Want to run an Iraqi ministry? Apply online, PM says

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To form his government, he opened an online portal for anyone to apply to run Iraq’s 22 ministries, posts that have come to be associated with patronage and graft. (File/AFP)
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Hisham Al-Dahabi, center, a social worker and philanthropist speaks with the Associated Press at the orphanage he runs in the heart of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP/Hadi Mizban)
Updated 23 October 2018
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Want to run an Iraqi ministry? Apply online, PM says

  • Many political parties have their own militias and threaten to disrupt Iraq’s fragile stability if they do not get the ministries they desire
  • Should any ministers be appointed from the online applicants, they will find themselves thrust into a remorseless political environment

BAGHDAD: Drain the swamp: it’s a promise leaders around the world are making in this era of voter cynicism and political upheaval.
But Iraq’s Prime Minister-designate Adel Abdul-Mahdi may be taking it further than anyone else. To form his government, he opened an online portal for anyone to apply to run Iraq’s 22 ministries, posts that have come to be associated with patronage and graft.
Within days, his office received more than 15,000 applications, according to local media, and offered interviews to 601 candidates.
Still, many here are skeptical that Abdul-Mahdi can change how business is done. Many political parties have their own militias and threaten to disrupt Iraq’s fragile stability if they do not get the ministries they desire.
Others are asking whether it is wise to appoint political neophytes to the highest positions of government.
“I’m fifty-fifty,” said Hisham Al-Dahabi, a social worker and philanthropist, who said he applied reluctantly to be the minister of labor and social affairs, a position that oversees services and pensions for veterans, their widows and children.
“The parties will never waive their shares in the new government,” said Al-Dahabi.
On a recent day at the orphanage he runs in the heart of Baghdad, Al-Dahabi juggled his responsibilities as manager and social worker while giving media interviews and showing around an admiring delegation from a European embassy.
Children vied for his affections and called him “Baba,” Arabic for “Dad.” He scooped up an armful of the youngest ones and checked their teeth — a dentist was slated to visit later in the day.
“They all want to see him, but we have to pick two,” he said.
He hadn’t told them he’d applied to be a minister, and in any case he felt it was a long shot. It was a campaign by friends and supporters, he said, that led him to apply.
One week later, Al-Dahabi met the prime minister-designate. He said only that they had discussed initiatives to improve the lives of Iraqi children.
Abdul-Mahdi has remained tight-lipped about his Cabinet appointments, and his office declined a request for an interview. By law, he has until Nov. 2 to appoint his ministers, who must be approved by parliament before being sworn in. Iraq’s official newspaper, Al-Sabah, said Monday that 15 appointments could come this week, and that the remainder would be named at a later date.
And while it is unlikely he will be able to pry the top ministries from the hands of Iraq’s leading blocs, the online initiative appeared calculated to burnish Abdul-Mahdi’s image as a technocrat and reformer at a time when Iraqis are fed-up with party politics.
In May parliamentary elections, turnout was just 44 percent — a record low — and Iraqis gave the largest share of their votes to a list championed by the populist cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr. Al-Sadr had vowed to deliver a “government of technocrats,” though his bloc has a poor record of running ministries in the past.
Since returning from exile in 2003, Abdul-Mahdi, an economist, has served as oil minister, finance minister and vice president, developing a reputation as a political independent. He is Iraq’s first prime minister in 12 years who is not from the Dawa party, blamed by many for presiding over the deterioration of the country’s civil service and unchecked militia growth.
Alaa Khudair, a retired civil servant, called the online initiative a “positive step” to wrest power away from the established parties that he said “failed to speak for Iraqis and produce a national project.”
Should any ministers be appointed from the online applicants, they will find themselves thrust into a remorseless political environment, civic activist Yahya Al-Hafiz warned.
“The political parties are refusing to go along. They’re starting to show their fangs. This is a government that works on favors and deals. It’s impossible to think they’re going to give that up,” said Al-Hafiz.
But Al-Dahabi said he was unfazed, and other experts would not be intimidated either.
“At least we have some experience in our fields, and we have some accomplishments on the ground,” he said.


Illegal immigration, refugees top Arab-EU Summit agenda

Updated 24 February 2019
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Illegal immigration, refugees top Arab-EU Summit agenda

  • Heads of state, officials from EU and Arab League member countries to attend summit today
  • Some 19.5 million people globally have been forced to flee their countries

CAIRO: Egypt on Sunday will host heads of state, government officials and representatives from EU and Arab League member countries, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Bahrain’s King Hamad.

Refugees and illegal immigration will top the agenda amid the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.

Some 19.5 million people globally have been forced to flee their countries. According to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), Syrians constitute the largest refugee population in Europe, followed by Eritreans then Afghans. 

According to unofficial statistics, Syrians are also the largest refugee population in the Arab world, followed by Yemenis, Libyans and Sudanese.

Hossam El-Khouli, secretary-general of the Egyptian Nation’s Future Party, said: “The EU … should call for the repatriation of refugees if conditions are appropriate.”

He said: “As for the right of asylum … a number of countries have granted asylum to criminals who have committed violent crimes against their own people and homelands.”

Summit participants intend to debate the necessity of combating this kind of migration, especially given its impact on the security and economy of many countries. 

Margaret Azer, an Egyptian lawmaker, said a country’s economic conditions are one of the main drivers of illegal immigration. 

“The decline of political conditions in several countries is (also) contributing to the rise in numbers of people seeking illegal immigration,” she told Arab News. 

“For example, we see that the biggest percentage of immigrants in Europe are from countries like Syria and Libya. The reason could also be religious or sectarian persecution, as is the case in Myanmar.”

Frontex President Fabrice Leggeri said although the number of migrants arriving in Europe dropped to 150,114 in 2018 compared to 204,750 in 2017, the agency continues to support border controls by providing more workers and technology.