Arabs boycott Facebook after Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer Tawakkol Karman joins content board

Arabs boycott Facebook after Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer Tawakkol Karman joins content board
Less well known is the fact that Tawakkol Karman held a senior position with her country’s Al-Islah Party, an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood known regionally for its divisive and violent agenda. (AN/AFP)
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Updated 13 May 2020

Arabs boycott Facebook after Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer Tawakkol Karman joins content board

Arabs boycott Facebook after Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer Tawakkol Karman joins content board
  • Social media giant’s judgement questioned over induction of Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman into its content Oversight Board
  • Many worry that it will bring the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideas right into the heart of the biggest social networking company in the world

LONDON: Yemeni journalist and political activist Tawakkol Karman has complained of “widespread bullying and smear" after Facebook’s decision to induct her into its content Oversight Board plunged her into controversy. But what if her credibility was more at risk from her own words and actions than any  alleged “smear campaign?”

To much of the globe, Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Khalid Karman is the first Arab woman — and the second Muslim woman — to win a Nobel Prize, in 2011. 

Less well known is the fact that Karman held a senior position with her country’s Al-Islah Party, an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood known regionally for its divisive and violent agenda.

 

Karman has severed ties to the Brotherhood’s Yemeni branch, an Islamist movement founded by Abdul Majeed Al-Zindani, a man who figures in Washington’s Specially Designated Global Terrorist list. But many wonder whether the move was merely a cosmetic exercise.

Unsurprisingly, Facebook’s choice has prompted outrage on social media networks, with many worried that it will bring the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideas right into the heart of the biggest social networking company in the world. 

“She has not denounced the extremist ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood,” Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of risk consultancy Cornerstone Global Associates, told Arab News. 

“On the contrary, there is everything to believe that she continues to espouse the hate speech that has been a mark of the Brotherhood in general.” 

Given her prominent role in the revolution that toppled Yemen’s former leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, Karman’s Nobel Prize is not without merit, say political analysts. But they add that her advocacy of extremist causes can hardly be glossed over. 

“Karman was considered a symbol of the Yemeni revolution against the rule of Saleh, but over time she has become associated with intolerance, discrimination and lack of neutrality,” Hani Nasira, a terrorism and extremism expert, told Arab News. 

Soon after Karman was awarded the Nobel Prize, she was invited to Doha and personally congratulated by Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader and preacher of hate, whose fatwas call for suicide bomb attacks and who praises Hitler for “punishing” the Jews. 

After conveying to her his message of “support” for the Yemeni people, Al-Qaradawi gave Karman a copy of his book, “Fiqh Al-Jihad,” as a gift. 

Such easy rapport with a personality as controversial as Al-Qaradawi calls into question Karman’s political beliefs, despite her ostensible split with the Brotherhood’s Yemeni branch. 

It also rings the alarm about the judgement of Facebook, a social networking behemoth that claims to be an unbiased arbiter of international political discourse. 

“We understand that people will identify with some of our members and disagree passionately with others,” a Facebook Oversight Board spokesperson told Arab News. 




Tawakkol Karman with Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. (Supplied)

“Board members were chosen to represent diverse perspectives and backgrounds that can help with addressing the most significant content decisions facing a global community.” 

Facebook declined to respond to specific questions regarding Karman’s links to extremist groups. But clearly the platform has put its credibility on the line by bringing her on board. 

Facebook “risks becoming the platform of choice for extremist Islamist ideology,” Nuseibeh, who is also chair of UK-based nonprofit Muslims Against Anti-Semitism, told Arab News. 

“With Karman’s appointment, Facebook’s argument that it is an impartial platform is severely weakened. There is no guarantee that Karman will not have a direct editorial influence on what Facebook allows to be published. 

“Would Facebook, for example, appoint Aung San Suu Kyi, another Nobel laureate, to arbitrate in disputes over posts related to the Rohingya atrocities in Myanmar?” 

Nuseibeh added: “Karman, to much of the world, is what Aung San Suu Kyi is to the Rohingyas.” 

Karman’s abrasive personality became evident during the Arab Spring protests, which began with Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” in 2011 before spreading out to other Arab countries including Yemen. 

Previous Yemeni protest leaders who had aligned with her called her “dictatorial,” someone who went against the consensus of peaceful movements by urging young protesters to march on in the face of imminent danger. 

“She called for that march, the police brutally attacked it and 13 people died,” one protest organizer who declined to be named told Reuters in 2011. 

“She didn’t apologize for it and it really upset a lot of people.” 

In recent years, Karman’s utterances have tended to hew closely to the party line of her two leading patrons, Qatar and Turkey, while being reflexively critical of the actions of Saudi Arabia. 

For instance, in an interview with the Saudi daily Al Riyadh in 2015, Karman praised the Arab coalition and its role in restoring the UN-backed government in Yemen. 

She called it a “savior” and posed for a picture with President Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who she described as “the legitimate leader of the country.” 

A few years later, she suddenly changed her tone to accuse Saudi Arabia and the UAE of committing war crimes in Yemen, and demanded the toppling of regimes in Egypt and Bahrain. 

It was no coincidence that all the four countries she denounced happened to have cut diplomatic ties with Qatar on June 5, 2017, for its refusal to abandon support for extremists. 

“Karman’s loyalty to, and association with, governments that flout all norms of democracy, such as Qatar and Turkey, deprives her of any claim to neutrality and objectivity,” Nasira said. 

“Her political rhetoric encourages extremism, divisiveness and shunning of those who disagree with her current loyalties.” 

Numerous posts on her Twitter handle and Facebook page attest to her desire to see specific Arab governments destabilized and toppled. 

She has called on Bahraini, Algerian and Tunisian citizens to revolt against their governments, and accused the Egyptian army of being full of terrorists. 

“Saudi Arabia should be worried. All the Gulf countries should be scared, except for Qatar,” Karman can be heard saying in an undated video clip broadcast by Yemen TV. 

In another video aired in 2019, Karman likened Saudi Arabia to Daesh, saying: “No country other than the Saudi Kingdom could be like ISIS.” 

Karman’s unremitting hostility towards Saudi Arabia and the UAE has made her almost a natural choice for stewardship of the Qatari-funded and Turkey-based Belqees TV station. 

The consensus view of many Middle East political observers is that Karman is an Islamist activist who is firmly embedded within regional and international networks backed by Qatar and Turkey. 

“Karman is an extremely divisive figure whose judgement is severely impaired by her many years of (harboring) extreme political bias,” says Nuseibeh.

 As for Facebook, the company “has only one choice to make and that is to sever all ties” with Karman, he told Arab News. 

“If it doesn’t, Facebook would be on the side of promoters of hate speech, extremism and anti-Semitism.”


Greece arrests Moroccan Daesh suspect

Greece arrests Moroccan Daesh suspect
Updated 43 min 14 sec ago

Greece arrests Moroccan Daesh suspect

Greece arrests Moroccan Daesh suspect
  • Greek police sources told AFP the 28-year-old man was arrested in Thessaloniki
  • Morocco's MAP news agency said he was detained on Tuesday for alleged involvement in terror actions

RABAT: Greek security services have arrested a Moroccan suspected of belonging to Daesh in Syria who had appeared in one of their propaganda videos, police and security sources said Thursday.
Greek police sources told AFP the 28-year-old man was arrested in Thessaloniki on the basis of an international warrant issued in 2017 by Rabat, and that a decision would be taken on his possible extradition to Morocco.
Morocco’s MAP news agency, quoting a security source, said he was detained on Tuesday for alleged involvement in the planning of “terrorist” actions in Morocco.
The suspect, known as Abu Mohamed Al-Fateh, had joined the extremist group in Syria in 2014 and held “positions of responsibility,” it said.
He had appeared in a video showing the body of a Syrian fighter being mutilated.
About 1,600 Moroccans joined extremist groups in Syria, Iraq and Libya, of whom 137 were killed, according to official figures in Morocco.


Forest fires rage near Turkish resorts, killing three

Forest fires rage near Turkish resorts, killing three
Updated 29 July 2021

Forest fires rage near Turkish resorts, killing three

Forest fires rage near Turkish resorts, killing three
  • At least 122 people have also been injured in the fires
  • President Erdogan announced that an arson investigation has already been initiated

ANKARA: Three people were reported dead Thursday and more than 100 injured as thousands of firefighters battled huge blazes spreading across the Mediterranean resort regions of Turkey’s southern coast.
Officials also launched an investigation into suspicions the fires that broke out Wednesday in four locations to the east of the tourist hotspot Antalya were the result of arson.
Turkey’s disaster and emergencies office said three people were killed — including an 82-year-old who lived alone — and 122 injured by the fires.
“Treatment of 58 of our citizens continues,” it was quoted as saying by the Anadolu state news agency.
The fires first emerged across a sparsely populated region about 75 kilometers (45 miles) east of Antalya — a resort especially popular with Russian and other eastern European tourists.
But they were creeping closer Thursday to sandy beaches dotted with hotels and resorts.
Images on social media and Turkish TV showed residents jumping out of their cars and running for their lives through smoke-filled streets lit up by orange flames.
The heavy clouds of smoke turned the sky dark orange over a beachfront hotel complex in the town of Manavgat.
Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said a hotel was also being evacuated near the tourist city of Bodrum — some 300 kilometers west of Antalya — as new fires broke out across the southern coast.
Pakdemirli said 150 cows and thousands of sheep and goats had perished in the flames.

The fires were raging with temperatures approaching 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and wind gusts of 50 kilometers (30 miles) an hour.
But Antalya mayor Muhittin Bocek said he suspected foul play because the fires started in four locations at once.
“This suggests an arson attack, but we do not have clear information about that at this stage,” Bocek said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said an investigation had already been launched.
The Russian embassy said Moscow had sent three giant firefighting aircraft to dump fire retardant on the burning forests to contain the flames.
More than 4,000 Turkish firefighters had been dispatched across the region to help contain the damage and search for people needing help.
They rescued 10 people on Thursday who were stranded on a boat in a lake that was surrounded by burning forest.
“All of the state’s means have been mobilized,” Environment Minister Murat Kurum said. “All our teams are in the field.”


Syrian rebels attack army outposts in southern Syria

Syrian rebels attack army outposts in southern Syria
Updated 29 July 2021

Syrian rebels attack army outposts in southern Syria

Syrian rebels attack army outposts in southern Syria
  • This is the biggest flare-up of violence since government forces retook the restive region three years ago
  • The widespread attacks at army outposts near the border crossing of Nassib with Jordan also disrupted passenger and commercial traffic

AMMAN: Syrian rebels waged a spate of mortar attacks on Syrian army checkpoints in the southern province of Daraa, rebels, residents and the army said on Thursday.
This is the biggest flare-up of violence since government forces retook the restive region three years ago.
The widespread attacks at army outposts near the Damascus-Daraa highway leading to the border crossing of Nassib with Jordan also disrupted passenger and commercial traffic at the main gateway for goods from Lebanon and Syria to the Gulf.
Multiple army checkpoints around key towns and villages from the town of Nawa north of the province to Muzarib near the border with Jordan were also seized, they said.
The army has sent reinforcements from its elite Fourth Division, run by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s brother Maher, senior military defectors said, confirming army leaks.
The attacks came after the army launched a dawn operation against the rebel-held old quarter of the city of Daraa, where peaceful protests against decades of autocratic Assad family rule began in 2011 and were met by deadly force before spreading across the country.
The army has sought to reassert its control after the collapse of talks earlier this week to get local elders and former rebels to allow the army to extend its control inside the old quarter, known as Daraa al Balad.
The Syrian army, aided by Russian air power and Iranian militias, retook control of the strategic province that borders Jordan and Israel’s Golan Heights to the west in the summer of 2018.
Russian-brokered deals at the time forced rebels to hand over heavy weapons and return state institutions in the enclave but kept away the army from entering their neighborhoods.
“The rebels have waged a counter offensive after the army operation against Daraa whose intensity has taken the regime by surprise,” said Zaid al Rayes, a political opposition figure in touch with local groups in Daraa.
State media said terrorists had fired at the main hospital in Daraa and the army had evacuated hundreds of fleeing families from rebel held neighborhoods.
Thousands of former rebels had chosen to stay with their families rather than head to remaining rebel-held areas in northern Syria, where tens of thousands of others displaced from recaptured areas had gathered.
The province saw a widespread boycott of last May’s polls that extended Assad’s presidency in what officials saw as a defiance of state authority.
Western intelligence sources say growing dissent is aggravated by the presence of Iranian-backed local militias who now hold sway and act with impunity since the central government is too weak to impose its authority on the area.


Iranian hackers posed as aerobics instructors to target defense workers

A fake Facebook page that was controlled by an Iranian hacker, according to reports. (Screenshot)
A fake Facebook page that was controlled by an Iranian hacker, according to reports. (Screenshot)
Updated 29 July 2021

Iranian hackers posed as aerobics instructors to target defense workers

A fake Facebook page that was controlled by an Iranian hacker, according to reports. (Screenshot)
  • They sent “flirtatious” videos to build rapport and later delivered malware to targets’ devices
  • It is unclear whether any sensitive information was stolen

LONDON: A group of Iranian hackers posed as aerobics instructors from Liverpool, UK, and sent flirtatious messages in an attempt to steal sensitive information from defense and aerospace industry personnel.

The hackers’ false identities were exposed by Facebook and the cybersecurity company Proofpoint, which said the operation proves the effort that Iran is putting into targeting individuals of interest.

The hackers have been identified as part of the TA456 group, which also goes by the name of Tortoiseshell — a group widely believed to be aligned with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Proofpoint described the group as “one of the most determined Iranian-aligned threat actors” that it tracks, due to tactics of spending months or years building up a relationship with targets across various platforms, as well as its “general persistence.”

The operatives created fake Facebook, Instagram and email accounts for a woman named Marcella Flores. She was depicted as a smiling, tanned and dark-haired Spanish woman working as a fitness instructor in Liverpool. They created a fake education and work history for her.

Proofpoint said that Flores would target people who publicly identified themselves as employees at defence contractors on social media accounts, befriending them before starting up a conversation.

In one case, she sent the target benign messages and photographs, as well as a “flirtatious” video to build a rapport, before later sending a link to a dietary survey but that in fact contained a malware download that would steal usernames, passwords and other data.

Proofpoint did not say whether the attacks were successful, but if they were, the stolen information could be used to gain access to larger aerospace companies that the original target was a subsidiary or contractor for.

Facebook banned her account and that of several others earlier this month, saying that they were all fake online personas created by the Iranian operatives to “conduct espionage operations across the internet.”

Facebook said: “Our investigation found them targeting military personnel and companies in the defence and aerospace industries primarily in the US, and to a lesser extent in the UK and Europe.”

When the comprehensive campaign was revealed, Amin Sabeti, an expert in Iranian cyber-operations, told Arab News that the strategy — which he dubs “social engineering” hacking — is a go-to tactic for Iranian operatives, or those working on behalf of the state.

“It’s the same pattern that Iranian state-backed hackers have been following for years,” he said.

Sabeti explained that they rely on manipulating targets into providing sensitive information or account details that can then be exploited for their gain — and, since they are operating from Iranian soil, “they have the consent of the regime.”

Sabeti said: “It’s easy, cheap, there’s plausible deniability and it works, it’s effective.”


Delta variant drives Mideast virus surge: WHO

Delta variant drives Mideast virus surge: WHO
Updated 29 July 2021

Delta variant drives Mideast virus surge: WHO

Delta variant drives Mideast virus surge: WHO
  • WHO said the highly transmissible strain has been recorded in 15 out of the region’s 22 countries
  • Tunisia has been struggling to contain the outbreak

CAIRO: The World Health Organization said Thursday the Delta variant has led to a "surge" in coronavirus outbreaks triggering a "fourth wave" in the Eastern Mediterranean region, where vaccination rates remain low.
The global health body said the highly transmissible strain, first detected in India, has been recorded in 15 out of the 22 countries of the region under its purview, stretching from Morocco to Pakistan.
"The circulation of the Delta variant is fuelling the surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths in an increasing number of countries in WHO's Eastern Mediterranean Region," it said in a statement.
"Most of the new cases and hospitalised patients are unvaccinated people. We are now in the fourth wave of Covid-19 across the region," said Ahmed al-Mandhari, director of WHO's Eastern Mediterranean region.
Infections have increased by 55 percent, and deaths by 15 percent, in the last month compared to the month before. More than 310,000 case and 3,500 deaths have been recorded weekly.
Countries such as Tunisia, which has suffered the biggest number of Covid-19 deaths in North Africa, have been struggling to contain the outbreak.
Critical shortages of oxygen tanks and intensive care beds have stretched the capacities of healthcare systems regionally.
WHO noted the rapid spread of the Delta variant was quickly making it "the dominant strain" in the region.
According to a recent paper in the journal Virological, the amount of virus found in the first tests of patients with the Delta variant was 1,000 times higher than patients in the first wave of the virus in 2020, greatly increasing its contagiousness.

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