Economic conditions ‘suffocating the joy of Ramadan’ in Gaza

Palestinians gather to get soup offered for free during Ramadan, in Gaza City. Israeli military escalation has increased the suffering of the Gazans. (Reuters)
Updated 14 May 2019
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Economic conditions ‘suffocating the joy of Ramadan’ in Gaza

  • Palestinians face Israeli aggression, poverty and salary crisis during the holy month

GAZA CITY: Ramadan has arrived under very harsh conditions in the Gaza Strip, the result of the 13-year siege and waves of Israeli military escalation, as well as the internal division that has existed since mid-2007.

Gazans began the first day of Ramadan by burying the victims of Israeli airstrikes, which targeted hundreds of homes and public and private facilities over two days.

Israeli military escalation has increased the suffering of the Gazans, who have been denied the joy of Ramadan due to widespread poverty, high unemployment, the salary crisis and the inability of citizens to purchase items.

Employee Mohammed Sultan said that he was unable to provide for his seven-member family because of the delay in paying employees’ salaries in Gaza.

“We received the last salary about a month ago, and we expected to get our salaries before the month of Ramadan, but that did not happen,” Sultan said.

Employees of the Palestinian Authority (PA) led by President Mahmoud Abbas are no longer better off than their Hamas counterparts.

Since March 2017, the PA has deducted more than 60 percent of the salaries of about 50,000 of its employees in Gaza. The PA says the measure is due to a financial crisis, but Palestinian factions and employees see it as “sanctions” to pressure Hamas “and to destabilize the Gaza Strip since it took control of the Gaza Strip in mid-June 2007.”

“We did not feel the month of Ramadan, nor did we feel happy,” said Amal Al-Sattari, an employee of the PA. 

“We lost the holy month and we did not feel it because of the salary crisis and our inability to shop for the needs of Ramadan, as we always used to do.”

“How are we going to provide iftar and suhoor? And we do not have one shekel in our house. It’s a real tragedy,” she said.

Al-Sattari, who is raising six children after her husband’s death seven years ago, asked how her children could be responsible for the political differences that were causing such suffering.

“Instead of taking into consideration our circumstances for the month of Ramadan, paying our full salaries, the PA increased the deduction rate, and about 40 percent of our salaries were paid to us a few days before Ramadan,” she said.

The suffering of workers is even more severe, with 52 percent unemployment and more than half of Gaza’s 2 million people dependent on humanitarian aid from UN and other charities.

“We have received Ramadan and the refrigerator is empty, and my sons cry, they want the lantern of Ramadan,” said Mohamed Allawi, a construction worker who is unemployed.

“The lowest price for the Ramadan lantern is NIS5 ($1.40), and if I had (the money), food and drink would be the first (items) to buy. We are in a situation that does not allow us and our children even a simple joy.”

Allawi said: “People everywhere are thinking about cooking the best food in Ramadan, and our iftar was beans and some rice on the first day, the same as the day before.”

Adnan Ahmed was forced to borrow money from a friend before Ramadan for shopping and celebrating with his nine-member family.

Adnan, a cleaner in a hospital in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, said that he and many of his acquaintances had to sell their wive’s jewelry to overcome the economic crisis. However, the crisis went on longer than expected and there was nothing left to be sold.

Mohammed Saleh, a cheese seller, complained of customers’ reluctance to buy, despite the cheapness and variety of goods offered, adding that he had been hoping for an economic rebound by the end of Ramadan.

Saleh said: “Although I arrived early on the first day of Ramadan and wanted to offer different types of cheeses, which are usually more popular in Ramadan, this was not enough to attract customers because of the deteriorating economic conditions of most people.”

He added that although many people visited the market, the majority could not afford to buy anything.

It was no different for the seller of sweets and nuts, Mohamed Taha, who confirmed that for the third year in a row, Ramadan was one of the most difficult times for the people of Gaza, because of poverty and unemployment. The situation had deteriorated more with the salary crisis of employees at the Palestinian Authority.

He said that he had been selling in the market for many years, but had not seen a recession like the one that was currently being experienced.

Shopper Hisham Madi complained about the rise in the price of many goods, increasing the burden placed on heads of households this month.


Haftar’s rule brings security to eastern Libya, at a cost

Updated 21 May 2019
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Haftar’s rule brings security to eastern Libya, at a cost

  • Haftar’s rivals see him as a dictator who is hoping to rule
  • He worked with Qaddafi until he defected in 1980s

BENGHAZI: After years of assassinations, bombings and militia firefights, Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi finally feels safe again — but security has come at a heavy cost.
Uniformed police are out at major intersections, cafes and restaurants stay open late into the night, and local groups hold art exhibitions and festivals. But the city center lies in ruins, thousands remain displaced, and forces loyal to commander Khalifa Haftar, who now controls eastern Libya, have cracked down on dissent.
Benghazi offers a glimpse of what may befall the capital, Tripoli, where Haftar’s forces launched an offensive last month against rival militia loosely allied with a weak, UN-recognized government. Its fate could also harden the resolve of Haftar’s opponents — who view him as an aspiring dictator — and further imperil UN efforts to peacefully reunite the country.
Haftar’s forces have met stiff resistance on the outskirts of Tripoli, and experts say that despite considerable international support, he is unlikely to succeed in defeating his rivals in the west or unifying the country. They point out that even in the east, his forces rely on local militia as well as Salafists.
Benghazi was the epicenter of the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 that toppled and killed long-ruling dictator Muammar Qaddafi. But in the years after his ouster, the city and much of the country came to be ruled by a patchwork of armed groups: local and tribal militias, nationalist and mainstream extremist groups, as well as Al-Qaeda and Daesh. Extremists attacked the US Consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, killing US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Haftar served as a senior officer under Qaddafi but defected in the 1980s during the ruinous war with Chad, in which he and hundreds of soldiers were captured in an ambush. He later spent more than two decades in the suburbs of Washington, where he is widely believed to have worked with the CIA, before returning to join the uprising in 2011. He eventually built up forces known as the Libyan National Army.
In February 2014, he declared the start of an operation to root out the militia and unify the country. Four months later, when it appeared they would lose influence in a disputed election, extremist and other factions in Tripoli launched an attack on their rivals, eventually splitting the country into rival authorities in the east and west, each beholden to an array of militia6.
“Back to normal”
Haftar’s prominence rose as his forces battled extremists and other rival factions across eastern Libya, and the parliament there eventually recognized him as the head of its armed forces, giving him the rank of field marshal.
He also gained the support of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, as well as France and Russia, all of which came to see him as a key ally against extremists and are widely believed to have provided weapons and other support despite a UN arms embargo. His opponents in western Libya are believed to have gotten aid from Qatar and Turkey.
Today his forces are firmly in control of the country’s east, and the near-daily assassinations, abductions and shootings that once terrified Benghazi’s residents are a thing of the past. Billboards and posters showing Haftar in full military regalia line the streets — with so many placed along the airport road that many jokingly refer to the display as Haftar’s Instagram page.
“In 2019 we have recorded no terrorist attacks or assassinations in Benghazi, which was a daily event back before the LNA took control over the city,” said Maj. Tarek Alkarraz, spokesman for the Interior Ministry in the east. He added that the city of Derna, which was under Daesh control, was similar. “Now life is back to normal and it’s safe and secure.”
Streets are cleaner, garbage is being collected and the electricity cuts out far less often than it did at the height of the fighting. Outside the devastated city center, modern shopping malls have sprung up, as well as upscale seafood and Turkish restaurants. Local ride-booking services are modeled on Uber and Careem.
“The only thing that matters is safety, which we are enjoying, thank God,” said Wanees Amgadah, a retired teacher. “The whole east, and God willing even the west, will be safe with the help of God, thanks to our soldiers.”
Inspired by Egypt’s El-Sisi
Haftar has modeled his rule on that of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, his close ally in neighboring Egypt, who led the overthrow of an elected but divisive president in 2013. Both have declared war on terrorism. El-Sisi has launched an unprecedented crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of people and heavily restricting independent media and civil society.
“The LNA primarily emphasize stability and deem the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies and associates as a security threat,” said Claudia Gazzini, a Libya expert at the International Crisis Group. “This is a very vague term and this brand could be slapped on anyone who opposes the LNA.”
A human rights activist in Benghazi, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said the security forces are more aggressive than at any point since Qaddafi’s time, restricting the movement of activists and NGO workers, and regularly bringing them in for interrogation.
In a report issued last month, the Tripoli-based Libyan Center for Freedom of the Press documented 29 attacks on reporters by Haftar’s forces over the past year and a half, more than any other armed group. Haftar’s forces “prohibit all the media and journalists who are not loyal to it, and thus totally curtail all civilian state aspects in eastern Libya,” it said.
The report said more than 80 journalists have fled the country since 2014. Across Libya, it said, “journalists now face one of three options: to work under threat, or observe silence and not talk about the threats they face, or abandon their profession.”
Haftar’s supporters insist the LNA is not seeking to rule the country, but to rebuild the state and create the conditions for elected government.
“Our goal is not to rule or to establish a military government,” Abdulhadi Lahweej, the foreign minister in the eastern government, told The Associated Press earlier this month. “We want a civil state based on institutions and human rights. We want a government that the Libyan people choose and we will approve of whatever the people choose.”
Egypt has also held elections under El-Sisi, but they resulted in a parliament packed with his supporters, which earlier this year approved constitutional changes allowing him to potentially remain in office until 2030. El-Sisi was re-elected last year in a vote in which all potentially serious competitors were either arrested or pressured into withdrawing from the race.
After years of unrest, many Libyans may prefer that kind of stability.
“Is it possible to achieve democracy in the presence of two and a half million weapons?” asks Ahmed Almahdawi, an independent political analyst based in Benghazi. “I don’t think so.”
Younis Fanoush, a Benghazi lawmaker who recently helped launch an independent political party backing the LNA, said the only hope of establishing a civil state is to first defeat the militia.
He says the armed groups “chose to destroy any hope for establishing a democratic state and drafting a constitution. Now the only way is forward, and this war is a must to remove these cancerous entities from the capital.”