Can cannabis legalization rescue Lebanon’s ailing economy?

Can cannabis legalization rescue Lebanon’s ailing economy?
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A file photo taken on July 23, 2018 shows a cannabis plantation in the village of Yammoune in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley. (AFP/File Photo)
Can cannabis legalization rescue Lebanon’s ailing economy?
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Updated 27 April 2020

Can cannabis legalization rescue Lebanon’s ailing economy?

Can cannabis legalization rescue Lebanon’s ailing economy?
  • New law aims to regulate existing cultivation while making drug’s medical and industrial use legal
  • Experts welcome legalization considering the parlous state of the economy but with big caveats

DUBAI: The international media’s blanket coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic was interrupted on Tuesday by breaking news about Lebanon becoming the first Arab country to legalize cannabis for medical and industrial use.

Experts from different fields have welcomed the decision in light of Lebanon’s manifold problems compounded by the coronavirus crisis — but with big caveats.

Cannabis, also known as marijuana among other names, is a psychoactive drug from the cannabis plant used primarily for recreational or medical purposes.

Until now, Lebanon had banned the growth, sale and consumption of cannabis, even though legalization of production had been recommended in the past.

However, attitudes began to shift after the US consulting firm McKinsey & Company touted the legalization of cannabis in a study on how the government could revitalize the economy.

In 2018, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) ranked Lebanon in the world’s top five producers of cannabis.

Last year, Raed Khoury, Lebanon’s minister of economy, said medicinal marijuana exports could generate $1 billion in annual revenue for Lebanon.




A supporter of cannabis legalization demonstrates outside of the Charleston Gaillard Center ahead of the Democratic presidential debate on February 25, 2020 in Charleston, South Carolina. (AFP/File Photo)

For a country with one of the highest debt-to-GDP ratios in the world, the industry’s potential for revenue generation can hardly be glossed over.

Among those expressing guarded optimism is Dr. Nasser Saidi, a former chief economist at the Dubai International Financial Center who was Lebanon’s minister of economy between 1998 and 2000.

The move to legalize marijuana for medical use makes a great deal of sense for Lebanon, he said, noting that the country has long been a producer of hashish.

“In particular, the crop has helped the poorer areas of Lebanon, mainly the Bekaa Valley, and allowed agriculturalists to survive because many of their other crops aren’t necessarily exportable,” Saidi told Arab News.

“For the more traditional crops like potatoes, beetroot, olives and others, there is a lot of competition, whereas for hashish there is much less competition.

“Lebanon can build its reputation as a source of quality hemp. Medicinal marijuana in particular can be an important high-value export product.”

Saidi draws a parallel between Lebanon’s decision to decriminalize cannabis production, manufacturing and its use with the policies of some advanced industrial countries.

Pointing out that the US and Canada have legalized use of marijuana, hemp and hashish without any negative fallout, he said: “There is no reason why Lebanon should not be able to successfully and securely decriminalize hashish.”

Saidi’s guarded optimism is echoed by Cyril Widdershoven, a director at Verocy, a Dutch consultancy which advises on investments, energy and infrastructure risks and opportunities in the Middle East.

He believes conditional legalization could be a step towards taking out the middlemen and halting the illegal trade.

“If this is meant to be the main target, some support should be extended to the decision,” Widdershoven said.




A file photo taken on July 23, 2018 shows workers cultivating plants at a cannabis plantation in the village of Yammouneh in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley. (AFP/File Photo)

“For a government, it can be very positive as it will bring, if properly regulated, additional taxes and income. Some amount of crime will get checked, though not all.”

Nevertheless, Widdershoven said much will revolve around how Lebanon defines “medical purposes.”

He said: “Is medical use the real objective or is it just a legal option to introduce cannabis in the open, without coming into conflict with other laws and regulations?” 

According to Widdershoven, “income from taxes is obviously a potential benefit, but Lebanon will need to introduce a system that can control and manage production, transport, sale and taxation.

“Without it, cannabis legalization for medical and industrial purposes is going to give rise to a semi-legal grey area.”

Similarly, Saidi, who served as vice governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon for two terms, said the new law should not amount to control of the business by Lebanese politicians.

“Hashish growers are afraid that legalization means the industry will come under the control of a government-licensing administration or body, which could then be open to abuse, corruption and clientelism,” he told Arab News.

“They will tell you they fear that licensing will be monopolized by politicians and their cronies, enabling the latter to control the production, distribution and export of hashish — to the detriment of the growers.”

Saidi said legalization should mean decriminalization with a light regulatory structure but not a strict licensing system.

“You cannot, in a country with Lebanon’s corruption levels, institute a system for the farming, manufacturing and distribution of hashish that can be monopolized by the state or captured by a corrupt political class and its cronies,” he said.

“The government can play a role in terms of ensuring the quality of medicinal hashish, particularly for export purposes, and monitoring for statistical, public-health and taxation purposes. But I would not favor a strict physical licensing system.”

Saidi sees a lot of hype surrounding the economic dividend of cannabis legalization.




A cannabis plant is seen during the opening of a cannabis (marijuana) clinic at the Department of Development of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine in Bangkok on January 6, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

According to one estimate, up to 100,000 hectares could come into hashish farming within a period of five to 10 years, with a crop value of $1 billion to $1.2 billion.

But Saidi does not see income from the crop as something that can put Lebanon’s public finances on a sustainable footing.

“We should allow producers to switch crops away — from low value-added crops like potatoes and sugar beet — to go into hashish, (as) it would help some of the poorest of the poor in Lebanon who eke out a subsistence income from agriculture,” he told Arab News.

“But it’s not a problem solver for the Lebanese government.”

Said added: “You can impose a tax, which is fine. Hashish consumption could be subject to VAT for local consumption to generate revenue for government, or to a production tax at a low rate.

“But again, I am not in favor of a licensing system to raise revenue because of the potential of corruption and bribery.

“Effectively, a licensing system would mean a highly inefficient regime for the benefit of politicians at the expense of growers. Licensing would become another form of political clientelism.”

An expert on Lebanon’s recreational drugs trade, who asked to remain anonymous, told Arab News that cannabis legalization was smart from the standpoint of Lebanon’s parlous economic situation and public finances.

However, he added, making cultivation of the plant legal is one thing while enforcement of the law without fear or favor is quite another.

He pointed out that Lebanon is the third-largest exporter of hashish after Afghanistan and Morocco, accounting for six percent of the world’s illegal supply of the drug, according the UNODC in 2012.

“This has made many people in Lebanon rich and powerful, specifically in the Bekaa Valley, where most of the cannabis is grown,” he said.

He wonders whether legalization will open opportunities for newcomers to enter the business or further enrich the players and politicians who control the business.

The anonymous expert said that he was unsure of the contours of a long-term strategy to decriminalize cannabis inside Lebanon for commercial purposes.

“These are basic questions that must be addressed if the legalization move is to make a positive impact on the economy,” he said.

Citing the tobacco industry as a cautionary tale, he said all Lebanese producers are required to sell only to government-approved authorities that produce and sell cigarettes, such as the Régie Libanaise des Tabacs et Tombacs.

“The risk is that the same situation could arise with cannabis. An element of corruption can completely wipe out the positive impact,” he said.

In his opinion, the Lebanese government wants a piece of the pie with the global legal cannabis market tipped to reach $103.9 billion by 2024.

“One can only hope that the Lebanese government transforms cannabis cultivation into a diversified income stream, with scope for local industries such as medicine, pharmaceutical, textile, wellness, and even tourism to flourish,” he said.

“But all this may be too much to ask given previous the government’s track record in other sectors.”

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THE BIGGEST CANNABIS PRODUCERS AND CONSUMERS

Mexico: Medical marijuana was legalized in 2017. The legalization of the drug for recreational purposes is expected to take place by April 30, 2020. According to Arcview and BDS, recreational marijuana sales in Mexico are expected to reach $582 million by 2024, with an additional $441 million in medical spending, for a combined $1.02 billion.

United States: Marijuana is legal in 11 states for adults over the age of 21 and legal for medical use in 33 states. The US marijuana industry’s economic impact is predicted to reach $77billion by 2022, according to Marijuana Business Factbook, while studies estimate the industry will produce at least 330,000 jobs by 2022.

Canada: In 2018, Canada become the second country in the world to implement legislation to permit a nationwide marijuana market. By the end of August 2019, cannabis inventories across the country had reached almost 400 tons. In total, 5,884,055 packaged units of cannabis were sold across the country for medical and non-medical purposes in 2019.

Paraguay: The principal producer of cannabis in South America legalized cannabis for medicinal use in 2007. However, the proposed framework for implementing a medicinal cannabis industry was not approved until 2018. That year the government opened licensing opportunities for businesses looking to cultivate cannabis for medicinal purposes in the country. The Senate also approved a separate bill permitting the personal growth of cannabis for medical use, provided users present authorized certificates.

Jamaica: Since decriminalizing marijuana in 2015, Jamaica now allows citizens to grow up to five cannabis plants, while the possession of two ounces or less has been downgraded to a petty offence. According to the US State Department, Jamaican farmers cultivate 15,000 hectares of cannabis every year. The government has also granted licenses to farmers who want to grow cannabis for medical, therapeutic or scientific purposes.

Morocco: According to a report released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Morocco remains the world’s largest producer of cannabis, producing over three times more than the next highest contender, Moldova. The report suggested that cannabis production in the country has continued to grow, showing an increase from 35,653 tons in 2016 to 35,703 tons in 2017.

Nigeria: Nigeria has the highest cannabis usage worldwide with 20 million users. It is estimated that 20.8 million people in Nigeria consume the illegal commodity every year in a market estimated at $15.3billion. Two reports have stated that Nigeria has the highest rate of cannabis use in the world with 19.4 percent of its population over the age of 15 consuming the drug in 2019, and at least 12 percent consuming it monthly.

United Kingdom: The country was declared the world’s largest producer and exporter of medical cannabis by the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board in 2018. According to the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), 95 tons of marijuana was produced in the UK in 2016 for medicinal and scientific use, accounting for 44.9 percent of the global total. The cannabis-based medicine ‘Sativex’ accounts for a significant proportion of UK legal cannabis production and is available on prescription.

Afghanistan: Over 10 years ago, Afghanistan was the largest supplier of cannabis, estimated at 1,500-3,500 tons a year, according to a UNODC report. Between 10,000 and 24,000 hectares of cannabis are grown every year in Afghanistan, with major cultivation occurring in 17 out 34 provinces.

India: In 2019, buyers in Delhi and Mumbai purchased 38.3 tons and 32.4 tons of cannabis respectively, despite the drug being illegal in these cities, according to data released by the Berlin-based data firm ABCD. Cannabis is sold at Rs315 per gram in Delhi and Rs329 per gram in Mumbai, which are the cheapest rates globally, says the report. In 2017, Uttarakhand became the first Indian state to allow farmers to cultivate hemp plants for industrial purposes. The drug is believed to have been sold and consumed across the country for decades.


UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots

UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots
Updated 10 min 32 sec ago

UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots

UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots
  • The booster shot would be available to people considered at high risk three months after their second vaccine dose
  • The regional tourism and business hub has among the world’s highest immunization rates

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates will start providing a booster shot against COVID-19 to all fully vaccinated individuals in the Gulf Arab state, the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) said on Tuesday.
It said on Twitter the booster shot would be available to people considered at high risk three months after their second vaccine dose, and six months for others.

The Gulf state, which has approved five types of COVID-19 vaccines, had in June begun providing booster shots to those initially immunized with a vaccine developed by the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm).
The regional tourism and business hub has among the world’s highest immunization rates. Around 79 percent of the population of roughly 9 million had received one vaccine dose, while some 70 percent had been fully vaccinated, according to latest official data.


Amid anger and despair, Lebanon braces for port explosion anniversary

People on Tuesday put white roses on portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Aug 4 explosion. (Reuters)
People on Tuesday put white roses on portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Aug 4 explosion. (Reuters)
Updated 04 August 2021

Amid anger and despair, Lebanon braces for port explosion anniversary

People on Tuesday put white roses on portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Aug 4 explosion. (Reuters)
  • Legislative authority yet to decide on Judge Tarek Bitar’s request to lift the immunity of three MPs

BEIRUT: The families of the Beirut port explosion victims are reticent about revealing the steps they will take on Wednesday to commemorate the first anniversary of the explosion.

The massive blast — the country’s worst peacetime disaster — destroyed a large section of the capital on Aug. 4, 2020, killed at least 214 people, and injured more than 6,500.
It was caused when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored at the port for several years without proper safety precautions, ignited during a fire and exploded.
On the occasion of the first anniversary, UNICEF reported that six children were among the deceased as more than 1,000 children were also injured in the blast.
“All that can be said is that people are angry and will express their anger,” an activist among the groups that will participate in planned protests on Wednesday told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
“We will see some unexpected action if the security forces confront the protesters with violence. We know that tight security measures will be taken. Public institutions and administrations will be occupied and the sit-in will only end once the immunity is lifted for officials summoned by the judiciary in the port explosion investigation.”
The Lebanese parliament is yet to decide on Judge Tarek Bitar’s request to lift the immunity of three MPs accused in the Beirut port explosion: former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, former Public Works Minister Ghazi Zeaiter, and Former Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk.
Caretaker Interior Minister Mohamed Fahmy refused to lift the immunity of the defendant Abbas Ibrahim, director-general of the Lebanese General Security, last week. Only the Bar Association lifted the immunity of the accused lawyers. Judge Bitar had previously charged the three MPs, and former minister Youssef Fenianos, with “negligence” and “possible intent to murder” because they were aware of ammonium nitrate “and did not take measures to spare the country the risks of an explosion.”
The legislative authority has so far refrained from lifting the immunity of any politicians and has not authorized prosecuting security officials.
In addition, Judge Bitar also requested to question Ibrahim and Director-General of State Security, Maj. Gen. Antoine Saliba, as well as several judges.
Civil society groups appealed to Lebanese citizens this week and asked them to join victims’ families along with the civil defense and the fire fighting brigade, which also lost several members in the explosion.
A vigil is scheduled after the call to prayer, which will be followed by a mass held by the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi. “The groups that will participate in the commemoration are retired soldiers, trade unionists, and self-employed professionals,” the activist said.

FASTFACTS

• The massive blast — the country’s worst peacetime disaster — destroyed a large section of the capital on Aug. 4, 2020, killed at least 214 people, and injured more than 6,500.

• It was caused when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored at the port for several years without proper safety precautions, ignited during a fire and exploded.

“They will head to several locations, the politicians’ residences included.”
He pointed out that the American University Hospital in Beirut alerted its emergency department to be on high alert for Wednesday’s protests.
Medical teams from the hospitals damaged in the blast, including Saint Georges, Hotel Dieu, Geitaoui, Rizk, and Wardieh hospitals will also gather at the port.
The victims’ faces will accompany people attending the vigil as they head to the port since volunteer artists drew the faces of many victims along the walls of the sidewalks leading to where the blast occurred.
Lebanon will mark the day of mourning on Wednesday as all institutions will be closed, including banks, restaurants, and cafes. The flags will be lowered and black flags will be raised above the buildings.
“I expect a major turnout because people are furious and those responsible for this crime must be held accountable. We will try to avoid getting injured, but we do expect some injuries among our ranks,” the activist said.
Activists took to social media to call on “soldiers and officers in the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Forces, whose salaries have become less than $70, not to protect the killers and suppress the angry people on Aug. 4.”
Lebanese expatriates in Paris, Geneva, Berlin, Barcelona, Brussels, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, New York, San Francisco, and Cleveland are organizing sit-ins to stand with Beirut.
Most notably, France and the UN are organizing an Aug. 4 international conference “to address the humanitarian needs of Lebanon’s most vulnerable people.”
The spokesman for the families of the victims, Ibrahim Hoteit, had given the politicians a 30-hour deadline, ending on Wednesday afternoon, to lift the immunity. He said in a press conference that the protests would be “a bone-breaking battle now that we are done with the routine peaceful movements.”
Political parties joined the commemoration of Aug. 4, but they did so on Aug. 2 and 3, in order to avoid any clashes between their supporters and other protesters.
Economic and living crises are ever-increasing amid the political deadlock.
These crises have exacerbated the citizens who lack electricity, medicine, and fuel, while they lost 90 percent of their income’s value in light of the Lebanese pound’s devaluation.
In a statement issued on the eve of the anniversary of the port explosion, the International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG) renewed its solidarity “with the families of the victims and all those whose lives have been affected.”
The ISG, which includes representatives of the UN, China, France, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation, the UK, the US, the EU, and the League of Arab States, urged the Lebanese authorities to “swiftly complete the investigation into the port explosion so that the truth may be known and justice rendered.”
Meanwhile, Democracy Reporting International (DRI) accused the Lebanese authorities of “continuing to weaken the judicial investigations and prevent the lifting of immunity for MPs, ministers and security leaders who remained silent or tolerant of the presence of ammonium nitrate, and did nothing.”


Tunisian labor union urges new PM appointment to ease crisis

Supporters of the UGTT union, one of Tunisia’s most powerful political forces. (AP/File Photo)
Supporters of the UGTT union, one of Tunisia’s most powerful political forces. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 03 August 2021

Tunisian labor union urges new PM appointment to ease crisis

Supporters of the UGTT union, one of Tunisia’s most powerful political forces. (AP/File Photo)

TUNIS: Tunisia’s powerful labor union urged the president on Tuesday to rapidly announce a new government that should be small and led by an experienced premier, after he seized executive control in a move his opponents called a coup.

President Kais Saied has defended his actions as constitutional and said he will govern alongside a new prime minister during an emergency period, but nine days after his intervention, he has yet to name one.

“We can’t wait 30 days for the announcement of a government,” said Sami Tahri, a spokesman for the UGTT union, one of Tunisia’s most powerful political forces.

UGTT chief Noureddine Taboubi said later on state television later on Tuesday that the cabinet should be small and headed by somebody with experience, sending a positive message to both Tunisians and international lenders.

“We must speed up the formation of the government to be able to face economic and health challenges,” he said.

Saied’s sudden intervention on July 25 appeared to have widespread public support but raised fears for the future of the democratic system that Tunisia adopted after its 2011 revolution that triggered the Arab Spring.

On Tuesday Saied removed Tunisia’s ambassador to Washington, the latest in a string of dismissals of senior and mid-ranking officials over the past week including several ministers. He did not immediately name a replacement.

He is also still to announce a roadmap to end an emergency period that he initially set at one month but later announced could be two months.

A source close to the presidential palace in Carthage said earlier that Saied might announce the new premier on Tuesday. Sources have told Reuters that Central Bank Governor Marouane Abassi and two former finance ministers, Hakim Hammouda and Nizar Yaich, are contenders.

Saied’s most powerful organized opponent, the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, has meanwhile been riven by internal splits over its response to the crisis and its longer-term strategy and leadership.

Tunisians had over the past decade grown ever more frustrated by economic stagnation, corruption and bickering among a political class that often seemed more focused on its own narrow interests than on national problems.

The coronavirus pandemic ripped through Tunisia over the past two months as the state vaccination effort crawled, leading at one point to the worst infection and death rates in Africa. Pandemic counter-measures last year hammered the economy.

On Monday Saied replaced the finance, agriculture and telecoms ministers after having said last week that “wrong economic choices” had cost the country.

On Sunday he said there were contacts with “friendly countries” for financial assistance. (Reporting by Tarek Amara, writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by William Maclean and Mark Heinrich)


Tunisia leader fires ambassador to US in rash of dismissals

Tunisia leader fires ambassador to US in rash of dismissals
Updated 03 August 2021

Tunisia leader fires ambassador to US in rash of dismissals

Tunisia leader fires ambassador to US in rash of dismissals
  • President Kais Saied has to say who will replace the prime minister he fired less than two weeks ago
  • Local polls say there is large support for Saied’s controversial actions

TUNIS, Tunisia: A day after naming a new economy minister, President Kais Saied on Tuesday added Tunisia’s ambassador to the United States to a rash of dismissals.
Yet he has to say who will replace the prime minister he fired less than two weeks ago or when.
Saied, who took on executive powers July 25 and began ruling by decree, has also undertaken globe-spanning consultations, meeting Tuesday with the foreign minister of Egypt, a critical ally in the Middle East.
Local polls say there is large support for Saied’s controversial actions, which importantly included freezing Tunisia’s parliament,
The North African country has been cementing its democracy since chasing out its former autocratic ruler a decade ago, triggering the Arab Spring. Tunisia is the only success story to emerge from those chaotic times, and allies, from the United States to Europe and the Middle East, have worried about what comes next.
Tunisia is coping with economic, social and health crises, with the coronavirus pandemic overwhelming its hospitals. Saied, using an article in the constitution that allows a president to step in under grave circumstances, has said he did so to save the country.
In his meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry, the president highlighted “the correlation between Egypt’s and Tunisia’s security and stability,” the official TAP news agency said.
Egypt’s envoy said that Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi backed Saied’s moves with “his full support for the historic steps” of the Tunisian leader, TAP added. “Egypt and Tunisia are working together to ensure stability not only in the two countries, but also across the region,” the agency quoted the foreign minister as saying after the meeting.
The important Economy Ministry got a new acting minister Monday, with the dismissal of Ali Kooli, as did the Communications Technology ministry.
The rash of firings that began when Saied assumed all executive power continued Tuesday. Tunisia’s ambassador to Washington, Nejmeddine Lakhal, was the latest dignitary terminated, the official news agency said. No explanation was given. Also Tuesday, the president fired the governor of the important Sfax region in eastern Tunisia.
Some lawmakers have not been spared, snared by judicial officials on complaints that could not be prosecuted earlier. The president lifted the immunity of the parliamentary body when he took on all powers, and a handful have been summoned to answer to charges they had escaped.


Egyptian president calls on religious scholars to confront platforms that broadcast false ideas about Islam

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (REUTERS)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (REUTERS)
Updated 03 August 2021

Egyptian president calls on religious scholars to confront platforms that broadcast false ideas about Islam

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (REUTERS)
  • Radi referred to the mission as a “fundamental task” that would necessitate the combined efforts of “all religious scholars, including muftis, imams and preachers”

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, on Tuesday, called on religious scholars in the country to confront electronic platforms spreading false ideas that distort the essence of Islam and exploit religion to achieve political goals through acts of terrorism.

Presidential Spokesman Bassam Radi said that El-Sisi met the delegation participating in the international conference “Fatwa Institutions in the Digital Age,” organized by the Egyptian Dar Al-Ifta.

The spokesman said that the president emphasized the need for the world’s fatwa institutions to keep pace with digital developments, especially regarding social media, and address electronic platforms that broadcast ideas that could “confuse the essence of the true Islamic religion.”

“The meeting stressed the importance of correcting religious discourse at the level of individuals, groups and countries,” he said. “El-Sisi reviewed the important role played by ancient religious institutions in Egypt, represented by the Dar Al-Ifta, Al-Azhar Al-Sharif and the Ministry of Endowments.”

Radi referred to the mission as a “fundamental task” that would necessitate the combined efforts of “all religious scholars, including muftis, imams and preachers.”

At the opening of the conference, Shawki Allam, Egypt’s grand mufti, praised the “moderate national religious institutions in Egypt” for taking a strong stance and confronting the danger of extremism, which has “caused great harm to the world” and “worked to invade young minds.”

“Our jihad for the sake of God Almighty was to speak the truth,” he said, referencing the efforts to counter extremist ideology. “We have launched digital platforms and held continuous training programs.”