Yazidis bid last farewell to spiritual leader in Iraq

Iraqi Yazidi women attend the funeral of the Mir Takhsin-Beg (Tahseen Said Ali), the hereditary leader of the Yazidi community in the world, during his funeral in the town of Sheikhan, 50km northeast of Mosul, on February 4, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 05 February 2019

Yazidis bid last farewell to spiritual leader in Iraq

  • Thousands of mourners, both men and women, solemnly lined the side of the road to the mountaintop temple in the town Lalish watching his wooden coffin go by

SHEIKHAN: Thousands of Yazidis who survived atrocities at the hands of the Daesh group bid a last farewell in Iraq on Monday to their spiritual leader who died last month.
The longtime head of the world’s Yazidi minority, Prince Tahseen Said Ali, died in the KRH Siloah hospital in Hanover, Germany at the age of 85 at the end of January.
Incense floated in the air as thousands of mourners, both men and women, solemnly lined the side of the road to the mountaintop temple in the holy town of Lalish watching his wooden coffin go by.
Musicians dressed in white played flutes and drums as they accompanied the funeral cortege on Monday, the eve of the prince’s burial in the northern Iraqi town.
“It’s a day of great sadness,” said one of the mourners, Abdel Khamuma.
His death had left “an immense void,” he told AFP.
The Yazidi people were brutally targeted by the Daesh extremists who swept across northern Iraq in 2014 and seized their bastion of Sinjar near the border with Syria.
Daesh fighters slaughtered thousands of Yazidi men and boys, then abducted women and girls to be abused as “sex slaves.”
According to authorities, more than 6,400 Yazidis were abducted and only half of them were able to flee or be rescued.
The fate of the others remains unknown.
The brutal assault pushed around 360,000 of the Kurdish-speaking Yazidis to flee to other parts of Iraq, including the Kurdish region, in addition to another 100,000 who left the country altogether.
The United Nations has said Daesh’s actions could amount to genocide, and is investigating the extremist group’s atrocities across Iraq.
The Yazidi faith emerged in Iran more than 4,000 years ago and is rooted in Zoroastrianism, over time integrating elements of Islam and Christianity.
With no holy book and organized into castes, Yazidis pray to God facing the sun and worship his seven angels — first and foremost Melek Taus, or Peacock Angel.
Of the world’s 1.5 million Yazidis, around 550,000 were living in the remote corners of northern Iraq, where their holiest site Lalish lies and where Prince Tahseen was born, before the Daesh onslaught.
Prince Tahseen, whose body arrived in Iraq from Germany on Monday, will be buried in Lalish on Tuesday.
The Yazidi cause has found a powerful symbol in Nadia Murad, a former IS abductee from Sinjar who escaped and went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her activism against sexual violence.
Prince Tahseen was born in 1933 in Iraq’s northwest Sheikhan district and was appointed head of the Yazidis at age 11 after the death of his father, who was the previous emir.
He later moved to Germany, home of the biggest expatriate Yazidi community.
Iraqi Yazidi parliamentarian Vian Dakhil has told AFP that before dying, Prince Tahseen had appointed his son, Hazem, to succeed him.

Egypt’s options dwindle as Nile talks break down

Updated 22 October 2019

Egypt’s options dwindle as Nile talks break down

  • Talks collapsed earlier this month over the construction of the $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
  • El-Sisi said he would “never” allow Ethiopia to impose a “de facto situation” by filling the dam without an agreement

CAIRO: The latest breakdown in talks with Ethiopia over its construction of a massive upstream Nile dam has left Egypt with dwindling options as it seeks to protect the main source of freshwater for its large and growing population.

Talks collapsed earlier this month over the construction of the $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is 60 percent complete and promises to provide much-needed electricity to Ethiopia’s 100 million people.

But Egypt, with a population of around the same size, fears that the process of filling the reservoir behind the dam could slice into its share of the river, with catastrophic consequences. Pro-government media have cast it as a national security threat that could warrant military action.

Speaking at the UN last month, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said he would “never” allow Ethiopia to impose a “de facto situation” by filling the dam without an agreement.

“While we acknowledge Ethiopia’s right to development, the water of the Nile is a question of life, a matter of existence to Egypt,” he said.

Egypt has been holding talks for years with Ethiopia and Sudan, upstream countries that have long complained about Cairo’s overwhelming share of the river, which is enshrined in treaties dating back to the British colonial era. Those talks came to an acrimonious halt earlier this month, the third time they have broken down since 2014.

“We are fed up with Ethiopian procrastination. We will not spend our lifetime in useless talks,” an Egyptian official told The Associated Press. “All options are on the table, but we prefer dialogue and political means.”

Egypt has reached out to the United States, Russia, China and Europe, apparently hoping to reach a better deal through international mediation. The White House said earlier this month it supports talks to reach a sustainable agreement while “respecting each other’s Nile water equities.”

Mohamed el-Molla, an Egyptian Foreign Ministry official, said Cairo would take the dispute to the UN Security Council if the Ethiopians refuse international mediation.

That has angered Ethiopia, which wants to resolve the dispute through the tripartite talks.

An Ethiopian official said the packages offered by Cairo so far “were deliberately prepared to be unacceptable for Ethiopia.”

“Now they are saying Ethiopia has rejected the offer, and calling for a third-party intervention,” the official added. Both the Ethiopian and the Egyptian official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the talks with the media.

The main dispute is centered on the filling of the dam’s 74-billion-cubic-meter reservoir. Ethiopia wants to fill it as soon as possible so it can generate over 6,400 Megawatts, a massive boost to the current production of 4,000 Megawatts. Ethiopia said earlier this year that the dam would start generating power by the end of 2020 and would operate at full capacity by 2022.

That has the potential to sharply reduce the flow of the Blue Nile, the main tributary to the river, which is fed by annual monsoon rains in the Ethiopian highlands. If the filling takes place during one of the region’s periodic droughts, its downstream impact could be even more severe.

Egypt has proposed no less than seven years for filling the reservoir, and for Ethiopia to adjust the pace according to rainfall, said an Egyptian Irrigation Ministry official who is a member of its negotiation team. The official also was not authorized to discuss the talks publicly and so spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Nile supplies more than 90 percent of Egypt’s freshwater. Egyptians already have one of the lowest per capita shares of water in the world, at around 570 cubic meters per year, compared to a global average of 1,000. Ethiopians however have an average of 125 cubic meters per year.

Egypt wants to guarantee a minimum annual release of 40 billion cubic meters of water from the Blue Nile. The irrigation official said anything less could affect Egypt’s own massive Aswan High Dam, with dire economic consequences.

“It could put millions of farmers out of work. We might lose more than one million jobs and $1.8 billion annually, as well as $300 million worth of electricity,” he said.

The official said Ethiopia has agreed to guarantee just 31 billion cubic meters.

El-Sisi is set to meet with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, on Wednesday in the Russian city of Sochi, on the sidelines of a Russia-Africa summit. They may be able to revive talks, but the stakes get higher as the dam nears completion.

The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, warned earlier this year that the “risk of future clashes could be severe if the parties do not also reach agreement on a longer-term basin-wide river management framework.”

In recent weeks there have been calls by some commentators in Egypt’s pro-government media to resort to force.
Abdallah el-Senawy, a prominent columnist for the daily newspaper el-Shorouk, said the only alternatives were internationalizing the dispute or taking military action.

“Egypt is not a small county,” he wrote in a Sunday column. “If all diplomatic and legal options fail, a military intervention might be obligatory.”
Anwar el-Hawary, the former editor of the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, compared the dispute to the 1973 war with Israel, in which Egypt launched a surprise attack into the Sinai Peninsula.

“If we fought to liberate Sinai, it is logical to fight to liberate the water,” he wrote on Facebook. “The danger is the same in the two cases. War is the last response.”