Lebanon: We want to be part of rebuilding Iraq

Lebanese President Michel Aoun (C) is seen during a visit to the Church of Our Lady of Deliverance in Baghdad’s Karrada neighborhood on Feb. 20, 2018. (Sabah Arar/AFP)
Updated 21 February 2018
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Lebanon: We want to be part of rebuilding Iraq

BAGHDAD: Lebanese President Michel Aoun expressed his country’s desire to be involved in the reconstruction of Iraq, the fight against terrorism, and to boost trade and tourism between the two countries, Iraqi officials told Arab News on Tuesday.

Aoun, who is visiting Iraq for the first time since taking office in Lebanon in 2016, arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday morning accompanied by Lebanese ministers on a one-day visit at the invitation of Iraqi President Fuad Masum. He met Iraqi officials, including the prime minister and the speaker of the parliament, to discuss joint interests.

Officials from Masum’s office told Arab News that the Lebanese had come to Baghdad to discuss “four essential” issues: the participation of Lebanese companies in the reconstruction of Iraq; cooperation between the two countries in counter-terrorism; investments projects and reinforcing trade and tourism exchange; and Lebanese debts incurred against Iraq.

“Lebanese companies are interested in coming to Iraq to work in the field of reconstruction. This is a key point (in discussions), in addition to cooperation in combating terrorism and promoting trade and tourism exchanges,” Hussien Al-Hindawi, Masum’s media adviser, told Arab News.

“They are looking to obtain some facilities that allow Lebanese companies to sign up for the reconstruction of Iraq and to obtain some investment projects in addition to customs facilities that contribute to increasing Lebanese exports to Iraq,” Al-Hindawi said.

In October, Iraq declared the end of military operations against militants and announced the start of reconstruction of war-affected areas. More than 150 investment projects, including dozens of mega projects, were presented by Iraq a week ago at the international conference for reconstruction in Kuwait, in coordination with the Kuwaiti government, the International Monetary Fund and the UN.

Most Arab and international companies are looking for facilities and guarantees for projects worth several billion dollars, specifically in oil and reconstruction.

Iraq is one of the most important markets for Lebanese goods in the region — about 10 percent of Lebanese exports are consumed annually. However, exports have decreased since 2011 because of additional costs caused by the suspension of transport through Syrian territory after the outbreak of civil war and the increase in customs duties imposed by Iraqi authorities on imported goods.

The debts owed to Iraqi traders since 2003, estimated at $1 billion, were also part of the talks, Iraqi officials told Arab News.

Nicola Tueni, minister of state for anti-corruption, who is keeping tabs on the file of debts, was among the Lebanese delegation.

“The Lebanese president is under pressure from his people to engage in reconstruction and investment projects in Iraq,” an Iraqi official involved in the talks told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

“They filed a formal request to reduce the customs duties on Lebanese goods and are currently negotiating to acquire some investments for extinguishing the old debts,” the official said.

“We can get a good deal. They are strongly looking to come back to work in the south, at the same time we need all possible efforts to rebuild our country.”


Tortured, persecuted, deported: a tribe’s ordeal at the hands of Qatar

Updated 51 min 17 sec ago
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Tortured, persecuted, deported: a tribe’s ordeal at the hands of Qatar

  • The tribe’s ordeal began in 1996, when some of their members voiced support for Sheikh Khalifa Al-Thani
  • Another member of the tribe twice lost his job at Qatar Petroleum, in 1999 and 2003, simply because he was a member of the Al-Ghufran tribe

GENEVA: Members of a prominent tribe told an audience in Geneva on Thursday how they were stripped of their nationality and suffered torture, forced displacement and deportation in a 22-year campaign of systematic persecution by authorities in Qatar.
“My story is about wanting my rights, and I hope my story reaches your hearts,” said Hamed Al-Ghufrani, whose family was forced to flee Qatar for the UAE in 1996.
Another member of the tribe twice lost his job at Qatar Petroleum, in 1999 and 2003, simply because he was a member of the Al-Ghufran tribe, and had his nationality revoked in 2005. 
His 14-year-old son spoke of being a “stateless person” and called on the UN to end the persecution so he could return to Qatar.
The press conference at the Swiss Press Club, organized by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, came two days after the Al-Ghufran delegation staged a protest in front of the UN building in Geneva during the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council.
The tribe’s ordeal began in 1996, when some of their members voiced support for Sheikh Khalifa Al-Thani, the Qatari emir deposed the previous year by his son Hamad, father of the current emir, Sheikh Tamim.
About 800 Al-Ghufran families, more than 6,000 people, were stripped of their citizenship and had their property confiscated. Many remain stateless, both in Qatar and in neighboring Gulf countries.
“They have taken away our social, political and economic rights,” said
Jabir bin Saleh Al-Ghufrani, a tribal elder. “The Al-Ghufran tribe has been subjected to unjust treatment.
“I left on a vacation in 1996, and now I can never go back to my country. I can go to any place on this earth, but not my home, not Qatar.”
Members of the delegation produced passports, certificates and other documents to show that their right to Qatari citizenship was being denied.
“I ask for my rights. Our people have been asking for our rights for a very long time now and no one has even explained to us why this is happening to us,” said Hamad Khaled Al-Araq.
Jaber Hamad Al-Araq, the tribe member fired twice by Qatar Petroleum, said: “The consequences of revoking our citizenship came in waves. They took away health care, education and public services. They took away all the tools that would allow us to live in Qatar with dignity, as human beings.”
Many of the tribe have suffered from depression and other medical conditions as a result of their ill-treatment. “I was rejected many times for jobs because of the injustice we face,” said Jaber Mohamed Al-Ghufrani. “They would reject me, the interior ministry office would reject me, just for being from the tribe. We are marginalized, without value, and left on the sidelines in our own country.
“I am responsible for my family, consisting of my wife and children, and we have faced many injustices that led us to have psychological trauma. We have suffered enough.”
Abdul Hadi Jaber Al-Ghufrani, another member of the tribe, told the press conference: “All members of the Al-Ghufran tribe without exception suffered from the decision to revoke their nationality.
“Those who remained in Qatar are unable to work, travel, or act like normal human beings, they cannot trade, they cannot even give their identity.
“Those who were expelled and forcibly displaced live in exile. They cannot apply or work in any job where they can get money for they basic needs, and most of them have no official identity papers. They can no longer see their families and loved ones.
“We are here to demand our rights and we will not stop until we get our rights. From today for the next 20 years, we will not stop.”
The youngest member of the delegation, Mohammed Ali Amer Al-Ghufrani Al-Marri, 14, said: “My nationality was revoked when I was less than one year old.
“I did not have the right to grow up in my own country, I was not given the right to stay there. I wish to return to my country and enjoy my rights as a citizen.”