Abdullakh Anzorov, a Russian-born refugee of Chechen descent. Anzorov was later shot dead by French security forces.

The attack took place after Paty became the target of a campaign calling for his dismissal after he showed his students a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad during a class on freedom of expression.

In the wake of the horrendous crime, the French government has been quick to announce the deployment of a host of measures, with President Emmanuel Macron declaring that "fear must change sides". 

Samuel Paty murder: Whose free speech is threatened?
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From the six-month closure of a mosque accused of having shared a video critical of Paty, to the deportation of undocumented foreigners suspected of “radicalisation”, French officials have adopted a martial rhetoric seeking to project toughness in the face of attacks motivated by Islamic State (IS)-inspired ideology - with members of the political scene calling for ever more stringent measures to combat “separatism”.

Some five years after the deadly Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan attacks, France finds itself once again embroiled in a public debate on the fight against terrorism and the definition of the country’s very particular brand of secularism, laicite.

For many in Muslim communities that has raised apprehensions about a further conflation of Islam and Islamist extremism, as some advocates warn that an aggressive, indiscriminate approach may only play into the hands of the very people the government seeks to fight.

“Faced with a terrorist enemy, French people are completely traumatised, and have been traumatised on several occasions,” Dounia Bouzar, an anthropology researcher studying Muslim communities in France, told Middle East Eye, expressing fear that the current climate will lead “one terrorism to feed another”.

Deploying an arsenal

Seven people have been indicted in connection to the attack, including a parent who had launched the campaign against Paty over the caricature.

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Macron announced on Wednesday that the Cheikh Yassine Collective, a Salafi pro-Palestinian organisation, was meanwhile dissolved for being “directly implicated” in the attack, after its founder, Abdelhakim Sefrioui, was arrested for participating in the campaign launched by the parent.

Sefrioui has denied having any knowledge that an attack was being planned.

Macron’s cabinet has been described by Le Monde newspaper as using “all manner of means” in order to show the French public it is reacting decisively to the attack, even if the effectiveness or relevance of some measures have been questioned.

French interior minister Gerald Darmanin has led the offensive, vowing on Monday that there wouldn’t be “a minute of respite for the enemies of the Republic”.

In addition to the investigation into Friday’s murder, a series of hardline measures have been announced.

As well as the Pantin mosque closure, increased police raids and the planned expulsion of 231 foreign nationals accused of promoting extremism - a move which had been underway prior to Paty’s killing - Darmanin has expressed his determination to shut down a number of organisations, most prominently Muslim charity BarakaCity and the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), which compiles information on alleged acts of anti-Muslim hatred in the country.

Je vais proposer la dissolution du CCIF et de BarakaCity, des associations ennemies de la République.
Il faut arrêter d’être naïfs et voir la vérité en face : il n’y a aucun accommodement possible avec l’islamisme radical. Tout compromis est une compromission. #Europe1

— Gérald DARMANIN (@GDarmanin) October 19, 2020

Translation: I will propose the dissolution of the CCIF and BarakaCity, associations that are enemies of the Republic. We must stop being naive and look at truth straight on: there is no accommodation possible with radical Islamism. Any compromise means becoming compromised.

Bouzar cautioned against calls to close such organisations, saying proper investigations needed to be done to determine any wrongdoing lest it turn into “a crime of opinion”.

“You can agree or disagree with them… but to dissolve them means exiting the rule of law,” she said. “Or else, we have to ban all communitarian movements, like the Lubavitch, Mormons, the CRIF (Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions)...”

Muslim-affiliated organisations haven’t been the only ones in the authorities' crosshairs in recent days. The general rapporteur of the government’s own Observatory of Laicite, Nicolas Cadene, is reportedly under pressure to be replaced.

According to magazine Le Point, Minister Delegate in charge of Citizenship Marlene Schiappa has long been unhappy with Cadene’s public positions denouncing Islamophobia, with one source saying that the rapporteur “seems more preoccupied by the fight against the stigmatisation of Muslims than by the defence of laicite”.

Punitive one-upmanship

Meanwhile, Darmanin went one step further on Tuesday by expressing the view that the existence of halal food sections in stores encourages Muslims to isolate from the rest of French society.

It is not Islam that is in crisis. It is Macron and his government
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“It’s always shocked me to enter a supermarket and see an aisle of communitarian cuisine on one side… that’s my opinion, this is how communitarianism starts,” the minister said.

“I think capitalism has a responsibility. When you sell communitarian clothing, maybe you have a part of responsibility in communitarianism.”

“So are you saying you would like to see these things disappear?” the interviewer asked.

“I have my opinion, and fortunately not all my opinions are part of the laws of the republic,” Darmanin answered.

While his comments have raised eyebrows, the interior minister is far from an anomaly in the French political and media landscape.

On CNews channel, which has been described by some as the French Fox News, several political and media figures suggested on Monday a flurry of radical, yet oft-repeated, measures to tackle the perceived war on French secular identity. These included opening a prison colony on the Kerguelen Islands in the Antarctic circle, and cracking down on first names that do not have French origins.

Meanwhile, French MP Meyer Habib, who represents French citizens living in southern Europe, Israel and Turkey, quoted the French national anthem in a tweet with thinly veiled allusions to armed conflict.

“Take up weapons, children of the fatherland!... they are coming into our midst to cut the throats of your sons and consorts’... Anger. We must wake up! It’s almost too late," he wrote on 16 October, before calling the next day for the deportation of undocumented migrants, the implementation of administrative detention, and the revocation of nationality for those convicted of terrorist acts.

For Yasser Louati, president of the Committee for Justice and Freedoms for All (CJL), the aggressive rhetoric used by Darmanin and others is concerning.

“When we talk about ‘enemies within’, this term was first used against Jews, ending in the catastrophe that we know of,” he told MEE.

“Never after an attack has [the government] asked ‘why?’ Never has the state done an audit of the failures of anti-terrorism measures after an attack. We keep things as they are, even if they are failing, and we call for new laws. Never has the executive branch asked that we all stand up against this together.”

Laicite, the eternal debate

The murder of Samuel Paty has once again brought to the fore France’s tensions over the meaning and application of laicite, a cornerstone value of the state for over a century.

First enshrined into law in 1905, and mentioned in the first sentence of the constitution, laicite is legally defined as the strict separation of state and religion. In the past two decades, however, a new interpretation has gained ground, which sees expressions of faith in public spaces as contrary to France’s secularist values.

While secularism in principle applies to all religions equally, Islam has been singled out by the new conception of laicite, with head coverings such as the hijab or niqab being subjected to legal restrictions due to being deemed ostentatious religious symbols.

The rise of IS, which recruited hundreds of French members who went to Syria and Iraq, along with several prominent attacks carried out in France by followers of a similar ideology, has further strained the terms of the debate.

People attend a silent march to pay tribute to Samuel Paty in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, France, on 20 October 2020. The slogan reads
People attend a silent march to pay tribute to Samuel Paty in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, France, on 20 October 2020. The slogan reads "Love for all, hatred for no-one" (Reuters)

Since the deadly attack on satirical publication Charlie Hebdo by two members of al-Qaeda in January 2015 following its publication of caricatures of Muhammad, more than half of French people polled have said they believe Islam to be incompatible with French values.

Growing resentment against Islam has left Muslims “to feel like they have to choose between their country, France, and their religion - as if a choice had to be made,” Bouzar says.

Earlier this month, Macron had announced plans to present a draft law aimed at strengthening secularism in France and tackle what he described as "Islamist separatism" in the country, calling for increased government oversight over the financing of mosques and training of imams.

While France forbids census figures based on race or religion, Muslims are believed to represent around six million of the country's 67 million inhabitants, many of whom have origins in former French colonies in Africa.

The topic of Islamophobia has been a longstanding issue in France, with analysts arguing that the intersection of immigration, religion and class have meant many French Muslims suffer from poverty, discrimination, and marginalisation within French society.

Macron himself acknowledged during his 2 October speech on separatism that the French state bore responsibility for the “ghettoisation” of poorer areas and the rise of exclusionary ideologies.

“We have concentrated populations together based on their origins, we haven’t sufficiently recreated diversity, not enough economic and social mobility… on our retreat, our cowardice, they [extremists] have built their projects,” he said.

‘Muslims are scared’

The state’s simultaneous crackdown on violent ideologies exemplified by groups such as IS and al-Qaeda, as well as expressions of Muslim faith such as head coverings or other modest attire, has led to a conflation between the two, some advocates say - even though French Muslims have also found themselves the targets of ideologically motivated violence. 

“Muslims are doubly scared,” Bouzar said. “They are afraid of jihadists who want to eliminate them because they are not ‘true’ Muslims, and then they are scared of this anti-Muslim hatred which changes their daily lives.”

'We are all targeted by terrorism. Terrorism makes no differentiation between Muslims and non-Muslims'

- Yasser Louati, Committee for Justice and Freedoms for All

For Louati, the dichotomy made between Islam and laicite ends up working in the favour of groups like IS, often referred to by its Arabic acronym Daesh in French.

“When Daesh wrote in 2014 about ‘destroying the grey area’, they said: ‘We want to spill blood and divide Western society to make Muslims an oppressed community,” he said.

“We are all targeted by terrorism. Terrorists make no differentiation between Muslims and non-Muslims - they’ve shown it at the Bataclan, they’ve shown it at Charlie Hebdo, they’ve shown it in Nice.”

In the wake of the Conflans murder, several attacks with suspected anti-Muslim or anti-Arab motives have been reported in the country, most notably a stabbing attack targeting two veiled women near the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Saturday.

“France is experiencing psychological trauma, but to lose complexity in our analysis is dangerous,” Bouzar said. “It means losing our values, mirroring perhaps Daesh. It’s not a matter of self-righteousness, it’s that it could be counter-productive.”

Bouzar worked for the French government in 2017 on a project seeking to deradicalise Islamic State sympathisers or former members.

Under then-Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, she said she was able to take a multidisciplinary approach bringing together psychologists, families, schools, imams and police to go to the root of the issue.

A demonstrators holds a sign addressed to the killer of Samuel Paty reading “Hey Abadou, you don’t represent Islam nor Muslims” during a rally in Paris on  on 18 October 2020 (Reuters)
A demonstrators holds a sign addressed to the killer of Samuel Paty reading “Hey Abadou, you don’t represent Islam nor Muslims” during a rally in Paris on on 18 October 2020 (Reuters)

She believes French authorities need to come back to a complex approach, instead of relying exclusively on a “repressive system”.

Some of the young people she sought to rehabilitate, she said, are now “under the impression that they will never have a place in France”.

Concerns over legality

In addition to fears that the response to the murder of Samuel Paty will further stoke resentment against France’s Muslim community, legal experts have cautioned that the government’s aggressive approach may in effect violate existing French and international law.

Speaking to France Inter radio on Tuesday, legal expert on public freedoms Nicolas Hervieu cautioned that despite the “race” to announce firm measures, many such decisions could end up being contested in court if they did not go through due process.

“We cannot dissolve an association simply because we don’t agree with its opinions,” Hervieu said, adding that investigations had to take place on a case-by-case basis.

“There could be a paradox in how, faced with the vital menace which Islamist terrorism represents to our democracy, we end up undermining ourselves the foundations of democracy by putting an end to the freedoms that are our pride and against which terrorists fight.” 

'Blanket characterisation of the enemy is... one of the ingredients of totalitarian thinking, for jihadists as well as for fascists'

- Dounia Bouzar, anthropologist

International rights groups have called for human rights to remain at the centre of the response to Paty’s execution.

“One does not fight hatred with hatred. One does not fight intolerance with more intolerance... Human rights protect us. We must protect them,” Amnesty International wrote in a statement honouring the slain teacher.

The perspective of breaching the law has not appeared to faze some political figures, regardless of affiliation. 

Former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls seconded on Sunday Damarnin’s call to shut down BarakaCity and the CCIF - even if it meant breaking the law.

“If we must, in an exceptional moment, distance ourselves from European law, make our constitution evolve, we must do so,” he told BFMTV. “I’ve said it before in 2015, we are at war. If we are at war, then we must act and strike.”

On Tuesday, the CCIF announced that it had appealed to the United Nations Human Rights Council over the “separatism” bill and efforts to shut down Muslim associations, calling the context an “unprecendented situation in France regarding the treatment of Muslim communities”.

This wouldn’t be the first time that an international rights body has looked at France's relationship with its Muslim communities.

In the past several years, UN human rights rapporteurs have repeatedly denounced France’s state of emergency and surveillance policies as straying from Paris’s “international commitments and obligations in terms of human rights”.

In 2018, the UN Human Rights Committee said France’s niqab ban “disproportionately harmed” freedom of worship, adding that it was “not persuaded by France’s claim that a ban on face covering was necessary and proportionate from a security standpoint or for attaining the goal of ‘living together’ in society”.

Is a nuanced, measured debate on Islam and secularism still possible in France today? Bouzar is pessimistic.

“In this context, it’s very complicated,” she said. “I have spent my life trying to create a connection between Muslims and non-Muslims, and now… it’s a catastrophe.

“The blanket characterisation of the enemy is part of all ideologies that lead to violence. It’s one of the ingredients of totalitarian thinking, for jihadists as well as for fascists.”

'Enemies of the republic': Is France's response to Samuel Paty murder deepening divisions?
  • 23 octobre 2020 à 12:32