How well do Arabs understand the US political system? Not very well, study shows

How well do Arabs understand the US political system? Not very well, study shows
90 percent of those polled said they had heard of President Donald Trump (R), as many as 47 percent admitted never having heard of his rival, Joe Biden, even though the survey was conducted in September, in the heat of the election campaign. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 27 October 2020

How well do Arabs understand the US political system? Not very well, study shows

How well do Arabs understand the US political system? Not very well, study shows
  • Arab News/YouGov survey tried to find out the Arab region’s familiarity with the US Electoral College system
  • A whopping 82 percent said the candidate who gets the most votes is guaranteed to be the next president

NEW YORK CITY: The 19th century French statesman and writer Alexis de Tocqueville is famous for writing what is arguably considered the most insightful book on America, its system and people. “Democracy in America” is a fruit of this outsider’s travels across the nation, deep into areas few foreigners had ventured into before.

He called it “that vast American society that everyone talks about and no one knows.” This comment is still an eye-opener today. America is big, far away and its political system is complicated enough to boggle the minds of even the most astute experts.

When a recent Arab News/YouGov survey asked people in 18 Arab countries whether they believed Americans voted directly to elect their president, writer Joe Macaron was not surprised to see that 82 percent thought so. “I do not expect everybody to know about the Electoral College system, which resulted in Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote by three million, but losing the election,” Macaron said.

“It is a difficult system. Even some Americans do not understand it. It is complex, and very hard to change, requiring big constitutional amendments.”

An impressive 55 percent of the survey’s participants said they follow the US elections avidly or occasionally follow debates, speeches, polls and social media buzz. And while 90 percent said they have heard of President Donald Trump, as many as 47 percent admitted never having heard of his rival, Joe Biden, even though the survey was conducted in September, in the heat of the election campaign.

Still, of the two rivals, it is Biden who gets higher approval numbers among Arabs, with 40 percent saying they are very satisfied with him as a candidate, versus only 12 percent for Trump.

“The issue with Trump, as expected, is his closeness with Israel. This is clear in the 89 percent who disagree with Trump’s moving the US embassy to Jerusalem,” said Macaron.

“Neither do participants have a clear view of Biden, looking at him as a mere alternative to Trump.” Macaron said “the answer is elsewhere,” referring to the 49 percent who think neither candidate will be good for the Arab world if elected as the next president.

Macaron believes that, whether it is in supporting Israel or invading Iraq, Arabs feel the US always serves its own interest.

“Arabs are not always aware of the motivation behind US policy. They don’t understand that Trump plays mostly for his base here at home. And Obama came to power riding on two causes: Get American troops out of Iraq, and fix the economy. He was not going to go to war in Syria for anyone, just because they asked him to do so.”

Yet a resounding 53 percent of the poll respondents agreed that Obama’s Middle East policy left the region worse off. What does Macaron make of it?

“Arabs expect Americans to always intervene and help in one way or the other,” he told Arab News. “Take Lebanon, where they are waiting for the results of the American elections to see what the formation of the new government will be like.

“I can name four or five Arab countries who are just waiting for the American election to unfold. This is the wrong perception; experience should have already changed it. The Middle East has changed. The US itself has changed.

“You can’t have the same perception you had during the First and Second World Wars or, say, in 1953. Today, the US will not come and save anybody.”

Macaron said the US and the Arab world “are separated by a big geographical gap. There was never real close interaction between the two worlds.”

He puts it bluntly thus: “The Arabs’ understanding of America lacks nuance. They have a set of opinions about the US that is guiding them through. They see America in black and white. They either idolize Americans or demonize them.”

While Macaron thinks it is normal that only 11 percent of the poll participants avidly observe and read about US politics regularly, “given the million bad things thrown at them every day,” he also admits that if Arabs believe the US impact is so detrimental to their lives, “they need to do a better job getting to know US politics.”

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Twitter: @EphremKossaify


Lebanon grapples with lifting subsidies on baby formula

Lebanon grapples with lifting subsidies on baby formula
Activists were enraged after video showing disposal of 20 tons of baby formula circulated on social media. (Supplied)
Updated 57 min 9 sec ago

Lebanon grapples with lifting subsidies on baby formula

Lebanon grapples with lifting subsidies on baby formula
  • The infant milk formula shortage is just one part of a food security problem brought on by economic collapse and worsened by Lebanon’s reliance on imports for basic necessities

BEIRUT: Lebanon has been running short of infant baby formula for months as the country has been dealing with a severe economic crisis. A video showing the disposal of 20 tons of the baby milk substitute has been circulating on social media and has only added to the public’s frustrations.
The Discriminatory Public Prosecution has commissioned the information department from the Internal Security Forces (ISF) to investigate as infant baby formula — which is supposed to be subsidized — has been missing from shops and pharmacies for weeks.
“There is a kind of social solidarity and government policy to control prices in the time of crises in the world, however, when there is a shortage of infant formula in the Lebanese market, it is not permitted to see it destroyed in front of our very own eyes,” activist Mahmoud Fakih told Arab News.
“Why did the state not prosecute the traders who monopolized and hid this milk? It seems that people are the last thing on the mind of traders who insist on continuing to make profits in dollars.”
The infant milk formula shortage is just one part of a food security problem brought on by economic collapse and worsened by Lebanon’s reliance on imports for basic necessities. Staggering inflation has impeded imports and slashed purchasing power.
The video surfaced on social media after Hani Bohsali, president of the Syndicate of Importers of Foodstuffs, Consumer Products, and Drinks, said “subsidies have been lifted on infant formula for ages one to three years old.”
The Lebanese government is avoiding lifting subsidies on items, fearing the resentful reactions and leaving the matter into the hands of the Banque Du Liban (BDL), which settles for the cessation of payments to importers on the basis of a lack of funds in dollars.
In defense of the infant baby formula disposal, the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) said: “It was requested to destroy these items in 2019 and 2020 in waste treatment facilities run by the CDR, in preparation for burying the waste in the sanitary landfill. This procedure is adopted for all the goods required to be damaged by their owners or by the competent official authorities.”

HIGHLIGHT

Internal Security Forces (ISF) were to investigate as baby formula has been missing from shops and pharmacies for weeks.

The company responsible for distributing food items in Lebanon said in a statement: “These expired products were withdrawn from the market three months before their expiry date in order to be disposed of and were in compliance with the protocols and expiry dates. Most of these products date back to 2018, 2019, and early 2020, and the process to obtain an agreement to destroy them required more than a year because of the total lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.”
Bohsali pointed his finger at the BDL.
“The files of the infant formula for ages one to three years old, which is included in the subsidized items, have been withdrawn from BDL,” he said.
“The goods will be delivered to the markets at an unsubsidized rate. As for the price of milk for ages below one year old, it is subsidized, similarly to medicine, and traders cannot set its price.”
Lebanese President Michel Aoun weighed in and called on the relevant agencies and departments to “strictly pursue monopolists and exploiters of the current circumstances who increase the prices and make illegal profits.”
According to his media office, Aoun added that “procedures were taken to address the fuel, medicine, medical supplies, and infant formula’s crisis.”
A joint report issued by the International Labour Organization and UNICEF in May warned that “canceling the only remaining form of social support funded by the Lebanese state will lead to a significant deterioration in the living standards of the poor and the middle class, if no comprehensive, sufficient and permanent social protection guarantees are implemented.”
In a previous statement, UNICEF warned: “the poorest families might face levels of deprivation we have not witnessed for many years.”
It is a critical time for the most vulnerable Lebanese citizens, said UNICEF Lebanon Representative Yukie Mokuo.
“If gaps are not quickly filled through strong long-term social assistance programs and at a time when most Lebanese face very difficult circumstances, those who are suffering from specific vulnerabilities will be simply left without support,” she said.
According to the video on social media, the infant baby formula disposal took place Tuesday morning. It provided even more ammunition for civil-society organizations, which held a protest march through the heart of Beirut on Tuesday afternoon.
The General Labor Union is scheduled to go on strike on Thursday to demand the formation of a new government. More labor unions continue to announce plans of joining the strike, including a syndicate of bank employees.
While waiting for a new government to rescue the country, there has been a renewed scene of cars queuing up near gas stations. Aggressive confrontations have occurred between drivers waiting in lines and desperate for gas.
Georges Fayyad, who heads the Association of Petroleum Importing Companies in Lebanon, expects the price of gasoline to increase if subsidies are completely lifted.
“Fuel-importing companies distributed millions of gasoline in the market on Monday and Tuesday, however, this is a temporary solution that will only last for 15 days,” Fayyad said.
“The decision to lift subsidies is not controlled by BDL, which clearly stated that it does not have any money. The decision should be made by the government.”


Raisi accused of using position at judiciary for mass executions

Raisi accused of using position at judiciary for mass executions
A supporter of Iranian presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi holds a picture of him with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at an election rally in Tehran. (AFP)
Updated 16 June 2021

Raisi accused of using position at judiciary for mass executions

Raisi accused of using position at judiciary for mass executions
  • Raisi’s only place is in the dock, not the presidency
  • Track record of Iran’s vote frontrunner — who has victory in sights on Friday — dismays activists

PARIS: Ebrahim Raisi, the favorite in Iran’s presidential election, has used his position at the heart of the judiciary for grave rights violations, including mass executions of political prisoners, activists say.

They say Raisi — who now has victory in his sights on Friday after even conservative rivals were disqualified in vetting — should face international justice rather than lead his country.
At 60, the mid-ranking cleric is still relatively young for a figure who has held a succession of key positions, starting almost immediately after the fall of the shah in the revolution of 1979.
At just 20, he was appointed prosecutor for the district of Karaj and then for Hamadan province, before in 1985 being promoted to deputy Tehran prosecutor.
It was in this role, campaigners allege, that Raisi played a key part in the executions of thousands of opposition prisoners — mostly suspected members of the proscribed People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (MEK) — when, activists say, he was part of a four-man “Death Committee” that sent convicts to their death without a shred of due process.
Raisi, seen as a possible successor to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has denied personal involvement in the 1988 killings, but also praised the decision to go ahead with the executions.
He subsequently became chief Tehran prosecutor in 1989, and then in 2004, deputy judiciary chief, a position he held for 10 years. Since 2019, he has served as head of the judiciary.
“Raisi’s only place is in the dock, not the presidency,” said Shadi Sadr, executive director of London-based Justice for Iran, which campaigns against impunity for crimes in Iran. “The mere fact he is currently the head of judiciary and running for president demonstrates the level of impunity that the perpetrators of the heinous crimes enjoy in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” she said.
The 1988 killings, which took place from July to September that year allegedly on the direct orders of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, remain a near taboo in modern Iran. Most rights groups and historians say between 4,000 and 5,000 were killed, but the political wing of the MEK, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), puts the figure at closer to 30,000.
Hossein Abedini, a member of the foreign affairs committee of the NCRI, described Raisi as a “stone hearted killer” with a “40-year track record of repression.”
Last year, seven special UN rapporteurs told the Iranian government that “the situation may amount to crimes against humanity” and urged an international probe if Tehran did not show full accountability.
Amnesty International came to a similar conclusion in a 2018 report, which identified Raisi as a member of the Tehran “death commission” that secretly sent thousands to their deaths in Evin Prison in Tehran and Gohardasht Prison in Karaj.
Former prisoners, now living in exile who said they had survived the massacres, testified they had personally seen Raisi working as a member of the commission.
The vast majority of the bodies were buried in unmarked mass graves and Iran continues to conceal the fate of the victims and the whereabouts of their remains, it charged.


Sudan says progress made in peace talks with rebel leader

Sudan says progress made in peace talks with rebel leader
Abdelaziz Al-Hilu, leader of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, speaks in Kadugli, Sudan, on May 2. (GettyImages)
Updated 16 June 2021

Sudan says progress made in peace talks with rebel leader

Sudan says progress made in peace talks with rebel leader
  • Sudan’s transitional government has been engaging in peace talks with rebel groups over the past two years

JUBA, CAIRO: Sudanese authorities adjourned talks on Tuesday with the most powerful rebel leader from the country’s south, saying they had agreed on more than three quarters of a framework peace deal.
A deal with Abdelaziz Al-Hilu’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) would be a big step in efforts to resolve decades of internal conflict in Sudan following the overthrow of former leader Omar Bashir in 2019.
Some rebels from the south and from the troubled western region of Darfur signed what was meant to be a comprehensive peace agreement last year.
But Al-Hilu, who has control over significant forces and territory from his stronghold in South Kordofan, held out, as did the leader of the most active Darfur group, Abdel Wahed El-Nur.
Earlier this year, the SPLM-N and Sudan signed a declaration of principles to guarantee freedom of worship and separate religion from the state — a key demand for Al-Hilu.
That paved the way for peace talks that have been held over recent weeks in the capital of neighboring South Sudan, Juba.
Sudan’s ruling council, formed under a military-civilian power-sharing deal after Bashir’s ouster, cited the lead negotiator at the talks as saying all but four out of 19 points had been resolved.
A senior SPLM-N official said more than three quarters of a framework deal had been agreed on.
SPLM-N spokesperson Mohammad Kuku refused to give details on the points of disagreement, saying consultations would continue ahead of the next round of talks.
Tut Galuak, a security adviser to South Sudan’s president who led mediation efforts said Sudan and the SPLM-N agreed to end negotiations and conduct further consultations over their disputed points.
He said the two sides have reached “significant understandings of the disputed issues,” and that “only four out of 19 points” remain unsolved. He did not elaborate.
Galuak’s comments came in a statement released by Sudan’s ruling sovereign council.
Also in the statement, Gen. Shams Eddin Kabashi, a member of the sovereign council and the government’s chief negotiator, said the sides would return to the negotiating table “once conditions are more favorable.”
The rebel group’s chief negotiator, Ammar Amount, said they have agreed on between 75 percent to 80 percent of the deal and the remaining issues need further consultations with their leaders.
Neither side gave a time frame for a return to the talks.
SPLM-N operates in an area inhabited mainly by minority Christians and followers of indigenous beliefs, who had long complained of discrimination at the hands of Khartoum and Bashir’s regime.
Sudan’s transitional government has been engaging in peace talks with rebel groups over the past two years. It’s looking to stabilize the country and help its fragile path to democracy survive following the military’s overthrow of Bashir in April 2019. It reached a peace deal with another rebel alliance in October.


Biden names Israel ambassador days after new government

Biden names Israel ambassador days after new government
Updated 15 June 2021

Biden names Israel ambassador days after new government

Biden names Israel ambassador days after new government

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Tuesday nominated veteran Democratic Party official Thomas Nides to be US ambassador to Israel, filling the post two days after the formation of a new government eager to renew ties.
Nides, a former top banker at Morgan Stanley who has spent his adult life in Democratic politics, served in the US State Department when Barack Obama was president and defended funding for the Palestinians.
He would mark a sharp departure from the last US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a forceful advocate for hawkish Israeli policies who was tapped by former president Donald Trump after serving his company as a bankruptcy lawyer.
Nides grew up in a Jewish home in Duluth, Minnesota, where his father was temple president. He is not known as an ideological figure on the Middle East or other issues.
While serving as deputy secretary of state for management and resources, Nides fought attempts by Republicans in Congress to stop US funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees -- a step taken by Trump but reversed by Biden.
Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to Washington, wrote in a 2011 book that Nides once called him to argue passionately - and profanely - against attempts in Congress to defund the UN cultural agency UNESCO after it admitted Palestine as a member state.
Nides, Oren wrote, said with colorful language that Israel would not want to defund UNESCO as it has played a role in education about the Holocaust.
Nides, whose nomination had been rumored for weeks, needs to be confirmed by the Senate, where the Democrats are narrowly in control.
His nomination was announced two days after the fall from power from Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest serving prime minister who had toxic relations with Democrats after he rallied against Obama's Iran policy, rejected moves for a Palestinian state and aligned himself with Republicans.
Biden has quickly congratulated Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who is a staunch defender of Jewish settlement in the West Bank but governs in coalition with centrists and leftists.


Tunisian court releases media mogul Nabil Karoui

Tunisian court releases media mogul Nabil Karoui
Updated 15 June 2021

Tunisian court releases media mogul Nabil Karoui

Tunisian court releases media mogul Nabil Karoui
  • Karoui, the owner of Nessma television channel and head of the Heart of Tunisia political party, was detained in December for a second time for alleged money laundering and tax fraud
  • In 2019, Karoui beat most candidates to reach a run-off for the presidency despite spending most of the campaign behind bars — he ultimately lost in a landslide to President Kais Saied

TUNIS: A Tunisian court on Tuesday released media mogul and former presidential candidate Nabil Karoui after he spent more than six months in custody on money laundering and tax evasion charges, his lawyer and party said.
Karoui, the owner of Nessma television channel and head of the Heart of Tunisia political party, the second largest in parliament, was detained in December for a second time for alleged money laundering and tax fraud.
Video footage broadcast by local radio Mosaique FM showed Karoui leaving Mornaguia prison, where he found his family and party members waiting outside.
In 2019, Karoui beat most candidates to reach a run-off for the presidency despite spending most of the campaign behind bars. He ultimately lost in a landslide to President Kais Saied.
His Heart of Tunisia party, which came second only to the moderate Islamist Ennahda in a parliamentary election the same year, has joined with it in giving narrow majority support to Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi’s government, which has been locked in a power struggle with the president.