British minister emphasizes Saudi Arabia’s important role in Yemen peace process

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt gives a speech at the Konrad-Adenauer foundation in Berlin on February 20, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 21 February 2019
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British minister emphasizes Saudi Arabia’s important role in Yemen peace process

  • Hunt said that the British-Saudi partnership helped parties to the Yemen conflict form the Stockholm Agreement under the auspices of the UN
  • British Minister of State for the Middle East Alistair Burt pointed out that Riyadh was the “biggest donor of humanitarian efforts in Yemen”

LONDON: British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt highlighted Wednesday the “strategic partnership” between Britain and Saudi Arabia and said it would help British efforts to end the war in Yemen.
Hunt noted that the British-Saudi partnership helped parties to the Yemen conflict form the Stockholm Agreement under the auspices of the UN, Asharq Al-Awsat reported.
“The strategic relationship that the UK has with Saudi Arabia is what allows us to have a huge influence in bringing about peace in Yemen,” he said.
Hunt’s comments, made during a visit to Berlin on Wednesday, follow a decision by Germany to freeze arms exports to Saudi Arabia. That move was slammed by several other European countries, including France, with President Emmanuel Macron labeling it “pure demagoguery.”
“Britain and Germany have the same objectives, but we need to be able to continue that strategic relationship (with Saudi Arabia) in order to make sure that there is a European voice at the (Yemeni) negotiation table that does everything it can to press for peace,” the British foreign secretary said.
He added that he would raise the issue with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Berlin, following reports that the British minister had written to his German counterpart to complain about the arms embargo.
Britain’s foreign ministry confirmed that Hunt sent a letter to Maas, but did not elaborate on its content.
Citing the letter, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that London had urged Berlin to exempt major European defense projects from the weapons embargo.
Meanwhile, the British Minister of State for the Middle East Alistair Burt underlined Saudi Arabia’s pivotal role in Yemen, pointing out that Riyadh was the “biggest donor of humanitarian efforts in Yemen.”
Burt, who recently visited a number of Gulf states including Saudi Arabia, stressed Britain’s keenness to achieve progress in the Yemeni talks considering the country’s humanitarian situation. He added that he discussed the upcoming donor conference in Geneva during his visit.


Egypt votes on extending El-Sisi’s rule, country awaits result

Updated 20 April 2019
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Egypt votes on extending El-Sisi’s rule, country awaits result

  • El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital
  • Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms.

CAIRO: Egyptians were voting on Saturday in a referendum that aims to cement the rule of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the former coup leader who presents himself as a rock of stability in a turbulent region.

Voters were being asked to back amendments to the constitution to allow El-Sisi, 64, to run for another six-year term while boosting his control over the judiciary and giving the military even greater influence in political life.

At a polling station in Manyal, a Cairo suburb overlooking the Nile, Mohamed Abdel Salam, 45, told AFP he was voting enthusiastically in support of the changes.

"I don't care about the presidential terms," he said.

"Sisi could stay forever as long as he's doing his job... and he has already done a lot"

The three-day referendum bucks the trend of North Africa's renewed uprisings, in which mass pro-democracy protests this month swept away veteran presidents in Algeria and Sudan.

Sisi himself was among the first to vote when polls opened, casting his ballot in the upmarket Cairo suburb of Heliopolis.

In Shubra, a working-class neighbourhood of the capital, dozens of voters, mostly women carrying their children, queued outside a polling station in the local high school.

In Cairo, troops and police were deployed in numbers although the interior ministry declined to give any nationwide figures.

Egypt is still battling a hardened Islamic insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula that has seen attacks in Cairo and other cities.

Sisi has argued that he needs longer to complete the job of restoring security and stability after the turmoil that followed the overthrow of veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak in the Arab Spring of 2011.

Out on the streets, Sisi's supporters waved flags bearing their campaign motto: "Do the Right" thing, as they pressed passers-by to turn out and vote 'Yes'.

The Egyptian leader won his first term as president in 2014, a year after he led the army in overthrowing elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi following mass protests against his single turbulent year in power.

Standing virtually unopposed after the disqualification or withdrawal of all realistic challengers, he was re-elected in March 2018 with more than 97 percent.

Both elections drew heavy criticism from human rights groups as they were accompanied by swingeing crackdowns on dissent -- both Islamist and secular.

Human Rights Watch also took issue with the referendum on extending Sisi's rule, saying the "constitutional amendments" would "entrench repression".

In a statement Saturday, the New York-based watchdog criticised the "grossly unfree, rights-abusive environment" of the vote.

For the past few weeks, Egypt's streets have been awash with banners and billboards urging citizens to vote for Sisi, while popular folk singers have exhorted voters to go to the polls.

Pro-Sisi campaign volunteers handed out boxed meals at four different polling stations in Cairo to voters after they had cast their ballots, AFP reporters said.

A parliamentarian greeted voters and volunteers gave out vouchers for the meals in the Shubra district.

In Manyal, a DJ blared loud patriotic songs extolling the virtues of Egypt under Sisi's leadership, including a new song by iconic Lebanese diva Nancy Ajram dedicated to Egypt and called "Ragel ibn Ragel" (What a fine man).

But not everyone is upbeat about the changes.

Sporting casual attire, a voter in his mid-30s told AFP in Cairo: "We are all staff in the same company and we were instructed by management to go vote.

"I want to say 'No'... on extending the presidential terms and the amendments related to the judiciary," he said declining to give his name for fear of repercussions.

He pointed to his bosses nearby who were making sure employees were voting.

"Even if I say 'No', they (the authorities) are still going to do what they want in the end," he added despondently.

Earlier in the week, parliament overwhelmingly endorsed the consitutional changes, which also include the creation of a second parliamentary chamber and a quota ensuring at least 25 percent of lawmakers are women.

Think tank the Soufan Center said the main effect of the referendum would be to "solidify Sisi's grip on the Egyptian political regime" in a country that "has become even more autocratic than it was under Mubarak".