After Sudan’s peace deal, the hard task begins of gathering the guns

After Sudan’s peace deal, the hard task begins of gathering the guns
The peace agreement allows the Sudanese rebels to keep hold of their guns for ‘self-protection’ until Sudan’s constitution is changed. (AFP)
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Updated 08 October 2020

After Sudan’s peace deal, the hard task begins of gathering the guns

After Sudan’s peace deal, the hard task begins of gathering the guns
  • Collecting weapons from the rebels is one of most delicate parts of the Oct. 3 peace agreement

KHARTOUM: Sudan is celebrating a landmark agreement to end decades of war, but the first step to turn promises on paper into peace is also one of the most explosive — disarmament.

Collecting weapons in a country left awash with guns after years of conflict in which hundreds of thousands died is one of most delicate parts of the Oct. 3 peace agreement.

“Gathering the weapons is a very difficult business,” said Gibril Ibrahim, commander of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), one of rebel signatories to the historic deal.

“It involves a collective effort. People will not hand over their weapons until they judge that the government can ensure their safety.”

Ibrahim’s JEM fighters battled Khartoum’s government in the western region of Darfur, where fighting since 2003 left around 300,000 people dead.

“If we have a democratic government that listens to the voice of the people, people will conclude that they no longer need to carry arms to protect themselves,” Ibrahim said.

The historic deal signed by the government and an alliance of rebel groups, the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), was hailed by the international community as a milestone.

The rebels included groups from Darfur, as well as the southern states of Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan.

According to one rebel leader, it involves some 35,000 rebel fighters.

Peace was made possible after mass protests ousted President Omar Bashir from power in April 2019, and the transitional government has made ending the conflicts a priority.

Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur, has already been convicted of corruption, and is currently on trial in the capital Khartoum for the 1989 coup that brought him to power.

The government has also agreed that Bashir will face trial for his role in Darfur.

But after so long at war, many are wary of giving up their guns.

“Trust is key to disarmament,” said Jonas Horner of Brussels-based think tank the International Crisis Group (ICG).

“The military — linked so closely with abuses during the Bashir government — simply has not had the time nor shown the will to address violence in the way that many rural Sudanese would need to see in order to put down their weapons.”

Warning of a “trust gap” between the ex-rebels and Khartoum, Horner said he feared some will keep a cache of weapons hidden as insurance.

Two holdout rebel groups — including some 15,000 fighters, according to one estimate — refused to take part in the Oct. 3 deal.

One, the Darfur-based Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) faction led by Abdelwahid Nour, is believed to maintain considerable support.

Another, a faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) based in South Kordofan and led by Abdelaziz Al-Hilu, has signed a separate cease-fire.

That deal allows the rebels to keep hold of their guns for “self-protection” until Sudan’s constitution is changed to separate religion and government.

Even before the deal was signed, Sudan’s army launched a mass disarmament campaign, blowing up thousands of firearms collected from civilians in a huge explosion in the desert. The Small Arms Survey, a Geneva based research organization, calculates there were 2.76 million illegally held weapons in Sudan in 2017, or 6.6 guns for every 100 people.

Rebels will be slowly incorporated into joint units with government security forces.

“For the stability of the country, the weapons must be handed over to the regular forces,” said Yassir Arman, deputy chairman of the SPLM-N rebels who signed the deal.

Turning rebels into regular troops brings together old foes in often uneasy joint units.

“We must build a professional army which does not intervene in political affairs,” Arman added.

Sudan has seen much-hailed peace deals crumble before, so this agreement lays out clear steps.

“The security aspect of the agreement is the most complex,” said Mohammed Hassan Al-Taichi, spokesman for the government negotiating team.

A “supreme council” will be created within 45 days to lead disarmament and the demobilization of rebels.

“The collection of weapons will only take place when the rebels start to join the training camps,” Taichi added.

In Darfur, the process should be complete within 15 months, but in other areas, a deadline is 39 months.

While building peace requires people to give up their guns, few will surrender their firearms until they are confident war has gone for good.

It is a tough conundrum.

“Until some semblance of sustainable peace is in place with a trusted central authority, there will be little incentive to comply with government-run disarmament programs,” Horner said.


Cairo International Book Fair to run from June 30 to July 15

Cairo International Book Fair to run from June 30 to July 15
Egypt's Minister of Culture Enas Abdel-Dayem (L) during a news conference for Cairo International Book Fair in Cairo, Egypt, June 22, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 1 min 37 sec ago

Cairo International Book Fair to run from June 30 to July 15

Cairo International Book Fair to run from June 30 to July 15
  • “The maximum number of entries will be 100,000 visitors per day, and no one will be allowed to enter once we hit that number,” said Haitham Al-Haj Ali, head of the General Book Authority

CAIRO: Despite the challenges of the coronavirus disease pandemic, the 52nd Cairo International Book Fair will run from June 30 to July 15, it was announced on Tuesday.
The Egyptian Ministry of Culture said the exhibition, under the slogan “Reading is Life,” will be held at the Egypt International Exhibition Center, covering an area of 40,000 square meters.
There will be 675 pavilions and 1,218 publishers, as well as foreign publishing agencies representing 25 countries.
The fair will launch the “Your Book, Your Culture” initiative, which encourages citizens to buy books and urges them to read.
The prices of books will range from 1 Egyptian pound ($0.064) to 20 pounds.
Enas Abdel Dayem, minister of culture, said that holding the fair this year was a challenge, describing this year’s event as “an exceptional one” and a clear indication of the Egyptian leadership’s keenness to encourage reading and publishing.
“We are entering a new era of digitization transformation and development. This year’s exhibition is the largest gathering of publishers in the world,” she claimed.
Abdel Dayem said entry will be free this year, and that prices will remain fixed, adding that the idea to increase the number of days for the fair would support the publishing industry.
“The maximum number of entries will be 100,000 visitors per day, and no one will be allowed to enter once we hit that number,” said Haitham Al-Haj Ali, head of the General Book Authority.
He said facilities have been made to accommodate people with special needs, which can be requested and booked electronically.


Early agreement reached in dispute over Suez Canal ship

In this March 30, 2021 file photo, the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, is anchored in Egypt's Great Bitter Lake. (AP/File Photo)
In this March 30, 2021 file photo, the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, is anchored in Egypt's Great Bitter Lake. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 2 min 44 sec ago

Early agreement reached in dispute over Suez Canal ship

In this March 30, 2021 file photo, the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, is anchored in Egypt's Great Bitter Lake. (AP/File Photo)
  • The disagreement centers on the compensation amount the Suez Canal Authority is claiming for the salvage of the vessel Ever Given

CAIRO: The owners and insurers of the giant container ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week earlier this year have reached an agreement in principle over their dispute with canal authorities, representatives from both sides said Wednesday.
Stann Marine, the lawyers representing the vessel’s owners and insurers, and the Suez Canal Authority both confirmed the development.
The disagreement centers on the compensation amount the Suez Canal Authority is claiming for the salvage of the vessel Ever Given, which ran aground in March, blocking the crucial waterway for six days. Specialist tugboats and dredgers eventually freed the 400-meter-long (quarter-mile-long) cargo ship carrying some $3.5 billion in cargo.
In an on-air phone call to Egyptian talk show “Al-Hiyat Al-Youm” on Wednesday the head of Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority, Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie, said the parties had agreed on a compensation amount. But he said it would not be made public as they had signed a non-disclosure agreement until the signing of the final contract.
The money would cover the salvage operation, costs of stalled canal traffic, and lost transit fees for the week the Ever Given blocked the canal.
At first, the Suez Canal Authority demanded $916 million in compensation, which was later lowered to $550 million.
Since it was freed, the Panama-flagged, Japanese-owned vessel, which carries cargo between Asia and Europe, has been ordered by authorities to remain in a holding lake mid-canal, along with most of its crew, as its owner and the canal authority try to settle the compensation dispute.
In a statement, the UK Club, one insurer for the ship's owners, the Japanese company Shoei Kisen, said it is working with other insurers and the canal authority to sign a final agreement “as soon as possible."
“Once the formalities have been dealt with, arrangements for the release of the vessel will be made,” the statement said.
The two sides have traded blame for the vessel’s grounding, with bad weather, poor decisions on the part of canal authorities, and human and technical error all being thrown out as possible factors.
On Sunday, the Ismailia Economic Court adjourned a hearing on the case after the Suez Canal’s attorneys said they were looking into a new offer made by the vessel’s owners. Lawyers did not share any details of the offer.
The six-day blockage disrupted global shipping. Hundreds of ships waited in place for the canal to be unblocked, while some ships were forced to take the much longer route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip, requiring additional fuel and other costs.
About 10% of world trade flows through the canal, a pivotal source of foreign currency to Egypt. Some 19,000 vessels passed through the canal last year, according to official figures.


Child labor rises in Jordan as pandemic adds to economic woes

(Photo courtesy of the Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies)
(Photo courtesy of the Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies)
Updated 11 min 15 sec ago

Child labor rises in Jordan as pandemic adds to economic woes

(Photo courtesy of the Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies)
  • In a recent report on the World Day Against Child Labor, annually marked on June 12, Workers’ House, a local NGO specialized in labor rights, expected the number of working children in Jordan aged between 5 and 17 to reach 100,000

AMMAN: Twelve-year-old Mamdouh said he has been on a seven-day street shift selling gum and candy to cover the needs of his family living in a refugee camp on the outskirts of Jordan’s capital, Amman. 

“A small van drops us off here every day at 5 p.m. to sell gum and candies, and the driver comes at 10 p.m. to take us back to Wehdat,” Mamdouh said, accompanied by a 9-year-old girl and 10-year-old boy selling candy in Amman’s Al-Weibdeh neighborhood.    

Insisting that no picture of him be used under fears of labor ministry inspectors, Mamdouh said his 56-year-old father has forced him to quit school and work to help feed their family.

Mamdouh lives in Al-Wehdat refugee camp, the second largest camp for Palestinian refugees in Jordan.

“We are six — two boys and four girls — but my father only allows my older brother and sister to go to school,” Mamdouh said, again insisting that no photo of him or his friends be used in the report.

“You are not an inspector from the labor and social development ministries, are you?” Mamdouh asked before telling his story to Arab News.

Government inspectors were seen looking for child workers and beggars in Al-Weibdeh, one of Amman’s oldest and most famous neighborhoods.

In a recent report on the World Day Against Child Labor, annually marked on June 12, Workers’ House, a local NGO specialized in labor rights, expected the number of working children in Jordan aged between 5 and 17 to reach 100,000 by the end of 2021, signaling an increase of 25 percent from the latest figures recorded in 2016.

The report warned against a “worrying” rise in the number of children who are victims of child labor as a result of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the subsequent economic distress and rise in poverty and unemployment rates in Jordan in 2020.

The unemployment rate in Jordan reached around 24 percent in the third quarter of 2020, up by 4.8 percent compared to the same period in 2019, according to official figures.

The Workers’ House report said that the pandemic has seen around 80,000 people lose their jobs in Jordan in 2020, with authorities forcing businesses to close in a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19. The organization added that more than 500,000 workers have been facing pay cuts since March 2020.

The organization also explained that the poverty rate in Jordan has climbed to 26 percent in 2020, prompting families, “in the absence of a social protection system,” to send their children to the labor market to secure their daily living.

The report called for updated data on the impact of the pandemic on child labor, adding that the latest survey was in 2016, in which the number of working children was placed at 76,000.

Citing the 2016 survey, the NGO said that, of the 76,000 working children aged between 5 and 17, 70,000 were illegally employed, with around 45,000 of them found working in hazardous environments.

The report said that 29 percent, 28 percent and 11 percent of the working children registered in 2016 were working in retail businesses and auto repair shops, agriculture, and construction, respectively. 

Labor Ministry Spokesman Mohammed Zyoud told Arab News that inspection teams have uncovered a total of 191 child labor cases from the 5,560 field visits they conducted during the first four months of this year.

He also said that the ministry’s inspectors had carried out a total of 11,952 and 7,143 field visits to businesses in 2020 and 2019 and discovered a total of 503 and 467 cases of child labor, respectively.

The spokesman also said that the ministry has taken a decision to intensify inspection campaigns and field visits during 2021 to curb child labor, which, he added, has been “increasing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying economic difficulties.”

During a recent seminar at Al-Rai Center for Strategic Studies, Labor Minister Yousef Shamali said that government inspectors working in the specialized unit for child labor carry out inspection campaigns annually on businesses across the kingdom to check on their abidance with the Jordanian labor law, which prohibits the employment of children under 16.

He also explained that the child laborers recovered by the inspectors are referred to the social protection center, where they receive educational and psychological rehabilitation to able to go back to school or vocational training to qualify them to join the labor market when they reach legal age.

Shamali also explained that the ministry set up an online database for child labor in 2018 and is financing the Program on the Elimination of Child Labor, implemented by the Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organization.

The International Labor Organization said that the influx of refugees from Syria to Jordan has exacerbated the situation of child labor, in terms of both magnitude and complexity, adding that it is supporting the government in its implementation of the National Framework to Combat Child Labor, adopted in 2011.


Continuity of aggressive Iranian policies assured with Raisi’s election: Former senior CIA official Norman Roule

Continuity of aggressive Iranian policies assured with Raisi’s election: Former senior CIA official Norman Roule
Updated 34 min 7 sec ago

Continuity of aggressive Iranian policies assured with Raisi’s election: Former senior CIA official Norman Roule

Continuity of aggressive Iranian policies assured with Raisi’s election: Former senior CIA official Norman Roule
  • Norman Roule says use of Iranian missiles and drones are main obstacles to better ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia
  • The Middle East analyst sees stark contrast between changes underway in Iran and those visible just across the Gulf

LONDON: When Ebrahim Raisi was declared winner of Iran’s June 18 presidential election, the world quickly turned its attention to the effect this will have on the Arab region, where the Islamic Republic’s proxy militias and advanced weaponry have long inspired terror and yielded influence over internal affairs.

Raisi has a reputation as an ultraconservative, but Norman Roule, a Middle East expert and former senior official in the CIA, believes that the 60-year-old cleric’s rise to power will change little in terms of the scope and direction of Iranian foreign policy.

“(The) election of Ebrahim Raisi means that Iran is transitioning to a new generation of leadership, which will be hard line and which will continue Iran’s aggressive policies for the region,” he told Arab News in a special interview.

Roule should know: He spent 34 years with the CIA covering the Middle East and is a senior adviser to the Counter Extremism Project and to United Against Nuclear Iran. He predicts the Iranian regime will continue to support its proxies throughout the Arab world as a means to project power abroad.

“Iran’s proxies in the region — the Houthis (in Yemen), Kataib Hezbollah and other Iraqi militias, militias in Syria, and the Lebanese Hezbollah — will receive continued strong support from Tehran,” he said.

On Monday, in his first comments since his landslide victory, Raisi rejected the possibility of any negotiations, as part of renewed talks on the nuclear deal, about Tehran’s ballistic-missile program or its support for regional militias. “It’s non-negotiable,” he said.

Raisi secured nearly 62 percent of the 28.9 million votes cast in the election, which had the lowest turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic. The candidate list had been carefully manipulated by the regime’s powerful Guardian Council to guarantee an acceptable winner.

Even with a strong mandate, however, in reality Iran’s new president has very little control over Tehran’s foreign and military policies, as the activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its extraterritorial Quds Force is under the strict command of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

So when former Islamic jurist Raisi takes the reins from his more moderate predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, he will simply be “more ideologically consistent and supportive of these efforts,” Roule said.

The new president’s true power will lie in ensuring the hard-line ideology of Wilayat Al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Islamic jurist) that was created by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini — father of the 1979 Islamic Revolution — will live on.

“Now that he is in the position of president, it gives him an opportunity to place hard-line actors, former IRGC personnel in particular, in different parts of the Iranian government, so that when the supreme leader passes on, he will be able to assure a smoother transition to a continued hard-line government, which because of his relatively young age could last another 20 to 30 years,” Roule said.

Dubbed the “Butcher of Tehran” by rights activists, Raisi is unrepentant about his bloody past. A protege of Khamenei, he is accused of ordering the execution of tens of thousands of dissidents over the past three decades. Iranian activists also claim that Raisi, as a junior prosecutor in the 1980s, headed “death committees” that buried murdered political prisoners in mass graves in 1988.

His election to the presidency could be an indication of further planned crackdowns on dissent and protest.

“At some point, the Iranian people may decide they’ve just had enough and I think that will be a moment of blood,” Roule said. “The security forces in Iran will push down on that.

“But you just can’t help feeling sympathy for the Iranian people, who have to endure such a system at a time of such extraordinary and positive change so close to their border.”

Across the Gulf, countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE are marching ahead in the fields of technology, entertainment and efforts to tackle the effects of climate change.

“I’ve spent many years following the region and I’m watching right now the most extraordinary and impressive series of political, social, economic and technological changes; Iran is not part of any of these changes,” Roule said.

“The Iranian people enjoy an extraordinary history but they are daily falling further and further behind. Iran is stuck in a time warp. It is stuck in an archaic political system, which is out of sync with where the world is going.”

Although Raisi has said there are no obstacles to Tehran and Riyadh mending their relationship, Roule views the president-elect’s comments with disdain.

“The obstacles to better relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia are in the form of Iranian missiles and drones, which are fired upon innocent men, women and children in Saudi Arabia every day it seems,” he said, referring to attacks launched from Yemen.

“Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states are conducting no aggression against Iran but Iran routinely provides proxies with the money, weapons and training to attack innocent civilians throughout the region. That’s a terrific obstacle.”

Raisi is due to take up his office on Aug. 8 during what is a sensitive time, diplomatically. The US and European powers are trying to revive some version of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, from which the Trump administration withdrew in 2018, arguing it was not robust enough.

While many believe a new and improved deal could defang Iran and help bring calm to the region, Roule firmly disagrees, predicting that any sanctions relief for Tehran in exchange for nuclear restraint will only fuel its other activities.

“There is no reason Iranian hardliners should oppose a nuclear deal,” he said. “A nuclear deal does not constrain regional activities or missile activities. It provides them with steady resources to, indeed, support these activities.

“I don’t believe that Iran is going to lessen its regional threat. I do believe that the nature of the regional political dynamic is changing as the conflict in Syria ends and as Iraq stabilizes. The Iranians are going to look to change their proxies, from fighting militias to political elements, and I think we’re going to see a different type of Iran activity in the region.”

To help achieve this, Roule predicts Iran will increase its support for its Lebanese proxy.

“Hezbollah needs to walk a very careful path in the coming months in Lebanon,” he said. “They wish to retain control, their influence, the influence of their political allies over key ministries, but they want to make sure that they are not seen as bearing any responsibility for the economic and political decision-making and the hardships this has imposed on the innocent Lebanese people.

“Imagine that you have $600-700 million a year being sent to a terrorist organization and militia which holds the Lebanese people hostage. This will increase after a nuclear deal, unfortunately, and the international community has very few options to constrain this.”

Roule also believes the election of Raisi as president will make the possibility of a diplomatic solution to the war in Yemen even more remote, as the Iran-backed Houthi militia is unlikely to accept a package that diminishes its influence.

“I remain generally pessimistic only because the regional actors and the United Nations have worked very hard for years to bring the Houthis to the diplomatic table,” he said.

“They have offered a series of political and financial packages to the Yemeni people, working through the Yemeni government, which is an actor we should never forget, and the Houthis have rejected this.”

________________

Twitter: @Tarek_AliAhmad


Israel army chief says cooperation with US against Iran ‘unprecedented’

Israel army chief says cooperation with US against Iran ‘unprecedented’
Updated 23 June 2021

Israel army chief says cooperation with US against Iran ‘unprecedented’

Israel army chief says cooperation with US against Iran ‘unprecedented’
  • Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi's remarks came the same day as Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building
  • Israel staunchly opposes the deal, which it fears could enable its arch-nemesis to obtain nuclear weapons.

JERUSALEM: Israel’s army chief on Wednesday hailed “unprecedented” cooperation with the US, as he wrapped up a US visit focused on preventing Tehran from obtaining military nuclear capabilities.
Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi’s remarks came the same day as Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building, as talks continue in Vienna between Tehran and world powers aimed at reviving their 2015 nuclear deal.
Israel staunchly opposes the deal, which it fears could enable its arch-nemesis to obtain nuclear weapons.
Kohavi’s visit, which began on Sunday, also came four weeks since Israel and Gaza’s Palestinian Islamist rulers Hamas agreed a cease-fire ending 11 days of heavy fighting.
At the US military’s Central Command in Florida, Kohavi met Centcom commander General Frank McKenzie, where he discussed the Gaza war, the Syrian arena and coordination between the countries.
“The IDF’s operational cooperation with the US military is unprecedented in its scope and has reached new heights,” Kohavi said in a statement, using the acronym for Israel defense forces.
“The mutual and main goal of action for the two armies is thwarting Iranian aggression,” he added.
“Iran seeks to establish and entrench terrorists in many countries (and) continues to pose a regional threat in terms of nuclear proliferation, advanced weapons systems including ballistic missile capabilities, and the financing of terrorist armies,” the Israeli general said.
Kohavi was also meeting with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on “Iran’s regional entrenchment throughout the Middle East and the flaws” of the nuclear deal with Iran, a statement from the military said.
In meetings with Sullivan and CIA head William Burns, Kohavi was “presenting multiple ways to prevent Iran from acquiring military nuclear capabilities,” the army said.
Kohavi was due to return to Israel on Friday.