More talks likely on Kurdish independence referendum, says negotiator

A Kurdish man sells sweets at a market in Irbil, Iraq. (Reuters)
Updated 22 August 2017
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More talks likely on Kurdish independence referendum, says negotiator

BAGHDAD/IRBIL: A delegation representing Iraq’s ruling Shiite coalition may meet Kurdish politicians again next week to try to convince them to delay or cancel a plan to hold an independence referendum, a negotiator said.
A first round of talks, held last week in Baghdad, brought the two sides closer and a second round could be held next week in the Kurdish capital Erbil, Abdullah Al-Zaidi, a negotiator from the National Alliance, Iraq’s Shiite Muslim ruling coalition, told Reuters on Monday evening.
The Kurdish delegation held separate meetings last week with Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi and the National Alliance, in addition to other political parties in Baghdad.
Mala Bakhtiar, a Kurdish official, said on Saturday the possibility of postponing a planned Sept. 25 referendum on independence could be considered in return for financial and political concessions from the central government in Baghdad.
The US and other Western nations fear the vote could ignite a new conflict with Baghdad and possibly neighboring countries, diverting attention from the ongoing war against Daesh in Iraq and Syria. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson formally asked Massoud Barzani, president of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), two weeks ago to postpone the referendum. US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis plans to press Barzani again to call off the referendum during their talks in Irbil, the Kurdish capital in northern Iraq, said a US official traveling with him.
“They (the Kurds) want guarantees,” said Al-Zaidi, who in charge of relations with the Kurdish parties at the National Alliance. “The question of the guarantees has been left to the next round of talks.”
The Kurds will not agree to consider to delay the vote without fixing another date for it, said Bakhtiar, executive secretary of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Politburo.
At the political level, Baghdad should commit to agree to settle the issue of disputed regions such as the oil-rich area of Kirkuk, where Arab and Turkmen communities also live, he said.
On the economic side, Baghdad should be ready to help the Kurds overcome a financial crisis and settle debts owed by their government, he said in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya.
He estimated the debt at $10 billion to $12 billion, about equal to the KRG’s annual budget, owed to public works contractors and civil servants and Kurdish peshmerga fighters whose salaries have not been paid in full for several months.
Baghdad stopped payments from the Iraqi federal budget to the KRG in 2014 after the Kurds began exporting oil independently from Baghdad, via a pipeline to Turkey.
The Kurds say they need the extra revenue to cope with increased costs incurred by the war against Islamic State and a large influx into KRG territory of displaced people.
The self-proclaimed Daesh “caliphate” effectively collapsed in July when US-backed Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul from the militants after a nine-month campaign in which Kurdish peshmerga fighters took part.
The terrorists remain, however, in control of territory in western Iraq and eastern Syria. The US has pledged to maintain its support of allied forces in both countries until the militants’ total defeat.
The Kurds have been seeking an independent state since at least the end of World War I, when colonial powers divided up the Middle East and left Kurdish-populated territory split between modern-day Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Turkey, Iran and Syria, which together with Iraq have sizeable Kurdish communities, all oppose an independent Kurdistan. Al-Abadi’s government has rejected the planned referendum as “unilateral” and unconstitutional.
Iraq’s majority Shiite population mainly lives in the south while the Kurds, largely secular Sunnis, and Sunni Arabs inhabit two swathes of the north. Central Iraq around Baghdad is mixed.
Kurdish officials have said disputed areas, including the Kirkuk region, will be covered by the referendum, to determine whether they would want to remain in Kurdistan or not.
The Kurdish peshmerga in 2014 prevented Daesh from capturing Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, after the Iraqi army fled in the face of the militants. The peshmerga now effectively run the Kirkuk region, also claimed by Turkmen and Arabs.
Hard-line Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite militias have threatened to expel the Kurds from this region and three other disputed areas — Sinjar, Makhmour and Khanaqin.


Recent appointments in Egypt show rise of women to high political office in Mideast

The appointment of the women ministers may help to assuage disappointment about the make-up of the rest of the — all male — Cabinet.
Updated 21 June 2018
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Recent appointments in Egypt show rise of women to high political office in Mideast

  • Recent appointments in Egypt are the latest example of the rise of women to high political office in the region
  • “The men’s monopoly has been broken,” the Jordanian National Commission for Women declared in a celebratory statement which also praised the prime minister’s “clear position”

CAIRO, LONDON: The appointment of two more female ministers this month to the new Egyptian Cabinet means women now fill eight out of 34 positions, the highest number in the modern history of Egypt.

Hala Zayed is the new health minister while Yasmine Fouad takes over as environment minister. Both women replaced men and join culture minister Inas Abdel-Dayem, tourism minister Rania Al-Mashat, Nabila Makram (immigration minister) Ghada Wali (social solidarity minister), Hala El-Saeed (planning minister) and Sahar Nasr (minister of investment and international cooperation).
The appointments by Egypt’s new Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly have been welcomed as forward thinking by social and political commentators.
Dr. Magda Bagnied, a writer and professor of communication, told Arab News: “I believe whoever planned for those eight effective ministries was looking forward for the future of Egypt since they are all interconnected in some way, and having females leading them is a leap forward.
“A country’s rank and status is measured by the role of women. The higher the number of leadership roles for women, the further the country is considered to be on the road to development.”
Four out of 15 new deputy ministers are also women and women now hold 15 percent of the seats in Parliament.
The rise of women to high political office in the Arab world is by no means restricted to Egypt.
Jordan also has a record number of women ministers after Prime Minister-designate Omar Razzaz appointed seven women to the 29-member Cabinet sworn in last week.
“The men’s monopoly has been broken,” the Jordanian National Commission for Women declared in a celebratory statement which also praised the prime minister’s “clear position.”
The appointment of the women ministers may help to assuage disappointment about the make-up of the rest of the — all male — Cabinet.
Twenty-three members of the new Jordanian Cabinet have been ministers before and 13 were members of the outgoing government that was brought down by popular protest.
Rawan Joyoussi, whose posters became one of the defining images of the protests, said: “I was hoping that women would be empowered and I am happy with that. But as far as the composition of the rest of the government is concerned, I think we have to play our part to create the mechanisms that will hold the government accountable.”
In the UAE, women hold nine out of 31 ministerial positions, and one of them, Minister for Youth Shamma Al-Mazrui, is also the world’s youngest minister, appointed in 2016 when she was only 22.
This makes the UAE Cabinet nearly 30 percent female, which is higher than India, almost equal to the UK and far ahead of the US, where Donald Trump has just four women in his Cabinet.
The general election in Morocco in October 2016 produced 81 women members of Parliament, accounting for 21 percent of the total 395 seats. The Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), which won the most votes, also ended up with the highest number of women MPs, 18.
Though elections in Saudi Arabia were open to women only in 2015, it ranks 100th out of 193rd in the world league table of women in national governing bodies, slightly above the US at 102nd place.
A policy briefing from the Brookings Institution think-tank in Washington says that one of the best ways for a country to ease economic pressure and boost productivity is to increase female participation in the workplace and in political life.
“Introducing diversity through gender parity will benefit economic growth and can help Arab countries to generate prosperity as well as the normative and social imperative of change,” wrote analyst Bessma Momani.
Yet in some parts of the Middle East, female representation seems to be going backward.
In 2009, four of Kuwait’s 65 MPs were women. In 2012 there were three and in 2013 only one. In 2016, 15 women stood for election to the 50 open parliamentary seats (the other 15 are appointed). Only one, Safa Al-Hashem, who was already an MP, was successful.
Qatar has no women MPs or ministers at all.
Egypt’s appointment of two more women ministers does not have the appearance of tokenism. The new Health Minister, Hala Zayed, 51, has a solid background in the field as a former president of the Academy of Health Sciences, a hospital specializing in cancer treatment for children.
She was also government adviser on health, chairwoman of a committee for combating corruption at the ministry she now heads and also has a Ph.d. in project management.
Similarly, Yasmeen Fouad, 43, the new environment minister, has four years’ experience as a former assistant minister in the same department, where she was known as “the lady for difficult missions,” and liaised with the UN. She is also an assistant professor of economics and political science at Cairo University.
Egypt’s first female minister was Hikmat Abu Zaid, appointed minister of social affairs in 1962 by President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who dubbed her “the merciful heart of revolution.”
Now there are eight like her, demonstrating that in the Middle East, “girl power” is on the rise.